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Just where did Columbus first see the New World?

This and related pages copyright © 1997-2010 by Keith A. Pickering
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It's hard to believe, but after five hundred years there's still disagreement about just where Columbus first saw the new world and set foot upon its shores. It's a real-life mystery, and you are the detective. No theory is perfect, but we'll review some of the best known theories, and suggest the most likely answer. (You may be surprised.) Lignum Vitae Cay landfall Lignum Vitae Cay landfall Egg Island landfall Egg Island landfall Cat Island landfall Cat Island landfall Conception Island landfall Conception Island landfall Watlings Island landfall Watlings Island landfall Samana Cay landfall Samana Cay landfall Plana Cays landfall Plana Cays landfall Mayguana landfall Mayguana landfall Caicos Islands landfall Caicos Islands landfall Grand Turk landfall Grand Turk landfall

Map of the Bahamas, showing the suggested landfalls of Columbus. Click the white circles to learn more about each theory.

Columbus visited five islands in the Bahamas before reaching Cuba. He named these (in order) San Salvador, Santa Maria de la Concepcion, Fernandina, Isabela, and Las Islas de Arena. The last of these has been identified with the modern Ragged Islands in the Bahamas. The first four are in dispute. To avoid confusion with modern placenames, the first four are referred to in Roman numerals as Island I through Island IV. The native names for these islands were Guanahani for Island I and Samoete (or Saomete or Samoet) for Island IV. The native names for Island II and Island III were not recorded.

The Clues to the Landfall
The Landfall Scorecard


Theories with a few problems:

The Plana Cays theory: Keith A. Pickering (1994); Ramon J. Didiez Burgos (1974)
Newsflash: latest scientific research supports Plana Cays landfall.

The Mayaguana theory: Antonio Varnhagen (1825), [amended].
The Samana Cay theory: Joseph Judge (1986); Gustavus Fox (1882)


Theories with a lot of problems:

The Conception Island theory: Steven Mitchell (1991), R. T. Gould (1943)
The Watlings Island theory: Samuel E. Morison (1942); James B. Murdock (1886); et al
The Caicos theory: Pieter Verhoog (1947)


Theories Way Out On A Limb:

The Grand Turk theory: Robert Power (1983), Fernandez de Navarrete (1825)
The Cat Island theory: Alexander S. Mackenzie (1828)
The Egg Island theory: Arne Molander (1981)
The Virgin Islands theory: Dr. Luis M. Coin Cuenca (1989)
The Lignum Vitae Cay theory: John H. Winslow (1989)


Most of these theories have been effectively falsified, generally because there is no longer any historian actively advocating them.

Active support for the once widely-held Watlings theory collapsed in the spring of 1996, after the Leagues-versus-Miles dispute was resolved in favor of leagues.


Not so new:

The 1992 US Naval Institute debate on the Columbus landfall: Moderator William F. Buckley awards a TKO to the Plana Cays theory. After Keith Pickering's pointed question from the audience, embarrassing failures to answer followed from panelists Samuel Loring Morison, Steven Mitchell, and Joseph Judge.

A brief history of the landfall dispute.

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