The Unexpected Legacy of Christopher Columbus and 1492
Aug. 3, 2015, marks the 523rd anniversary of Columbus’ expedition that would discover the Americas. This anniversary has more significance than you may realize!
You should know it from the famous poem written to help children learn about Christopher Columbus: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. …”
In many ways, there isn’t a more important year to know about in history.
Two gigantic historical events happened in this year—events that changed history and that directly affect the world we live in today.
The Spanish expel the Moors
The year 1492 began with a momentous event. On Jan. 2, 1492, the Spanish, under King Ferdinand V, reconquered the kingdom of Granada in southern Spain. Granada had been the last stronghold of the Moors, the Muslim conquerors who had nearly overrun all of Europe centuries earlier. The Spanish victory put a capstone on the equally significant Battle of Tours, which was fought 760 years earlier (A.D. 732). Under Charles Martel, the Franks were able to stop the Muslim forces from conquering Europe. It is not an understatement to say that this single military victory saved Western civilization.
King Ferdinand’s victory in 1492 allowed Europe—especially the Spanish—to breathe easy from the threat of Islamic conquest and emboldened Spain to fully transition from being the conquered to being the conqueror.
The fall of Granada was witnessed by a young Genoese sailor and explorer named Cristóbal Colón. Of course, he is better known in history as Christopher Columbus.
Columbus sails west
Christopher Columbus had been making proposals to the royal courts of Portugal and Spain for eight years to sponsor an expedition to find a westward route to the Indies (the European name for the Asian lands of India, Japan and China). Explorers already knew how to sail south and east around Africa to reach the Indies. But Columbus was convinced he could reach the Indies faster by sailing due west.
You see, Columbus understood the world was round—as many did at that time. His biggest error was severely miscalculating the circumference of the earth! He thought the world was much smaller than it actually is. His work would ultimately show Europeans how big the world actually is.
Shortly after the victory over the Muslims in Granada, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella finally agreed to sponsor Columbus.
Though many think of gold and the conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity as driving the expedition, those were actually secondary to the motivation to import spices—particularly pepper—to Europe. It is not inaccurate to say that European taste buds inspired the discovery of the New World!
Seven months later, on Aug. 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus and his crew set sail on three ships—the Niña, Pinta and Santa María—into the Atlantic Ocean to find the route to the Indies.
Of course, we all know the rest of the story. Ten weeks later, on Oct. 12, a crewman on the Pinta spotted land (which Columbus later claimed to have already seen hours before). The three ships docked on this landmass the next morning, prompting Columbus to kiss the ground and claim it for Spain—calling it San Salvador.
About five months later, Columbus returned to Ferdinand and Isabella’s court claiming to have succeeded in finding the elusive western route to the Indies. In fact, Christopher Columbus had not landed in Asia, but had discovered what is known today as the Bahamas. Columbus would make two additional voyages to “the West Indies”—actually discovering many of the Caribbean islands and the coast of Central America.
Christopher Columbus went to his grave believing he had discovered and conquered portions of Asia. He did not understand the huge historical implications of discovering an entirely unknown continent. It was actually another explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who would realize the lands he was exploring were not Asia. He began calling these lands the “New World”—and they were later called America in his honor.
The historical legacy of Columbus’ discovery
The Spanish and Portuguese (and later the French), the strongest European powers, would spend the 16th century colonizing Central and South America. Any rational person living then would have logically predicted that the nations of the Iberian Peninsula and France would naturally conquer all of the Americas and maintain their place as the most powerful nations on earth.
But that was not to happen.
Spain, mainly occupied with extracting resources from Central and South America and protecting its Caribbean shipping lanes, largely ignored the east coast of North America. The relatively poor island nation of England ultimately colonized the most productive lands of the New World. England, having distrust for continental Europe and having cut itself off from Rome in 1534, knew it had to find resources outside of Europe in order to survive. Through royal charters, the English settled the east coast of North America.
Historian Woodbury Lowery described this twist in history:
“The tiny wedge of gentlemen laborers, alien in religion and race to the two great Catholic and Latin Powers, would settle in Jamestown, and spread along the narrow strip of territory between the Alleghenies and the Atlantic. Then like an iron wedge, the English colonists penetrated the domain of their rivals, thrust them apart on either side, and with ever increasing dimensions pressed farther and farther across the continent, until they had occupied almost the entire territory, which had previously belonged to France and Spain” (quoted in “Why Virginia Was Not Spanish” by Anthony Aveni).
The United States of America would eventually rise to become the most powerful single nation on earth—fulfilling an ancient promise God made to the patriarch Joseph’s son Manasseh to be a “great” nation.These colonies would grow economically prosperous and, in the late 18th century, declare their independence and become the United States of America.
The prophetic legacy of Columbus’ discovery
The United States of America would eventually rise to become the most powerful single nation on earth—fulfilling an ancient promise God made to the patriarch Joseph’s son Manasseh to be a “great” nation (Genesis 48:19), while Great Britain would emerge from the American Revolution to form the Second British Empire—fulfilling the promise made to Joseph’s other son, Ephraim, to become a “multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19).
These two nations would dominate the world for more than two centuries—impacting the world in many ways by exporting their culture, religion and standard of living all around the globe. They would also become crucial powers that would help save the world from subjugation by tyrants on multiple occasions. This all happened because of God’s promise to give these blessings to the descendants of Joseph (Genesis 49:25).
Christopher Columbus died not only without knowing he had discovered a “New World”—but without knowing that his discovery would pave the way for the fulfillment of one of the greatest prophecies of the Bible: the bestowing of the birthright blessings to the descendants of the patriarch Joseph!
The result of that voyage that began 523 years ago literally changed the world—all because of an ambitious Genoan looking for fame and fortune, a king and queen seeking wealth and glory, and a population wanting better-tasting food.
To learn more about the fascinating story of how the British and Americans rose to global dominance, read “Who Are the United States and Britain in Prophecy?” We are currently preparing an in-depth booklet on this subject that we hope to publish before the end of the year.