Anthropologist says Christopher Columbus critics have their history wrong

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 12:05 p.m. Tuesday.

Vermont is on the verge of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but the reasons for doing so are at odds with history, says a top anthropologist and author of a book about the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

To those who support abolishing one of America’s foundational holidays, Christopher Columbus, the 15th century Italian explorer largely credited with discovering the Americas, was a bad character who allegedly committed atrocities, including pillaging Native Americans and participating in slavery.

But to Carol Lowery Delaney, an anthropologist who served as assistant director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard, and who is a professor emerita at Stanford University and a research scholar at Brown University, that view of the explorer is pure fiction.

Photo courtesy of Carol Lowery Delaney

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: Carol Lowery Delaney, an anthropologist from Rhode Island, says Christopher Columbus did not pillage or enslave any indigenous people during his lifetime and travels.

“First of all, people know nothing about Columbus, and they are blaming him for things that he did not do,” she told True North.

Earlier this month, the Vermont Legislature passed S.68, an act relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said he will mostly likely sign it, and he dismissed the holiday as “just a day,” saying “we’ll get through it.”

But Delaney says Vermont is yet another example of state leaders and the public getting it wrong about Columbus. As a lifetime academic who received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago and wrote the book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem,” she’s in a position to know.

“His whole project was to sail east to meet the Grand Khan in China, set up a trading post, and trade for gold. And that gold was supposed to be used to finance a crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims before the end of the world,” she said.

Delaney’s in-depth research into the life of Columbus included traveling to Spain, where she read original copies of his writings from more than 500 years ago.

“I was amazed when I actually held one of his letters in my hand. I thought the whole thing was gonna fall apart,” she said.

Putting the late 1400s in perspective, the Black Death plague had killed millions of people, sparking widespread belief in a world-ending apocalypse. To the east, Constantinople had fallen to the Muslims, who cut off Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem and blocked the trade route to the Far East. Columbus wanted to find gold to fund a crusade and discover a trading route going west across the ocean.

Delaney said while Columbus was religious, he was not a greedy individual seeking to pillage or enslave indigenous people in the Americas. He never owned slaves.

“He was friends with the natives he met [and] he remained friends with them throughout his four voyages,” Delaney said. “ … He took six of them back and they were baptized, and baptized people could not be enslaved. One of them became the godson of Columbus and remained his loyal interpreter for all of his voyages.”

Battles with local indigenous people did occur, however. After Columbus arrived and made a voyage back to Spain, he left a crew of 39 men behind with instructions not to mistreat the native Americans.

“So he gets back from Spain and all of his men are dead,” Delaney said.

When the explorer returned to Hispaniola, he found his fort and men destroyed by the native Taino people. In some cases his own men were to blame for mistreating the people living around the various settlements.

“They had went against his orders ‘Do not go marauding, do not go raping, do not go pillaging.’ Columbus was friends with the chief there and his whole group of people. Columbus was furious about what his men had done,” Delaney said.

If Scott signs the bill, the second Monday in October will become Indigenous Peoples’ Day, no longer the famous American holiday celebrated for centuries as Columbus Day. Similar bills have become law in New Mexico, South Dakota and Maine.

“This is a great travesty,” Delaney said. “From his writings and all the research that I’ve done about him, I’ve actually come to like [Columbus] very much.”

She added that she has no problem with creating a separate day to recognize indigenous people, so long as it doesn’t replace Columbus Day.

“I think people are feeling politically correct that we should be paying more attention to the indigenous people,” she said. “That’s a good point, I have no problem with that.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Carol Lowery Delaney

31 thoughts on “Anthropologist says Christopher Columbus critics have their history wrong

  1. Very interesting how this article has garnered so many comments. I appreciate Ms. Delaney’s knowledge, but who would I be to challenge her. I wasn’t with Chris on on any of his voyages nor was I with Ms Delaney when she read his letters. Despite how history has painted him, I hope Ms Delaney’s is true. Just as certain aspects of Columbus’ writings have not been common knowledge to the public, there are such obscure writings belonging to other explorers who have visited North America’s Eastern shores. Yet they are ignored, ridiculed, and accused of being faked documents, designed to unseat Columbus title as discoverer of the America’s. If one is open to truth, then indigenous people or their ancestors were the true discoverers. They didn’t just crawl out of the sea, shed fins, sprout legs and walk upright. They came from elsewhere. Who discovered Spain?

  2. The Valladolid debate (1550–1551) was the first moral debate in European history to discuss the rights and treatment of the colonized Native American people by colonizers. The debate concerned the ability of native cultures that practiced slavery, sacrifice and even cannibalism, to be governed with the same rights as Europeans. Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Dominican friar with first hand experience, felt that Indians should be governed like any other people in Spain. Other’s disagreed.

    What most people fail to realize is that the demise of the Native Americans on the east cost began before colonization. When the Pilgrims arrived, for example, they were greeted by some English-speaking natives. Yes, Native Americans had travelled back and forth to Europe for nearly 100 years before Plymouth Colony. And it was the diseases the natives encountered that did them in for the most part. Some estimates say 95% of the east coast population died from disease and, in some cases, there weren’t enough living to bury their dead.

    Make no mistake, treatment of Native Americans by colonists deteriorated greatly as a result of the French and Indian War ending in 1763. What happened afterwards was abhorrent. But it had less to do with Columbus than is commonly understood. What Columbus’ son, Diego, did to the natives years later in the Dominican Republic is another matter entirely….a discussion for another time.

  3. I can’t find one compelling reason to substitute recognition for the historic global achievement of an individual with a category of people. It’s just more identity politics being pushed on voters.

  4. Many of those who go to Montpelier on our behalf obviously are confused about the purpose of our governance!
    But I can assure you they are not sent to promote their relevance or opinion with the legislation they introduce.
    What is disturbing about this is the waste of time and the fact that there was enough support to pass it!

    • We ALL can post this on the governor’s website and send it to the president! The more people the better…

  5. Christmas is next you watch. The PC machine in VT is out of control.

    Vt’s become a butt of Jokes for the rest of country. Every time I tell someone I used to live in VT they look down, shake their head while grasping their forehead with their dominate hand. At first I was a little miffed, now I just laugh it off.

  6. If this bill was introduced and written based on lies, then in no way should it be passed into law. Thank you Ms. Delaney for the interesting history lesson and I would hope some of our Legislators would take the time to read your article. It is a travesty that we are slowly erasing history in this country.

  7. A truthful and lightening meaningful historical piece, that is if anyone cares about history anymore. Are we all so crazy that we’ve lost the will to reject this nonsense coming out of Montpelier?

  8. Harvard, Stanford, Brown, author, anthropologist, what does she know? The idiots in Montpelier would rather rather take the word of a bunch of screamers in the streets with home made signs. Will this insanity ever end???????? Unlikely!!!!!!!!!!! Indigenous people day????? You can’t make this up.

  9. Carol Lowery Delaney, it doesn’t matter what the truth is about Columbus, as you already
    know ” Liberal Legislators ” are on a path to ” cleanse the world ” of history, that does not
    fit their ” politically correct ” mindset………….. I guess they’ll sleep better with a new name
    for the same holiday ??……..Idiots.

    S.68, this will change history………Yeah !! and then our RhinocRAT Governor Scott will
    most likely sign….. to show he still relevant.

  10. Indigenous peoples day,
    The leftist fascist REVISIONIST history per the most immoral group that’s ever invaded the
    space under the golden dome. I’m beginning to wonder if all that lead golden paint is seeping
    into their craniums..
    Thanks for the research Carol that will fall on deft ears as the leftist dolts have made up their mind
    to change ours..It’s their “White guilt” we must pay the price of false history for.

    How about the indigenous animals that the Indigenous peoples killed off. Don’t they get a day?

    • I hardly believe she stated those exact words. More than likely the wording was chosen by the journalist. A little quick to judge aren’t we ???? Did we miss her well made point ???

    • Is that all you got out of her whole conversation is she made a grammar mistake? Seriously!!

  11. The same politically correct people want to remove confederate statues, and its clear they know nothing of the causes that stated the civil war. In fact northern newspaper articles from 1861 and before talk about how will the north survive if the south succeeds and there no tariffs to support the cost of government, and worse almost all the trade with Europe would go to and from southern ports leaving the North with little. And yes slavery became part of the reason, especially two years after the war started and the largest public riots the US has seen (yes larger then anything in recent history) were in NY over the draft, and Lincoln needed help to move public opinion to support his war.

    In short the nation and Vermont has been over run by some really stupid people.

  12. Great article Michael!

    We should have Carol in charge of history for our state, but alas, we seem to be in love with indoctrination. Sad times for truth and searching for it.

    Wonder if anyone in the committees listened to opposing arguments? Phil is wrong on this, it’s not “just changing a day” it’s changing history for lies. Have to chuckle about what the money was going to be used for, that certainly is not politically correct. Our founding fathers were well aware of the problems a theocracy possess and also wisdom and love from religions.

    There is a big difference, but people aren’t open to discuss it.

  13. Vermont has gone totally politically correct NUTS since I grew up there! It now wants to be the model for the entire nation. Think Bernie Sanders et al tyoes . Let’s hope a bit of sanity starts to reign , if not in Vermont, then in the rest of America. When education becomes nothing more than progressive ideological fiction with no interest in teaching or learning actual history, America will go the way of those other great societies who ventured down the same path. Anarchy and propaganda and barbarism alone will rule. We are well on our way already .

  14. Good for Carol Delaney. She has illuminated the cult of “political correctness” that becomes a wave of fiction instead of Fact.
    Someone starts an ill-researched myth, people too lazy to corroborate the truth of it (mostly because it fits their “new correct” view) jump on board, and fairly soon the fabricated myth becomes real to the majority. Then a real, honest researcher comes along AND DOES THE WORK to discern the truth and then, for sure, has to deflect questions of authenticity, intent, and outcomes as sure as a warrior equipped only with a shield is called to deflect the arrows of intractable political correctness.
    It takes a whole lot of chutzpah to go down that road.
    Again, good for Ms.Delaney!

  15. Does anyone in the VT legislature do any homework? It took Senator Baruth weeks to come up with a gun control bill by his own admission. Maybe someone should listen to Carol Delaney and save months of research. OOPS, I clicked twice, sorry about that.

  16. Does anyone in the VT legislature do any homework? It took Senator Baruth weeks to come up with a gun control bill by his own admission. Maybe someone should listen to Carol Delaney and save months of research.

  17. Great enlightenment that counters the fairy tale we were taught in public schools when I was a lad. It would have been nice to know that he was not the first “European” to come across the “pond”.
    Sad that the Vermont stone hovels of the Vikings found in VT are not taught either.

  18. “And that gold was supposed to be used to finance a crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims before the end of the world,” she said.”. Uh, oh. Nail in the coffin. That Columbus was a Catholic Christian and claimed his ‘discovery’ for God doesn’t bode well for keeping him as a national figure, either. And of course, ‘truth’ has nothing to do with his elimination. To these nuts, Columbus was just another Toxic White Male. Catholic. Fighting Muslims. Has to go.

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