There are three things we know about Columbus in 1492. When he got here, he thought he was in India. He was deliriously happy about that because that meant he would be rich—just as soon as he came back with the silks and spices. And though he had seen drawings of Indians by explorers who had come around the other way, he did notice these natives didn’t look much like them. They must be another type of Indians, the kind that didn’t make silk or grow spices.
Columbus did go from place to place after noticing these things. He was looking for what he had seen in these drawings. But he never found them. Finally he went home empty handed.
From our perspective, although appreciative that we were discovered in 1492, it certainly would be good if we knew where he landed. It’s a big eastern coastline, 10,000 miles and more. Numerous places claim to be the first place he landed. Montauk Point by the lighthouse, at longitude 41.05, is one of them.
You can make a good case for Montauk. We know that Queen Isabella of Portugal sponsored his journey. We know that if you follow the longitudinal line going straight across the Atlantic from Lisbon, you land at Montauk Point. That would be the shortest way across and that is what he would have wanted to do. It’s a fact.
Actually, Lisbon is at 39.60 longitude, and you have to go north 200 miles along the Portuguese coast to get to 41.05 longitude at the coastal City of Porto. But what we also know about Columbus is that after leaving the Queen and her entourage at the dock in Lisbon waving and shouting bon voyage at them, the Columbus expedition hugged the coast going north for a day, and then, by golly, when they got to Porto and picked up final supplies, including gasoline, it is indeed from there that they headed off! And Porto is at 41.05!
It is also known Columbus and his ships the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria, encountered a group of small islands called the Azores about a third of the way across. Earlier explorers who did not go all the way across, told him he’d find these islands a third of the way across. There were six islands in all, named for the explorer who discovered them in 1456. He was Carlos Gamma de Azores.
Columbus landed at one. There is still Columbus’s footprint in the sand on that island, which today is known as Angra do Heroismo. (Strange name for an island.)
It is this footprint—Columbus’ second toe was bigger than his big toe—which has been found on the beach in Montauk in front of the lighthouse! And it’s still there too!
You might note that the island Columbus stopped at is back at 39.60, the same longitude as Lisbon, and 200 miles south of the route Columbus was trying to track after he left Porto and that is true. But things were different back then and with the navigational tools not quite up to snuff to what they are today, it was just one of those things, one of those coincidences it being back at the level of Lisbon.
It is also true that in the Atlantic Ocean just off Portugal, the prevailing winds go north to south, and so it’s possible the little ships got blown off course just a bit. Later when they hit the Gulf Stream, where the winds go south to north, they wound up right back at 41.05 at Montauk when they got here.
You might suggest that Columbus knew this was going to happen. But that’s a stretch.
So what is the proof, besides the single footprint on the beach at Montauk Point, that Columbus first set foot at Montauk?
There are two proofs. For one thing, numerous Portuguese coins, escudos—this was before the Euro—were found in 2005 among the rocks at Montauk. Those who knew Columbus back in Europe say that everywhere he went, you could hear coins jingling in his pockets. It was how you knew he was coming. So it makes perfect sense that he came ashore jingling and some of them fell out. The other proof we have is that recent scientific carbon dating analysis of the toe jam in the footprint reveals unequivocally that it came from October 8, 1492, which is five days before October 13, 1492, which is when he set foot supposedly on one or another of the islands in the Caribbean and which we today celebrate as Columbus Day.
We also think we know which side of Montauk Point Columbus landed on. It was the southwest beach, where the cliff rises to 60 feet and from which you cannot see the lighthouse at the top. In Columbus’ diary for October 8, he reports not seeing any lighthouse, although he did hear a series of hoots in the fog. It was indeed a foggy day.
“Whereupon between one hoot and another, I had the men row me to a shallow place where I rolled up my pantaloons and put my foot over the side and into the sand, but then thought better of it because I could not see beyond the fog and was worrisome that wolves or bears might be about and so pulled my foot back into the boat and had the men row us back to the ship.”
This was at 11:15 a.m., Eastern Standard Time. At 2:45 p.m., back on the ship, he wrote this.
“Men are getting restless. We are running out of cabbage. I have ordered a course due south. We break out the rum.”
What more proof do you need?