| American History Stories, Volume I|
|by Mara L. Pratt|
|Stories of early exploration and founding of American colonies, conflicts over religion, and troubles with the Indians, culminating in the French and Indian War. Ages 8-12 |
all these stories, foolish as they may seem, proved in
the end a good thing. They kept the people wide awake, and on
the look out for any new discovery far away upon the
By and by, there was born in the
little village of Genoa, Italy, a baby boy who was
destined to do more than guess and dream about the land
beyond the sea. He was really to go and explore it and
bring back proofs of its existence.
This baby boy, as every American school-child knows,
was Christopher Columbus, the
 man whom now we are proud to honor as the discoverer of
Living as he did in this little sea-port town, he was
generally, when not at school, to be found standing about
the wharves watching the great ships come in, and listening
to the marvellous stories that the sailors told.
Genoa at this time was a very rich town, and it sent ships
to all parts of the known world. The little boy, eagerly
drinking in all the wonderful stories the sailors were so
fond of telling, thus learned much of the far away
countries—much that was true and much also that was purely
"I shall be a sailor!" he would say to himself as he
listened; and then, like all other small lads, he longed to
grow big and strong
and old. "When I'm a man, I shall be a
sailor! When I'm a man I shall go to all
 these wonderful countries and gather these beautiful things
and bring home ships loaded with silver and gold."
The parents of Columbus were poor people. His father was
a wool comber; but they were wise, and they tried to give
their boy a good education. He was taught to read and
write; and when, by and by, he was old enough to know what
he should most enjoy, his father sent him away to a school
where he could study arithmetic and drawing and geography.
To Columbus there was no study so fascinating as
geography. He had listened eagerly to the sailors' stories
in his very early boyhood; and so now he eagerly devoured
every book and drank in every story he could find about
the wonderful countries so far away.
And he would say to himself, "I must be a sailor! I must
be a sailor!"
 One day his good father said to him, "My boy, I have
watched you for a long time; and since you have made up
your mind to be a sailor, and since you like best those
studies that have to do with navigation, I am willing to
send you to the University of Pavia where, I am told,
geography, astronomy, map-drawing and navigation are
Columbus was a happy boy, you may be sure. "Now indeed I
may be a sailor!" cried he—"A wise one! An explorer
and a discoverer perhaps!" And seizing a book, he ran down
to the wharf to watch the ships and dream of the happy time
when he should have learned all the wonders of navigation
and be able to guide for himself one of these great
Columbus improved every hour of his term at the University,
learning so fast and
show-  ing so much eager interest and real thoughtfulness,
that the teachers were very proud of him and
predicted a great future for their pupil. But even they
had little idea of how great that future was to be.
Columbus was only fourteen years old when he made his
first voyage out upon the great blue sea with some traders
bound for the East Indies. From that time on his life was
like that of all sailors, I suppose, full of adventures,
narrow escapes, and marvellous experiences.
When he was thirty-five years old he went to Lisbon, the
capital of Portugal. He was a quiet, dignified, thoughtful
man now—his hair already white,—and here
and there on
his face were lines of care and trouble. For
Columbus' life had not been an easy one; neither had
he been satisfied to drift along
 contented with whatever he had been taught, whatever he had
heard and read.
The stories of the great flat earth borne upon the back of
an elephant or upon the shoulders of a great giant, the
tales of the sea-gods and wind-gods,—all of which were
believed in those early days,—had long since ceased to
amuse or satisfy him. "They are not reasonable," he would
say to himself. "They are like the stories one tells
little children. There must be something different from all
And so, year after year, Columbus pondered and pondered upon
these questions. He read every account of travels, every
story of adventure, every theory of the earth's size and
shape that he could find. But none satisfied him. "It's
easy enough to guess and to guess about these things," he
would say; "but there must
 be some natural law, some real fact, that, if discovered,
would give us the truth."
On account of the smallness of the ships, together with the
superstitious fears the sailors had of the unknown sea with
its angry and revengeful gods, no one had ever sailed very
far out upon the ocean, and so had little thought of what
might be found far out beyond the horizon.
"There may be land away out there,"
Columbus would say; "at any rate, I am convinced
that this earth is round, and that by sailing straight out
to the westward, we should come to the East Indies, a
much easier and more speedy route than we now have."
"Hear him! hear him!" the people would say. "He is crazy!
he dares say the earth is round, when we and all our
ancestors before us have known that the earth
is flat." "Ha,
 ha," laughed others; "let him sail westward as far as he
pleases. When he has reached the end of the great sea and
the sea-gods have cast him over, then he will learn how
foolish he is, and Portugal will be well rid of him!"
But John II., then King of Portugal, was convinced that
these notions of Columbus, as the people were pleased to
call them, were not so absurd as they seemed. "The man
knows what he is talking about, I believe," said he; "I
will get his plans from him, pretend to favor them,
pretend to be willing to aid him—then—then—well,
we'll see who will have the honor
of the first expedition, Columbus, the Genoese
wool-comber's son, or John II., King of Portugal!"
And so this mean king led Columbus on to tell his plans and
his reasons for believing the
 earth to be round. The king was wise enough to see
that there was sound common sense and reason in these plans.
Then when he had learned all, and had obtained the maps
and charts which Columbus had made, he secretly
sent out a vessel and ordered the captain to follow
closely the route Columbus had marked out.
This was a mean trick, and I am glad, and you will
be, that it did not succeed. No sooner was the vessel out of
sight of land than the ignorant captain and the
superstitious sailors began to be frightened.
"We are surely sailing off the edge of the earth!" cried
they. "What shall we do when the sea-gods learn that
we have dared come out of our home
into their sacred waters!"
Then a great storm arose; the waves rolled and tumbled
and broke above them mountains
 high. The thunder rumbled and the lightning flashed.
Terror-stricken, the sailors turned the vessel homeward.
"The gods are angry with us! They are punishing us for our
boldness!" cried the ignorant sailors.
A more frightened and miserable crew never sailed back into
Lisbon harbor than this one sent out by King John II.
And when Columbus heard of it, angry and disgusted with the
meanness of the king, he would have no further talk with
him; but, taking his little son Diego with him, he left
the country and went to Spain.
Friendless and without money, Columbus with the little
Diego travelled from place to place, always seeking some one
who would understand and help him to an audience with the
king or queen of Spain. If only somewhere a person of
wealth could be found who
 would fit out for him a fleet, Columbus had not a doubt or
a fear but that he could return with news of new lands or,
at least, of a short route to India.
Years and years rolled by; and Columbus had gained nothing
but a world-wide name of being a fool or an insane
man. Men sneered at him, boys hooted at him in the
street. Surely it was a brave man who could endure all
this for the
sake of right. But it is always so; as you grow older and
read larger histories than these, you will find that
seldom has a great man or woman brought to the world
any great new truth, that ignorant and superstitious
people did not scoff at it and make the life of the brave
discoverer one of wretchedness and persecution.
"I will go to France," said Columbus at last, "and see
if I can get the help of the French
 king." And he started with his little son, Diego, to walk
the long distance.
One day, while on the road, Columbus stopped at the
gate of a great gray convent in the town of Palos and
asked for food.
COLUMBUS AND DIEGO
As the gate-man brought them bread, one of the monks passed
by. Struck with the dignity and the courteous, refined
appearance of Columbus, he said to himself, "Whom have we
here? This is no ordinary beggar. I will speak with him."
So, going up to Columbus, he saluted him kindly and
asked him to stop and rest. Glad enough were both
Columbus and Diego to
accept this hospitality, and together they entered
the great halls of the convent.
Now the monk was a man of great learning for those
days. More than that, he was a man who thought and who
was always ready
 to accept any new theories, providing they seemed
reasonable and honest proofs of their truth could be
presented with them.
The intelligence and conversation of Columbus attracted the
monk at once. "This man knows what he is talking about,"
"Surely I must bring him to Queen Isabella. She, if any
one, will give him patient and intelligent hearing."
SPAIN — TIME OF FERDINAND AND ISABELLA
At that time the Spanish king and queen
were busy with a great war against the Moors,
so that it was a
long time before either could listen to Columbus; but after
of delay, he was summoned before them. There, before the king
and queen and a large body of "wise men," as they called
themselves, Columbus told his story.
All listened attentively. It was like a wonderful dream
or a grand fairy story; and
 people were very fond of wonder stories of any kind in
those days. But when the "wise men" were asked their
opinion of the story as one at all likely to be true, they
roared with laughter.
"The earth round!" cried they. "It is absurd! If a fleet
were sent out upon the ocean it would certainly sail over
the edge and fall down—down into unknown space."
COLUMBUS BEFORE THE WISE MEN
"And if the earth were round," said others, "and if this
crazy man could sail down and stand upon his head on the
other side of the sphere, how, pray, could he ever get
back again? Has he learned to sail up hill?"
This was indeed unanswerable, so they all thought. Of
course he could not, and of course he was a fool to think
of such a thing. And so Columbus was sent away in
disgrace, while the "wise men" entertained their
 for days after with the absurd story the crazy Genoese had
"I will go to France," said Columbus to the good monk,
when, discouraged and weary at heart he returned to the
convent with the story of his defeat. "There is no hope
for me in Spain."
"Wait, wait," said the monk. "I myself will go to the
queen. I cannot bear that this honor should pass into
the hands of the French. I will go to Isabella and beg
her again to give you a hearing."
And so it was that once more Columbus waited and was led at
last into the presence of the only one in all Spain who
seemed to be kind enough at heart and to be far sighted
enough to know that Columbus was neither foolish nor crazy.
After long hesitation—for it was not an
 easy matter in those days to fit out a fleet, nor was it a
politic thing for Isabella to move in opposition to all
the advice of her countrymen, she sent this word to
Columbus: "I will undertake this enterprise for my own
kingdom of Castile; and I will pledge my jewels, if
need be, to raise the funds."
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