The official account of a Genoese Columbus trying to pass for a a Portuguese Colonus had to many holes in it that the Italians tried forgeries, the blatant denial of a genoese written language, and censorship of his Portuguese life to make a sinking ship float.
Today there is no doubt the whole "Genoese Columbus" history was false. But, so that no one thinks that Manuel Rosa was the first to try to bring sanity to the insane that twisted fairytale of a Genoese who could not speak Genoese and a peasant wool-weaver who married a high Portuguese noble lady, a mere 2 years after a shipwreck in Portugal, here are some views from nearly 100 years ago.
Besides the XXIII and 292 pages indicated, there are 201 sheets, or 402 pages, interpolated and not serially numbered, making the total number of pages 717. There are no running titles. There is no index. The table of contents is sketchy. There are no designated chapters. Neither lines nor paragraphs are numbered for reference. A preface by the Podestà, together with a note at the end of the volume, authenticates the work as a product of Genoa's municipal scholarship. This is followed by an introduction by a member of the commission, Dr. Giuseppe Pessagno, which is referred to (p. 287) as a Stutdio critico introduttivo. It informs us that the documents presented were selected for their pro-Genoa tendency ("Esaminata la mass documentaria col criteria delta prova della 'genovesita', si e visto". . . p. XIX); that its method is strictly "objective and impersonal" (p. XVIII), and on the same page, that it is "objective and necessarily not impartial, because the voice of the documents is one and does not admit of variants or compromises"; in other words, that this work is not a study, but a brief; that the case is argued with documents making links in a chain of absolute proof; that, therefore, no other evidence than that presented is worth considering; either the discoverer of America was the Christopher Columbus of Genoa, figuring in the Genoese documents, or he never existed. (" Cristoforo Colombo e quello dei documenti genovesi o non è ". P. XVI.) This dictum is the keynote of the work. With only apparent exception, the evidence presented is circumstantial. Being admittedly picked for its partiality, it is not the best obtainable, and fails to convince or satisfy,-- to say nothing of justifying the haughty pretensions of the author.
The body of the work is made up of facsimiles of printed matter and manuscripts compiled by another member of the commission, Professor Giovanni Monleone, with the assistance of Dr. Pessagno. It is interspersed with comments and discussions by Professor Mionleone, and includes three colored illustrations which might better have been maps.
Part I sets out printed texts and a few manuscripts dating from 1502 to 1837, most of them of the sixteenth century. They represent the discoverer variously as Genovese, di nazione or patria Genovese, cittadino [di Genova], without indicating whether natural born or nationalized, and in a few cases as a native of Genoa. I take the name Genova to stand for the city and the qualification Genovese to refer to the state; the word patria to imply native country or place of birth, according to context, and the word nazione, not. On this basis, I find that, of the 103 statements only eleven clearly credit the discoverer with being born in the city of Genoa. None includes its authority or source of information. Scant or no reference is made to persons who may have represented him as born outside of that place or have acknowledged or implied that they did not know where he was born.
Parts II and III are manuscripts; most of them unsigned and undated fragments. These are generally accompanied by a transcript and translation in print. For the date, the reader must rely on the printed heading or footnote, which he would do well to check when he can. On page 127, the heading gives the period of a series of documents as running from 1 October, 1450 to 1 November, 1451. The facsimiles, which happen to include the dates, show it to run from 10 November, 1450 to 25 September, 1451. The provenance and authenticity, rarely indicated in the facsimile, may be learned from footnotes, but not always as explicitly as desired.
On page 123, Document No. 1, which might be taken for an original of 1440 or a contemporary certified copy, appears from the fac-simile, to be an uncertified copy found in a pro-Genoese propaganda compilation, such as the one before us, made in the seventeenth century. The notable Assereto document (pp. XIII, XIX, 137, 173) passes as an original until critical examination finds it to be an indifferent, uncertified copy of two documents, themselves perhaps un-authenticated. On pages 108 and 144 we find material which in the manuscript appears to be struck out. If there is justification for its restoration, the reader may complain that it is not set forth.
Part II is divided into two parts, which we may call Section I and Section 2. Section 1 is composed of notarial deeds and deeds of the Genoa government, all in Latin, and section 2, of "other documents". Section 1 is subdivided into what may be called chapters, as follows:
- Geneological acts.
- Acts showing Genoa as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, and determining the year of his birth.
- Acts showing changes of residence between Genoa and Savona....
- Acts proving [?] the identity of the Columbus of Genoa and the discoverer of America.
In the above Chapter I, the seven 'genealogical deeds' are intended to prove his descent from one Johannes de Columbo, a wool weaver from Moconexi, eastern Liguria, residing (February 21, 1429) in Quinto, a suburb of Genoa, through one Dominicus de Columbo, son of a Johannes de Columbo, provenance and occupation unknown, and his wife Sozana, daughter of one Jacobus de Fointanarubea of Bisagno, also in eastern Liguria. The bits of more or less dubious and unrelated lineage, contained in these documents, are forced together into a rickety structure which, in the form of a family tree, is presented as Document VIII. This, all the same, is not a document, but a questionable composition by the author.
The object of the next chapter is to determine the birthplace and date of birth of the discoverer. The documents show, says the author, "that the birthplace is revealed by Christopher himself, who, being in Savona, declared himself in a legal deed to be 'a weaver of Genoa' ". . . Turning to this deed, we find that the declaration was made, not by Columbus, but by the notary, on what authority does not appear. Let us assume that he got it from Columbus. How does this prove place of birth? The author says, . . . "by this last declaration, made in a city of Liguria which was not Genoa., Columbus evidently intended to indicate the place in Liguria in which he was born". According to the author (p. 141, item IV), Cristoforo had been a. wool weaver in Savona as well as in Genoa. If then, in Genoa he had declared himself a wool weaver of Savona, he would have proved himself born in both places! So much for the place of birth.
The date of birth is placed between the 26th of August and 31st of October, 1451. The earlier date is computed by our author for a Christoforus Columnbus civis Janue (citizen of Genoa) summoned in 1479 from Lisbon to Genoa as a witness to a commercial operation of a Loldovco Centurione, about a year before (p. 173, Assereto doc.). Examined on the 25th of August, 1479, he gave his age as annorum viginti septem vel circa (about 27 years), which would put his birth about the 25th of August, 1452, or including his 28th year, as about said day and month in 1451.
The later date, 31 October, 1451, is determined for a Christoforus de Columbo filiuis Dominici (citizenship or birthplace or provenance not given) major annis decem novem (between 19 and 20 years of age). The deed is dated 31 October, 1470. This would place the birth between the 31 October of 1451 and of 1450. According to the author, the age given in this deed was declared by the witness himself (p. 121, No. VI). It was apparently a conclusion of the notary's, set down by him as evidence:
- As to the identity of the witness.
- As to his being of age to testify.
Chapter III treats of the movements of certain Columbuses between Genoa and Savona.
In Chapter IV we come upon the crux of the whole work: "Deeds proving the Identity of the Genoese Columbus with the Columbus Discoverer of America", followed by a Conclusione (pp. 161-178). With one exception, the seven documents here presented refer to the Columbus of Genoa. The exception is the questionable Assereto document. The relationships on which the author seems to rely for the identification of the two Columbuses are:
- Genoese, cousins (3 sons of Antonio, brother of Dominico, Christopher 's father) arranging to get in touch with a Christoforus de Columbo, admiral of the king of Spain.
- The Genoa firm of Lodovico Ceturione and Paolo di Negro, as employer in 1478, of a Columbus, citizen of Genoa and resident of Lisbon; together with the remembrance of this firm by the discoverer in his will.
- One Jeronimus de Portu, a Genoa creditor of the Genoa Columbus and, according to author, of the discoverer.
- The statement, on the 11th of October, 1496, as a fact of common report in Savona, that Christophorus, Bartolomeus and Jacobus, sons of Dominicus de Columbo, of Savona., had long been beyond the jurisdiction of Savona, living in Spain (p. 176) together with the identity previously established, of the Savona and Genoa Columbuses.
- The coincidence of the Christophorus de Columbo of Genoa and the admiral of the King of Spain, in name, in age, and in relationship in Genoa.
The Columbus of Lisbon, who is represented by the author as serving the firm of Centurione and Dinegro, appears in the Assereto document (p. 172) as Christofforus and as Cristoforus, Columbus, not as Christoforus de Columbo. He is said by the notary to be a citizen of Genoa. In his testimony, given under oath, he says nothing about citizenship or origin, but that he did go, for the forementioned Paolo Dinegro, on a commercial mission to the island of Madera in 1478.
He does not tell how he knew, if he did know, that his Paolo Dinegro was the one in this case, the partner of our Centurione. It appears from the document that the testimony of Centurione was shown or read to the witness as a preliminary to his examination; that he thus knew what he was summoned and expected to testify; also that his testimony is not given in his own words, but at best, in those of the notary and, possibly, not in the notary's words, but in those of a copyist. Under these circumstances, we can hardly take this testimony as proof of his having had any dealings with our Paolo Dinegro.
In 1502, the discoverer made a will which is lost. We have no certain knowledge of its contents. In 1505, he made a supplement, or codicil, to this will, without incorporating therein the will itself. This codicil was executed in 1506. Its original is lost. Our author presents it in print (p. 253) taken from Navarrete (Colección de los Viajes . . . II. (1859), 350), who gives it as a legally authenticated instrument (Testimonio authorizado) in the archives of the Duke of Veragua. It is not apparent why he does not furnish a manuscript copy of it. Navarrete's text may be divided into two parts:
- The aforementioned codicil, said by the escribano, Pedro de Iinojedo, to be in the handwriting of Cristobal Colon, and signed [in the same handwriting?] with his name.
- A postscript to the foregoing supplement, or codicil. This postscript is not signed by the discoverer, but is said by another esoribana, Pedro de Azcoytia, to be in the handwriting of the first part. There is no date to the postscript, but it was evidently written between the signing of the first part by the discoverer and escribano, August 25, 1505, and its execution with the signing by the other escribano, May 19, 1506.
In the postscript, Columbus, names the heirs of Luis Centurion, "a Genoese merchant", and those of Paolo de Negro, as legatees. He leaves a sum of money to be divided equally between the two families and another to go to the Centuriones alone, each sum in round numbers, without indicating any particular financial, civic, or blood relationship.
There is notarial proof that in Genoa, on the 22d of September, 1470, Dominicus, son of Johannes, de Columbo, and Christoforus, son of Dominicus, agreed with one Jeroninus de Portu, son of Bartholomeus de Portu, to submit a money question to arbitration; that six days later, Christophorus and Dominicus were obligated by the award to pay to said Jeronimus de Portu thirty-five lire within a year.
Our author says (p. 178, 1. 16, 17) that this de Portu is named by the discoverer in his will. Turning to the will (p. 252) we find a provision for payment: "to the heirs of Geronimo, del Puerto (Spanish), father of Benito del Puerto, Chancellor of Genoa, twenty [Spanish] ducats or its equivalent [in Italian money] "; nothing about the father of Geronimo.
It is reasonable to suppose that this debt of the Columbuses was paid within a year or two of its creation by the arbitral award in 1470, and it may be surmised that the 20 Spanish ducats, equivalent to about 129 lire, bequeathed about 34 years later, were an obligation of another Columbus to the same or some other Puerto. According to the author (p. 252-b), 20 (Spanish) ducats are about equal to 35 lire. My number, 129, is computed from the figures of Desimoni (Racc. di Doc., Pt. II, v. 3, pp. 124-125).
The "Deeds proving the Identity of the Genoese Columbus with the Columbus Discoverer of America" should leave us unconvinced, but if they did convince us, the proposition that the Genoese Christopher Columbus was born in the city of Genoa would remain to be proved. In the next and last section of Part II (pp. 179-194) are six documents bearing on these two points. Not one represents the discoverer unequivocally as a native of Genoa.
Part III is formed of Section 1, devoted to the autographs and other documents of the discoverer, in the archives of Genoa; and Section 2, to deeds of Christopher Columbus and of his relatives and descendants. These deeds consist of six wills and two formal affirmations. The first will is the notable entail, or mayorazgo, of 1498, containing the phrases: "I being born in Genoa" and "from it [the city of Genoa] I came, and in it I was born". This is the only piece of positive evidence as to the birthplace of the discoverer that can be taken seriously. Does it decide the question? The original of the mayorazgo, is lost. No legally certified copy of it has come down to us, but its legality is here of secondary interest. A document may be in perfect legal form and full of lies. Was this declaration made, was the original deed signed, by Christopher Columbus, the discoverer? Nobody really knows; but assuming that it was, did the discoverer know where he was born, and if so, did he tell the truth about it? There is room for doubt and speculation on each of these points. Without cross examination or corroboration, this testimony of his cannot be accepted as proof.
The second will in our series is the discredited military codicil of 1506. It is recognized by our author as apocryphal, but this does not prevent his drawing on it for evidence. "It is very significant," he says, "that the forger wishing to give to the codicil every appearance of authenticity, could not but fashion a Columbus born in Genoa". The forger's words are "meae Patriae Reipub[licae] Genuensi"; not a word about the city of Genoa. Besides, how could naming Genoa as the place of birth give to the writing an appearance of authenticity, except on the assumption that Genoa was the discoverer's birthplace? This is another case of gratuitously assuming what is to be proved. Most of the remaining documents have already been considered. None of them calls for further comment.
It is hard to imagine any one reading this bulky, scrappy opus through. The further one gets into it, the greater the vexation and disappointment. It will be used principally as a work of reference. In spite of the emasculation of the documents and the difficulty of finding one's way among them, it is a serviceable compendium of documentary data. As a demonstration that the discoverer of America was born in the city of Genoa, it stands a monumental failure.
(1)A translation of this work into English and German was issued in 1932. The English appears on the left hand page or column and the German on the right. The English title is Christopher Columbus: Documents and Proofs of his Genoese Origin; and the German, Christoph Columbus: Dokumente und Beweisse seiner Genueser Ierkunft. This edition is substantially bound in heavy white canvas- like cloth. The inside papers, front and back are a reproduction of the Juan de La Cosa map of 1500. The facsimiles of documents are excellent and bound in with care. There are also many facsimiles of title pages.
-- Source: The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 2 (May, 1933), pp. 204-212
Published by: Duke University Press
In view of the repeated expositions of the absurdity of these imaginary episodes, it is surprising that belief in them still exists in some quarters. At one time it was difficult to explain the legends other than on the assumption that the admiral later circulated falsehoods concerning his own youth. It now appears more likely that he was the innocent victim of biographers intent upon enchancing his reputation.... The definitive biography of Columbus seems relegated to the indefinite future. Recent "lives" of the great navigator are frankly popular in tone. The true Columbist, with a knowledge of the problems and pitfalls awaiting him, shrinks from the biographer's task and confines himself to monographs. The problem of Columbus calls for the efforts of a superscholar, versed in many fields of learning other than history. With the possible exception of Humboldt, the past produced none answering this description. If the future yields one such, willing to devote a lifetime to a single topic, there may someday be a univer- sally accepted history of the discovery of America."
Fresno State College
-- Source: The American Historical Review, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Jul., 1939), pp. 802-822
Published by: American Historical Association