Columbus's Crew

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Contrary to popular myth, Columbus's crew on the first voyage were not a bunch of cutthroats. They were mostly 'hometown boys' from Andalusia, and nearly all experienced seamen. It is true that the Spanish Sovereigns offered amnesty to convicts who would sign up for the voyage, but only four men took up the offer: one who had killed a man in a fight, and three of his friends who then helped him escape from jail.

Of the four voyages of Columbus, only the crew of the first voyage is completely known. Alice Bache Gould spent decades combing various archives in Spain, eventually accounting for each of the 87 crewmen of the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Her research was published in fragments, but a summary is given below.

Gould's research differs from earlier work published by John Boyd Thacher. A comparison of the two lists can be found in The Log of Christopher Columbus by Robert Fuson (see the bibliography).

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Crew of the Santa Maria:

Crew of the Pinta:

Crew of the Niña:

Wages

On the first voyage, the crew was paid as follows: Masters and pilots, 2000 maravedis per month; able seamen, 1000 maravedis per month; ordinary seamen and ship's boys, 666 maravedis per month. Total payroll was 250,180 per month.

So what is a maravedi worth? It is impossible to say, because the value of goods has varied so much since then. But roughly 5 or 10 cents (US) is about right. Here are some commodities and their values in 1492 and 1999:

Commodity1492 price1999 price
Gold3000 maravedis per ounce$260 per ounce
Silver100 maravedis per ounce$5.30 per ounce
Wheat73 maravedis per bushel$3.50 per bushel

If you're interested in what they ate, the Castello Banfi winery in Italy has posted an essay by Lucio Sorre' on this topic.

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