Second Voyage: Flotilla of seventeen vessels—Island of Ferro—Dominica—Marie-Galante—Guadaloupe—The Cannibals—Montserrat—Santa-Maria-la-Rodonda—St. Martin and Santa Cruz—Archipelago of the Eleven Thousand Virgins—The island of St. John Baptist, or Porto Rico—Hispaniola—The first Colonists massacred—Foundation of the town of Isabella—Twelve ships laden with treasure sent to Spain—Fort St. Thomas built in the Province of Cibao—Don Diego, Columbus' brother, named Governor of the Island—Jamaica—The Coast of Cuba—The Remora—Return to Isabella—The Cacique made prisoner—Revolt of the Natives—Famine—Columbus traduced in Spain—Juan Aguado sent as Commissary to Isabella—Gold-mines—Departure of Columbus—His arrival at Cadiz.
The narrative of the adventures of the great Genoese navigator had over-excited the minds of the hearers. Imagination already caught glimpses of golden continents situated beyond the seas. All the passions which are engendered by cupidity were seething in the people's hearts. The admiral, under pressure of public opinion, must set forth again with the most brief delay. He was himself also, eager to return to the theatre of his conquests, and to yet enrich the maps of the day with more new discoveries. He declared himself, therefore, ready to start.
The king and queen placed at his disposal a flotilla composed of three large ships and fourteen caravels. Twelve hundred men were to sail in them. Several Castilian nobles, with firm faith in the lucky star of Columbus, decided to try their fortune with him beyond seas. In the holds of the vessels were horses, cattle, instruments of all kinds for collecting and purifying gold, grain of various kinds; in a word, everything that might be needful in the establishing an important colony. Of the ten natives brought to Europe, five returned to their country, three, who were ill, remained behind in Europe, the other two were dead. Columbus was named captain-general of the squadron, with unlimited powers.
On the 25th of September, 1493, the seventeen ships left Cadiz, with all sails set, amidst the acclamations of an immense crowd of people and on the 1st of October, they cast anchor at the island of Ferro, the most westerly of the Canary group. On sailing again, the fleet was favoured by wind and sea, and after twenty-three days of navigation came in sight of new land. At sunrise on the 3rd of November, being the Sunday in the octave of All Saints, the pilot of the flag-ship, the Marie-Galante, cried out, "Good news, there is land." This land proved to be an island covered with trees; the admiral, thinking it uninhabited, did not stop; but, after passing several scattered islets, he arrived before a second island. The first he named Dominica, the second Marie-Galante, names which they retain to the present day. The next day a still larger island was in sight, and, says the narrative of this voyage given by Peter Martyr, the contemporary of Columbus, "When they were arrived, they saw it was the island of the infamous cannibals, or Caribbees, of whom they had only heard a rumour during the first voyage."
The Spaniards, well armed, landed upon the shore, where they found about thirty circular houses built of wood and covered with palm leaves. In the interior of the huts were suspended hammocks made of cotton. In the centre of the village were placed two trees or posts around which were entwined the dead bodies of two serpents. At the approach of the strangers the natives fled in haste, leaving behind them several prisoners whom they were preparing to devour. The sailors searched the houses, and found both leg and arm bones, heads so newly cut off that the blood was still moist, and other human remains, which left no doubt as to the food consumed by these Caribbees. This island, which, with its principal rivers, the admiral caused to be partially explored, was named Guadaloupe, on account of the resemblance it bore to one of the Spanish provinces. Some Indian women were carried off by the sailors, but, after having been kindly treated on board the admiral's ship, they were sent back to land, Columbus hoping that this conduct towards the females would induce the men of the place to come on board, but in this he was disappointed.
The sailors find some recently-severed heads.
On the 8th of November the signal for departure was given, and the whole fleet sailed for Hispaniola, the present San Domingo, and the island upon which Columbus had left thirty-nine of the companions of his first voyage. In turning again towards the north, a large island was discovered, to which the natives who had been kept on board after having been saved from the jaws of the Caribbees, gave the name of Mandanino. They declared that it was inhabited only by women, and as Marco Polo had mentioned an Asiatic country which possessed an exclusively feminine population, Columbus was confirmed in the idea that he was sailing upon the coast of Asia. He felt a great desire to explore this island, but the contrary winds completely prevented his doing so. Thirty miles from thence an island was seen surrounded by high mountains; it received the name of Montserrat; on the next day another, which was called Santa-Maria la Rodonda; and on the day following two more islands, St. Martin and Santa Cruz.
The squadron anchored before Santa Cruz, to take in water. There occurred a scene of grave import, reported by Peter Martyr in such expressive words, that we cannot do better than quote them: "The admiral," he says, "ordered thirty men from his ship to go ashore and explore the island; and these men, being landed on the coast, were aware of four dogs and as many young men and women coming towards them, extending their arms in supplication, and praying for help and deliverance from the cruel people. The cannibals on seeing this fled, as in the island of Guadaloupe, and all retired into the forests. And our people remained two days on the island to visit it.
"During that time, those who had remained with the boat saw a canoe coming towards them from a distance, containing eight men and as many women; to these our people made signs; but they on approaching, began to transpierce ours with their arrows, before they had time to cover themselves with their bucklers, so that one Spaniard was killed by a shaft aimed by a woman, who also transfixed another with a second arrow. These savages had poisoned arrows, the poison being contained in the tip; amongst them was a woman whom all the others obeyed, bowing before her. And this was, as they conjectured, a queen, having a son of cruel appearance, robust, and with the face of a lion, who followed her.
"Ours then, considering that it was better to fight hand to hand, than to wait for greater evils in thus fighting at a distance, advanced their boat by rowing, and by so great violence did they make it move forward, that the stern of the said boat came with such velocity, it caused the enemies' canoe to founder.
"But these Indians, being very good swimmers, without moving themselves either more slowly or more rapidly, did not cease, both men and women, to shoot arrows with all their might, at our people. And they succeeded in reaching, by swimming, a rock covered with the water, upon which they mounted, and still fought manfully. Nevertheless, they were finally taken, and one of them slain, and the son of the queen, pierced in two places; when they were taken to the admiral's ship they showed no less ferociousness and atrocity of mien, than if they had been lions of Libya who felt themselves taken in the net. And such were they that no man could have even looked upon them without his heart trembling with horror, so greatly was their look hideous, terrible, and infernal."
From all this it is clear that the strife between the Indians and the Europeans was beginning to be serious. Columbus sailed again towards the north, going in the midst of islands "pleasant and innumerable," covered with forests overshadowed by mountains of various hues. This collection of islands was called the Archipelago of the Eleven Thousand Virgins. Soon appeared the island of St. John Baptist (now Porto Rico), a place infested by Caribbees, but cultivated with care, and appearing truly superb from its immense woods. Some sailors landed upon the shore, but only found there a dozen uninhabited huts. The admiral put to sea again, and sailed along the southern coast of Porto Rico for about one hundred and fifty miles.
On Friday, the 12th of November, Columbus at last reached the island of Hispaniola. With what emotions must he not have been agitated in revisiting the theatre of his first success, in seeking to behold that fortress in which he had left his companions! What might not have happened in the course of a year to those Europeans left alone in this barbarous land? Soon a great canoe, bringing the brother of the Cacique Guacanagari, came alongside of the Marie-Galante, and the Indian prince springing on board, offered two images of gold to the admiral. Still Columbus sought for his fortress, but, although he had anchored opposite its site, there was no trace whatever to be seen of it. With feelings of the deepest anxiety as to the fate of his companions, he went on shore. What was his dismay, when he found nothing left of the fortress but a few ashes! What could have become of his compatriots? Had their lives been the forfeit of this first attempt at colonization? The admiral ordered the simultaneous discharge of the cannon from all the ships to announce his arrival at Hispaniola. But none of his companions appeared. Columbus, in despair, immediately despatched messengers to the Cacique Guacanagari; who, on their return brought sad news. If Guacanagari might be believed, some other caciques, irritated by the presence of the foreigners in their island, had attacked the unfortunate colonists, and had massacred them to the last man. Guacanagari himself had received a wound in endeavouring to defend them, and to corroborate his story he showed his leg enveloped in a cotton bandage.
Columbus did not believe in this intervention of the cacique, but, resolving to dissimulate, he welcomed Guacanagari kindly when he came on board the next day; the cacique accepted an image of the Virgin, suspending it on his bosom. He appeared astonished at the sight of the horses which they showed him, these animals having been hitherto quite unknown to himself and his companions. When his visit was over, he returned to the shore, regained the region of mountains, and was seen no more.
The admiral then despatched one of his captains with three hundred men under his orders, to scour the country and carry off the cacique. This captain penetrated far into the interior, but found no traces of the cacique, nor of the unfortunate colonists. During this excursion, a great river was discovered, and also a fine sheltered harbour, which was named Port Royal. However, in spite of the bad success of his first attempt, Columbus had resolved to found a new colony upon this island, which appeared to be rich both in gold and silver. The natives constantly spoke of mines situated in the province of Cibao, and in the month of January two gentlemen, Alonzo de Hojeda and Corvalan, set out accompanied by a numerous escort to verify these assertions. They discovered four rivers having auriferous sands, and brought back with them a nugget which weighed nine ounces. The admiral on seeing these riches was confirmed in his idea that Hispaniola was the famous Ophir, spoken of in the Book of Kings. After looking for a site upon which to build a town, he laid the foundation of Isabella in a spot at the mouth of a river which formed a harbour, and at a distance of thirty miles east from Monte Christi. On the Feast of the Epiphany, thirteen priests officiated in the church in presence of an immense crowd of natives.
Columbus was now anxious to send news of the colony to the King and Queen of Spain. Twelve ships laden with gold collected in the island, and with various specimens of the produce of the soil, were prepared to return to Europe under the command of Captain Torrès. This flotilla set sail on the 2nd of February, 1494, and a short time afterwards Columbus sent back one more of the five ships which remained to him, with the Lieutenant Bernard of Pisa, against whom he had cause of complaint.
As soon as order was established in the colony of Isabella, the admiral, leaving his brother behind as governor, set out, accompanied by five hundred men, to visit the mines of Cibao. The country they traversed seemed to be splendidly fertile; vegetables came to perfection in thirteen days; corn sown in February was in full ear in April, and each year yielded two abundant harvests. They crossed successively mountains and valleys, where often the pick-axe had to be used to clear a way over these still virgin lands; at last the Spaniards arrived at Cibao. There the admiral caused a fort to be constructed of wood and stone on a hill near the brink of a large river; it was surrounded with a deep ditch, and Columbus bestowed upon it the name of St. Thomas, in derision of some of his officers who were incredulous upon the subject of the gold-mines. It ill became them to doubt, for from all parts the natives brought nuggets and gold dust, which they were eager to exchange for beads, and above all for the hawks' bells, of which the silvery sound excited them to dance. This country was not only a land of gold, it was also a country rich in spices and aromatic gums, the trees which bore them forming quite large forests. The Spaniards considered the conquest of this wealthy island a cause of unmixed congratulation.
Columbus left fifty-six men to guard the Fort of St. Thomas, under the command of Don Pedro de Margarita, while he returned to Isabella, towards the beginning of April, being much hindered on the road by excessive rain. On his arrival he found the infant colony in great disorder; famine was threatening from the want of flour, which could not be obtained, for there were no mills; both soldiers and workmen were exhausted with fatigue. Columbus sought to oblige the gentlemen to aid them; but these proud Hidalgos, anxious as they were to conquer fortune, would not stoop to pick it up, and refused to perform any manual labour. The priests upholding them in this conduct, Columbus, who was forced to act with vigour, was obliged to place the churches under an interdict. He could not spare time to remain any longer at Isabella, but was in haste to make further discoveries; therefore, having formed a council, composed of three gentlemen and the chief of the missionaries, under the presidency of Don Diego, to govern the colony, he set out on the 24th of April with three vessels, to complete the cycle of his discoveries.
The flotilla sailing towards the south, a new island was soon discovered, which was called by the natives Jamaica. The highest point of the island was a mountain of which the sides sloped gently down. The inhabitants appeared clever, and much given to the mechanical arts, but they were far from pacific in character, and several times opposed the landing of the Spaniards, who, however, repulsed them, and at length the savages were induced to conclude a treaty of alliance with the admiral. From Jamaica Columbus pushed his researches more towards the west. He imagined himself to be arrived at the point where the old geographers placed the golden region of the west, Chersonesus. Strong currents carried him towards Cuba, along whose coast he sailed for a distance of six hundred and sixty-six miles. During this dangerous navigation amongst shallows and narrow passages, he named more than seven hundred islands, discovered a great number of harbours, and often entered into communication with the natives.
Fishermen on the coast of Cuba.
In the month of May, the look-out-men on board the ships descried a large number of grassy islands, fertile and inhabited. Columbus, on approaching the shore, entered a river, of which the water was so warm that the hand could not remain in it, a fact evidently of exaggeration, and one which later researches have not authenticated. The fishermen of this coast employed a certain fish called the Remora or sucking-fish, "which fulfilled for them the same office as the dog does for the hunter. This fish was of an unknown species, having a body like a great eel, and upon the back of his head a very tenacious skin, in fashion like a purse, wherewith to take the fishes. They keep this fish fastened by a cord to the boat, always in the water, for it cannot bear the look of the air. And when they see a fish or a turtle, which there are larger than great bucklers, then they loose the fish by slackening the rope. And when he feels himself at liberty, suddenly, and more rapidly than the flight of an arrow, he (the remora) assails the said fish or turtle, throws over him his skin in the manner of a purse, and holds his prey so firmly, be it fish or turtle, by the part visible beyond the shell, that none can wrest it from him, if he be not drawn to the surface of the water; the cord is therefore pulled up, and gathered in little by little; and no sooner does he see the splendour of the air, than incontinent he lets go of his prey. And the fishermen descend as far as is necessary to take the prey, and they put it on board the boat, and fasten the fish-hunter with as much of rope as is necessary for him to regain his old position and place; then, by means of another rope, they give him for reward a small piece of the flesh of his prey."
The exploration of the coasts continued towards the west. The admiral visited several countries, in which abounded goslings, ducks, herons, and those dumb dogs which the natives eat, as we should kids, and which were probably either almigui or racoons. As the ships advanced, the sandy channels became narrower and narrower, and navigation more and more difficult, but the admiral adhered to his resolution of continuing the exploration of these coasts. One day, he imagined he saw upon a point of land some men dressed in white, whom he took for brothers of the order of Santa Maria de la Merced; he sent some sailors to open communication with them, when it proved to be simply an optical illusion; these so-called monks turning out to be great tropical herons, to whom distance had lent the appearance of human beings.
During the first days of June, Columbus was obliged to stop to repair the ships, of which the keels were much damaged by the shallow water on the coast. On the seventh day of the month he caused a solemn mass to be celebrated on the shore: during the service an old cacique arrived, who, the ceremony being over, offered the admiral some fruits, and then this native sovereign pronounced some words which the interpreters thus translated:—
"It hath been told us after what manner thou hast invested and enveloped with thy power these lands, which were to you unknown, and how thy presence has caused great terror to the people and the inhabitants. But I hold it my duty to exhort and to warn thee that two roads present themselves before the souls, when they are separated from the bodies: the one, filled with shadows and sadness destined for those who are harmful and hurtful to the human species; the other, pleasant and delightful, reserved for those who in their life-time have loved peace and the repose of the people. Therefore, if thou rememberest that thou art mortal, and that the future retribution will be meted out according to the works of the present life, thou wilt take care to do harm to nobody." What philosopher of ancient or modern time could have spoken better or in sounder language! All the human side of Christianity is expressed in these magnificent words, and they came from the mouth of a savage! Columbus and the cacique separated, charmed with one another, and the more astonished of the two was not, perhaps, the old native. The rest of his tribe appeared to live in the practice of the excellent precepts indicated by their chief. Land was common property amongst the natives, as much so as sun, air, and water. The Meum and Tuum, cause of all strife, did not exist amongst them, and they lived content with little. "They enjoy the Golden Age," says the narrative, "they protect not their possessions with ditches and hedges, they leave their gardens open; without laws, without books, without judges, they by nature follow what is right, and hold as bad and unjust whatever sins against, or causes harm to another."
Leaving Cuba, Columbus returned towards Jamaica, and sailed along the whole of the southern coast as far as the eastern extremity of the island. His intention was to attack the islands of the Caribbees, and destroy that mischievous brood. But the admiral was at this time seized with an illness, brought on by watching and fatigue, which obliged him to suspend his projects. He was forced to return to Isabella, where, under the influence of good air and repose, and the care of his brother and his friends, he recovered his health. The colony greatly needed his presence. The governor of St. Thomas had aroused the indignation of the natives by his cruel exactions, and had refused to listen to the remonstrances upon the subject addressed to him by Don Diego, the brother of Columbus; he had returned to Isabella from St. Thomas during the absence of the admiral and he embarked for Spain upon one of the ships which had just brought Don Bartolomeo, the second brother of Columbus, to Hispaniola. When the admiral regained his health he resolved to punish the cacique who had revolted against the governor of St. Thomas, feeling that it would be unwise to allow his authority, in the person of his delegates, to be set at nought. In the first place he sent nine men well armed to take prisoner a bold cacique named Caonabo. The leader Hojeda, with an intrepidity of which we shall have further instances in the future, carried off the cacique from the midst of his own people, and brought him prisoner to Isabella. Columbus afterwards sent Caonabo to Europe, but the ship in which he sailed was wrecked during the voyage, and he was never heard of more.
In the meantime, Antonio de Torrès, sent by the King and Queen of Spain to compliment Columbus in their names, arrived at San Domingo with four vessels. Ferdinand declared himself highly content with the successes of the admiral, and informed him that he was about to establish a monthly service of transport between Spain and Hispaniola.
The carrying off of Caonabo had excited a general revolt amongst the natives, who burned to revenge the chief, so deeply insulted and unjustly carried away. The Cacique Guacanagari, notwithstanding the share he had had in the murder of the first colonists, alone remained faithful to the Spaniards. Columbus, accompanied by his brother Bartolomeo and the cacique, marched against the rebels and soon met with an army of natives, the numbers of which, with manifest exaggeration, he places at 100,000 men. However numerous it may have been, this army was quickly routed by a small detachment, composed of 200 infantry, twenty-five cavalry, and twenty-five dogs. This victory to all appearance re-established the admiral's authority. The Indians were condemned to pay tribute to the Spaniards, those living near the mines were ordered to furnish every three months a small quantity of gold, while the others, more distant, were to contribute twenty-five pounds of cotton. But rebellion had been only curbed, not extinguished. At the voice of a woman, Anacaona, widow of Caonabo, the natives rose a second time; and even succeeded in drawing over the hitherto faithful Guacanagari to their side; the rebels destroyed all the fields of maize, and everything else which had been planted, and then retired into the mountains. The Spaniards, seeing themselves thus reduced to all the horrors of famine, indulged their anger by terrible reprisals against the natives; it is calculated that one-third of the island population perished from hunger, sickness, and the weapons of the companions of Columbus. These unfortunate Indians paid dearly indeed for their intercourse with the conquering Europeans.
The good fortune of Columbus was by this time on the wane. While his authority in Hispaniola was continually more and more compromised, his reputation and his character were the objects of violent attack in Europe. The officers whom he had sent back to the mother country, loudly accused him of injustice and cruelty; they even insinuated that he sought to render himself independent of the king; and against all these attacks, Columbus, being absent, could not defend himself. Ferdinand, influenced by this unworthy discourse, chose a commissioner, whom he ordered to proceed to the West Indies and to examine into the truth of the accusations. This gentleman was named Juan d'Aguado, and the choice of such a man to fulfil such a mission, possessing as he did a mind both prejudiced and partial, was not a happy one. Aguado arrived at Isabella in the month of October, at the time when the admiral was absent on an exploring expedition, and began at once to treat the brother of Columbus with extreme haughtiness, while Diego on his side, relying upon his title of governor-general, refused to submit to the commands of the royal commissioner. Aguado soon considered himself ready to return to Spain, although the examination he had made was a most incomplete one, when a fearful hurricane occurred, which sank the vessels which had brought him over in the harbour. There now remained only two caravels at Hispaniola, but Columbus, who had returned to the colony, acting with a greatness of soul which cannot be too much admired, placed one of these ships at the disposal of the commissioner, with the proviso that he himself would embark in the other, to plead his cause in person before the king.
So matters stood, when the news arriving of the discovery of fresh gold-mines in Hispaniola, caused the admiral to put off his departure. Covetousness was a power strong enough to cut short all discussions; there was no longer any mention of the King of Spain, nor of the inquiry which he had ordered; officers were sent off to the new auriferous ground, finding there nuggets of which some weighed as much as twenty ounces, and a lump of amber of the weight of 300 pounds. Columbus ordered two fortresses to be erected for the protection of the miners, one on the boundary of the province of Cibao, the other upon the banks of the River Hayna. Having taken this precaution, he set out for Europe, full of eagerness to justify himself. The two caravels sailed from the harbour of St. Isabella on the 10th of March, 1496. On board of the admiral's ship were 225 persons and thirty Indians. On the 9th of April he touched at Marie-Galante, and on the 10th at Guadaloupe, to take in water; here there occurred a sharp skirmish with the natives. On the 20th he left this inhospitable island, and for a whole month he had to contend with contrary winds. On the 11th of June land was sighted in Europe, and on the next day the caravels entered the harbour of Cadiz.
This second return of the great navigator was not welcomed, as the first had been, by the acclamations of the populace. To enthusiasm had succeeded coldness and envy; the companions even of the admiral took part against him. Discouraged as they were, with illusions destroyed, and not bringing back that wealth, for the acquisition of which they had encountered so many dangers, and submitted to so much fatigue, they became unjust, and forgot that it was not the fault of Columbus if the mines hitherto worked had been a source of expense rather than of profit.
However, the admiral was received at court with a certain measure of favour, the narrative of his second voyage doing much to reinstate him in public opinion. And who could deny that during that expedition he had discovered the islands of Dominica, Marie-Galante, Guadaloupe, Montserrat, Santa-Maria, Santa Cruz, Porto Rico, Jamaica? Had he not also carried out a new survey of Cuba and San Domingo? Columbus fought bravely against his adversaries, even employing against them the weapon of irony. To those who denied the merit of his discoveries, he proposed the experiment of making an egg remain upright while resting upon one end, and when they could not succeed in doing this, the admiral, breaking the top of the shell, made the egg stand upon the broken part. "You had not thought of that," said he; "but behold! it is done."
Third Voyage: Madeira—Santiago in the Cape Verd Archipelago—Trinidad—First sight of the American Coast in Venezuela, beyond the Orinoco, now the Province of Cumana—Gulf of Paria—The Gardens—Tobago—Grenada—Margarita—Cubaga—Hispaniola during the absence of Columbus—Foundation of the town of San Domingo—Arrival of Columbus—Insubordination in the Colony—Complaints in Spain—Bovadilla sent by the king to inquire into the conduct of Columbus—Columbus sent to Europe in fetters with his two brothers—His appearance before Ferdinand and Isabella—Renewal of royal favour.
Columbus had not yet given up the hope of pursuing his conquests on the further side of the Atlantic Ocean. No fatigue, no injustice from his fellow-men could stop him. After having triumphed, although not without difficulty, over the malice of his enemies, he succeeded in organizing a third expedition under the auspices of the Spanish government. The king granted him eight vessels, forty cavalry soldiers, and one hundred infantry, sixty sailors, twenty miners, fifty labourers, twenty workmen of various trades, thirty women, some doctors, and even some musicians. The admiral obtained the concession besides, that all the punishments in use in Spain should be changed into transportation to the islands. He was thus the precursor of the English in the intelligent idea of peopling new colonies with convicts, whom labour was to reform.
Embarkation of Christopher Columbus.
Columbus put to sea on the 30th of May, 1498, although he was still suffering from gout, and from the various mental trials which he had experienced since his return. Before starting, he learnt that a French fleet was lying in wait off Cape St. Vincent, with the purpose of hindering the expedition. To avoid it, Columbus made for Madeira, and anchored there; from that island he dispatched all his vessels, except three, to Hispaniola under the command of the Captains Pedro de Arana, Alonzo Sanchez of Carabajal, and Juan Antonio Columbus, one of his own relations, while he, with a large ship and two caravels bore down to the south with the intention of crossing the equator, and seeking for more southern countries, which, according to the general opinion, must be even richer in all kinds of productions. On the 27th of June the small flotilla touched at the islands of Sel and of Santiago, which form part of the Cape Verd group. It sailed again on the 4th of July, and made 360 miles to the south-west, experiencing long calms and intense heat; on arriving abreast of Sierra Leone, it steered due west, and at mid-day on the 31st of July, one of the sailors raised the cry of "land." It was an island situated at the north-eastern extremity of South America, and very near the coast. The admiral gave it the name of Trinidad, and all the crews chanted the Salve Regina in sign of thankfulness. On the morrow, the 1st of August, at fifteen miles from the part of the land which had been first seen, the three vessels were moored near to the Point of Alcatraz, and the admiral sent some of his sailors ashore to obtain water and wood. The coast appeared to be uninhabited, but numerous footprints of animals were observed, made, as was thought, by goats.
On the 2nd of August a long canoe, manned by twenty-four natives, came towards the ships. These Indians, tall of stature, and paler in colour than those of Hispaniola, wore upon the head a turban formed of a cotton scarf of brilliant colours, and a small skirt of the same material around the body. The Spaniards endeavoured to entice them on board, by showing them mirrors and glass trinkets; the sailors even executing lively dances, in the hope of inspiring them with confidence; but the savages, taking fright at the sound of a tambourine, which seemed to them a sign of hostility, discharged a flight of arrows, and directed their canoe towards one of the caravels, whose pilot endeavoured to reassure them by steering towards them; but in vain, the canoe soon made off, and was seen no more.
Columbus again set sail, and discovered a new island which he called Gracia; but what he imagined to be an island, was, in reality, a portion of the American coast, and that part of the shore of Venezuela, which, being intersected by the numerous branches of the Orinoco, forms the Delta of that river. On this day the Continent of America, although unknown to him, was really discovered by Christopher Columbus, in that part of Venezuela which goes by the name of the Province of Cumana. Between this coast and the Island of Trinidad there is a dangerous gulf, the Gulf of Paria, in which a ship can with difficulty resist the currents which flow towards the west with great rapidity. The admiral, who believed himself to be in the open sea, was exposed to great peril in this gulf, where the rivers, falling into the sea from the continent, and being swollen at that time by an accidental flood, poured great masses of water upon the ships. Columbus, in writing to the king and queen, describes this incident in the following terms:—
"Being up on deck, at an advanced hour of the night, I heard a kind of terrible roaring; I tried to see through the darkness, and all at once I beheld a sea like a hill, as high as the ship, advancing slowly from the south towards my vessels. Opposing this great wave was a current, which met it with a frightful noise. I had no doubt then that we should be engulfed, and even now the remembrance causes me a feeling of horror. By good fortune, however, the current and the wave passed us, going towards the mouth of the canal, where, after long strife, they gradually sank to rest."
Notwithstanding the difficulties of the navigation, Columbus continued to explore this sea, of which the waters became gradually calmer as he sailed northwards; he discovered various headlands, one of them was to the east of the Island of Trinidad, and called the Cape of Pera Blanca. Another was on the west of the promontory of Paria, and named Cape Lapa. Several harbours were also noticed, amongst others one situated at the mouth of the Orinoco, to which was given the name of the Port of Monkeys. Columbus landed on the shore, west of Point Cumana, and received a kindly welcome from the numerous inhabitants. Towards the west, beyond the point of Alcatraz, the country was magnificent, and there according to the natives, much gold and pearls were to be obtained. Here the admiral would gladly have remained for some time if he could have found a safe anchorage. But as this was impossible, he felt it best to make for Port Isabella, especially as his crews were worn down by fatigue, and his own health much affected, besides the sufferings he experienced from the bad state of his eyesight. So he sailed onwards along the Venezuelan coast, making friends as far as possible with the natives. These Indians were agreeable in feature, and of magnificent physique; their dwellings displayed a certain amount of taste, their houses being built with façades in front, and containing articles of furniture ingeniously made. The natives wore plates of gold as ornaments upon their necks. As to the country, it was superb; the rivers, the mountains, the immense forests made it a real land of delight. So the admiral gave this beautiful country the name of Gracia, and by many arguments he tried to prove that in this spot was situated that terrestrial Paradise once inhabited by Adam and Eve, being the cradle of the whole human race. To explain to a certain degree this idea of the great navigator, we must not forget that he imagined himself all this time to be on the shores of Asia. This spot which delighted him so much, he called "the Gardens."
On the 23rd of August, after having at the expense of much danger and fatigue, overcome the perils of this bay, Columbus issued from the Gulf of Paria by the narrow strait to which he gave the name, retained to this day, of the Dragon's Mouth. Arrived in the open sea, the Spaniards discovered the Island of Tobago situated to the north-east of Trinidad, and then, more to the north, the Island of Conception, now known as Grenada. They next steered to the south-west and returned towards the American coast; after sailing along which for 120 miles, they discovered, on the 25th of August, the populous Island of Margarita, and afterwards the Island of Cubaga, situated very close to the mainland. At this place the natives had established a pearl-fishery, and busied themselves in collecting this valuable product. Columbus sent a boat on shore, when a very profitable traffic was carried on, the natives giving in exchange for broken pottery or hawks' bells, pounds' weight of pearls, some of which were very large, and of the finest water.
The admiral stopped at this point of his discoveries; the temptation was strong to explore this country, but both officers and crews were exhausted. Orders were therefore given to start for San Domingo, where matters of the gravest moment demanded the presence of Columbus. Before his departure from Hispaniola he had authorized his brother to lay the foundations of a new town. With this end Don Bartolomeo had explored the different portions of the island, and having discovered at the distance of 150 miles from Isabella a magnificent harbour at the mouth of a fine river, he there marked out the first streets of a town which became later on the city of San Domingo. Here Don Bartolomeo fixed his residence, while Don Diego remained as Governor of Isabella. By this arrangement Columbus' two brothers had the whole administration of the colony in their hands. But there were many malcontents who were ready to revolt against their authority, and it was while this bad spirit was abroad that the admiral arrived at San Domingo. He approved of all that his brothers had done, their administration having been in fact, marked by great wisdom, and he published a proclamation recalling to their obedience the Spaniards who had revolted. On the 18th of October he despatched five ships to Spain, and with them an officer commissioned to inform the king of the new discoveries, and of the state of the colony, endangered by the fomenters of disorder.
Meanwhile, the affairs of Columbus had taken a bad turn in Europe. Since his departure calumnies against himself and his brothers had been ever on the increase. Some rebels who had been expelled the colony, denounced the encroaching dynasty of the Columbus family, thus exciting the jealousy of a vain and ungrateful monarch. Even the queen, until now the constant patroness of the Genoese navigator, was indignant at the arrival on board the vessels of three hundred Indians who had been torn from their country, and who were treated as slaves. Isabella did not know that this abuse of power had been carried out unknown to Columbus and during his absence; he was held responsible for it, and to inquire into his conduct, the Court sent to Hispaniola a commander of the order of Calatrava, named Francis de Bovadilla, to whom were given the titles of Governor-general, and Intendant of Justice. He was in reality meant to supersede Columbus. Bovadilla, invested with discretionary powers, set out with two caravels towards the end of June, 1500. On the 23rd of August, the colonists sighted the two ships, which were then endeavouring to enter the harbour of San Domingo.
At this time Christopher Columbus and his brother Bartolomeo were absent, engaged in superintending the erection of a fort in the province of Xaragua; Don Diego was commanding in their absence. Bovadilla landed and went to hear mass, displaying during the ceremony a very significant ostentation; then, having summoned Don Diego before him, he ordered him to resign his office into his hands. The admiral, warned by a messenger of what was occurring, arrived in great haste. He examined the letters patent brought by Bovadilla, and having read them, he declared his willingness to recognize him as intendant of justice, but not as governor-general of the colony.
Then Bovadilla gave him a letter from the king and queen, couched in the following terms:—
"Don Christopher Columbus, our Admiral in the ocean,
"We have ordered Commander Don Francis Bovadilla to explain to you our intentions. We command you to give credit to, and to execute, whatever he shall order on our part.
"I, THE KING, I, THE QUEEN."
In this letter, the title of Viceroy appertaining to Columbus by the solemn conventions signed by Ferdinand and Isabella, was not even mentioned. Columbus, suppressing his just indignation, quietly submitted. Then arose against the fallen admiral a whole host of false friends. All those who owed their fortune to Columbus turned against him; accusing him of having desired to render himself independent. Foolish calumnies! How could this idea have occurred to the mind of a foreigner, a Genoese, alone in the midst of a Spanish colony!
Bovadilla found the moment propitious for harsh measures. Don Diego was already imprisoned, and the governor soon ordered Don Bartolomeo and Christopher Columbus himself to be put in fetters. The admiral, accused of high treason, was placed with his two brothers on board a vessel bound for Spain, under the command of Alphonso de Villejo. That officer, a man of feeling, and ashamed of the treatment to which Columbus was exposed, wished to strike off his chains; but Columbus refused. He, the conqueror of a new world, would arrive loaded with chains in that kingdom of Spain, which he had so greatly enriched!
Columbus bound like a felon.
The admiral judged rightly in thus acting, for public opinion was revolted by the sight of him in this depth of humiliation, bound like a felon, and treated as a criminal. Gratitude towards the man of genius asserted itself against the bad passions which had been so unjustly excited, and there arose a cry of indignation against Bovadilla. The king and queen, swayed by the feelings of the people, loudly blamed the conduct of the commander, and addressed an affectionate letter to Columbus, inviting him to present himself at court.
Thus a bright day again dawned for Columbus. He appeared before Ferdinand, not as the accused, but as himself the accuser; then, his fortitude giving way under the remembrance of the unworthy treatment he had experienced, this unfortunate great man wept, and caused those around to weep with him. He pointed proudly to the story of his life. He showed himself to be almost without resources, he whom they accused of ambition, and of enriching himself out of the government of the colony! Verily, the man who had made the discovery of a world, did not possess a roof to shelter his own head!
Isabella, ever good and compassionate, wept in company with the old sailor, and for sometime could not make him any answer, so choked was she with her tears. At length she was able to utter some affectionate words; in assuring Columbus of her protection, she promised to avenge him of his enemies; she excused the bad choice they had made in sending this Bovadilla to the islands, and she declared he should expiate his guilt by an exemplary punishment. In addition, she desired the admiral to allow some time to elapse before returning to his government, in order that the minds prejudiced against him might return to sentiments of honour and justice.
The mind of Christopher Columbus was calmed by the gracious words of the queen; he showed himself content with his reception, and admitted the necessity of the delay enjoined upon him by Isabella. The chief wish of his heart was again to serve his adopted country and its sovereigns, and he sketched out grand designs of what still remained to be attempted in the way of discovery. His third voyage, in spite of its short duration, had not been without fruit, but had enriched the map with such new names as Trinidad, the Gulf of Paria, the coast of Cumana, the Islands of Tobago, of Grenada, of Margarita, and of Cubaga
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS.Fourth Voyage: A Flotilla of four vessels—Canary Islands—Martinique—Dominica—Santa-Cruz—Porto-Rico—Hispaniola—Jamaica—Cayman Island—Pinos Island—Island of Guanaja—Cape Honduras—The American Coast of Truxillo on the Gulf of Darien—The Limonare Islands—Huerta—The Coast of Veragua—Auriferous Strata—Revolt of the Natives—The Dream of Columbus—Porto-Bello—The Mulatas—Putting into port at Jamaica—Distress—Revolt of the Spaniards against Columbus—Lunar Eclipse—Arrival of Columbus at Hispaniola—Return of Columbus to Spain—His death, on the 20th of March, 1506.
Christopher Columbus saw himself now reinstated in favour, as he deserved to be, at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Perhaps the king may have still evinced a certain degree of coldness towards him, but the queen was his avowed and enthusiastic protectress. His official title as viceroy had not, however, been restored to him, but the admiral, with his usual magnanimity, did not demand it. He had the satisfaction of seeing Bovadilla deposed, partly for his abuse of power, and partly because his conduct towards the Indians had become atrocious; his inhuman proceedings towards them being pushed to such a length, that under his administration the native population of Hispaniola, sensibly decreased.
During this time the island began to fulfil the hopes of Columbus, who had prophesied that in three years the crown would derive from it a revenue of sixty millions. Gold was obtained in abundance from the best worked mines; a slave had dug up on the banks of the Hayna, a mass, equal in weight to 3600 golden crowns; it was easy to foresee that the new colonies would yield incalculable riches.
The admiral, who could not bear to remain inactive, earnestly demanded to be sent on a fourth voyage, although he was by this time sixty-six years of age. In support of his request he adduced some very plausible reasons. One year before the return of Columbus, the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, had returned from the Indies, after having doubled the Cape of Good Hope. Columbus felt certain that by sailing to India by the much safer and shorter western route, the Spaniards might enter into profitable competition with the Portuguese traders. He constantly maintained, believing as he did that he had been alongside the Asiatic territory, that the islands and continents discovered by him were only separated by a strait from the Moluccas. He therefore wished, without even returning to Hispaniola and the colonies already settled, to direct his course at once to the Indies. It is evident that the ex-Viceroy had again become the hardy navigator of his earlier years. The king agreed to the admiral's request, and placed him in command of a flotilla composed of four vessels, the Santiago, Gallego, Vizcaino, and a caravel, as admiral's galley. These ships were of small tonnage, the largest being only of seventy tons, and the smallest of fifty; they were in fact, little better than coasting-vessels.
Columbus left Cadiz on the 9th of May, 1502, with crews numbering in all 150 men. He took with him his brother Bartolomeo, and his son Fernando, the child of his second marriage, and at this time scarcely thirteen years old. On the 20th of May, the vessels stopped at Gran Canaria, and on the 15th of June arrived at Martinique, one of the Windward Islands; afterwards they touched at Dominica, Santa-Cruz, and Porto-Rico, and at length, after a prosperous voyage, reached Hispaniola, on the 29th of June. The intention of Columbus, acting on the queen's advice, was not to land upon the island whence he had been so unworthily expelled; but his badly-constructed ship was scarcely sea-worthy, and repairs to the keel were greatly needed. Therefore the admiral demanded permission of the governor to enter the harbour.
The new governor, successor to Bovadilla, was a just and moderate man, a knight of the order of Alcantara, named Nicholas Ovando. His excessive caution, however, made him fear that the presence of Columbus in the colony might be a cause of disorder; he therefore thought it right to refuse the request. The admiral concealed the indignation which such treatment could not but cause him, and returned good for evil, by offering wise counsel to the governor in the following instance. The fleet which was to take Bovadilla back to Europe, and to bear with it, besides the enormous lump of gold already mentioned, other treasures of great value, was ready to put to sea. But the weather was very threatening, and Columbus, with a sailor's penetration, having observed the signs of an approaching storm, implored the governor not to expose the ships and passengers to such danger. Ovando would not listen to the advice, and the ships put to sea; scarcely had they reached the eastern point of the island before a terrible hurricane arose, causing twenty-one of the ships to founder with all on board. Bovadilla was drowned, and with him the greater part of the enemies of Columbus, but by an exception which may be called providential, the ship which carried the poor remains of the admiral's fortune, escaped destruction. In this storm ten millions' worth of gold and precious stones was engulfed by the ocean.
Meanwhile, the four caravels of Columbus, denied access to the harbour, had been driven before the storm. They were separated one from the other, and disabled, but they succeeded in meeting together again, and by the 14th of July, the squall had carried them within sight of Jamaica. Arrived there, strong currents bore them towards the islands called the Queen's Garden, and then in the direction of east-south-east. The little flotilla contended for sixty days against the wind without making more than 210 miles, and at length was driven towards the coast of Cuba, which led to the discovery of Cayman and Pinos Islands.
Columbus then steered to the south-west, sailing upon seas hitherto unvisited by any European ship, and throwing himself once more into the course of discovery with all the passionate ardour of a navigator. Chance conducted him towards the southern coast of America; he discovered the island of Guanaja, on the 30th of July, and on the 14th of August he touched at Cape Honduras, that narrow strip of land, which, prolonged by the Isthmus of Panama, unites the two continents of America. Thus, for the second time Columbus, without being aware of it, approached the real soil of America. For more than nine months he followed the windings of these shores, in the face of all kinds of perils and difficulties, and succeeded in laying down the chart of the coast from the part since named Truxillo, as far as the Gulf of Darien. Each night he cast anchor, that he might not be driven far from the shore, and at length reached that eastern extremity of the coast where it ends abruptly in the Cape Gracias a Dios.
This cape was doubled on the 14th of September, but the ships encountered contrary winds so violent, that even the admiral, himself the oldest sailor of the crews, had never before experienced the like. He relates this terrible episode in his letter to the king of Spain in the following terms: "During eighty-four days the waves continued their assaults, nor did my eyes perceive sun, nor stars, nor any planet; the seams of my vessels gaped, my sails were torn; tackle, boats, rigging, all were lost; my sailors, ill and frightened, devoted themselves to the pious duties of religion; no one failed to promise pilgrimages, and all confessed to each other, thinking that each moment might prove their last. I have seen many tempests, but never have I experienced any of such duration and violence. Many of my men who passed for intrepid sailors, lost courage; but that which broke my heart, was the pain of my son, whose tender age added to my despair, and whom I saw the prey of greater suffering, greater torments, than fell to the lot of any one amongst us; but it was doubtless no other than God, who bestowed upon him such energy, that it was He alone who animated the courage, and reawakened the patience of the sailors under their severe toil; in a word, looking upon him, one might have fancied him a sailor who had grown old in contending with storms, an astonishing fact, almost incredible, but one which awakened some gleam of joy amidst the sorrows which overwhelmed me. I was ill, and several times I thought my last hour was near.... To complete my misery comes the thought that twenty years of service, of fatigues and perils, have brought me no profit, and I find myself to-day unpossessed of even a roof to shelter me in Spain, and forced to betake myself to an inn when I would obtain repose or food; and when there I often find myself unable to pay my reckoning." Do not these lines indicate clearly the intensity of sorrow which overwhelmed the soul of Columbus? In the midst of such dangers and anxieties, how could he preserve the energy needful to command an expedition?
Throughout the duration of the storm, the ships had been following the line of coast which successively bears the names of Honduras, Mosquito, Nicaragua, Costa-Rica, Veragua, and Panama, the twelve Limonare Islands being also discovered at this time, and at last, on the 25th of September, Columbus cast anchor between the small island of Huerta and the continent. On the 5th of October he again set sail, and after having taken the bearings of the Bay of Almirante, he anchored opposite to the village of Cariaz. There he remained until the 15th of October, the repairs of the vessels meanwhile going actively forward.
Columbus now believed himself to be arrived near the mouth of the Ganges, and from the natives speaking of a certain province of Ciguare, which was surrounded by the sea, he felt himself confirmed in this opinion. They declared that it was a country containing rich gold-mines, of which the most important was situated seventy-five miles to the south. When the admiral again set sail, he followed the wooded coast of Veragua, where the Indians appeared to be very wild. On the 26th of November, the flotilla entered the harbour of El Retrete, which is now the port of Escribanos. The ships battered by the winds, were now in a most miserable plight; it was absolutely necessary to repair the damage they had sustained, and for this purpose to prolong the stay at El Retrete. Upon quitting this harbour Columbus was met by a storm even more dreadful than those which had preceded it: "During nine days," he says, "I remained without hope of being saved. Never did any man see a more violent or terrible sea; it was covered with foam, the wind permitted no ships to advance, nor to steer towards any cape; I was kept in that sea, of which the waves seemed to be of blood, and the surges boiled as though heated by fire. Never have I seen so appalling an aspect of the heavens: on fire during one whole day and night like a furnace, they sent forth thunder and flame incessantly, and I feared each moment that the masts and sails would be carried away. The growling of the thunder was so horrible that it appeared sufficient to crush our vessels; and during the whole time the rain fell with such violence that one could scarcely call it rain, but rather a second Deluge. My sailors, overcome by so much trouble and suffering, prayed for death as putting a term to their miseries; my ships opened in all directions, and boats, anchors, ropes, and sails were once again lost."
During this long and painful navigation, the admiral had sailed one thousand and fifty miles. His crews were by this time quite exhausted; he was therefore obliged to turn back and to regain the river of Veragua, but not being able to find safe shelter there for his ships, he went a short distance off to the mouth of Bethlehem river, now called the Yebra, in which he cast anchor on the feast of the Epiphany in the year 1503. On the morrow the tempest was again renewed, and on the 24th of January, a sudden increase of water in the river caused the cables which held the ships to snap, and the vessels were only saved with great trouble.
In spite of all this, the admiral, who never forgot the principal object of his mission in these new countries, had succeeded in establishing regular intercourse with the natives. The cacique of Bethlehem showed a friendly disposition, and pointed out a country fifteen miles inland, where he said the gold-mines were very rich. On the 6th of February, Columbus despatched a force of seventy men to the spot indicated, under the command of his brother Bartolomeo. After travelling through a very undulating country, watered by rivers so winding that one of them had to be crossed thirty-nine times, the Spaniards arrived at the auriferous tracts. They were immense, and extended quite out of sight. Gold was so abundant that one man alone could collect enough of it in ten days to fill a measure. In four hours, Bartolomeo and his men had picked up gold to an enormous amount. They returned to the admiral, who, when he heard their narrative, resolved to settle upon this coast, and to have some wooden barracks constructed.
Gold-mines in Cuba.
From an old print.
The mines of this region were indeed of incomparable richness; they appeared to be inexhaustible, and quite made Columbus forget Cuba and San Domingo. His letter to King Ferdinand evinces his enthusiasm on the subject; one may feel some astonishment at reading the following sentiment from the pen of this great man, one indeed which is neither that of a philosopher nor of a Christian. "Gold! gold! excellent thing! It is from gold that spring riches! it is by means of gold that everything in the world is done, and its power suffices often to place souls in Paradise."
The Spaniards set to work with ardour to store up this gold in their ships. Hitherto the relations with the natives had been peaceable, although these people were of fierce disposition. But after a time the cacique, irritated by the usurpation of the foreigners, resolved to murder them and burn their dwellings. One day the natives suddenly attacked the Spaniards in considerable force, and a very severe battle ensued, ending in the repulse of the Indians. The cacique had been taken prisoner with all his family, but he succeeded with his children in escaping from custody, and took refuge in the mountains in company with a great number of his followers. In the month of April, a considerable troop of the natives again attacked the Spaniards, who exterminated a large proportion of them.
Meanwhile, the health of Columbus became more and more enfeebled; the wind failed him for quitting the harbour, and he was in despair. One day, exhausted by fatigue, he fell asleep, and heard a pitying voice which addressed him as follows:—words which shall be given verbatim, for they bear the imprint of that kind of ecstatic religious fervour which gives a finishing touch to the picture of the great navigator.
"'O foolish man! why such unwillingness to believe in and to serve thy God, the God of the Universe? What did He more for Moses His servant, and for David? Since thy birth, has He not had for thee the most tender solicitude; and when he saw thee of an age in which His designs for thee could be matured, has He not made thy name resound gloriously through the world? Has He not bestowed upon thee the Indies, the richest part of the earth? Has He not set thee free to make an offering of them to Him according to thine own will? Who but He has lent thee the means of executing His designs? Bounds were placed at the entrance of the ocean; they were formed of chains which could not be broken through. To thee were given the keys. Thy power was recognized in distant lands, and thy glory was proclaimed by all Christians. Did God even show Himself more favourable to the people of Israel, when He rescued them from Egypt? Did He favour David more, when from a shepherd boy He made him king of Judah? Turn to Him, confessing thy fault, for His compassion is infinite. Thine old age will prove no obstacle in the great actions which await thee: He holds in His hands a heritage the most brilliant. Was not Abraham a hundred years old, and had not Sarah already passed the flower of her youth when Isaac was born? Thou seekest an uncertain help. Answer me: who has exposed thee so often to so many dangers? Is it God, or the world? God never withholds the blessings promised to His servants. It is not His manner after receiving a service to pretend that His intentions have not been carried out, and to give a new interpretation to His desires; it is not He who seeks to give to arbitrary acts a favourable colour. His words are to be taken literally; all that He promises He gives with usury. Thus does He ever. I have told thee all that the Creator has done for thee; at this very moment He is showing thee the prize and the reward of the perils and sufferings to which thou hast been exposed in the service of thy fellow-men.' And I listened to this voice, overcome though I were with suffering; but I could not muster strength to reply to these assured promises; I contented myself by deploring my fault with tears. The voice concluded with these words:—'Take confidence, hope on; the record of thy labours will, with justice, be engraved on marble.'"
Columbus, as soon as he recovered, was anxious to leave this coast. He had desired to found a colony here, but his crews were not sufficiently numerous to justify the risk of leaving a part of them on land. The four caravels were full of worm-holes, and one of them had to be left behind at Bethlehem. On Easter day the admiral put to sea, but scarcely had he gone ninety miles before a leak was discovered in one of the ships; it was necessary to steer for the coast with all speed, and happily Porto-Bello was reached in safety, where the ship was abandoned, her injuries being irreparable. The flotilla consisted now of but two caravels, without boats, almost without provisions, and with 7000 miles of ocean to traverse. It sailed along the coast, passed the port of El Retrete, discovered the group of islands called the Mulatas, and at length entered the Gulf of Darien. This was the farthest point east reached by Columbus.
On the 1st of May the admiral steered for Hispaniola; by the 10th he was in sight of the Cayman Islands, but he found it impossible to make head against the winds which drove him to the north-west nearly as far as Cuba. There, while in shallow water, he encountered a storm, during which anchors and sails were carried away, and the two ships came into collision during the night. The hurricane then drove them southwards, and the admiral at length reached Jamaica with his shattered vessels, casting anchor on the 23rd of June in the harbour of San-Gloria, now called the bay of Don Christopher. Columbus wished to have gone to Hispaniola, where he would have found the stores needful for revictualling the ships, resources which were absolutely wanting in Jamaica; but his two caravels, full of worm-holes, "like to bee-hives," could not without danger attempt the ninety miles' voyage; the question now arose, how to send a message to Ovando, the governor of Hispaniola.
The Admiral is obliged to run the caravels aground.
The caravels let in water in every direction, and the admiral was obliged to run them aground; he then tried to organize a life in common upon shore. The Indians at first gave him assistance, and furnished the crews with the provisions of which they were in need, but the miserable and much tried sailors showed resentment against the admiral; they were ready for revolt, while the unfortunate Columbus, exhausted by illness, was confined to a bed of pain. It was in these trying circumstances that two brave officers, Mendez and Fieschi, proposed to the admiral to attempt to cross from Jamaica to Hispaniola in Indian canoes. This was in reality a voyage of six hundred miles, for it was necessary to row along the coast as far as the port where the colony was established. But these courageous officers were ready to face every peril, when it was a question of saving their companions. Columbus, appreciating the boldness of a proposal, which under other circumstances he would himself have been the first to make, gave the required permission to Mendez and Fieschi, who set out, while he, without ships, almost without provisions, remained with his crew upon this uncultivated island.
From an old print.
Soon the misery of the shipwrecked people—for so we may fairly call them—became so great that a revolt ensued. The admiral's companions, blinded by their sufferings, imagined that their chief dared not return to the harbour in Hispaniola, to which Ovando had already denied him entrance. They thought this proscription applied to them equally with the admiral, and said among themselves that the governor, in excluding the flotilla from the harbours of the colony, must have acted under orders from the king. These absurd reasonings irritated minds already badly disposed, and at length on the 2nd of January, 1504, two brothers named Porras, one the captain of one of the caravels and the other the military treasurer, placed themselves at the head of the malcontents. Their wish was to return to Europe, and they rushed towards the admiral's tent, crying, "Castille! Castille!" Columbus was ill and in bed. His brother and his son threw themselves between him and the mutineers to defend him. At the sight of the aged admiral, the rebels stopped, and their violence abated; but they would not listen to the admiral's remonstrances and counsels; they did not understand that nothing could save them but general concord, and each, in unselfish forgetfulness, working for the public good. No! their decision was taken to quit the island, no matter by what means. Porras and his followers ran down to the shore, took possession of the canoes of the natives, and steered for the eastern extremity of the island. Arrived there, with no respect left for anything, and drunk with fury, they pillaged the Indians' dwellings—thus rendering the admiral responsible for their deeds of violence—and they dragged some unfortunate natives on board of the canoes which they had stolen. Porras and his companions continued their navigation; but when several leagues from shore, they were struck by a gust of wind which placed them in peril: with the object of lightening the canoes, they threw their prisoners overboard. After this barbarous execution, the canoes endeavoured, following the example of Mendez and Fieschi, to gain the island of Hispaniola, but in vain, they were continually thrown back upon the coasts of Jamaica.
Meanwhile the admiral, left alone with his friends and the sick, succeeded in establishing order in his little world. But the distress increased, and famine threatened. The natives wearied of providing food for these foreigners, whose sojourn upon their island was so prolonged; besides, they had seen the Spaniards fighting amongst themselves, a sight which had much destroyed their prestige, and convinced the Indians that these Europeans were nothing more than ordinary mortals; thus, they no longer respected nor feared them. The authority of Columbus over the native population was diminishing day by day, and an accidental circumstance was needed, of which the admiral cleverly took advantage, to bring back a renown which was necessary for the safety of his companions.
A lunar eclipse, foreseen and calculated by Columbus, was due on a certain day. On the morning of this day, the admiral sent to request an interview with the caciques of the island. They accepted the invitation, and when they were assembled in the tent of Columbus, the latter announced to them that God, desirous of punishing them for their inhospitable conduct, and their bad feeling towards the Spaniards, would that evening refuse them the light of the moon. All came to pass as the admiral had foretold; the shadow of the earth began to conceal the moon, whose disc had the appearance of being eaten away by some formidable monster. The savages in terror cast themselves at the feet of Columbus, praying him to intercede with Heaven on their behalf, and promising to place all they had at his disposal. Columbus, after some well feigned hesitation, pretended to yield to the prayers of the natives. Under pretext of supplicating the Deity, he remained in his tent during the whole time of the eclipse, only reappearing at the moment when the phenomenon was nearly over. Then he told the caciques that God had heard his prayer, and extending his arm he commanded the moon to reappear. Soon the disc was seen to issue from the cone of the shadow, and the queen of night shone forth in all her splendour. From that day forward, the grateful and submissive Indians accepted the admiral's authority as one manifestly delegated to him by the celestial powers.
While these events were passing at Jamaica, Mendez and Fieschi had long ago arrived at their destination. These brave officers had reached Hispaniola after a voyage of four days, little short of miraculous, accomplished as it was in a frail canoe. They immediately made the governor acquainted with the desperate condition of Columbus and his companions. Ovando, in a spirit of malice and injustice, detained these officers, and after a delay of eight months, under pretext of ascertaining the real condition of affairs, he despatched to Jamaica one of his own followers, a man named Diego Escobar, who was an especial enemy to Columbus. Escobar, on his arrival at Jamaica, would not communicate with Columbus; he did not even land, but contented himself with putting on shore, for the use of the distressed crews, "a side of pork and a barrel of wine;" then he again set sail without having allowed a single person to come on board. This infamous behaviour is but too real, although humanity almost refuses to believe in it.
The admiral was indignant over this cruel mockery; but he showed no violence, used no recrimination. The arrival of Escobar somewhat reassured the shipwrecked men, for at least it proved that their situation was known. Deliverance was therefore only a matter of time, and the morale of the Spaniards gradually improved.
The admiral was desirous of bringing about a reconciliation with Porras and the rebels, who, since their separation, had incessantly ravaged the island, and been guilty of odious cruelties towards the unfortunate natives. Columbus proposed to restore them to favour, but these foolish people only answered his generous overtures by advancing to attack him in his retreat. Those Spaniards who had remained faithful to the cause of order, were obliged to take up arms, and they valiantly defended the admiral, losing but one man in this sad affair. They took both the brothers Porras prisoners, and remained masters of the field of battle: then the rebels threw themselves on their knees before Columbus, who, in compassion for their sufferings, granted them pardon.
At length, just one year after the departure of Mendez and Fieschi, a ship appeared, equipped by them at the expense of Columbus, which was destined to restore the shipwrecked company to their homes. On the 24th of June, 1504, every one went on board, and quitting Jamaica, the theatre of accumulated miseries, both moral and physical, they set sail for Hispaniola. Arrived in harbour, after a prosperous voyage, Columbus, to his no small surprise, found himself at first received with much respect, the governor Ovando, as a shrewd man not willing to go against public opinion, doing him honour. But this happy temper did not last. Soon the quarrels recommenced, and then Columbus, unable as well as unwilling to hear more, humiliated, and even maltreated, freighted two ships, of which he shared the command with his brother Bartolomeo, and on the 12th of September, 1504, he for the last time set out for Europe.
His fourth voyage had increased geographical knowledge by the discovery of the Cayman Islands, Martinique, Guanaja, the Limonare Islands, with the coasts of Honduras, Mosquito, Nicaragua, Veragua, Costa-Rica, Porto-Bello, and Panama, the Mulatas Islands, and the Gulf of Darien.
During this, his last voyage across the ocean, Columbus was destined to be again tried by storms. His own vessel was disabled, and he and his crew were obliged to go on board his brother's ship. On the 19th of October, another fearful hurricane broke the mast of this vessel, which had then to make more than two thousand miles with incomplete sails. At last, on the 7th of November, the admiral entered the harbour of San-Lucar. Here a sad piece of news was awaiting him. Isabella, his generous protectress, was dead. Who was there now to take an interest in the old Genoese?
The admiral was coldly received by the ungrateful and jealous king Ferdinand, who did not even disdain to use subterfuges and delays, hoping thus to evade the solemn treaties given under his sign manual; he ended by proposing to Columbus the acceptance of a small Castilian town, Camon de los Condes, in exchange for his titles and dignities. This ingratitude and faithlessness overwhelmed the aged man; his health, already so much impaired, did not improve, and grief carried him to the grave. On the 20th of May, at Valladolid, at the age of seventy, he rendered up his soul to God with these words: "O Lord, into Thy hands I resign my soul and body."
The remains of Columbus were at first laid in the monastery of St. Francis; in 1513, they were removed to the Carthusian monastery of Seville. But it seemed as if, even after death, repose were to be denied to the great navigator, for in 1536 his body was transported to the cathedral of San Domingo. Local tradition affirms that when, after the Treaty of Basle in 1795, the Spanish government, before giving up to France the eastern portion of the island of San Domingo, ordered the removal of the ashes of the great sailor to Havana, a canon substituted some other remains for those of Christopher Columbus, and that the latter were deposited in the choir of the cathedral, to the left of the altar. Thanks to this manoeuvre of the canon, whether dictated by a sentiment of local patriotism or by respect to the last wishes of Columbus who had indicated San Domingo as his chosen place of sepulture, it is not the dust of the illustrious navigator which Spain possesses at Havana, but probably that of his brother Diego. The discovery so lately made in the cathedral of San Domingo, on the 10th of September, 1877, of a leaden chest containing human bones, and bearing an inscription stating that it encloses the remains of the Discoverer of America, seems to confirm in every particular the tradition which has been just mentioned.
But after all, it matters little whether the body of Columbus be at San Domingo or at Havana; his name and his glory are everywhere.
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The explorer Christopher Columbus made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain: in 1492, 1493, 1498 and 1502. He was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did. Instead, he accidentally stumbled upon the Americas. Though he did not really “discover” the New World–millions of people already lived there–his journeys marked the beginning of centuries of trans-Atlantic conquest and colonization.
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History Channel Documentary about Columbus Part 2
History Channel Documentary about Columbus Part 3
History Channel Documentary about Columbus Part 4
History Channel Documentary about Columbus Part 5
History Channel Documentary about Columbus Part 6
History Channel Documentary about Columbus Part 6