A silk trail to Columbus
COLUMBUS AS MEMBER OF A WOOL WEAVER FAMILY.
The generally accepted biography of Christopher Columbus asserts that Christopher Columbus was member of a poor wool weaver family of Genova. It is also assumed that Columbus and his brothers, Bartholomew and Diego, have worked as wool weavers in his youth. This theory is based in a set of Genovese documents relative to a Colombo family that lived in Genova and Savona in the second half of the XVth. century and that several historians have identified as the family of the discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus.
There is no doubt that this Colombo family traded with wool and had a small wool weaving workshop. In the year 1472 Cristoforo Colombo, as witness in Savona to a testamentary deed, declares himself to be a “woolworker of Genoa” (in the Latin text: “Christoforo de Colombo lanerio de Janua”.) If we would accept this identification, we would agree with the bishop of Nebbio, Agostino Giustiniani, in his assertion, expressed in his “Psalterium Poliglota”, printed in 1516, that the parents of Columbus were only poor commoners. This identification of the Genovese Colombo family as the family of Columbus is false, because it enters in flagrant contradiction with the true facts of the discoverer of America. Columbus asserted that he began his sailing experience very young, at 14 years of age. If so, he would never have identified himself in 1472 as “lanerius” but as “marinerius”, sailor or captain of a ship.
As we have demonstrated in our article “Columbus, Corsair, and the Pinzón brothers, Pirates, in the Mediterranean before 1492” (1), in 1472 the true Columbus was a ship captain of the navy of the count of Provence René d’Anjou and lived in Marseille. In order to become a ship captain, Columbus should be at least older than 25 years, and these facts show us again that the true discoverer of America was at least 5 years older than the woolworker Cristoforo Colombo of Genova. No coincidence of the two personages is possible.
THE COLUMBUS’S BROTHERS AS SILK WEAVERS.
The above quoted bishop of Nebbio, Agostino Giustiniani, in his work “Castigatissimi Annali con la loro copiosa tavola della Eccelsa et Illustrissima Republica di Genova”, printed in 1537, asserts that the parents of Columbus were commoners, having been his father a wool weaver and Columbus himself a silk weaver (“di parenti plebei, come il padre fussi tessitore di panni di lana et lui fussi textore di seta”). It seems that, three decades after Columbus’s death, it arrived to Genova the gossip that the Columbus’s brothers had been somehow related to the silk weaving industry in their youth. If so, it is again very clear to us, that the wool weaver Cristoforo Colombo, aged 21 or 22 in 1472, could not be the discoverer of America, because Columbus entered Portugal in 1476 and in the meantime, nobody will convince us that he, instead of living as a sailor, he was trying to become a silk weaving master in Genova or somewhere else.
THE INQUIRY OF “COMENDADOR” FRANCISCO DE BOVADILLA
In the last 100 years there have been discovered only two unknown original documents in the historical archives, public or private, in Spain, relative to Columbus: A set of 9 letters written by Columbus (copies of the XVIth century) and the inquiry that the “comendador” Francisco de Bovadilla had done in Santo Domingo against the general governor Christopher Columbus, short before 1500. Both documents are important, but, in mine opinion, the inquiry of Bovadilla is the most interesting of both. Thanks to this last document we have known a lot of details of the government of Columbus in Santo Domingo seen from the point of view of his opponents.
This inquiry was discovered ten years ago by the historian Isabel Aguirre, who is the reference chief at the General Archive in Simancas, the historical archive of the Crown of Castile. Mrs. Aguirre transcribed the manuscript written in between 1504 and 1506 (it is, therefore, a copy), and it was published in 2006 in collaboration with Dr. Consuelo Varela in a book entitled “La caída de Cristóbal Colón; El juicio de Bobadilla.” (2). From this inquiry we have selected three different assertions given by three testimonies:
Francisco de Sesé: “..., and to another woman, because she said bad gossips against the Admiral and his brothers, her tongue was cut, being her fault to have said that the father of Columbus had been a weaver and his brothers also weavers and his assistants in the weaving workshop.”
Juan de Salazar: “He declares, that the “Adelantado” (Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Columbus), when he was spying among the houses at night, he heard that two women, that were Teresa de Baeça and Ynés de Malaver, were saying that de Admiral and the Adelantado were simple commoners and that Don Diego, their brother, he had been an apprentice in weaving silk clothes, and for this reason he ordered to cut their tongues and to flog them. And I know this because I saw it.”
Rodrigo Pérez:“He declares, that about five years ago, two women, known as Teresa de Baeça and Ynés de Malaver, said that the Admiral and their brothers descended from a weavers family and that a moslem master had teached weaving techniques to Don Diego, and that, due to this fault, their tongues were cut...”
The terribly strong punishment that Don Bartholomew Columbus ordered to give to the two gossiping women implies, in our opinion, that they were saying the truth and that they were unveiling a hidden or secret past of some of the Columbus brothers. As we really believe that Christopher Columbus entered his sea activities very early in his youth, as he declared twice, we discard any possible apprenticeship period learning silk weaving techniques. But we think it to be perfectly possible in the case of Bartholomew and Diego Columbus, especially this last and younger member of the family.
We want to point out as very important and as very decisive the assertion that the silk weaving master of Don Diego was moslem, because such sort of master hardly could be found in Genova or Savona. Instead, as we will see hereafter, there was a centuries long tradition of silk weaving techniques in the Kingdom of Valencia, especially in the cities of Valencia and Xativa, that, brought first to the Iberian Peninsula by the Islamic invaders, after the conquest of these territories by the Catalan kings, the silk industry continued in the hands of the remaining “moriscos” as well as in the domain of many converted Jewish families (called “conversos”). In the second half of the XVth century to be a silk weaver in Valencia meant that you were or Genovese, or a Jewish Converso or of Moslem origin.
THE RICHART DOCUMENT: BARTHOLOMEW COLUMBUS IN VALENCIA FROM 1479 TO 1484?
Bartholomew Columbus, the brother of Christopher Columbus, is cited only in a single document, dated 15th of June of 1480, in the Genoese Archives, before 1492 (3). Therefore, any new document relative to Bartholomew Columbus before the discovery of America, will be considered of high value for our studies related with the great admiral.
Mr. Jaume Richart Gomà, historical researcher resident in the city of Valencia, has recently discovered a document preserved at the Notarial Archives of the Corpus Christi College in Valencia, known as “El Patriarca”, that has merited our attention, because it may be relative to an unknown period of the life of Bartholomew Columbus spent in Valencia, from which we had had no previous knowledge. In honour of its discoverer, we have named this document as “the Richart document”.
The Richart document is a contract of apprenticeship between a young man, Bartholomew Columbus, and a textile master, Antonio di Piero, Florentine, both living in Valencia, in order to learn the art of weaving silk clothes called “Domassos” (Brocades in Catalan). The date of the document is 1479, 23rd of August, and it is preserved among the documents of the notary Joan Valero (Ref. APPP. 28.487). The document is written in Latin and our free translation to English of the beginning of this document is as follows:
“Monday 23rd. of the month of August of the year of the birth of our Lord 1479: Bartholomeus Colom, Genovese, now resident in Valencia, declares to be older than 20 years, and by this act I offer myself to you, master Antonio de Piero, Florentine, master of “domassos”, now resident in the present city of Valencia in order to serve you as an apprentice in order to learn the art of “fer et teixir domassos”, during the time span of five years from the present day onwards, respecting the pact by which you, magnificent Antonio, you will feed and dress me following the traditional costumes, and in the second year you will have to pay me one hundred “regalia”, etc…”.
We will analize several aspects of this document in order to determine if it refers to Bartholomew Columbus, the brother of Christopher Columbus or not.
The citizenship of this Bartholomew is Genovese and the family name is COLOM: This document would have not attracted our attention at all if there would not be clearly indicated the citizenship of the apprentice as being Genovese, because, as his family name is written as Colom, and not as Colombo or Columbis, as we would expect from an Italian lineage, in case of being the apprentice a citizen of Valencia, the contract would be a standard one, as many other related with similar apprentices. We know of the existence at this period in Valencia of christians as well as conversos lineages using the same name Colom. We wonder why the notary has written Colom instead of Colombo in this document, but as we may observe that he was not very keen in writing Latin, because he writes the profession to be learned in Catalan language, we can consider, that he has translated the family name Colombo to the Catalan language in the form of Colom, that has the same meaning. Therefore we still may consider that this document refers to a Bartolomeo Colombo, Genoese, and, therefore, it can still be the brother of Columbus.
The age of the apprentice: The apprentice declares to be slightly older than 20 years and, therefore, this Bartholomew Columbus was born before the 23rd of August 1459. The brother of the great admiral declared in a trial hold in Santo Domingo in the year 1512 that he was older than 50 years. Based in this declaration many authors consider the approximate year of birth of Bartholomew Columbus as 1461. As both age statements seem to be approximate, we still may consider that our apprentice living in Valencia in 1479, may still be the brother of Columbus.
The profession of the apprentice: Due to the fact that a standard apprentice of this time would enter a workshop in order to learn his future job around the age of fourteen, or even before, it seems undoubtedly, that, in the case of our Bartholomew Columbus, he becomes apprentice of a higher level of weaving techniques after having got a previous know-how as a normal weaver, for instance, as a wool weaver. All the Colombo family of Genova is considered to have earned her life as wool weavers and therefore we have another very important coincidence in order to allow us to keep thinking that the “Bartholomeus Colom”, apprentice in Valencia, may be the Bartolomeo Colombo of the Genovese Colombo family.
The apprentice in Valencia is the Bartolomeo Colombo of the Genovese documents? The family name, citizenship, age and profession of the apprentice in Valencia seem to be coincident with the characteristics of the Bartolomeo Colombo, wool weaver, of the Genovese documents. Italian scholars may say, that there could be several Genovese citizens with the same name, age and profession in the same period. But to this opposition, we may rebate that, having been so much studied all the Genovese documents of this period by Italians scholars, in the search of elements relative to the great Christopher Columbus, they would have found the existence of these other homonyms. And, as far as we know, there are no more documents about any other Bartolomeo Colombo in this time.
Italian scholars may deny also the identification of the apprentice in Valencia with his Bartolomeo Colombo by saying that the very only known document relative to the Genovese Bartolomeo dates from 1480, fact that could demonstrate that Bartolomeo was staying in Genova or Savona and not in Valencia in the period 1479-1484. But this argument is invalid, since the document relative to Bartolomeo dated 1480 is a power of attorney given by Domenico Colombo to his son Bartolomeo, and in many cases, the person that receives the power of attorney is not present at the moment of expedition of the document.
Does the Richart document refers to the brother of Christopher Columbus?
The period from the year 1479 to the year 1484 spent by the apprentice in Valencia is compatible with the known life of Bartholomew Columbus, brother of the great admiral? Fernando Colón and friar Bartolomé de Las Casas tell us very little about the life and facts of the brother of Columbus in their biographies about the great admiral. Nevertheless, based on their books, all the authors accept nowadays that the period 1476 – 1485 correspond to the Portuguese period in the life of Columbus and both authors affirm that Bartholomew Columbus was staying in Lisbon or in England in the same period working as cartographer, or as a corsair with sterling pirates, or taken prisoner by these corsairs.
Therefore, there is a total incompatibility between the known and generally accepted life and facts of Bartholomew Columbus, the brother of Christopher Columbus, with the “Bartholomeus Colom” of the Richart Document, if Fernando Colón and friar Bartolomé de Las Casas are right. The logical consequence is to admit that the Richart document does not refer to the brother of the discoverer of America. But, seen the almost perfect match between the apprentice in Valencia with the Bartolomeo Colombo of the Genovese documents another deduction may be derived from the Richart document: the wool weaver Colombo family in Genova was not the true family of Columbus and the identification done by several authors as Giustiniani, Gallo and Senarega of that family as the family of Columbus seems to be completely false. The absence of Bartolomeo Colombo from Genova after 1479 was due to his residence in the city of Valencia, and not for living together with Columbus in Lisbon.
This very stunning consequence of the analysis of the Richart document, that denies the identification of the wool weaver Domenico Colombo as the father of the discoverer of America, gives the reason to Fernando Colón, the second son and biographer of his father Christopher Columbus, when he protested earnestly against such identification of his ancestors family with the Genovese Colombo family. Why should ancient Italian scholars know better the origin of Columbus than the son of Columbus? The denial of the identification of the weaver Colombo family of Genova as the family of the discoverer of the New World, does not signify that Columbus could not be of Genovese citizenship, but all the documents concerning all the family members of Domenico Colombo, his wife Susanna Fontanarossa and his sons should be discarded as concerning the family of Christopher Columbus.
We have also to remember, that Fernando Colón has not been the very single person in rejecting the identification of the Genovese Colombo family as Columbus’s original family. The very proper Senate of the City of Genova sent a letter to his ambassador in Madrid, Giovanni Battista Doria, dated 7th of November 1586 (4), accepting that Christopher Columbus was born in Cogoleto! If less than 80 years after Columbus’s death, the senate of his supposed native city was convinced that he was not a Genova born citizen of the republic, why shall we think otherwise?
Nevertheless, as we have not found any other document about Bartolomeus Colom in Valencia, that may demonstrate that he remained in the city until 1874, there still remains the possibility that the brother of Columbus may be that “Bartolomeus Colom” that ended his apprenticeship soon and joined Christopher Columbus in Lisbon.
COLUMBUS, VALENCIA AND THE SILK INDUSTRY
Although up to now no scholar has established any relationship between Columbus and the city of Valencia and no record is preserved of any visit of Columbus to the city of Valencia, we still believe in a possible and close relationship between the Columbus’s brothers and the city of Valencia. In the chapter 131 of his “History of the Indies” (5), Friar Bartolomé de las Casas tells us that, when Columbus wanted to compare the beauty and luxuriance of the vegetation of the island of Santo Domingo, he said:
“And Columbus said, that, although any other thing could not be of any profit in these islands, except these lands, that are so green and full of trees and palms, taking advantage to the orchards of Valencia in the month of May, they should be hold in great esteem. And his statement is true.”
In order to be able of doing such a comparison, Columbus should have visited the city of Valencia in some occasion, but we did not know when this fact happened. In which month of May visited Columbus Valencia?
During all the XVth. century, there was a very important silk industry in the Kingdom of Valencia. The Valencian silk producing companies were in the hands of Moriscos, Conversos and Genovese immigrants, that were silk traders and silk weaver masters. In the second half of the century the silk factories owned by the so called “Genovese” were predominant. In fact, most of the Genovese families working in Valencia came from Savona. They were Savonese as the Gavoto clan, who established himself with great economic success in Valencia since 1442 onwards.
I accept now as very probable that Diego Colom was an apprentice of silk weaving techniques in Valencia with a morisco master. I may accept also that Bartholomew Colom may have begun an apprenticeship in silk weaving in Valencia with a Florentine master, that, highly probably, he never ended.