January 5, 2023

Early Years of Christopher Columbus

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”History has all the worlds best stories, and the life of the weaver’s son who discovered America could hardly be matched even by the most inventive imagination.” Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Childhood of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy.

Columbus’s grandfather, Giovanni Columba, shows up on town records on the year 1429, when he apprenticed his eleven year old son, Domenico(Columbus’s Father), to a weaver. They were a family of weavers and taught the trade generationally.

Domenico married Susanna Fontanarossa around the fall of 1451. They had a son the following year, there is no documentation of the exact date, but many people have guessed the date of Columbus’s birthday, but there is not sure knowledge of the the date. Best guess is St. Christopher’s Day July 25 and many speculate that Columbus was born on or around that date.

Even as a young boy Christopher Columbus came to view his name as prophetic, following the legend of St. Christopher. He viewed himself as the "bearer of Christ" to the people of the New World.

The weavers of Genoa ran a small primary school that would have taught the children Latin, they were taught for the purpose of business, letter writing and book keeping to further their trade abilities. Columbus would have learned to read and write in Latin and in Castilian through these schools. It does not appear that he ever became fluent in Italian, which is evident through his letters and journals.

Columbus knew he was called of God

Even though the family of Columbus was proficient in cloth weaving the sea is what spoke to Columbus. The town of Genoa, where Columbus was born, was a seafaring city, and Columbus was ready to conquer it.

As a young boy in Genoa, Columbus would have been familiar with the explorer Marco Polo who had been held prisoner in his city of Genoa in 1298, hundreds of years before Columbus was born, but instrumental in the desire to discover and adventure. Marco Polo had been held prisoner in the Palazzo San Giorgio in Genoa in Italy. It is at the Palazzo San Giorgio where Marco Polo told people of his travels, and they were written down, recorded for history. He told of his travels to Asia, and his service to the Great Khan of Mongol Empire. These stories would have been passed down in Columbus’s town and would have probably had an effect on young Columbus.

Even though Columbus’s family were cloth weavers Columbus felt called to a different path in life. He felt called to the sea. When Columbus was around fourteen years old he started sailing, according to Fernando, the son of Columbus. Columbus said “At a very young age I began to navigate upon the sea, which I have continued to this day.”

Columbus wrote a letter once explaining his action to leave the family business and pursue the sea life, it said “since thou wast born, ever has he[God] had thee in his watchful care.” When he was old enough “of the barriers of the Ocean Sea which were closed with such mighty chains, He gave thee the key.”(p.24)

A man named Las Casas, who was eight years old when Columbus returned from his fist voyage said this “God granted to this man the keys to the awesome sea, and deemed that he and no other would unlock the darkness.“

Perfect Timing

There is not much known about the early years of Columbus at sea, but we do know it built his knowledge and ability as a seaman. Columbus ended up in Portugal, and Portugal was the perfect place for him!

Christopher Columbus young adult life if Portugal made for the perfect school for this young man. Portugal was pushing for great explorers and many of these people helped Columbus prepare for his great first journey.

An author of one of Columbus’s biographies, Morison wrote:

“This lucky landing in Portugal was the turning point in Christopher’s career, for chance had washed him ashore in the world-center of oceanic voyaging and discovery. He was among people who could teach him everything he was eager to learn: Portuguese and Castilian, the languages of far-ranging seamen; Latin to read the geographical works of the past; mathematics and astronomy for celestial navigation; shipbuilding and rigging; and above all discovery.”(p.28)

In Portugal, Christopher Columbus took up the career of being a map maker. When he was not at sea he was making maps. They believe the map making was to help him with his propositions for his expedition and to help prepare him for navigating the great sea.

Columbus in Portugal

In Portugal Christopher Columbus met his wife and became a father. It was through his wife’s connections he could start propositioning the royalty for fund for his journey. Things seemed to be going pretty well for the young sailor, but then tragedy stuck.

Columbus had prepared for years to bring his petition to the King of Portugal, and felt the Lord was preparing the way for him to take this journey to discover a new path to India. Columbus meet with the King and It seemed like Columbus had made a good impression on the king, but the courts refused his request for his journey. They would not fund his expedition, they felt like he was not able to do what he hoped and refused him. After all these years of preparation, and inspiration it was a very heavy blow for Columbus.

The difficulties did not stop there for Columbus, not long after the first request to the king which was refused, then Columbus’s wife died leaving him a widow and in debt.

As President Henry B. Eyring once said “If you are on the right path, it will always be uphill. The Lord is anxious to lead us to the safety of higher ground." The struggles Columbus faces were surmountable because of his faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our struggles can make us stronger and better people, or can crush us, depending on where our faith anchored. Columbus did not let these set backs stop him and he was able to find the “New World” because he did not give up when things got hard.


Christopher Columbus, A Man Among the Gentiles.” By Clark B. Hinckley

Other Blog Posts on Columbus:

Get to Know Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus Quotes by LDS Leaders

First Voyage of Christopher Columbus

First Return Trip of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus “Keys to Unlock the Sea.”

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