It would have been so natural to give the name of Columbus to the new world which he gave to Castile and Leon, that much wonder has been expressed that America was not called Columbia, and many efforts have been made to give to the continent this name. The District of Columbia was so named at a time when American writers of poetry, were determined that "Columbia" should be the name of the continent. The ship Columbia, from which the great river of the West takes that name, had received this name under the same circumstances about the same time. The city of Columbia, which is the capital of South Carolina, was named with the same wish to do justice to the great navigator.
Side by side with the discussion as to the name, and sometimes making a part of it, is the question whether Columbus himself was really the first discoverer of the mainland. The reader has seen that he first saw the mainland of South America in the beginning of August, 1498. It was on the fifth, sixth or seventh day, according to Mr. Harrisse's accurate study of the letters. Was this the first discovery by a European of the mainland?
It is known that Ojeda, with whom the reader is familiar, also saw this coast. With him, as passenger on his vessel, was Alberico Vespucci, and at one time it was supposed that Vespucci had made some claim to be the discoverer of the continent, on account of this voyage. But in truth Ojeda himself says that before he sailed he had seen the map of the Gulf of Paria which Columbus had sent home to the sovereigns after he made that discovery. It also seems to be proved that Alberico Vespucci, as he was then called, never made for himself any claim to the great discovery.
Another question, of a certain interest to people proud of English maritime science, is the question whether the Cabots did not see the mainland before Columbus. It is admitted on all hands that they did not make their first voyage till they knew of Columbus's first discoveries; but it is supposed that in the first or second voyage of the Cabots, they saw the mainland of North America. The dates of the Cabots' voyages are unfortunately badly entangled. One of them is as early as 1494, but this is generally rejected. It is more probable that the king's letters patent, authorizing John Cabot and his three sons to go, with five vessels, under the English flag, for the discovery of islands and countries yet unknown," was dated the fifth of March, 1496. Whether, however, they sailed in that year or in the next year is a question. The first record of a discovery is in the account-book of the privy purse of Henry VII, in the words, "August 10th, 1497. To him who discovered the new island, ten pounds." This is clearly not a claim on which the discovery of the mainland can be based.
A manuscript known as the Cotton Manuscript says that John Cabot had sailed, but had not returned, at the moment when the manuscript was written. This period was "the thirteenth year of Henry VII." The thirteenth year of Henry began on the twenty-second of August, 1497, and ended in 1498. On the third of February, 1498, Henry VII granted permission to Cabot to take six English ships "to the lands and islands recently found by the said Cabot, in the name of the king and by his orders." Strictly speaking, this would mean that the mainland had then been discovered; but it is impossible to establish the claim of England on these terms.
What is, however, more to the point, is a letter from Pasqualigo, a Venetian merchant, who says, writing to Venice, on the twenty-third of August, 1497, that Cabot had discovered the mainland at seven hundred leagues to the west, and had sailed along it for a coast of three hundred leagues. He says the voyage was three months in length. It was made, then, between May and August, 1497. The evidence of this letter seems to show that the mainland of North America was really first discovered by Cabot. The discussion, however, does not in the least detract from the merit due to Columbus for the great discovery. Whether he saw an island or whether he saw the mainland, was a mere matter of what has been called landfall by the seamen. It is admitted on all hands that he was the leader in all these enterprises, and that it was on his success in the first voyage that all such enterprises followed.
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