Lesson 3 - The Columbian Exchange
In this lesson, the student will review the reciprocal impact resulting from early European
contact with indigenous peoples.
The text of this lesson was reprinted with permission from the Constitutional Rights Foundation. "The
Columbian Exchange". Bill of Rights in Action Summer 2009: 6-10.
In 1492, Columbus brought the Eastern and Western Hemispheres back together. The resulting swap of Old and
New World germs, animals, plants, peoples, and cultures has been called the “Columbian Exchange.”
Humans from Asia probably first entered the Western Hemisphere between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago. They
could have traveled by foot across a land bridge, by small boats along the bridge coastline, or by both methods.
About 10,000 years ago, the sea level rose, submerging the land connection between the two hemispheres. The
two hemispheres took separate biological and cultural paths.
Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailing for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, landed his three ships on
an island in the Caribbean in 1492. Columbus explored several nearby islands, including a large one the Spanish
called Hispaniola, shared today by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
On Hispaniola, Columbus found the Taino, a people who grew crops he had never seen before, such as sweet
potatoes, manioc, peanuts, and tobacco. The Spanish and Taino traded and enjoyed friendly relations. Columbus
noted the Taino possessed small objects made of gold, which they mined on the island.
Columbus established a settlement on Hispaniola, Villa de la Navidad, the first European outpost in America. He
left about 40 of his men there and headed back to Spain with astounding news.
Aboard ship, Columbus wrote a report of his discoveries: “I discovered a great many islands inhabited by people
without number, and of them all I have taken possession on behalf of Their Highnesses.” He described strange
trees, fruits, birds, and “beautiful thick soil.”
Columbus described the Taino people as “very good looking” but “unbelievably fearful.” They had no iron or steel
and only bows and arrows for weapons. “They still think I come from heaven,” he wrote with amazement.
Columbus declared at the end of his report that in the future he could bring the king and queen gold, spices,
cotton, and slaves.
At first, Columbus thought he had reached the Indies, islands off the southeast coast of Asia, and called the people