Let's start off with some fun questions.
No fair looking at a map!! You can do that later. Just see how much you can get right
off the top of your head.
Texas "lake" known as the
Gulf of Mexico is pretty big. The Gulf turns out to be the ninth largest body of water on the planet.
So, here is your first question:
Which is bigger, the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico?
is your second question.
separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea?
is your third question:
is the worst named body of land in the world?
here is your fourth question:
What is the SECOND most poorly named body of land in the world and
who is responsible for all the untold confusion that resulted?
answer some of these questions.
Answer to Question Three:
the most poorly named body of land in the world?
answer, of course, is Greenland. What idiot
could have possibly looked at the iceberg capital of the Earth and
thought of that name? That idiot would be Erik the Red.
At least he didn't name it "Redland".
10th Century, Erik
the Red and his Dad Thorvald were banished from Norway for some
murders. They settled down in Iceland. At
least they got that name right. After Erik the Red was
involved in more killings, he was told to take another hike.
were rumors of land to the west. Erik the Red decided to take
a chance. Sailing with no assurance of success, he found
"Greenland" in 982 and created a settlement.
Norseman, Leif Erikson, is credited with finding modern day Canada
It turns out that Leif Erikson was the "son of Erik". Yup,
his Dad was Erik the Red. Leif Erikson had one major thing in common
with his famous Dad besides the love of exploration - he had trouble naming his discoveries. Leif Erikson
called Canada Vinland, short for Land of the Grape
Vines. I don't know what he was drinking, but the Canadian
Wine industry hasn't done too well lately.
Actually, Erik and Leif may have gotten a bad rap.
At the time that Greenland
was discovered, the Earth was a bit warmer.
The area of southern Greenland
where Erik landed actually had green meadows.
This area could sustain villages of Norse
settlers and their cattle, sheep, goats, and
horses. The name was an accurate description of the
land at the time.
same was true for Canada. It was warm enough to grow grapes,
hence the name.
Although you have a right to be skeptical that Greenland was ever green, by coincidence there is a
story in the news about a 100 mile iceberg four times bigger than
Manhattan that just broke off from Greenland. It seems likely
that global warming is responsible.
knows? Maybe Greenland will be green again soon enough.
If so, I don't want to think how hot Houston will become. But
on the bright side, maybe we can take a tropical cruise to Greenland.
Wouldn't that be fun!
suppose you are wondering what Greenland has to do with the
Caribbean. Now that you mention it, probably not much. I
was thinking about the Caribbean and got side-tracked. No
nit-picking, please. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small
Christopher C and the New World
What is the SECOND most poorly named body of land in the world and
who is responsible for all the untold confusion that resulted?
Answer: The West Indies
is the second worst named body of land after Greenland.
is the man responsible for the confusion.
is a term that refers to the entire Caribbean region. The
region consists of the Antilles, divided into the
Greater Antilles which bounds the sea on the
north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east
(including the Leeward Antilles), and the Bahamas and the Turks and
Caicos Islands, which are in fact in the Atlantic Ocean north of
Cuba, not in the Caribbean Sea.
Greenland, climate change was not responsible for the second most poorly named
body of land in history. The responsibility this time laid
with some lousy math skills on the part of our friend Christopher Columbus.
Columbus first landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he was convinced he
had found India of all places. The story of
Columbus and his discovery of the New World, i.e. the
Caribbean region, is well-known, but if you are like me, you have
forgotten most of it. It is a fascinating story, so let's do a
course everyone knows the country of India is located
in southern Asia. Taking its name from the Indus River,
India is the dominant country of its region and lends its name to
the Indian Ocean.
had been a lucrative trading partner with Europe dating all the way
back to the Roman Empire. Egypt had been India's
largest trading partner until Augustus Caesar conquered Egypt.
Now Rome became India's largest trading partner.
However, the rise of Islam in the 7th Century changed everything.
Now the Europeans were forced to use Arab traders as the middlemen
in their dealings with India. The quickest route took traders by sea
to Egypt. Since there was no Suez Canal in those days, camels
and carts were used to transport goods across land to the Red Sea,
then onto India by sea. Arab merchants made money coming and going.
Unfortunately the rise of Ottoman Empire and those nasty Turks put
an end to that arrangement in 1453. Now what?
Improvements in the way ships were built had opened up the
possibility of using ocean travel to reconnect Europe to India.
There was literally a race to see who could find a sea route to India first.
situation with India is what created the Age of Exploration in
Europe. The Mediterranean Sea was the center of their
existence when it came to all things Asia. The problem for the
Europeans is that no one had a clue how Africa was shaped or that
the Americas even existed. For that matter, many Europeans
believed the Earth was flat and that explorers would fall off a
cliff at some point or be eaten by a sea monster.
Nevertheless, now that they were cut off from India by the Turks,
the Europeans were getting desperate. The Europeans had some
knowledge of Africa, so that was the safest place to start looking. Thanks to its proximity to Africa, Portugal had the inside track.
Portugal sent one probing expedition after another down the western
coast of Africa (the Atlantic side) to see how it was shaped.
In 1488, Bartholomew Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope in
South Africa. He even went far enough around the curve to find the Indian Ocean side
Dias was sure this was it. He wanted
to continue sailing to India, but was forced to turn back when
his crew refused to go further. Dias returned to Lisbon after
an absence of sixteen months. His return caused quite a stir
throughout Europe. The discovery of the passage around Africa
was significant because it confirmed the possibility that Europeans could trade directly with India and the other
parts of Asia and bypass the overland route through the Middle East
and its expensive middlemen.
Alas, Dias never got another chance. The honor of being
first to reach India from Portugal would go to his fellow countryman
Vasco de Gama ten years later in 1498.
When the news of Dias' discovery of the southern tip of Africa
Columbus was sitting idle on retainer in Spain. Columbus was in the exploration business himself,
but could find no one to sponsor him. Nevertheless, Columbus
was very interested in the exploits of Portugal's Dias. His discovery
affected Columbus deeply.
Columbus now knew there was probably no way he could beat Portugal
to India using the African route. Portugal had too much inside
knowledge about the coast of Africa. Columbus decided his only chance of beating Portugal was to head
west. The western direction was much more intimidating to all Europeans
because no ship to their knowledge had ever found land heading in
that direction. Furthermore, many ships had failed to return
at all... the myth of sea monsters and a flat earth were blamed.
that matter, Dias had been gone for 16 months! During his long
assumed that the flat earth or the sea monsters had gotten him too.
Now that Dias had returned, Columbus was encouraged by another
taken during Dias' long voyage gave further credence to the belief
that the Earth was indeed curved!
Columbus was more certain than ever that the Earth was round. He
was determined to give the western route a try. However, first
he would have to find a sponsor!
Question Five: The
discovery of the Caribbean by Columbus in 1492 was rivaled by
another major event in Spain in the same year. Together, these
two momentous events would pave the way to make the Spanish Empire the
greatest power in the world for nearly two centuries. Can you
name the other major event?
Answer to Question One:
Which is bigger, the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico?
you said Gulf of Mexico, then you are wrong. The
Caribbean Sea is nearly twice as large as the Gulf. The Gulf region
covers approximately 600,000 square miles while the extent of of the
Caribbean is about 1,063,000 square miles.
that leads to our Sixth question:
Which is larger, the Caribbean Sea or the
Head West, Young Man, Head West
The recorded history of the Caribbean literally began with Columbus.
Once Columbus gave Spain its foothold, Spain was
directly involved with the Caribbean for the next 400 years.
Spain would not permanently leave the Caribbean region until Teddy
Roosevelt gave them the boot in the Spanish-American War of 1898.
However, when the year 1492 began, no one would have predicted
Columbus would someday be important. Columbus was an obscure man
without a job or a patron. Fortunately, something important
happened in Spain that opened the door for Columbus. Can you
guess what 1492 event in Spain paved the way for Columbus?
don't know, don't feel bad. Very
few people are going to get this one. I certainly had no idea
I ran across the story while researching this article. So if you do actually guess
the answer, you really know your history!
was the year that the Reconquest of Spain was completed.
Most of Spain had been under Muslim control dating back to the 8th
Century. Spain had been dominated by the Moors from Northern
Africa for over 700 years!
but surely the Christian influence in Spain grew stronger.
Little by little the Moors were pushed back towards southern Spain.
However, in this region the Moors were strong. They were determined to hang in there.
Finally, in the
1200s, the Christian side got so involved in fighting civil wars
between themselves that they decided to let the few remaining Moors
be. An uneasy stalemate broke out that would last 200 years.
Reconquest of Spain began with the marriage in 1469 of royal cousins,
Ferdinand of Aragon (1452-1516) and Isabella of Castile
(1451-1504). Both areas were under Christian control.
Ferdinand was one of the most skillful diplomats in an age of great
diplomats. His union with Isabella eventually brought complete stability to the
regions of Aragon and Castile. Spain now became one of the best administered countries
After Ferdinand and Isabella put an end to the
civil wars between the Christians that had plagued Spain for
centuries, they turned their attention to the Moors. The King
and Queen decided to resume the fight that had been dormant for more than 200
considerable army was formed to attack Granada (southern Spain).
This last remaining pocket of Moors finally surrendered in 1492. Now
Queen Isabella of Castile took control of the area.
was a huge turning point in Spanish history. Spain was not only completely Catholic again,
it was a united country.
Ferdinand and Isabella were quite the dynamic duo. First they
had put an end to all the Spanish civil wars. Next they
conquered the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. Then they
finished cleaning house by evicting the remaining Moors. Now
they had time to turn their attention to the popular European game
of the day: finding a sea route to India.
years Christopher Columbus had shopped his idea for a westward
mission to India to practically every leader in Europe without much
Although Portugal had not quite made it to India yet, it was getting close.
No one paid much attention to Columbus
because it looked like Portugal's African route to India would soon be a
major reason Columbus had trouble finding a sponsor was that no one
believed his math. Columbus was convinced the western route to India
was actually the shorter path. Skeptics told Ferdinand
and Isabella there was no way the Earth was as small as Columbus
claimed it to be. If the Earth was indeed round, Ferdinand's
advisors figured the western route to India was probably twice as
long as Columbus believed (and they were correct!).
Ferdinand and Isabella were unsure what to do. Their closest
advisors said Columbus was a fool. Plus funding
Columbus would be very expensive. Unsure what to do, Isabella and Ferdinand decided to put Columbus on
retainer just so he wouldn't take his crazy ideas elsewhere. This
move allowed them to cover their bet and buy time.
the conquest of the Moors was complete, the King and Queen were now
free to turn their attention back to exploration. So in 1492,
they gave Christopher
Columbus a second interview. Isabella was still not convinced.
Columbus she would not back him. Despondent, Columbus was literally
packing his bags when her husband Ferdinand had a change of heart at
the last minute. Columbus would get his chance.
common myth was that the world was flat. If
so, then Columbus was indeed the bravest of the brave for risking
his life by challenging that view. However, that view has been
widely discounted in recent times. A
spherical Earth had been the general opinion of Ancient Greek
This view continued through the Middle Ages among the educated.
stopped all other explorers from trying the Western route was not
sea monsters or the cliff at the edge of the world myth, but rather
Mathematics. Since their calculations said the western route
was an enormous distance, why bother? In their opinion, the
Moon might actually be closer than India if they sailed to the west.
Columbus differed from the generally accepted view of his time was
his (incorrect) belief in a significantly smaller
diameter for the Earth. Columbus claimed that Asia could be easily reached
by sailing west across the Atlantic. Of course, he may have
just said that to get the job. Those exploring gigs were hard
know today, India is about 800 miles from Portugal as the airplane
flies east and about 1600 miles taking the western route of Columbus.
Although it is true that the scholars at the time of Columbus had no
idea of the existence of the Americas, their calculations pegged
India as begin MUCH FURTHER to the west than to the east.
scholars accepted Ptolemy's correct assessment that the terrestrial
landmass (for Europeans of the time, comprising Eurasia and Africa)
occupied 180 degrees of the Earth's sphere. They dismissed
Columbus's claim that the Earth was much smaller and therefore Asia was
only perhaps a short hop to the west of Europe.
basically, Columbus' discovery of the New World was not due to his
skill, but rather his ignorance. The New World had been discovered by one of the
most incompetent explorers of the day! Columbus
was literally the only sailor dumb enough to try this route. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
he landed in the Bahamas, Columbus
had found the outskirts of North
America, not India. Columbus wasn't sure what to make of his
could tell he wasn't in India, but he stuck to his
guns and assumed he
was at least close to India.
figured he had arrived in a scattering of islands just to the east of
India. Therefore Columbus decided to name this chain of islands "The
mistake has doomed every person in America to call our own North
American indigenous people "Indians" ever since.
All natives of the West Indies were referred to as "Indians".
Thanks to Columbus and his goofy math skills, wherever you go,
there are bound to be Indians of some sort. Ever since
the days of Columbus, everyone from Gandhi to Geronimo and Nehru to Cochise are
commonly referred to as "Indians".
Believe it or not, to the end of his life in 1506 Columbus
maintained that he had reached Asia.
Question Seven: Hispaniola was
the third island discovered by Columbus in 1492. Thanks to
Columbus, Hispaniola became the richest and most famous island in
the Caribbean. And yet today no cruise ship visits any place
Furthermore, you won't find it on any modern day map.
What made Hispaniola disappear?
The Final Indignity
make fun of Columbus, but the fact of the matter is that he did risk
his life. Sea exploration was incredibly dangerous. Many
explorers did not fare as well as Columbus. If a storm or a
hidden reef didn't get you, angry natives might do the job instead.
example, John Cabot who discovered North America in 1497 died at sea
on a return voyage in 1498. Bartolomew Dias died in a storm off
South Africa in 1500 still trying to make it to India. Francis
Drake, hero of England's battle with the Spanish Armada in 1588,
died off the coast of Panama in 1596 of dysentery.
explorers were killed fighting with natives. Thorvald
Eriksson, brother of Leif Erikson, died in North America in 1004
during a fight with "Indians" in Canada. James Cook, discoverer
of the Hawaiian Islands, was killed in 1779 by natives in a return
trip to Hawaii. Ferdinand Magellan, quite possibly the greatest
explorer of them all, died fighting natives in the Philippines in
his bravery and daring, Columbus clearly deserved all the credit for
his discovery of the New World, accidental or not. Columbus
single-handedly propelled Spain to glory.
Thanks to Columbus,
Spain went from a civil war-plagued underachiever to become the
greatest European power for the next 200 years. Spain's
dominance of the New World allowed it to exploit all the riches of the Caribbean,
Central America, South America, and even the Philippines (Magellan's
wealth began to flow back to Spain. This time
would become famous as Spain's Golden Age.
would think Columbus would at least get an island or something
important named after him, right? As it turned out, Columbus
paid a terrible price for his
continued insistence that he had found Asia.
Despite making four different trips to the New
World, even at his death
bed in 1506, Columbus was still convinced that his journeys had
been along the east coast of Asia.
Meanwhile, an accountant named Amerigo Vespucci
made a visit to the new Portuguese territory of Brazil in 1499. Vespucci
was not a particularly important man, but he was in the right place
at the right time.
The King of Portugal
needed a favor. King Manuel
wished to know whether this "Brazil place"
was merely an island or part of the mysterious
lands the Spanish explorers had
encountered farther north.
The King knew Vespucci had been to Brazil once before, so the King
asked him to take another trip specifically to form an opinion on
the next ship out, Vespucci made a return visit to Brazil in 1501
merely as an observer. As the ship traveled up and down the
east coast of South America, Vespucci became convinced these lands had nothing to do with Asia.
He concluded what he was seeing was rather a complete new land mass,
perhaps even a separate
continent with a size similar to Africa. After making his
report to the King, Vespucci then listed his idea in a couple of manuscripts that were
Meanwhile, about six years later, up in France a German mapmaker named
Martin Waldseemüller was
hired to create a theoretical map based on all the new discoveries from "The New
Waldseemüller had never been to the new world.
He was completely dependent on the eyes of others, so he gathered
every map and every article he could get his hands on. One
manuscript had been written by some administrator in the court of
King Manuel named "Vespucci". Waldseemüller reviewed the document
and was impressed.
comparing all the notes, Waldseemüller thought Vespucci's ideas made
more sense than Columbus. So in his 1507 world map, he included
a brand new
continent based on the recent discoveries.
Waldseemüller named this new land "America", a
Latin form of "Amerigo". And that is how the
Americas - North, South, and Central - got their name.
irony is that the lasting credit for one of the greatest discoveries
in history went to a nobody. Thus an entire hemisphere - Half
the World - were named for a man
who had never risked his life and had done absolutely nothing to discover the lands himself.
Vespucci's only contribution was to suggest that someone else's
discovery might be a little more important than anyone had guessed
quite yet. That makes about as much sense as renaming the Moon
for some secretary over at NASA, but that's what happened.
The Caribbean and Mediterranean are the
second and third largest seas in the world.
you name the largest sea in the world?
I didn't get it
right, so I hope you don't either.
Where did Hispaniola
"1492.... As children
we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year
people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of
Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the
continent of North America for hundreds of years before that.
1492 was simply the year the sea pirates came to rob, cheat, and
you have never heard of Hispaniola. Trust me,
I'm not very far ahead of you.
41 when I first heard of the island. It appeared as a question in a
crossword puzzle the day my daughter Sam was born in 1991. My
wife was in labor from 10 am till 10 pm. Twelve hours!
We thought that kid was never coming out!
out of my mind in the waiting room, I picked a paper and started
doing puzzles. I had never solved a complete crossword puzzle
in my life. Too busy. But not on this day.
Fortunately, the Tuesday crossword wasn't very tough. I was
able to make some good progress. There was one question that
intrigued me. It said "another name for Hispaniola".
5 letters. I thought I was better than average at geography,
but I was stumped. I had never heard of the darn place before!
worked the rest of the puzzle trying to get enough letters to figure
out the answer. I eventually guessed right and took great
pleasure in my achievement. Now I was hooked. From that
day on, I have worked the daily crossword puzzle ever since.
My daughter and my crossword hobby just recently turned 19.
All my knowledge from the Verdi opera "Aida" to the
Swiss River named the "Aare" I owe to crossword
puzzles. Now you know the dubious secret of my wisdom.
sure you looked at the maps and guessed the answer by now.
Hispaniola was the original name for the island shared by
Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This is the same island that
gave us voodoo. No surprise there; Hispaniola is
definitely the hard luck story of the Caribbean.
thing that is really weird is that I could find no explanation for
"why" or "when" the term "Hispaniola" stopped being used.
Let's have some fun. Take another look at those maps.
Do you see "Hispaniola"
listed? No, of course not.
is just a guess, but I believe the term "Hispaniola" stopped being
used when the island divided into two countries. Here is the
Hispaniola was the third island visited by Columbus in 1492.
First came San Salvador, an undetermined island in the Bahamas.
Next came Cuba. The third stop was Hispaniola. On
Christmas Day no less, the Santa Maria was grounded on a beach on
the Haiti side of the island and had to be abandoned.
to stop for a while, Columbus spend some time looking around.
Columbus decided it was time to head home. Just to mark his
spot, he left 39 men and founded the settlement of La Navidad.
Before returning to Spain, Columbus also kidnapped some ten to
twenty-five natives and took them back with him. Only seven or eight
of the native Indians arrived in Spain alive, but they made quite an
impression on Seville.
Believe me, the appearance of Columbus was definitely no Christmas
Present for the native people! Columbus did the native
inhabitants no favors.
the things Columbus remarked about in his diary was their lack of
modern weaponry. They lacked any metal-forged weapons whatsoever, a
major tactical vulnerability. Columbus commented, "I could
easily conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I
that was the least of the native's problems!
By introducing smallpox,
Columbus quickly wiped out
half the population. Then, in short order, the Spaniards who followed him
deported the remaining natives into slavery.
brutal story, but fairly common back then. If you
read the story of the Incans, the Aztecs and the Mayans, the same thing happened
to all of them.
It is estimated that 90% of
the natives of this area eventually died thanks to the Spanish. One of
the darkest ironies of the Spanish conquest is that so many of the
native people were killed in battle with the Conquistadors or died
of European diseases that the Spanish were forced to import slaves
from Africa to work the sugarcane fields of the Caribbean islands.
This of course explains how the entire Caribbean region came to be
repopulated by Africans. Misery followed wherever the Spanish