A STORY OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
FOR LITTLE CHILDREN
By Elizabeth Harrison
Once upon a time, far across the great ocean there lived a little
boy named Christopher. The city in which he lived was called Genoa.
It was on the coast of the great sea, and from the time that little
Christopher could first remember he had seen boats come and go
across the water. I doubt not that he had little boats of his own
which he tried to sail, or paddle about on the small pools near
Soon after he was old enough to read books, which in those days
were very scarce and very much valued, he got hold of an account
of the wonderful travels of a man named Marco Polo. Over and over
again little Christopher read the marvelous stories told by this
old traveler, of the strange cities which he had seen and of the
dark-colored people whom he had met; of the queer houses; of the
wild and beautiful animals he had encountered; of the jewels and
perfumes and flowers which he had come across.
All day long the thoughts of little Christopher were busy with this
strange far-away land which Marco Polo described. All night long
he dreamed of the marvelous sights to be seen on those distant
shores. Many a time he went down to the water's edge to watch the
queer ships as they slowly disappeared in the dim distance, where
the sea and sky seemed to meet. He listened eagerly to everything
about the sea and the voyages of adventure, or of trade which were
told by the sailors near.
When he was fourteen years old he went to sea with an uncle, who
was commander of one of the vessels that came and went from the
port of Genoa. For a number of years he thus lived on a vessel,
learning everything that he could about the sea. At one time the
ship on which he was sailing had a desperate fight with another
ship; both took fire and were burned to the water's edge. Christopher
Columbus, for that was his full name, only escaped, as did the
other sailors, by jumping into the sea and swimming to the shore.
Still this did not cure him of his love for the ocean life.
We find after a time that he left Italy, his native country, and
went to live in Portugal, a land near the great sea, whose people
were far more venturesome than had been those of Genoa. Here he
married a beautiful maiden, whose father had collected a rich store
of maps and charts, which showed what was then supposed to be the
shape of the earth and told of strange and wonderful voyages which
brave sailors had from time to time dared to make out into the
then unknown sea. Most people in those days thought it was certain
death to any one who ventured very far out on the ocean.
There were all sorts of queer and absurd ideas afloat as to the
shape of the earth. Some people thought it was round like a pancake
and that the waters which surrounded the land gradually changed
into mist and vapor and that he who ventured out into these vapors
fell through the mist and clouds down into—they knew not where.
Others believed that there were huge monsters living in the distant
waters ready to swallow any sailor who was foolish enough to venture
But Christopher Columbus had grown to be a very wise and thoughtful
man, and from all he could learn from the maps of his father-in-law
and the books which he read, and from the long talks which he had
with some other learned men, he grew more and more certain that the
world was round like an orange, and that by sailing westward from
the coast of Portugal one could gradually go round the world and
find at last the wonderful land of Cathay, the strange country
which lay far beyond the sea, the accounts of which had so thrilled
him as a boy.
We, of course, know that he was right in his belief concerning the
shape of the earth, but people in those days laughed him to scorn
when he spoke of making a voyage out on the vast and fearful ocean.
In vain he talked and reasoned and argued, and drew maps to explain
matters. The more he proved to his own satisfaction that this must
be the shape of the world, the more other people shook their heads
and called him crazy.
He remembered in his readings of the book of Marco Polo's travels
that the people whom Polo had met were heathen who knew little about
the God who had made the world, and nothing at all about His Son,
Christ Jesus, and as Christopher Columbus loved very dearly the
Christian religion, his mind became filled with a longing to carry
it across the great seas to this far-away country. The more he
thought about it the more he wanted to go, until his whole life
was filled with the one thought of how to get hold of some ships
to prove that the earth was round, and that these far-away heathens
could be reached.
Through some influential friends he obtained admission to the court
of the King of Portugal. Eagerly he told the rich monarch of the
great enterprise which filled his heart. It was of little or no
use, the king was busy with other affairs, and only listened to
the words of Columbus as one might listen to the wind. Year after
year passed by, Columbus' wife had died, and their one little son,
Diego, had grown to be quite a boy. Finally Columbus decided he
would leave Portugal and would go over to Spain, a rich country
near by, and see if the Spanish monarchs would not give him boats
in which to make his longed-for voyage.
The Spanish king was named Ferdinand, and the Spanish queen was a
beautiful woman named Isabella. When Columbus told them of his belief
that the world was round, and of his desire to help the heathen who
lived in this far-off country, they listened attentively to him,
for both King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were very earnest people
and very desirous that all the world should become Christians;
but their ministers and officers of state persuaded them that the
whole thing was a foolish dream of an enthusiastic, visionary man;
and again Columbus was disappointed in his hope of getting help.
Still he did not give up in despair. The thought was too great for
that. He sent his brother over to England to see if the English
king would not listen to him and give the necessary help, but again
he was doomed to disappointment. Only here and there could he find
any one who believed that it was possible for him to sail round
the earth and reach the land on the other side. Long years passed
by. Columbus grew pale and thin with waiting and hoping, with
planning arid longing.
Sometimes as he walked along the streets of the Spanish capital
people would point their fingers at him and say: "There goes
the crazy old man who thinks the world is round." Again and again
Columbus tried to persuade the Spanish king and queen that if they
would aid him, his discoveries would bring great honor and riches
to their kingdom, and that they would also become the benefactors
of the world by helping to spread the knowledge of Christ and His
religion. Nobody believed in his theory. Nobody was interested in
his plan. He grew poorer and poorer.
At last he turned his back on the great Spanish court, and in silent
despair he took his little son by the hand and walked a long way to
a small seaport called Palos, where there was a queer old convent
in which strangers were often entertained by the kind monks who
lived in it. Weary and footsore he reached the gate of the convent.
Knocking upon it he asked the porter, who answered the summons,
if he would give little Diego a bit of bread and a drink of water.
While the two tired travelers were resting, as the little boy ate
his dry crust of bread, the prior of the convent, a man of thought
and learning, whose name was Juan Perez, came by and at once saw that
these two were no common beggars. He invited them in and questioned
Columbus closely about his past life. He listened quietly and
thoughtfully to Columbus and his plan of crossing the ocean and
converting the heathen to Christianity.
Juan Perez had at one time been a very intimate friend of Queen
Isabella; in fact, the priest to whom she told all her sorrows and
troubles. He was a quiet man and talked but little. After a long
conference with Columbus, in which he was convinced that Columbus
was right, he borrowed a mule and getting on his back rode for many
miles across the open country to the palace in which the queen was
then staying. I do not know how he convinced her of the truth of
Columbus' plan, when all the ministers and courtiers and statesmen
about her considered it the absurdly foolish and silly dream of an
old man; but, somehow, he did it.
He then returned on his mule to the old convent at Palos, and
told Columbus to go back once more to the court of Spain and again
petition the queen to give him money with which to make his voyage
of discovery. The state treasurer said the queen had no money to
spare, but this noble-hearted woman, who now, for the first time,
realized that it was a grand and glorious thing Columbus wished to
do, said she would give her crown jewels for money with which to
start Columbus on his dangerous journey across the great ocean.
This meant much in those days, as queens were scarcely considered
dignified or respectable if they did not wear crowns of gold inlaid
with bright jewels on all public occasions, but Queen Isabella
cared far more to send the gospel of Christ over to the heathen
than how she might look, or what other people might say about her.
The jewels were pawned and the money was given to Columbus. With
a glad heart he hastened back to the little town of Palos where he
had left his young son with the kind priest Juan Perez.
But now a new difficulty arose. Enough sailors could not be found
who would venture their lives by going out on this unknown voyage
with a crazy old man such as Columbus was thought to be. At last
the convicts from the prisons were given liberty by the queen on
condition that they would go with the sailors and Columbus. So, you
see, it was not altogether a very nice crew, still it was the best
he could get, and Columbus' heart was so filled with the great work
that he was willing to undertake the voyage no matter how great
or how, many the difficulties might be. The ships were filled with
food and other provisions for a long, long voyage.
Nobody knew how long it would be before the land on the other side
could be reached, and many people thought there was no possible
hope of its ever being found.
Early one summer morning, even before the sun had risen, Columbus
bade farewell to the few friends who had gathered at the little
seaport of Palos to say good-bye to him. The ships spread their
sails and started on the great untried voyage. There were three
boats, none of which we would think, nowadays, was large enough
or strong enough to dare venture out of sight and help of land and
run the risk of encountering the storms of mid-ocean.
The names of the boats were the Santa Maria, which was the one
that Columbus himself commanded, and two smaller boats, one named
the Pinta and the other the Nina.
Strange, indeed, must the sailors have felt, as hour after hour
they drifted out into the great unknown waters, which no man ever
ventured into before. Soon all land faded from their sight, and
on, and on, and on they went, not knowing where or how the voyage
would end. Columbus alone was filled with hope, feeling quite sure
that in time he would reach the never before visited shores of a
New World, and would thus be the means of bringing the Christian
religion to these poor, ignorant people. On and on they sailed,
day after day—far beyond the utmost point which sailors had ever
Many of the men were filled with a strange dread and begged and
pleaded to return home. Still on and on they went, each day taking
them further and further from all they had ever known or loved
before. Day after day passed, and week after week until two months
The provisions which they had brought with them were getting scarce,
and the men now dreaded starvation. They grew angry with Columbus,
and threatened to take his life if he did not command the ships
to be turned back toward Spain, but his patience did not give out,
nor was his faith one whit the less. He cheered the hearts of the
men as best he could, often telling them droll, funny stories to
distract their thoughts from the terrible dread which now filled
He promised a rich reward to the first man who should discover
land ahead. This somewhat renewed their courage, and day and night
watches were set and the western horizon before them was scanned
at all hours. Time and again they thought they saw land ahead,
only to find they had mistaken a cloud upon the horizon for the
longed-for shore. Flocks of birds flying westward began to be seen.
This gave some ground for hope. For surely the birds must be flying
toward some land where they could find food, and trees in which to
build their nests. Still fear was great in the hearts of all, and
Columbus knew that he could not keep the men much longer in suspense,
and that if land did not appear soon they would compel him to turn
around and retrace his steps whether he wished to or not.
Then he thought of all the benighted heathen who had never heard of
God's message of love to man through Christ, and he prayed almost
incessantly that courage might be given him to go on. Hour after
hour he looked across the blue water, day and night, longing for
the sight of land. In fact, he watched so incessantly that his
eyesight became injured and he could scarcely see at all.
At last one night as he sat upon the deck of the ship he was quite
sure that a faint light glimmered for a few moments in the distant
darkness ahead. Where there is a light there must be land, he
thought. Still he was not sure, as his eyesight had become so dim.
So he called one of the more faithful sailors to him and asked him
what he saw. The sailor exclaimed:
"A light, a light!"
Another sailor was called, but by this time the light had disappeared
and the sailor saw nothing, and Columbus' hopes again sank. Still
he felt they must be nearing land. About two o'clock that night
the commander of one of the other boats started the cry:
"Land! land ahead!"
You can well imagine how the shout was taken up, and how the sailors,
one and all, rushed to the edge of their ships, leaning far over,
no doubt, and straining their eyes for the almost unhoped-for sight.
Early the next morning some one of the sailors picked up a branch
of a strange tree, lodged in the midst of which was a tiny bird's
nest. This was sure evidence that they were indeed near land; for
branches of trees do not grow in water,
Little by little the land came in sight. First it looked like a dim
ghost of a shore, but gradually it grew distinct and clear. About
noon the next day the keel of Columbus' boat grounded upon the sand
of the newly discovered country. No white man had ever before set
eyes upon it. No ship had ever before touched this coast.
At last after a long life of working and studying, of hoping
and planning, of trying and failing, and trying yet again, he had
realized his dream.
The great mystery of the ocean was revealed, and Columbus had
achieved a glory which would last as long as the world lasted. He
had given a new world to mankind! He had reached the far distant
country across the ocean, which scarcely any of his countrymen had
even believed to have any existence. He now knew that the whole
round world could in time have the Christian religion.
He sprang upon the shore, and dropping on his knees he first stooped
and kissed the ground, and then he offered a fervent prayer of
thanks to God.
A learned attorney who had come with him across the water next
planted the flag of Spain upon the unknown land, and claimed the
newly discovered country in the name of King Ferdinand and Queen
Isabella of Spain.
Wonderful, wonderful indeed were the things which Columbus and the
sailors now saw! Strange naked men and women of a copper, or bronze
color, strange new birds with gorgeous tails that glittered like
gems such as they had never seen before; beautiful and unknown
fruits and flowers met their gaze on every side.
The savages were kind and gentle and brought them food and water.
They had little else to offer as they had no houses, nor streets,
nor carriages, nor cars, nor conveniences of any kind. Do you know,
my dear children, that this strange, wild savage country which
Columbus had traveled so far and so long to discover was our
But it was not long after Columbus had gone back to Europe and told
the people there of the wonderful things which he had seen in this
far, far away land that ship-loads of white people, who were educated
and who had been taught to love God and to keep His commandments,
came over and settled in this wild, new country. They plowed the
land and planted seed; they built houses for themselves, their
wives, and little ones, and in time they made school-houses for
the children, and churches in which to worship God. Long and hard
was the struggle which these first white men had to make in this
strange, new country.
Year after year more and more white men came. These new settlers
prospered, and new towns were built, and roads were made from one
town to another, and stores and manufactories began to be seen.
At last the little handful of people had grown so strong that they
established a government of their own, which welcomed all newcomers,
providing they were law-abiding citizens. The poor and oppressed,
the persecuted and discouraged in other lands came to this new shore,
where they found wealth if they were willing to work for it.
Here they need no longer fear the persecutions from which they had
suffered. Here they gained new hope and became honored and respected
Little by little the small country grew into a great nation, the
greatest on earth, because it is the freest, and each citizen in
it has his rights respected. But for the courage and determination
and self-sacrifice of Columbus this great new world might have
remained for hundreds of years unknown to men.
Four hundred years afterwards the children of the children's children
of these early settlers, had a grand celebration in honor of the
brave old man, Christopher Columbus, whom the people of his day
called crazy, and all the nations of the earth were invited to
bring their most beautiful, their richest and rarest products to
this celebration, in order that not we of America alone, but the
whole world might celebrate the wisdom and the courage of the great
Columbus, "the finder of America."
In the rejoicing and in the celebration the nations did not forget the
good Queen Isabella, who was willing to give up her most precious
jewels in order that she might help Columbus in his voyage of