Oct 12, 1492 CE: Columbus Makes Landfall in the Caribbean

Oct 12, 1492 CE: Columbus Makes Landfall in the Caribbean

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus made landfall in what is now the Bahamas.


5 - 12


Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, World History

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On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus—a skilled sailor searching for a western trade route on behalf of Spain—made landfall in the Bahamas. This marked the first known European contact with the Americas. The island upon which he landed was known by the indigenous Lucayan people as Guanahani, though he renamed it San Salvador.

The modern identity of Guanahani remains a subject of historical debate, and over the years, multiple Bahamian islands have been suggested as candidates for Guanahani, including Sanama Cay, Rum Cay, Grand Turk Island, and the Plana Cays. However, the most popular theory is that Guanahani is the island today known as San Salvador. Previously called Watling Island, the island's name was officially changed to San Salvador in 1925 to recognize Columbus’s first landing.

The Lucayan people of the Bahamas were part of the broader Taíno culture, which had a well-established society with defined social structures, a strong government, and a trade network through which Taíno communities exchanged goods. They exported and imported such things as pottery, baskets, tools, jewelry fashioned from available resources, and wood carvings. Though the Taíno were friendly upon first encountering Columbus, they soon led armed resistance to Spanish efforts to kill them, enslave them, or assimilate them.

Columbus took several Lucayans as slaves, and subsequent colonizers continued the practice. In less than 30 years, through enslavement, murder, and disease, the Lucayan people were essentially wiped out of existence. In modern times, indigenous activists have launched organized efforts to preserve the language, culture, and arts of the indigenous Caribbeans that survived the European colonization started by Columbus.

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National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 31, 2023

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