Columbus Pearls
The Top Priority for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

The discovery of vast oyster beds in the New World generated a "Columbus pearls rush" whose bounty flooded European markets.

The following is the start of an amazing article about Columbus pearls.

The article was published in Natural History, Oct, 2001 by Neil H. Landman, Paula M. Mikkelsen, Rudiger Bieler, Bennet Bronson

Columbus's Pearls--Christopher Columbus Explorer

Inspired by greed, a messianic desire to convert the world to Christianity, and fierce competition with the oceangoing Portuguese, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain sponsored the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus in an "enterprise of the Indies": finding a new route to the riches of the Orient. Under the contract, Columbus, as Admiral of the Ocean Sea, was granted authority over all the lands he discovered, as well as 10 percent of the value of all goods obtained. In turn, the monarchs made a list of what they expected. By chance or design, pearls were the first item on this list.

Columbus set sail westward in 1492, made landfall in the Bahamas, and then explored the coasts of Cuba and of Hispaniola (the island comprising modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). After establishing the settlement of La Navidad on Hispaniola, Columbus returned to Spain in triumph, with gold, cotton, and Indians to be baptized, but without pearls. Not until his third trip, in 1498, when he reached the South American mainland, did Columbus finally find the long-sought supply of pearls--in what is now Venezuela, along the Gulf of Paria near the mouth of the Orinoco River. Noticing that the women at one Indian village there wore bracelets of "pearls or baroque pearls of high quality," Columbus bartered for these ornaments with needles, buttons, scissors, and broken majolica plates and asked about the source of the pearls. The natives gestured to the north and west.

He sailed on, passing the islands of Cubagua and Margarita, sites of what would ultimately become known as the Pearl Coast, the richest pearl grounds in the Americas. By coincidence, he gave Isla de Margarita that name--the Greco-Latin word for "pearl"--to honor Infanta Margarita of Austria, who was engaged to marry the heir to the Spanish throne. Once back in Hispaniola, Columbus became so embroiled in mediating colonial politics that he sent two ships back to Spain on their own, carrying letters that mentioned nothing about the Venezuelan Columbus pearls.

Read an account of Columbus and pearls published just 50 some years after his third voyage.

Go to main famous pearl page after Columbus pearls.