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Decoding the Columbus Letter

Subject Social Studies — US History
Grade Level Grades 9-12
Resource Type Lesson Plan
Attributes Good for Parents
Standards Alignment


On his return trip to Spain, after his first voyage of landing on the islands of an unnamed continent in October 1492, Christopher Columbus wrote several letters describing what happened during his time exploring the islands. According to numerous sources, one letter was for the Monarchs of the Spanish Court, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand; one was addressed to Luis De Sant Angel (Santangel), who helped finance the voyage; and one to Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer of the Monarchs.

Columbus wrote in Spanish; some note with a blend of Portuguese. He was also versed in Latin. Few original documents remain written by Christopher Columbus. Copies of his letters were made – by hand – then sent to printers throughout Europe, where the letters were translated into different languages, copied, printed, and distributed in other countries. At least 17 editions of the printed and translated letters have been documented.



Students will learn about the three letters written by Christopher Columbus after his first voyage. Through activities and class discussions, students will compare the letters and gain an understanding of Columbus and the differences in the translated letters.


Grades 9 to 12; Class Sessions: 2 and flexible options for continued study.


Influence on colonization patterns and colonial development
Students will trace European contact with Native Americans, including the Dutch, the English, the French and the Spanish.
Students will examine the impact of geographic factors on patterns of settlement and the development of colonial economic systems.


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