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Book II: Columbus and his companions. (A. D. 1492-1503.)


Reception of Columbus by Ferdinand and Isabella.

The following passages are taken from ‘Select Letters of Christopher Columbus,’ published by the Hakluyt Society, London, 1847, pp. 1-17, 20-22, 27, 33-36, 40-42, 114-121, 129-138, 200-202, 205-210, 214-225. These letters were translated by R. H. Major, Esq., of the British Museum.


I.—The first letter from Columbus.

[this letter was written on board ship, by Columbus, March 14, 1493, ‘to the noble Lord Raphael Sanchez, treasurer to their most invincible Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain.’ it was written in Spanish, but the original is supposed to be lost. Latin translations of it were made and published in different cities; and a poetical translation was made in Italian, and was sung about the streets of Italy.

Knowing that it will afford you pleasure to learn that I have brought my undertaking to a successful termination, I have decided upon writing you this letter to acquaint you with all the events which have occurred in my voyage, and the discoveries which have resulted from it. Thirty-three days after my departure from Cadiz, I reached the Indian Sea,1 where I discovered many islands, thickly peopled, of which I took possession, without resistance, in the name of our most illustrious Monarch, by public proclamation and with unfurled banners. To the first of these islands, which [20] is called by the Indians Guanahani, I gave the name of the blessed Saviour (San Salvador), relying upon whose protection I had reached this as well as the other islands. To each of these I also gave a name, ordering that one should be called Santa Maria de la Concepcion; another, Fernandina; the third, Isabella; the fourth, Juana; and so with all the rest respectively. As soon as we arrived at that, which, as I have said, was named Juana,2 I proceeded along its coast a short distance westward, and found it to be so large, and apparently without termination, that I could not suppose it to be an island, but the continental province of Cathay.3 Seeing, however, no towns or populous places on the seacoast, but only a few detached houses and cottages, with whose inhabitants I was unable to communicate, because they fled as soon as they saw us, I went further on, thinking, that, in my progress, I should certainly find some city or village.

At length, after proceeding a great way, and finding that nothing new presented itself, and that the line of coast was leading us northwards, I resolved not to attempt any further progress, but rather to turn back, and retrace my course to a certain bay that I had observed, and from which I afterwards despatched two of our men to ascertain whether there were a king or any cities in that province. These men reconnoitred the country for three days, and found a most numerous population, and great numbers of houses, though small, and built without any regard to order; with which information they returned to us. In the mean time, I had learned from some Indians whom I had seized, that that country was [21] certainly an island; and therefore I sailed towards the east, coasting to the distance of three hundred and twenty-two miles, which brought us to the extremity of it: from this point I saw lying eastwards another island, fifty-four miles distant from Juana, to which I gave the name of Española.4 . . .

All these islands are very beautiful, and distinguished by a diversity of scenery. They are filled with a great variety of trees of immense height, and which I believe to retain their foliage in all seasons; for when I saw them they were as verdant and luxuriant as they usually are in Spain in the month of May,—some of them were blossoming, some bearing fruit, and all flourishing in the greatest perfection, according to their respective stages of growth, and the nature and quality of each: yet the islands are not so thickly wooded as to be impassable. The nightingale and various birds were singing in countless numbers, and that in November, the month in which I arrived there. . . .

None of them,5 as I have already said, are possessed of any iron; neither have they weapons, being unacquainted with, and, indeed, incompetent to use, them not from any deformity of body—for they are well formed,—but because they are timid, and full of fear. They carry, however, in lieu6 of arms, canes dried in the sun, on the ends of which they fix heads of dried wood sharpened to a point: and even these they dare not use habitually; for it has often occurred, when I have sent two or three of my men to any of the villages to speak with the natives, that they have come out in a disorderly [22] troop, and have fled in such haste, at the approach of our men, that the fathers forsook their children, and the children their fathers.

This timidity did not arise from any loss or injury that they had received from us; for, on the contrary, I gave to all I approached whatever articles I had about me, such as cloth, and many other things, taking nothing of theirs in return: but they are naturally timid and fearful. As soon, however, as they see that they are safe, and have laid aside all fear, they are very simple and honest, and exceedingly liberal with all that they have, none of them refusing any thing he may possess when he is asked for it, but, on the contrary, inviting us to ask them. They exhibit great love towards all others in preference to themselves: they also give objects of great value for trifles, and content themselves with very little, or nothing, in return. I, however, forbade that these trifles and articles of no value—such as pieces of dishes, plates and glass, keys, and leather straps— should be given to them, although, if they could obtain them, they imagined themselves to be possessed of the most beautiful trinkets in the world. It even happened that a sailor received for a leather strap as much gold as was worth three golden nobles; and for things of more trifling value offered by our men, especially newly coined blancas,7 or any gold coins, the Indians would give whatever the seller required; as, for instance, an ounce and a half or two ounces of gold, or thirty or forty pounds of cotton; with which commodity they were already acquainted. [23]

Thus they bartered, like idiots, cotton and gold for fragments of bows, glasses, bottles, and jars; which I forbade, as being unjust, and myself gave them many beautiful and acceptable articles which I had brought with me, taking nothing from them in return. I did this in order that I might the more easily conciliate them, that they might be led to become Christians, and be inclined to entertain a regard for the king and queen, our princes, and all Spaniards; and that I might induce them to take an interest in seeking out, and collecting, and delivering to us, such things as they possessed in abundance, but which we greatly needed.

They practise no kind of idolatry, but have a firm belief that all strength and power, and indeed all good things, are in heaven, and I had descended from thence with these ships and sailors; and under this impression was I received after they had thrown aside their fears. Nor are they slow or stupid, but of very clear understanding; and those men who have crossed to the neighboring islands give an admirable description of every thing they observed: but they never saw any people clothed, nor any ships like ours.

On my arrival at that sea, I had taken some Indians by force from the first island that I came to, in order that they might learn our language, and communicate to us what they knew respecting the country; which plan succeeded excellently, and was a great advantage to us; for in a short time, either by gestures and signs, or by words, we were enabled to understand each other. These men are still travelling with me, and, although they have been with us now a long time, they continue to entertain the idea that I have descended from heaven; [24] and on our arrival at any new place they publish this, crying out immediately with a loud voice to the other Indians, ‘Come! come and look upon beings of a celestial race;’ upon which both women and men, children and adults, young men and old, when they got rid of the fear they at first entertained, would come out in throngs, crowding the roads to see us, some bringing food, others drink, with astonishing affection and kindness.

Each of these islands has a great number of canoes, built of solid wood, narrow, and not unlike our double-banked boats in length and shape, but swifter in their motion: they steer them only by the oar. These canoes are of various sizes; but the greater number are constructed with eighteen banks8 of oars: and with these they cross to the other islands, which are of countless number, to carry on traffic with the people. I saw some of these canoes that held as many as seventy-eight rowers. In all these islands there is no difference of physiognomy, of manners, or of language; but they all clearly understand each other. . . . There are in the western part of the island two provinces which I did not visit: one of these is called by the Indians Anam, and its inhabitants are born with tails.9 . .

Finally, to compress into few words the entire summary of my voyage and speedy return, and of the advantages derivable therefrom, I promise, that, with a little assistance afforded me by our most invincible sovereigns, I will procure them as much gold as they need, as great a quantity of spices, of cotton, and of [25] mastic, which is only found at Chios, and as many men for the service of the navy, as their Majesties may require. I promise, also, rhubarb, and other sorts of drugs, which I am persuaded the men whom I have left in the aforesaid fortress have found already, and will continue to find. I myself have tarried nowhere longer than I was compelled to do by the winds, except in the city of Navidad, while I provided for the building of the fortress, and took the necessary precautions for the perfect security of the men I left there. Although all I have related may appear to be wonderful and unheard of, yet the results of my voyage would have been more astonishing, if I had had at my disposal such ships as I required . . . .

Thus it has happened to me in the present instance, who have accomplished a task to which the powers of mortal man have never hitherto attained; for, if there have been those who have anywhere written or spoken of these islands, they have done so with doubts and conjectures; and no one has ever asserted that he has seen them, on which account their writings have been looked upon as little else than fables. Therefore let the king and queen, our princes and their most happy kingdoms, and all the other provinces of Christendom, render thanks to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has granted us so great a victory, and such prosperity. Let processions be made, and sacred feasts be held, and the temples be adorned with festive boughs. Let Christ rejoice on earth, as he rejoices in heaven, in the prospect of the salvation of the souls of so many nations hitherto lost. Let us also rejoice, as well on account of the exaltation of our faith, as on account of [26] the increase of our temporal prosperity, of which not only Spain, but all Christendom, will be partakers.

Such are the events which I have briefly described.


Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Fleet of the Ocean. Lisbon, the 14th of March.

Ii.—Second voyage of Columbus.

[this description is taken from a letter by Dr. Chanca, physician to the fleet of Columbus, to the authorities of Seville, Dr. Chanca's residence.]

On the first Sunday after All Saints, namely, the 3d of November, 1493], about dawn, a pilot of the ship Capitana cried out, ‘The reward! I see the land!’ The joy of the people was so great, that it was wonderful to hear their cries and exclamations of pleasure. And they had good reason to be delighted; for they had become so wearied of bad living, and of working the water out of the ships, that all sighed most anxiously for land . . . .

On the morning of the aforesaid Sunday, we saw lying before us an island;10 and soon on the right hand another appeared: the first was high and mountainous, on the side nearest to us; the other flat, and very thickly wooded. As soon as it became lighter, other islands began to appear on both sides; so that on that day there were six islands to be seen lying in different directions, and most of them of considerable size. We directed our course towards that which we had first [27] seen; and, reaching the coast, we proceeded more than a league in search of a port where we might anchor, but without finding one. All that part of the island which we could observe appeared mountainous, very beautiful, and green even up to the water, which was delightful to see; for at that season there is scarcely any thing green in our own country. When we found that there was no harbor there, the admiral decided that we should go to the other island, which appeared on the right, and which was at four or five leagues distance: one vessel, however, still remained on the first island all that day, seeking for a harbor, in case it should be necessary to return thither. At length, having found a good one, where they saw both people and dwellings, they returned that night to the fleet, which had put into harbor at the other island;11 and there the admiral, accompanied by a great number of men, landed with a royal banner in his hands, and took formal possession in behalf of their Majesties. . . . .

On this first day of our landing, several men and women came on the beach up to the water's edge, and gazed at the boats in astonishment at so novel a sight; and, when a boat pushed on shore to speak with them, they cried out, ‘Tayno, tayno!’ which is as much as to say, ‘Good, good!’ and waited for the landing of the sailors, standing by the boat in such a manner that they might escape when they pleased. The result was, that none of the men could be persuaded to join us; and only two were taken by force, who were secured, and led away. . . .

Another day, at the dinner-hour, we arrived at an [28] island12 which seemed to be worth finding; for, judging by the extent of cultivation in it, it appeared very populous. We went thither, and put into harbor, when the admiral immediately sent on shore a well-manned barge to hold speech with the Indians, in order to ascertain what race they were, and also because we considered it necessary to gain some information respecting our course; although it afterwards plainly appeared that the admiral, who had never made that passage before, had taken a very correct route. But, since doubtful questions ought always by investigation to be reduced as nearly to a certainty as possible, he wished that communication should be held with the natives at once; and some of the men who went in a barge leaped on shore, and went up to a village, whence the inhabitants had already withdrawn, and hidden themselves. They took in this island five or six women and some boys, most of whom were captives, like those in the other island. We learned from the women whom we had brought with us, that the natives of this place also were Caribbees. As this barge was about to return to the ships with the capture which they had taken, a canoe came along the coast, containing four men, two women, and a boy; and, when they saw the fleet, they were so stupefied with amazement, that for a good hour they remained motionless at the distance of nearly two gunshots from the ships. In this position they were seen by those who were in the barge, and also by all the fleet. Meanwhile, those in the barge moved towards the canoe, but so close in shore, that the Indians, in their perplexity and astonishment as to what all this [29] could mean, never saw them until they were so near that escape was impossible; for our men pressed on them so rapidly, that they could not get away, although they made considerable effort to do so.

When the Caribbees saw that all attempt at flight was useless, they most courageously took to their bows, both women and men: I say most courageously, because they were only four men and two women, and our people were twenty-five in number. Two of our men were wounded by the Indians, one with two arrow-shots in his breast, and another with one in his side; and if it had not happened that they carried shields and wooden bucklers, and that they got near them with the barge, and upset their canoe, most of them would nave been killed with their arrows. After their canoe was upset, they remained in the water, swimming and occasionally wading—for there were shallows in that part,—still using their bows as much as they could; so that our men had enough to do to take them: and, after all, there was one of them whom they were unable to secure till he had received a mortal wound with a lance, and whom, thus wounded, they took to the ships. The difference between these Caribbees and the other Indians, with respect to dress, consists in their wearing their hair very long; while the others have it clipped irregularly, and paint their heads with crosses and a hundred thousand different devices, each according to his fancy, which they do with sharpened reeds. All of them, both the Caribbees and the others, are beardless; so that it is a rare thing to find a man with a beard. The Caribbees whom we took had their eyes and eyebrows stained, which I imagine they do from ostentation, and to give them a more formidable appearance. . . . . [30]

The country13 is very remarkable, and contains a vast number of large rivers, and extensive chains of mountains, with broad open valleys; and the mountains are very high. It does not appear that the grass is ever cut throughout the year. I do not think they have any winter in this part; for near Navidad (at Christmas) were found many birds'-nests, some containing the young birds, and others containing eggs. No four-footed animal has ever been seen in this or any of the other islands, except some dogs of various colors, as in our own country, but in shape like large house-dogs; and also some little animals, in color, size, and fur like a rabbit, with long tails, and feet like those of a rat. These animals climb up the trees; and many who have tasted them say they are very good to eat.14 There are not any wild beasts. There are great numbers of small snakes, and some lizards, but not many; for the Indians consider them as great a luxury as we do pheasants: they are of the same size as ours, but different in shape. In a small adjacent island, close by a harbor called Monte Christo, where we staid several days, our men saw an enormous kind of lizard,15 which they said was as large round as a calf, with a tail as long as a lance, which they often went out to kill; but, bulky as it was, it got into the sea, so that they could not catch it. There are, both in this and the other islands, an infinite number of birds like those in our own country. and many others such as we had never seen. No kind of domestic fowl has been seen here, with the exception [31] of some ducks in the houses in Zuruquia: these ducks were larger than those of Spain, though smaller than geese,—very pretty, with tufts on their heads, most of them as white as snow, but some black.

Iii.—Columbus reaches the mainland.

[from his narrative of his third voyage, 1498.]

I then gave up our northward course, and put in for the land. At the hour of complines16 we reached a cape, which I called Cape Galea,17 having already given to the island the name of Trinidad; and here we found a harbor, which would have been excellent, but that there was no good anchorage. We saw houses and people on the spot; and the country around was very beautiful, and as fresh and green as the gardens of Valencia in the month of March . . . .

The next day I set sail in the same direction, in search of a harbor where I might repair the vessels, and take in water, as well as improve the stock of provisions which I had brought out with me. When we had taken in a pipe of water, we proceeded onwards till we reached the cape; and there finding good anchorage, and protection from the east wind, I ordered the anchors to be dropped, the water-cask to be repaired, a supply of water and wood to be taken in, and the people to rest themselves from the fatigues which they had endured for so long a time. I gave to this point the name of Sandy Point (Punta del Arenal). [32]

All the ground in the neighborhood was filled with footmarks of animals, like the impression of the fool of a goat; but, although it would have appeared from this circumstance that they were very numerous, only one was seen, and that was dead. On the following day a large canoe came from the eastward, containing twenty-four men, all in the prime of life, and well provided with arms, such as bows, arrows, and wooden shields. They were all, as I have said, young, well-proportioned, and not dark black, but whiter than any other Indians that I had seen,—of very graceful gesture and handsome forms, wearing their hair long and straight, and cut in the Spanish style. Their heads were bound round with cotton scarfs elaborately worked in colors, which resembled the Moorish head-dresses. Some of these scarfs were worn round the body, and used as a covering in lieu of trousers. The natives spoke to us from the canoe while it was yet at a considerable distance; but none of us could understand them. I made signs to them, however, to come nearer to us; and more than two hours were spent in this manner: but if, by any chance, they moved a little nearer, they soon pushed off again.

I caused basins and other shining objects to be shown to them to tempt them to come near; and, after a long time, they came somewhat nearer than they had hitherto done; upon which, as I was very anxious to speak with them, and had nothing else to show them to induce them to approach, I ordered a drum to be played upon the quarter-deck, and some of our young men to dance, believing the Indians would come to see the amusement. No sooner, however, did they perceive [33] the beating of the drum, and the dancing, than they all left their oars, and strung their bows, and, each man laying hold of his shield, they commenced discharging their arrows at us; upon this the music and dancing soon ceased, and I ordered a charge18 to be made from some of our cross-bows: they then left us, and went rapidly to the other caravel,19 and placed themselves under its poop. The pilot of that vessel received them courteously, and gave to the man who appeared to be their chief a coat and hat; and it was then arranged between them that he should go to speak with him on shore. Upon this the Indians immediately went thither, and waited for him; but, as he would not go without my permission, he came to my ship in the boat, whereupon the Indians got into their canoe again, and went away, and I never saw any more of them, or of any of the other inhabitants of the island.

When I reached the Point of Arenal, I found that the Island of Trinidad formed with the land of Gracia,20 a strait of two leagues width from east to west; and, as we had to pass through it to go to the north, we found some strong currents which crossed the strait, and which made a great roaring, so that I concluded there must be a reef of sand or rocks, which would preclude our entrance: and behind this current was another and another, all making a roaring noise like the sound of breakers against the rocks. I anchored there, under the said Point of Arenal, outside of the strait, and found the water rush from east to west with as much [34] impetuosity as that of the Guadalquiver at its conflict with the sea; and this continued constantly day and night, so that it appeared to be impossible to move backwards for the current, or forwards for the shoals.

Iv.—Columbus at the mouth of the Orinoco.

In the dead of night, while I was on deck, I heard an awful roaring that came from the south towards the ship. I stopped to observe what it might be, and I saw the sea rolling from west to east, like a mountain as high as the ship, and approaching by little and little. On the top of this rolling sea came a mighty wave, roaring with a frightful noise; and with all this terrific uproar were other conflicting currents, producing, as I have already said, a sound as of breakers upon the rocks. To this day I have a vivid recollection of the dread I then felt, lest the ship might founder under the force of that tremendous sea; but it passed by, and reached the mouth of the before-mentioned passage, where the uproar lasted for a considerable time. On the following day 1 sent out boats to take soundings, and found that in the strait, at the deepest part of the embouchure,21 there were six or seven fathoms of water, and that there were constant contrary currents,—one running inwards, and the other outwards. It pleased the Lord, however, to give us a favorable wind; and I passed through the middle of the strait, after which I recovered my tranquillity. The men happened at this time to draw up some water from the sea, which, strange [35] to say, proved to be fresh. I then sailed northwards till I came to a very high mountain, at about twentysix leagues from the Punta del Arenal: here two lofty headlands appeared,—one towards the east,22 and forming part of the Island of Trinidad; and the other on the west,23 being part of the land which I have already called Gracia. We found here a channel24 still narrower than that of Arenal, with similar currents, and a tremendous roaring of water: the water here also was fresh.

Hitherto I had held no communication with any of the people of this country, although I very earnestly desired it. I therefore sailed along the coast westwards; and, the farther I advanced, the fresher and more wholesome I found the water; and, when I had proceeded a considerable distance, I reached a spot where the land appeared to be cultivated . . . . I then anchored at the mouth of a river; and we were soon visited by a great number of the inhabitants, who informed us that the country was called Paria, and that farther westward it was more fully peopled. I took four of these natives, and proceeded on my west-

Fleet of Columbus

[36] ward voyage; and, when I had gone eight leagues farther, I found on the other side of a point, which I called the Needle,25 one of the most lovely countries in the world, and very thickly peopled. It was three o'clock in the morning when I reached it; and, seeing its verdure and beauty, I resolved to anchor there, and communicate with the inhabitants. Some of the natives came out to the ship in canoes, to beg me, in the name of their king, to go on shore. And, when they saw that I paid no attention to them, they came to the ship in their canoes in countless number; many of them wearing pieces of gold on their breasts, and some with bracelets of pearl on their arms.

V.—Columbus thinks himself near the earthly paradise.

[from the same narrative. It was generally believed, in the time of Columbus, that the garden of Eden, or earthly paradise, still existed somewhere on the globe. Irving's Columbus (Appendix) gives an account of these views.]

I have always read, that the world comprising the land and water was spherical, as is testified by the investigations of Ptolemy and others, who have proved it by the eclipses of the moon, and other observations made from east to west, as well as by the elevation of the pole from north to south. But I have now seen so much irregularity, as I have already described, that I have come to another conclusion respecting the earth; namely, that it is not round, as they describe, but of the [37] form of a pear, which is very round except where the stalk grows, at which part it is most prominent.. Ptolemy, and the others who have written upon the globe, had no information respecting this part of the world, which was then unexplored: they only established their arguments with respect to their own hemisphere, which, as I have already said, is half of a perfect sphere. And, now that your Highnesses have commissioned me to make this voyage of discovery, the truths which I have stated are evidently proved. . . . I do not find, nor have ever found, any account by the Romans or Greeks, which fixes in a positive manner the site of the terrestrial paradise; neither have I seen it given in any mappe-monde,26 laid down from authentic sources. Some placed it in Ethiopia, at the sources of the Nile; but others, traversing all these countries, found neither the temperature, nor the altitude of the sun, correspond with their ideas respecting it; nor did it appear that the overwhelming waters of the deluge had been there. Some Pagans pretended to adduce arguments to establish that it was in the Fortunate Islands, now called the Canaries, &c. . . .

I have already described my ideas concerning this hemisphere and its form; and I have no doubt, that if I could pass below the equinoctial line, after reaching the highest point of which I have spoken, I should find a much milder temperature, and a variation in the stars and in the water; not that I suppose that elevated point to be navigable, nor even that there is water there: indeed, I believe it is impossible to ascend thither, because I am convinced that it is the spot of [38] the earthly paradise, whither no one can go but by God's permission. But this land which your Highnesses have now sent me to explore is very extensive; and I think there are many countries in the south, of which the world has never had any knowledge.

I do not suppose that the earthly paradise is in the form of a rugged mountain, as the descriptions of it have made it appear, but that it is on the summit of the spot which I have described as being in the form of the stalk of a pear. The approach to it from a distance must be by a constant and gradual ascent; but I believe, that, as I have already said, no one could even reach the top. I think, also, that the water I have described may proceed from it, though it be far off, and that, stopping at the place which I have just left, it forms this lake. There are great indications of this being the terrestrial paradise; for its site coincides with the opinion of the holy and wise theologians whom I have mentioned. And, moreover, the other evidences agree with the supposition; for I have never either read or heard of fresh water coming in so large a quantity, in close conjunction with the water of the sea. The idea is also corroborated by the blandness of the temperature. And, if the water of which I speak does not proceed from the earthly paradise, it appears to be still more marvellous; for I do not believe that there is any river in the world so large or so deep.


VI.—Daring deed of Diego Mendez.

[taken from the last will of Diego Mendez. These adventures happened on the fourth voyage of Columbus, in 1502.]

When we were shut in at the mouth of the River Belen, or Yebra, through the violence of the sea, and the winds which drove up the sand, and raised such a mountain of it as to close up the entrance of the port, his lordship27 being there greatly afflicted, a multitude of Indians collected together on shore to burn the ships, and kill us all, pretending that they were going to make war against other Indians. . . . Upon his consulting me as to the best manner of proceeding so as clearly to ascertain what was the intention of the people, I offered to go to them with one single companion; and this task I undertook, though more certain of death than of life in the result.

After journeying along the beach up to the River of Veragua, I found two canoes of strange Indians, who related to me more in detail, that these people were indeed collected together to burn our ships, and kill us all, and that they had forsaken their purpose in consequence of the boat which had come up to the spot, but that they intended to return after two days to make the attempt once more. I then asked them to carry me in their canoes to the upper part of the river, offering to remunerate them if they would do so. But they excused themselves, and advised me by no means to go, for that both myself and my companion would certainly be killed. [40]

At length, in spite of their advice, I prevailed upon them to take me in their canoes to the upper part of the river, until I reached the villages of the Indians, whom I had found in order of battle. They, however, would not, at first, allow me to go to the principal residence of the cacique, till I pretended that I was come as a surgeon to cure him of a wound that he had in his leg. Then, after making them some presents, they suffered me to proceed to the seat of royalty, which was situated on the top of a hillock, surmounted by a plain, with a large square surrounded by three hundred heads of the enemies he had slain in battle. When I had passed through the square, and reached the royal house, there was a great clamor of women and children at the gate, who ran into the palace screaming. Upon this, one of the chief's sons came out in a high passion, uttering angry words in his own language; and laying hands upon me, with one push he thrust me far away from him. In order to appease him, I told him I was come to cure the wound in his father's leg, and showed him an ointment that I had brought for that purpose; but he replied, that on no account whatever should I go in to the place where his father was. When I saw that I had no chance of appeasing him in that way, I took out a comb, a pair of scissors, and a mirror, and caused Escobar, my companion, to comb my hair, and then cut it off. When the Indian, and those who were with him, saw this, they stood in astonishment; upon which I prevailed on him to suffer his own hair to be combed and cut by Escobar. I then made him a present of the scissors, with the comb and the mirror; and thus he became appeased. After this, I begged him to allow [41] some food to be brought, which was soon done; and we ate and drank in love and good-fellowship, like very good friends.

I then left him, and returned to the ships, and related all this to my lord the admiral, who was not a little pleased when he heard all these circumstances, and the things that had happened to me. He ordered a large stock of provisions to be put into the ships, and into certain straw houses that we had built there, with a view that I should remain, with some of the men, to examine and ascertain the secrets of the country. The next morning his lordship called me to ask my advice as to what ought to be done. My opinion was, that we ought to seize that chief and all his captains, because, when they were taken, great numbers of the people would submit. His lordship was of the same opinion. I then submitted the stratagem and plan by which this might be accomplished; and his lordship ordered that the adelantado,28 his brother, and I, accompanied by eighty men, should go to put it into execution. We went; and our Lord gave us such good fortune, that we took the cacique, and most of his captains, his wives, sons, and grandsons, with all the princes of his race; but in sending them to the ships, thus captured, the cacique extricated himself from the too slight grasp of the man who held him,—a circumstance which afterwards caused us much injury. At this moment it pleased God to cause it to rain very heavily, occasioning a great flood, by which the mouth of the harbor was opened, and the admiral enabled to draw out the ships to sea, in order to proceed to Spain; [42] I, meanwhile, remaining on land as accountant of his Highness, with seventy men, and the greater part of the provisions of biscuit, wine, oil, and vinegar being left with me.

Vii.—How Diego Mendez got food for Columbus.

[also taken from the last will of Diego Mendez.]

On the last day of April, in the year fifteen hundred and three, we left Veragua, with three ships, intending to make our passage homeward to Spain; but, as the ships were all pierced and eaten by the teredo,29 we could not keep them above water. We abandoned one of them after we had proceeded thirty leagues: the two which remained were even in a worse condition than that; so that all the hands were not sufficient, with the use of pumps and kettles and pans, to draw off the water that came through the holes made by the worms. In this state, with the utmost toil and danger, we sailed for thirty-five days, thinking to reach Spain; and at the end of this time we arrived at the lowest point of the island of Cuba, at the province of Homo, where the city of Trinidad now stands; so that we were three hundred leagues farther from Spain than when we left Veragua for the purpose of proceeding thither,—and this, as I have said, with the vessels in very bad condition, unfit to encounter the sea, and our provisions nearly gone. It pleased God that we were enabled to reach the island of Jamaica, where we drove the two [43] ships on shore, and made of them two cabins, thatched with straw, in which we took up our dwelling; not, however, without considerable danger from the natives, who were not yet subdued, and who might easily set fire to our habitation in the night, in spite of the greatest watchfulness. It was there that I gave out the last ration of biscuit and wine.

I then took a sword in my hand, three men only accompanying me, and advanced into the island; for no one else dared go to seek food for the admiral and those who were with him. It pleased God that I found some people who were very gentle, and did us no harm, but received us cheerfully, and gave us food with hearty good-will. I then made a stipulation with the Indians who lived in a village called Aguacadiba, and with their cacique, that they should make cassava bread, and that they should hunt and fish to supply the admiral every day with a sufficient quantity of provisions, which they were to bring to the ships, where I promised there should be a person ready to pay them in blue beads, combs and knives, hawks-bells and fish-hooks, and other such articles, which we had with us for that purpose. With this understanding, I despatched one of the Spaniards whom I had brought with me to the admiral, in order that he might send a person to pay for the provisions, and secure their being sent. From thence I went to another village, at three leagues' distance from the former, and made a similar agreement with the natives and their cacique, and then despatched another Spaniard to the admiral, begging him to send another person with a similar object to this village. After this I went farther on, and came to a great cacique named Huarco, living in a place [44] which is now called Melilia, thirteen leagues from where the ships lay. I was very well received by him. He gave me plenty to eat, and ordered all his subjects to bring together, in the course of three days, a great quantity of provisions, which they did, and laid them before him, whereupon I paid him for them to his full satisfaction. I stipulated with him that they should furnish a constant supply, and engaged that there should be a person appointed to pay them.

Having made this arrangement, I sent the other Spaniard to the admiral, with the provisions they had given me, and then begged the cacique to allow me two Indians to go with me to the extremity of the island,— one to carry the hammock in which I slept, and the other carrying the food. In this manner I journeyed eastward to the end of the island, and came to a cacique who was named Ameyro, with whom I entered into close friendship. I gave him my name, and took his, which, amongst this people, is regarded as an evidence of brotherly attachment. I bought of him a very good canoe, and gave him in exchange an excellent brass helmet that I carried in a bag, a frock, and one of the two shirts that I had with me: I then put out to sea in this canoe, in search of the place that I had left, the cacique having given me six Indians to assist in guiding the canoe.

When I reached the spot to which I had despatched the provisions, I found there the Spaniards whom the admiral had sent; and I loaded them with the victuals which I had brought with me, and went myself to the admiral, who gave me a very cordial reception. He was not satisfied with seeing and embracing me, but asked me [45] respecting every thing that had occurred in the voyage, and offered up thanks to God for having delivered me in safety from so barbarous a people. The men rejoiced greatly at my arrival; for there was not a loaf left in the ships when I returned to them with the means of allaying their hunger. This, and every day after that, the Indians came to the ships, loaded with provisions from the places where I had made the agreements; so that there was enough for the two hundred and thirty people who were with the admiral.

Viii.—How Diego Mendez saved Columbus.

[from the same narrative.]

Ten days after this, the admiral called me aside, and spoke to me of the great peril he was in, addressing me as follows: ‘Diego Mendez, my son, not one of those whom I have here with me has any idea of the great danger in which we stand, except myself and you; for we are but few in number, and these wild Indians are numerous, and very fickle and capricious; and whenever they may take it into their heads to come and burn us in our two ships, which we have made into straw-thatched cabins, they may easily do so by setting fire to them on the land side, and so destroy us all. The arrangement you have made with them for the supply of food, to which they agreed with such good-will, may soon prove disagreeable to them; and it would not be surprising, if, on the morrow, they were not to bring us any thing at all. In such case, we are not in a position to take it by main force, but shall be compelled to [46] accede to their terms. I have thought of a remedy, if you consider it advisable; which is, that some one should go out in the canoe that you have purchased, and make his way in it to Española, to purchase a vessel with which we may escape from the extremely dangerous position in which we now are. Tell me your opinion.’ To which I answered, ‘My lord, I distinctly see the danger in which we stand, which is much greater than would be readily imagined. With respect to the passage from this island to Española in so small a vessel as a canoe, I look upon it not merely as difficult, but impossible; for I know not who would venture to encounter so terrific a danger as to cross a gulf of forty leagues of sea, and amongst islands where the sea is so impetuous, and scarcely ever at rest.’

His lordship did not agree with the opinion that I expressed, but adduced strong arguments to show that I was the person to undertake the enterprise. To which I replied, ‘My lord, I have many times put my life in danger to save yours and the lives of all those who are with you, and God has marvellously preserved me. In consequence of this, there have not been wanting murmurers, who have said that your lordship intrusts every honorable undertaking to me, while there are others amongst them who would perform them as well as I. My opinion is, therefore, that your lordship would do well to summon all the men, and lay this business before them; to see if, amongst them all, there is one who will volunteer to undertake it, which I certainly doubt; and, if all refuse, I will risk my life in your service, as I have many times already.’

On the following day his lordship caused all the men [47] to appear together before him, and then opened the matter to them in the same manner as he had done to me. When they heard it, they were all silent, until some said that it was out of the question to speak of such a thing; for it was impossible, in so small a craft, to cross a boisterous and perilous gulf of forty leagues' breadth, and to pass between those two islands, where very strong vessels had been lost in going to make discoveries, not being able to encounter the force and fury of the currents.

I then arose, and said, ‘My lord, I have but one life, and I am willing to hazard it in the service of your lordship, and for the welfare of all those who are here with us; for I trust in God, that, in consideration of the motive which actuates me, he will give me deliverance, as he has already done on many other occasions.’ When the admiral heard my determination, he arose and embraced me, and, kissing me on the cheek, said, ‘Well did I know that there was no one here but yourself who would dare to undertake this enterprise. I trust in God, our Lord, that you will come out of it victoriously, as you have done in the others which you have undertaken.’

On the following day I drew my canoe on to the shore, fixed a false keel on it, and pitched and greased it: I then nailed some boards upon the poop and prow, to prevent the sea from coming in, as it was liable to do from the lowness of the gunwales. I also fixed a mast in it, set up a sail, and laid in the necessary provisions for myself, one Spaniard, and six Indians, making eight in all, which was as many as the canoe would hold. I then bade farewell to his lordship and all the [48] others, and proceeded along the coast of Jamaica up to the extremity of the island, which was thirty-five leagues from the point whence we started. Even this distance was not traversed without considerable toil and danger; for on the passage I was taken prisoner by some Indian pirates, from whom God delivered me in a marvellous manner. When we had reached the end of the island, and were remaining there in the hope of the sea becoming sufficiently calm to allow us to continue our voyage across it, many of the natives collected together, with the determination of killing me, and seizing the canoe with its contents; and they cast lots for my life, to see which of them should carry their design into execution.

As soon as I became aware of their project, I betook myself secretly to my canoe, which I had left at three leagues' distance from where I then was, and set sail for the spot where the admiral was staying, and reached it after an interval of fifteen days from my departure. I related to him all that had happened, and how God had miraculously rescued me from the hands of those savages. His lordship was very joyful at my arrival, and asked me if I would recommence my voyage. I replied that I would, if I might be allowed to take some men to be with me at the extremity of the island until I should find a fair opportunity of putting to sea to prosecute my voyage. The admiral gave me seventy men, and with them, his brother the adelantado, to stay with me until I put to sea, and to remain there three days after my departure. With this arrangement, I returned to the extremity of the island, and remained there four days. [49]

Finding the sea become calm, I parted from the rest of the men with much mutual sorrow. I then commended myself to God and our Lady of Antigua, and was at sea five days and four nights without laying down the oar from my hand, but continued steering the canoe while my companions rowed. It pleased God, that, at the end of five days, I reached the Island of Española at Cape San Miguel, having been two days without eating or drinking; for our provisions were exhausted. I brought my canoe up to a very beautiful part of the coast, to which many of the natives soon came, and brought with them many articles of food; so that I remained there two days to take rest. I took six Indians from this place, and, leaving those that I had brought with me, I put off to sea again, moving along the coast of Española; for it was a hundred and thirty leagues from the spot where I landed to the city of San Domingo, where the governor dwelt.. When that expedition was finished, I went on foot to San Domingo, a distance of seventy leagues, and waited in expectation of the arrival of ships from Spain, it being now more than a year since any had come. In this interval, it pleased God that three ships arrived, one of which I bought, and loaded it with provisions, —bread, wine, meat, hogs, sheep, and fruit,—and despatched it to the place where the admiral was staying, in order that he might come over in it with all his people to San Domingo, and from thence sail for Spain. I myself went on in advance with the two other ships in order to give an account to the king and queen of all that had occurred in this voyage.

I think I should now do well to say somewhat of the [50] events which occurred to the admiral and to his family during the year that they were left on the island. A few days after my departure, the Indians became refractory, and refused to bring food, as they had hitherto done. The admiral, therefore, caused all the caciques to be summoned, and expressed to them his surprise that they should not send food as they were wont to do, knowing, as they did, and as he had already told them, that he had come there by the command of God. He said that he perceived that God was angry with them, and that he would that very night give tokens of his displeasure by signs that he would cause to appear in the heavens; and as, on that night, there was to be an almost total eclipse of the moon, he told them that God caused that appearance, to signify his anger against them for not bringing the food. The Indians, believing him, were very frightened, and promised that they would always bring him food in future; and so, in fact, they did, until the arrival of the ship which I had sent loaded with provisions. The admiral, and those who were with him, felt no small joy at the arrival of this ship. And his lordship afterwards informed me in Spain, that in no part of his life did he ever experience so joyful a day; for he had never hoped to have left that place alive. And in that same ship he set sail, and went to San Domingo, and thence to Spain.


IX.—Appeal of Columbus in his old age.

[to the King and Queen of Spain. Taken from his letter (1503) describing his fourth voyage.]

Such is my fate, that the twenty years of service through which I have passed with so much toil and danger have profited me nothing, and at this very day I do not possess a roof in Spain that I can call my own. If I wish to eat or sleep, I have nowhere to go but to the inn or tavern, and most times lack wherewith to pay the bill. Another anxiety wrung my very heart-strings, which was the thought of my son Diego, whom I had left an orphan in Spain, and stripped of the honor and property which were due to him on my account, although I had looked upon it as a certainty that your Majesties, as just and grateful princes, would restore it to him in all respects with increase. . . .

For seven years was I at your royal court, where every one to whom the enterprise was mentioned treated it as ridiculous; but now there is not a man, down to the very tailors, who does not beg to be allowed to become a discoverer. There is reason to believe that they make the voyage only for plunder, and that they are permitted to do so to the great disparagement of my honor, and the detriment of the undertaking itself. It is right to give God his due, and to receive that which belongs to one's self. This is a just sentiment, and proceeds from just feelings. The lands in this part of the world, which are now under your Highnesses' sway, are richer and more extensive than those of any other Christian power; and yet, after that I had, by the divine will, placed them under your high and royal sovereignty, and was on the [52] point of bringing your Majesties into the receipt of a very great and unexpected revenue; and while I was waiting for ships to convey me in safety, and with a heart full of joy, to your royal presence, victoriously to announce the news of the gold that I had discovered, I was arrested, and thrown with my two brothers, loaded with irons, into a ship, stripped, and very ill treated, without being allowed any appeal to justice. . . .

I was twenty-eight years old when I came into your Highnesses' service, and now I have not a hair upon me that is not gray: my body is infirm, and all that was left to me, as well as to my brothers, has been taken away and sold, even to the frock that I wore, to my great dishonor. I cannot but believe that this was done without your royal permission. The restitution of my honor, the reparation of my losses, and the punishment of those who have inflicted them, will redound to the honor of your royal character. A similar punishment also is due to those who have plundered me of my pearls, and who have brought a disparagement upon the privileges of my admiralty. Great and unexampled will be the glory and fame of your Highnesses, if you do this; and the memory of your Highnesses, as just and grateful sovereigns, will survive as a bright example to Spain in future ages. The honest devotedness I have always shown to your Majesties' service, and the so unmerited outrage with which it has been repaid, will not allow my soul to keep silence, however much I may wish it. I implore your Highnesses to forgive my complaints. I am indeed in as ruined a condition as I have related. Hitherto I have wept over others: may Heaven now have mercy upon me, and may the earth weep for me!

1 Columbus always supposed that he had reached India, and therefore always called the natives Indians.

2 Cuba.

3 Or Tartary.

4 Or Hispaniola, meaning Little Spain. The island is now called Hayti.

5 The natives.

6 Instead.

7 A small coin, worth less than a cent. A noble was a gold coin, worth about $1.60.

8 A bank of oars is a bench on which rowers sit, and there may have been four rowers on each bench.

9 No such race has ever been found.

10 Dominica, so named from being discovered on Sunday.

11 Marigalante, so named from the ship in which Columbus sailed.

12 St. Martin, one of the Caribbee Islands.

13 Hayti, or Española.

14 Probably a species of capromys, an animal of the rat kind.

15 Probably an alligator.

16 About nine P. M., the last hour of Roman Catholic prayers.

17 Now called Cape Galeota, the south-east point of Trinidad.

18 Discharge.

19 A small vessel.

20 The coast of Cumana (South America), distant seven miles from Trinidad.

21 Mouth.

22 Point Peña Blanca.

23 Point Peña.

24 Boca Grande. The fresh water was river water.

25 Now called Point Alcatraz, or Point Pelican.

26 Atlas.

27 Columbus.

28 President, or governor.

29 Ship-worm.

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