What is the Columbus Log Book?
On the voyage of 1492 Columbus recorded his journey in a log book – a daily journal that would normally be kept by the captain of a ship to record weather and distances traveled. For Christopher Columbus his log book became much more. It was his way of telling the story of the voyage in detail while it was happening. The problem for historians today is that the original log book, written by Columbus himself, no longer exists.
What Happened to the Log Book?
When Columbus completed the voyage, he gave the original log book to Queen Isabella who kept it in her personal collection. By the time Isabella died in 1504, the log book had disappeared, and has not been seen since.
The Las Casas Copy
Fortunately, Bartolomé de Las Casa, a historian and Catholic priest who knew the Columbus family, made a copy of the log book before it vanished. But the copy that Las Casas made was abridged which means it was not a word-for-word copy. Instead, he left out some parts that he felt were less important, and even added his own words in some parts, leaving historians to figure out which words were from Columbus and which were Las Casas.
Even though it is not a perfect copy, we are fortunate to have the Las Casas version. Historians believe Las Casas tried to preserve Columbus’ original writing as much as possible. Even in its abridged form, the story of 1492 comes alive by reading this historical record. We can only imagine how much more we could learn if the original Columbus log can some day be found.
The Las Casas copy does exist today. It is kept in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid and has been translated into many languages. If you go to your local library and find a book there called “The Log Book of Columbus” it is probably based on the Las Casas version, and will still let you experience 1492 in some of Columbus’ actual words.
1 Columbus, C., & Fuson, R. H. (1987). The log of Christopher Columbus. Camden, Me: International Marine Pub., p.1.
Sources and Further Reading
Columbus, C., & Fuson, R. H. (1987). The log of Christopher Columbus. Camden, Me: International Marine Pub.
Fernández-Armesto, F. (1991). Columbus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.68-70.
Dor-Ner, Z., & Scheller, W. (1991). Columbus and the age of discovery. (Companion Volume to the PBS Series) New York: W. Morrow, p.123-125.
* Roop, P., & Roop, C. (2000). In Their Own Words: Christopher Columbus. New York: Scholastic, p.6-10, 91-92
* Dodge, S. (1991). Christopher Columbus and the first voyages. New York: Chelsea House, p.81.
* Columbus, C., & Lowe, S. (1992). The Log of Christopher Columbus:the first voyage. New York: Philomel.
* Young Reader's Selection