By Jim O’Neal
Nearly every schoolchild, especially in Ohio and Puerto Rico, learns that “In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean blue.” Most also remember his three ships: the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria … at least I did.
However, it turns out that the names of these ships are a little more complicated. By tradition, Spanish ships were named after saints, and then later given nicknames.
La Niña (the girl) was actually named the Santa Clara (a female saint) and was Columbus’ favorite of the three.
La Santa Maria was really a shortened version of “The Holy Mary of the Immaculate Conception.”
Lastly, we believe that Christobal Quintero owned La Pinta (the pint), but the original name was “lost at sea.”
So a more precise lineup would be the Santa Clara, Pinta and Santa Maria instead of the ones found in most of our history books.
It is also difficult to specify with any certainty the land(s) Columbus spotted or the exact sequence during his four voyages to the “New World.” He spent eight years bouncing around the Caribbean and coastal South America, convinced he was in the heart of the Orient.
He expected to find Japan and China just over the next horizon.
Curiously, he did not know that Cuba was an island and, importantly, never set foot on or even suspected there was a large land mass to the North.
Today we call it the United States.
Perhaps even worse, at least for his financial backers, was the cargo he chose to haul back to Spain. First was a lot of iron pyrite (thinking it was gold) and then “cinnamon,” which turned out to be worthless tree bark. Even the highly prized “pepper” was really just chili pepper. Not so bad if you like spicy, but much less valuable.
Despite all of this, he remains one of our best remembered explorers and history has treated him well.
Many even get a day off work each year to celebrate as a federal holiday.
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].