Columbus, Marriage and his Ships

As a child, I was often inspired by historical stories and events, to name a few that I remember well were stories relating to the Spanish Armada, The Black Death, Joan of Arc, The Tudor Court, Guy Fawkes, Norse Mythology and the voyage of Columbus. I remember borrowing books from the library on historical subjects when I was as young as seven. What I didn’t realise was this interest would become an obsession and would eventually spark my interest with genealogy. I soon realised how connected the two were, with hard work and countless hours (years to be honest) of research, historical events of old can sometimes cross into your family history. European History and European Genealogy both share the same origins.

One of my more interesting family connections exists with the Island of Madeira and the Portuguese nobility, The year was 1479 and a very distant aunt (17th grand-aunt) Filipa Moniz Perestrelo (c. 1455 – c. 1484) marries one of the most famous Maritime Explorers of all time Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506).

Pedigree of Margarida MENDES VASCONCELLOS

Pedigree of Margarida MENDES VASCONCELLOS (1510 – 1558), my 14th great-grandmother and wife to William Gross of Great Yarmouth (1504 – 1558)

Filipa Moniz Perestrelo (c. 1455 – c. 1484) was a Portuguese noblewoman from Porto Santo Island, in Madeira, Portugal. She was the wife of Christopher Columbus, married in 1479 in Vila Baleira on the island.

Filipa Moniz was the daughter of Isabel Moniz and Bartolomeu Perestrelo. Prior to marrying she was one of the twelve elite Comendadoras of the Monastery of All Saints in Lisbon of the Military Order of St. James, which means she had a comendaryHer step son Ferdinand Columbus and her brother-in-law Bartholomew Columbus, described her as a “noble Comendadora” residing in the Monastery of All Saints.

Discussing the question how Christopher Columbus, the son of a Genoese wool weaver, could marry the daughter of a Portuguese Knight of Santiago, member of the household of Prince John, Lord of Reguengos de Monsaraz (Master of Santiago,) and of Prince Henry the Navigator’s household, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that this is “no great mystery.” Filipa was “already about 25 years old,” her mother was a widow “with slender means,” and “her mother was glad enough to have no more convent bills to pay, and a son-in-law […] who asked for no dowry.”

Another view is presented by Portuguese professor Joel Silva Ferreira Mata, who researched All-Saints and its residents, showed that as “member” of the Order of Santiago, in order for Filipa to marry the future Admiral Columbus, she, like all members, required authorization from Santiago’s Master, because, like all other religious and military orders, the Order of Santiago had its established rules and protocols by which it was governed. The Master of Santiago from 1470 to 1492, thus governing at the time of Filipa’s marriage, was King John II of Portugal. From this marriage was born Diego Columbus in 1479 or 1480 who went on to become 2nd Admiral of the Indies, 2nd Viceroy of the Indies and 3rd Governor of the Indies and who married King Fernando’s cousin, María de Toledo y Rojas. Thus Filipa Moniz was daughter of a King’s Captain, wife of a Viceroy and mother of another Viceroy.

Columbus had a second son, Fernando, from Beatriz Enriquez de Arana, after Filipa died, in 1488.

Filipa’s fate is unknown and it is uncertain whether she was dead before Columbus left Portugal, nor is her cause of death known. Current scholarship places her death sometime between 1478 and 1484. She was buried in the Capela da Piedade (Chapel of Piety), which is the first chapel to the right of the main chapel in the Carmo Convent along with her sister, Izeu Perestrelo and her brother-in-law, Pedro Correia da Cunha.

Insight on Christopher Columbus and his ships

The ships of Christopher Columbus are well-known worldwide. Columbus had three ships in his fleet, Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria


A depiction of Niña as a caravel on the left

A depiction of Niña as a caravel on the left

The first and foremost is the “Niña.” La Niña (Spanish for The Girl / also known as The Little One) She was originally named as ‘Santa Clara’ after the patron saint of Moguer. As in those days, ships or Spanish vessels were generally known by nicknames. These nicknames can be either feminine or named on her home port. Niña was the most favourite of Columbus.

About Niña

Name: Santa Clara
Namesake: Santa Clara Monastery
Owner: Juan Niño
Launched: Before 1492
Nickname(s): Niña
Fate: Last log 1501
Notes: Name is Spanish for “little girl” – captained by Balboa
General characteristics
Class and type: Caravel
Tons burthen: 50–60 tons
Length: 15.24 m (50.0 ft) on deck
Beam: 4.85 m (15.9 ft)
Draught: 2.07 m (6.8 ft)
Complement: 24

Smallest of all the three was the Niña. She possessed a capacity of around 50 or 60 tons. The other dimensions of the ship included a length of 15 meters, beam 5 meters, and depth 2 meters. However, she was re-engineered in the Canary Islands.


On Columbus’s first Voyage, Vincente Yanez was the captain of Niña. She successfully completed her first voyage and brought Columbus home safely. Her second voyage was a moment of pride as she was the part of the grand fleet to Hispaniola. Another victorious moment was when Columbus selected her out of seventeen ships for his flagship voyage to Cuba. Columbus loved Niña so much that he had invested half of his shares in her.

More Achievements

Niña was the only one who survived the massive hurricane of 1495. She not only brought back the chief of the Naval staff but also 120 passengers to Spain in the year 1496. She was the advanced guard for the third voyage of Columbus. Her last trip was in the year 1501. It was a trading journey to the Pearl Coast. Niña traveled 25,000 miles under the command of Columbus.

Modern Era Niña

John Patrick Sarsfield, an engineer, and maritime historian started building an exact replica of this pristine 15th Century Caravel. He identified a group of master shipbuilders in Bahia, Brazil. Finally, in Valenca, Sarsfield Niña came into existence. In September 1492, she recorded the eight busy years of her life. Further, in 1991 she left Brazil. She is well-known as a sailing museum which continues to discover new ports and is also one of the most magnificent little ships in world history.

About Pinta

Name: Unknown (see nickname)
Launched: 1441(?)
Nickname(s): La Pinta
General characteristics
Type: Caravel
Tons burthen: 60–70 tons
Length: 17 m (56 ft) on deck
Beam: 5.36 m (17.6 ft)
Draught: 2.31 m (7.6 ft)
Propulsion: sail
Complement: 26

In comparison to Santa Maria, Pinta was smaller, faster, and a lighter caravel. Not much is known about her. She was approximately 70 tons. The captain for this ship was Martín Alonso Pinzón. He was a leading mariner of Moguer in Andalucía. The other dimensions of Pinta include a length of around 17 meters, depth 2 meters, and beam 5 meters. Except for length, her other dimensions are similar to that of Niña.
Not much history and information is known about Pinta. The explorers primarily used her during the era of discovery. She returned home and vanished from history.

La Niña and La Pinta replicas at the 1893 Columbian Exposition

La Niña and La Pinta replicas at the 1893 Columbian Exposition

About Santa Maria

Name: Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción (originally La Gallega)
Namesake: Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Owner: Juan de la Cosa
Launched: 1460
Struck: 25 December 1492
Fate: Ran aground
General characteristics
Type: Carrack
Displacement: est. 150 metric tons of displacement
Tons burthen: est. 108 tons BM
  • est. hull length 19 m (62 ft)
  • est. keel length 12.6 m (41 ft)
Beam: est. 5.5 m (18 ft)
Draught: est. 3.2 m (10 ft)
Propulsion: sail
Complement: 40
Armament: 4 × 90 mm bombards, 50 mm culebrinas
Notes: Captained by Christopher Columbus

The best of all Santa Maria was nicknamed as La Gallega. In old Spanish, she was a ‘nao,’ in simple words a ship. Whereas, today we call this kind of ship a Carrack. So, out of all the three, she was fattest and slowest. Hence, she was mainly designed for transportation or hauling cargo. This ship cannot be used for explorations. Few sources say that it has the capacity of 100 toneladas or 100 tons. The length of this ship is about 18 meters, depth of 3 meters from keel to deck and beam 6 meters. Further, she possessed three masts, i.e., fore, main, and mizzen. Also, each of them was carried by a large sail.

Ship model at Fort San Cristóbal, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Ship model at Fort San Cristóbal, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Moment of Pride

A milestone achievement for Santa Maria was when her admiral Christopher Columbus carried out his most significant ocean crossing. On 3rd August 1492, she was all set to travel from Port Palos de la Frontera (Huelva, Spain) and reached America on 12th October 1492. All three ships that is, Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria sailed together in this voyage.

Where is Santa Maria?

Although Santa Maria was the slowest, the biggest advantage of this ship was that she could transport and carry high heaps of cargo. She could also survive in adverse weather conditions. Unfortunately, the ship ran aground off Hispaniola and was abandoned.

Her Replica

A replica of Santa Maria has also been created. The prime objective to build its replica was to relive the history and hence promote the tourism, heritage, and culture of the province of Huelva. As its construction was going to be an iconic symbol of identity for Huelva.
The true replica was designed by Fundación Nao Victoria (Spanish Institute), which had expertise in historic ships. It took around 300,000 hours of work and 14 months to complete her. The most awaited moment was when she was ready to sail in March 2018. There were approximately 100 marine professionals and trades who were engaged in this construction. She weighed 100 tons, and her average crew was 45 members.


Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. There are no known authentic portraits of Columbus

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. There are no known authentic portraits of Columbus

Facts about Christopher Columbus: He was an Italian navigator and explorer. He sailed across the Atlantic ocean from Spain with his three ships in the year 1492. The main aim of this voyage was to find a new route to India. From the year 1492 to 1504, he made four voyages in all. This journey was to the Caribbean and South America. He was a very well-known Italian explorer and was the first person to discover the New World. Or at least that’s what the history books tell us, He not only opened the way for European exploration and exploitation but also colonization of the Americas.

Italian name: Christoforo Columbo
Spanish name: Cristóbal Colón
Birth: 1451
Death: May 20, 1506

Appearance: He was fair complexioned, tall, and lean. His hair colour was originally red, but turned white prematurely. He had a reddish face, blue eyes, and a hawkish nose. He spoke Spanish fluently, but his accent was difficult to understand by people.

Belief in God: He was very religious, his religiosity was to such an extent that his Sundays were devoted only for prayers.

Personal Life: Christopher married a Portuguese woman, Ms. Felipa Moniz Perestrelo in the year 1477. She was my 17th great Aunt and died soon in the year 1484 while giving birth to a son.

Early Life: He was born in a middle-class family in Genoa, presently it is a part of Italy. At that time, this city was popularly known for explorers. He had two siblings a sister and a brother in Italy. In his teens and as a young man also he traveled extensively. He visited Africa as well as the Mediterranean and also learned sailing and navigation.

First Voyage:
His first journey started on August 3, 1492, with his three ships Niña, Pinta, and his flagship Santa Maria. They moved towards the west and spotted land on 12th October. The name of the Island was San Salvador. Later on, they sailed to other islands also, these were Cuba and Hispaniola. Unfortunately, on December 25, the flagship ran aground and hence Columbus had to abandon her forcefully. In March 1493, he returned to Spain.

Second Voyage:
As, Columbus lost his biggest ship and due to many other reasons, his first Voyage was a failure. During his first journey, Spanish monarchs showed their interest in his discoveries. Hence, they financed his second voyage. The prime objective was to create a permanent colony. In October 1493, around 1000 men and 17 ships began their journey. When they returned, they realized that angry natives had killed everyone. They discovered the city of Santo Domingo and got to know that Columbus was in charge. Unfortunately, to keep the starving colonies alive, he had to return to Spain in March 1496.

Third Voyage:

Herein, he returned to the New World in May 1498. He had to send half of his fleet to resupply Santo Domingo and reached north-eastern part of North America. He and his brother were not good as administrators and kept little wealth for themselves. Due to which, Columbus was sent to Spain for help.

Fourth Voyage:

By this time, he was in his fifties and felt that he could have one last expedition. So, he managed to convince the Spanish crown for his last journey of discovery. Even though he was a poor governor but no one doubted on his discovery and sailing skill sets. He left in May 1502 and reached Hispaniola. He forecasted a major hurricane here and sent an ultimatum to the 28-ship fleet which were going to depart for Spain. They ignored him and had to bear the consequences of losing 24 ships. During this journey, he explored more of the Caribbean and returned to Spain in 1504.
He also convinced King Ferdinand that this voyage would bring the abundant riches that he promised. So, he started in 1502. He traveled along the eastern coast of Central America; however, it was an unsuccessful search for the route to the Indian Ocean. On this journey, it was his bad luck as a storm damaged one of his ships leaving captain and sailors on the island of Cuba until repairs were made.
In the last two years of his life followed by his last voyage, he was mainly struggling to earn back his lost titles and riches. Although, he was able to regain some of the riches in May 1505 but could not gain his titles back. He died of severe arthritis followed with an infection on May 20, 1506.
Columbus is remembered as a bold, daring and path-breaking explorer who transformed the New World with his explorations.