The Life of Christopher Columbus by Edward Everett Hale
THE NEW COLONY--EXPEDITIONS OF DISCOVERY--GUACANAGARI --SEARCH FOR GOLD--MUTINY IN THE COLONY--THE VESSELS SENT HOME--COLUMBUS MARCHES INLAND--COLLECTION OF GOLD--FORTRESS OF ST. THOMAS--A NEW VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY--JAMAICA VISITED--THE SOUTH SHORE OF CUBA EXPLORED--RETURN --EVANGELISTA DISCOVERED--COLUMBUS FALLS SICK--RETURN TO ISABELLA.
Columbus had hoped, with reason, to send back a part of the vessels which made up his large squadron, with gold collected in the year by the colonists at La Navidad. In truth, when, in 1501, the system of gold-washing-had been developed, the colony yielded twelve hundred pounds of gold in one year. The search for gold, from the beginning, broke up all intelligent plans for geographical discovery or for colonization. In this case, it was almost too clear that there was nothing but bad news to send back to Spain. Columbus went forward, however, as well as he could, with the establishment of a new colony, and with the search for gold.
He sent out expeditions of discovery to open relations with the natives, and to find the best places for washing and mining for gold. Melchior Meldonado commanded three hundred men, in the first of these expeditions. They came to a good harbor at the mouth of a river, where they saw a fine house, which they supposed might be the home of Guacanagari. They met an armed party of one hundred Indians; but these men put away their weapons when signals of peace were made, and brought presents in token of good-will.
The house to which they went was round, with a hemispherical roof or dome. It was thirty-two paces in diameter, divided by wicker work into different rooms. Smaller houses, for persons of rank lower than the chiefs, surrounded it. The natives told the explorers that Guacanagari himself had retired to the hills.
On receiving the report of these explorers Columbus sent out Ojeda with a hundred men, and Corvalan with a similar party in different directions. These officers, in their report, described the operation of gold-washing, much as it is known to explorers in mining regions to-day. The natives made a deep ditch into which the gold bearing sand should settle. For more important work they had flat baskets in which they shook the sand and parted it from the gold. With the left hand they dipped up sand, handled this skilfully or "dextrously" with the right hand, so that in a few minutes they could give grains of gold to the gratified explorers. Ojeda brought home to Columbus one nugget which weighed nine ounces.
They also brought tidings of the King of Canoaboa, of whom they had heard before, and he is called by the name of Caunebo himself.[*] He was afterwards carried, as a prisoner or as a hostage, on the way to Spain; but died on the passage.
[*] The name is spelled in many different ways.
Columbus was able to dispatch the returning ships, with the encouraging reports brought in by Meldonado and Ojeda, but with very little gold. But he was obliged to ask for fresh supplies of food for the colony--even in the midst of the plenty which he described; for he had found already what all such leaders find, the difficulty of training men to use food to which they were not accustomed. He sent also his Carib prisoners, begging that they might be trained to a knowledge of the christian religion and of the Spanish language. He saw, already, how much he should need interpreters. The fleet sailed on the second of February, and its reports were, on the whole, favorably received.
Columbus chose for the new city an elevation, ten leagues east of Monte Christi, and at first gave to his colony the name of Martha. It is the Isabella of the subsequent history.
The colonists were delighted with the fertility of the soil under the tropical climate. Andalusia itself had not prepared them for it. They planted seeds of peas, beans, lettuces, cabbages and other vegetables, and declared that they grew more in eight days than they would have grown in twenty at home. They had fresh vegetables in sixteen days after they planted them; but for melons, pumpkins and other fruits of that sort, they are generous enough to allow thirty days.
They had carried out roots and suckers of the sugar-cane. In fifteen days the shoots were a cubit high. A farmer who had planted wheat in the beginning of February had ripe grain in the beginning of April; so that they were sure of, at least, two crops in a year.
But the fertility of the soil was the only favorable token which the island first exhibited. The climate was enervating and sickly. The labor on the new city was hard and discouraging. Columbus found that his colonists were badly fitted for their duty, or not fitted for it at all. Court gentlemen did not want to work. Priests expected to be put on better diet than any other people. Columbus--though he lost his own popularity--insisted on putting all on equal fare, in sharing the supplies he had brought from Spain. It did not require a long time to prove that the selection of the site of the colony was unfortunate. Columbus himself gave way to the general disease. While he was ill, a mutiny broke out which he had to suppress by strong measures.
Bornal Diaz, who ranked as comptroller of the expedition, and Fermin Cedo, an assayer, made a plot for seizing the remaining ships and sailing for Europe. News of the mutiny was brought to Columbus. He found a document in the writing of Diaz, drawn as a memorial, accusing Columbus himself of grave crimes. He confined Diaz on board a ship to be sent to Spain with the memorial. He punished the mutineers of lower rank. He took the guns and naval munitions from four of the vessels, and entrusted them all to a person in whom he had absolute confidence.
On the report of the exploring parties, four names were given to as many divisions of the island. Junna was the most western, Attibunia the most eastern, Jachen the northern and Naiba the southern. Columbus himself, seeing the fortifications of the city well begun, undertook, in March, an exploration, of the island, with a force of five hundred men.
It was in the course of this exploration that one of the natives brought in a gold-bearing stone which weighed an ounce. He was satisfied with a little bell in exchange. He was surprised at the wonder expressed by the Spaniards, and showing a stone as large as a pomegranate, he said that he had nuggets of gold as large as this at his home. Other Indians brought in gold-bearing stones which weighed more than an ounce. At their homes, also, but not in sight, alas, was a block of gold as large as an infant's head.
Columbus himself thought it best to take as many men as he could into the mountain region. He left the new city under the care of his brother, Diego, and with all the force of healthy men which he could muster, making a little army of nearly five hundred men, he marched away from the sickly seaboard into the interior. The simple natives were astonished by the display of cavalry and other men in armor. After a few days of a delightful march, in the beauty of spring in that country, he entered upon the long sought Cibao. He relinquished his first idea of founding another city here, but did build a fortress called St. Thomas, in joking reference to Cedo and others, who had asserted that these regions produced no gold. While building this fortress, as it was proudly called, he sent a young cavalier named Luxan for further exploration.
Luxan returned with stories even greater than they had heard of before, but with no gold, "because he had no orders to do so." He had found ripe grapes. And at last they had found a region called Cipangi, cipan signifying stone. This name recalled the memory of Cipango, or Japan. With tidings as encouraging as this, Columbus returned to his city. He appointed his brother and Pedro Margarita governors of the city, and left with three ships for the further exploration of Cuba, which he had left only partly examined in his first voyage. He believed that it was the mainland of Asia. And as has been said, such was his belief till he died, and that of his countrymen. Cuba was not known to be an island for many years afterwards. He was now again in the career which pleased him, and for which he was fitted. He was always ill at ease in administering a colony, or ruling the men who were engaged in it. He was happy and contented when he was discovering. He had been eager to follow the southern coast of Cuba, as he had followed the north in his first voyage. And now he had his opportunity. Having commissioned his brother Diego and Margarita and appointed also a council of four other gentlemen, he sailed to explore new coasts, on the twenty-fourth of April.
He was soon tempted from his western course that he might examine Jamaica, of which he saw the distant lines on the south. "This island," says the account of the time, "is larger than Sicily. It has only one mountain, which rises from the coast on every side, little by little, until you come to the middle of the island and the ascent is so gradual that, whether you rise or descend, you hardly know whether you are rising or descending." Columbus found the island well peopled, and from what he saw of the natives, thought them more ingenious, and better artificers, than any Indians he had seen before. But when he proposed to land, they generally showed themselves prepared to resist him. He therefore deferred a full examination of the island to his return, and, with the first favorable wind, pressed on toward the southern coast of Cuba. He insisted on calling this the "Golden Chersonesus" of the East. This name had been given by the old geographers to the peninsula now known as Malacca.
Crossing the narrow channel between Jamaica and Cuba, he began coasting that island westward. If the reader will examine the map, he will find many small keys and islands south of Cuba, which, before any survey had been made, seriously retarded his westward course. In every case he was obliged to make a separate examination to be sure where the real coast of the island was, all the time believing it was the continent of Asia. One of the narratives says, with a pardonable exaggeration, that in all this voyage he thus discovered seven hundred islands. His own estimate was that he sailed two hundred and twenty-two leagues westward in the exploration which now engaged him.
The month of May and the beginning of June were occupied with such explorations. The natives proved friendly, as the natives of the northern side of Cuba had proved two years before. They had, in general, heard of the visit of the Spaniards ; but their wonder and admiration seem to have been none the less now that they saw the reality.
On one occasion the hopes of all the party, that they should find themselves at the court of the Grand Khan, were greatly quickened. A Spaniard had gone into a forest alone, hunting. Suddenly he saw a man clothed in white, or thought he did, whom he supposed to be a friar of the order of Saint Mary de Mercedes, who was with the expedition. But, almost immediately, ten other friars dressed in the same costume, appeared, and then as many as thirty. The Spaniard was frightened at the multiplication of their number, it hardly appears why, as they were all men of peace, or should have been, whatever their number. He called out to his companions, and bade them escape. But the men in white called out to him, and waved their hands, as if to assure him that there was no danger. He did not trust them, however, but rushed back to the shore and the ship, as fast as he could, to report what he had seen to the Admiral.
Here, at last, was reason for hope that they had found one of the Asiatic missions of the Church. Columbus at once landed a party, instructing them to go forty miles inland, if necessary, to find people. But this party found neither path nor roadway, although the country was rich and fertile. Another party brought back rich bunches of grapes, and other native fruits. But neither party saw any friars of the order of Saint Mary. And it is now supposed that the Spaniard saw a peaceful flock of white cranes. The traveller Humboldt describes one occasion, in which the town of Angostura was put to alarm by the appearance of a flock of cranes known as soldados, or "soldiers," which were, as people supposed, a band of Indians.
In his interviews with the natives at one point and another, upon the coast, Columbus was delighted with their simplicity, their hospitality, and their kindly dealing with each other. On one occasion, when the Mass was celebrated, a large number of them were present, and joined in the service, as well as they could, with respect and devotion. An old man as much as eighty years old, as the Spaniards thought, brought to the Admiral a basket full of fruit, as a present. Then he said, by an interpreter:
"We have heard how you have enveloped, by your power, all these countries, and how much afraid of you the people have been. But I have to exhort you, and to tell you that there are two ways when men leave this body. One is dark and dismal; it is for those who have injured the race of men. The other is delightful and pleasant; it is for those who, while alive, have loved peace and the repose of mankind. If, then, you remember that you are mortal, and what these retributions are, you will do no harm to any one."
Columbus told him in reply that he had known of the two roads after death, and that he was well pleased to find that the natives of these lands knew of them; for he had not expected this. He said that the king and queen of Spain had sent him with the express mission of bringing these tidings to them. In particular, that he was charged with the duty of punishing the Caribs and all other men of impure life, and of rewarding and honoring all pure and innocent men. This statement so delighted the old prophet that he was eager to accompany Columbus on a mission so noble, and it was only by the urgent entreaty of his wife and children that he stayed with them. He found it hard to believe that Columbus was inferior in rank or command to any other sovereign.
The beauty of the island and the hospitality of the natives, however, were not enough to dispose the crews to continue this exploration further. They were all convinced that they were on the coast of Asia. Columbus did not mean that afterwards any one should accuse him of abandoning the discovery of that coast too soon. Calling to their attention the distance they had sailed, he sent round a written declaration for the signature of every person on the ships. Every man and boy put his name to it. It expressed their certainty that they were on the cape which made the end of the eastern Indies, and that any one who chose could proceed thence westward to Spain by land. This extraordinary declaration was attested officially by a notary, and still exists.
It was executed in a bay at the extreme southwestern corner of Cuba. It has been remarked by Munoz, that at that moment, in that place, a ship boy at the masthead could have looked over the group of low islands and seen the open sea, which would have shown that Cuba was an island.
The facts, which were controlling, were these, that the vessels were leaky and the crews sick and discontented. On the thirteenth of June, Columbus stood to the southeast. He discovered the island now known as the Island of Pines. He called it Evangelista. He anchored here and took in water. In an interview, not unlike that described, in which the old Cuban expressed his desire to return with Columbus, it is said that an Evangelistan chief made the same offer, but was withheld by the remonstrances, of his wife and children. A similar incident is reported in the visit to Jamaica, which soon followed. Columbus made a careful examination of that island. Then he crossed to Hispaniola, where, from the Indians, he received such accounts from the new town of Isabella as assured him that all was well there.
With his own indomitable zeal, he determined now to go to the Carib islands and administer to them the vengeance he had ready. But his own frame was not strong enough for his will. He sank exhausted, in a sort of lethargy. The officers of his ship, supposing he was dying, put about the vessels and the little squadron arrived, none too soon as it proved, at Isabella.
He was as resolute as ever in his determination to crush the Caribs, and prevent their incursions upon those innocent islanders to whom he had made so many promises of protection. But he fell ill, and for a short time at least was wholly unconscious. The officers in command took occasion of his illness, and of their right to manage the vessels, to turn back to the city of Isabella. He arrived there "as one half dead," and his explorations and discoveries for this voyage were thus brought to an end. To his great delight he found there his brother Bartholomew, whom he had not seen for eight years. Bartholomew had accompanied Diaz in the famous voyage in which he discovered the Cape of Good Hope. Returning to Europe in 1488 he had gone to England, with a message from Christopher Columbus, asking King Henry the Seventh to interest himself in the great adventure he proposed.
The authorities differ as to the reception which Henry gave to this great proposal. Up to the present time, no notice has been found of his visit in the English archives. The earliest notice of America, in the papers preserved there, is a note of a present of ten pounds "to hym that found the new land," who was Cabot, after his first voyage. Bartholomew Columbus was in England on the tenth of February, 1488; how much later is not known. Returning from England he staid in France, in the service of Madama de Bourbon. This was either Anne of Beaujeu, or the widow of the Admiral Louis de Bourbon. Bartholomew was living in Paris when he heard of his brother's great discovery.
He had now been appointed by the Spanish sovereigns to command a fleet of three vessels, which had been sent out to provision the new colony. He had sailed from Cadiz on the thirtieth of April, 1494, and he arrived at Isabella on St. John's Day of the same year.
Columbus welcomed him with delight, and immediately made him his first-lieutenant in command of the colony. There needed a strong hand for the management of the colony, for the quarrels which had existed before Columbus went on his Cuban voyage had not diminished in his absence. Pedro Margarita and Father Boil are spoken of as those who had made the most trouble. They had come determined to make a fortune rapidly, and they did not propose to give up such a hope to the slow processes of ordinary colonization. Columbus knew very well that those who had returned to Spain had carried with them complaints as to his own course. He would have been glad on some accounts to return, himself, at once; but he did not think that the natives of the islands were sufficiently under the power of the new colony to be left in safety.
First of all he sent back four caravels, which had recently arrived from Europe, with five hundred Indians whom he had taken as slaves. He consigned them to Juan de Fonseca's care. He was eager himself to say that he sent them out that they might be converted, to Christianity, and that they might learn the Spanish language and be of use as interpreters. But, at the same time, he pointed out how easy it would be to make a source of revenue to the Crown from such involuntary emigration. To Isabella's credit it is to be said, that she protested against the whole thing immediately; and so far as appears, no further shipments were made in exactly the same way. But these poor wretches were not sent back to the islands, as she perhaps thought they were. Fonseca did not hesitate to sell them, or apprentice them, to use our modern phrase, and it is said by Bernaldez that they all died. His bitter phrase is that Fonseca took no more care of them than if they had been wild animals.
Columbus did not recover his health, so as to take a very active part in affairs for five months after his arrival at San Domingo. He was well aware that the Indians were vigorously organized, with the intention of driving his people from the island, or treating the colony as they had treated the colony of Navidad. He called the chief of the Cipangi, named Guarionexius, for consultation. The interpreter Didacus, who had served them so faithfully, married the king's sister, and it was hoped that this would be a bond of amity between the two nations.
Columbus sent Ojeda into the gold mountains with fifty armed men to make an alliance with Canabao. Canabao met this party with a good deal of perplexity. He undoubtedly knew that he had given the Spaniards good reason for doubting him. It is said that he had put to death twenty Spaniards by treasonable means, but it is to be remembered that this is the statement of his enemies. He, however, came to Columbus with a large body of his people, all armed. When he was asked why he brought so large a force with him, he said that so great a king as he, could not go anywhere without a fitting military escort. But Ojeda did not hesitate to take him prisoner and carry him into Isabella, bound. As has been said, he was eventually sent to Spain, but he died on the passage.
Columbus made another fortress, or tower, on the border of King Guarionexius's country, between his kingdom and Cipango. He gave to this post the name of the "Tower of the Conception," and meant it to be a rallying point for the miners and others, in case of any uprising of the natives against them. This proved to be an important centre for mining operations. From this place, what we should call a nugget of gold, which one of the chiefs brought in, was sent to Spain. It weighed twenty ounces. A good deal of interest attached also to the discovery of amber, one mass of which weighed three hundred pounds. Such discoveries renewed the interest and hope which had been excited in Spain by the first accounts of Hispaniola.
Columbus satisfied himself that he left the island really subdued; and in this impression he was not mistaken. Certain that his presence in Spain was needed, if he would maintain his own character against the attacks of the disaffected Spaniards who had gone before him, he set sail on the Nina on the tenth of March, taking with him as a consort a caravel which had been built at Isabella. He did not arrive in Cadiz till the eleventh of June, having been absent from Spain two years and nine months.
His return to Spain at this time gave Isabella another opportunity to show the firmness of her character, and the determination to which alone belongs success.
The excitement and popularity which attended the return from the first voyage had come to an end. Spain was in the period of reaction. The disappointment which naturally follows undue expectations and extravagant prophecies, was, in this instance, confirmed by the return of discontented adventurers. Four hundred years have accustomed the world to this reflex flow of disappointed colonists, unable or unwilling to work, who come back from a new land to say that its resources have been exaggerated. In this case, where everything was measured by the standard of gold, it was certainly true that the supply of gold received from the islands was very small as compared with the expenses of the expedition which had been sent out.
Five hundred Indians, who came to be taught the language, entering Spain as slaves, were but a poor return for the expenses in which the nation, not to say individuals, had been involved. The people of Spain, therefore, so far as they could show their feeling, were prejudiced against Columbus and those who surrounded him. They heard with incredulity the accounts of Cuba which he gave, and were quite indifferent to the geographical theories by which he wanted to prove that it was a part of Asia. He believed that the rich mines, which he had really found in Hispaniola, were the same as those of Ophir. But after five years of waiting, the Spanish public cared but little for such conjectures.
As he arrived in Cadiz, he found three vessels, under Nino, about to sail with supplies. These were much needed, for the relief of the preceding year, sent out in four vessels, had been lost by shipwreck. Columbus was able to add a letter of his own to the governor of Isabella, begging him to conform to the wishes expressed by the king and queen in the dispatches taken by Nino. He recommended diligence in exploring the new mines, and that a seaport should be founded in their neighborhood. At the same time he received a gracious letter from the king and queen, congratulating him on his return, and asking him to court as soon as he should recover from his fatigue.
Columbus was encouraged by the tone of this letter. He had chosen to act as if he were in disgrace, and dressed himself in humble garb, as if he were a Franciscan monk, wearing his beard as the brethren of those orders do. Perhaps this was in fulfillment of one of those vows which, as we know, he frequently made in periods of despondency.
He went to Burgos, where Ferdinand and Isabella were residing, and on the way made such a display of treasure as he had done on the celebrated march to Barcelona. Canabao, the fierce cacique of Hispaniola, had died on the voyage, but his brother and nephew still lived, and he took them to the king and queen, glittering on state occasions with golden ornaments. One chain of gold which the brother wore, is said to have been worth more than three thousand dollars of our time. In the procession Columbus carried various masks and other images, made by the Indians in fantastic shapes, which attracted the curiosity which in all nations surrounds the idols of a foreign creed.
The sovereigns received him cordially. No reference was made to the complaints of the adventurers who had returned. However the sovereigns may have been impressed by these, they were still confident in Columbus and in his merits, and do not seem to have wished to receive the partial accounts of his accusers. On his part, he pressed the importance of a new expedition, in order that they might annex to their dominions the eastern part of Asia. He wanted for this purpose eight ships. He was willing to leave two in the island of Hispaniola, and he hoped that he might have six for a voyage of discovery. The sovereigns assented readily to his proposal, and at the time probably intended to carry out his wishes.
But Spain had something else to do than to annex Asia or to discover America; and the fulfillment of the promises made so cordially in 1496, was destined to await the exigencies of European war and diplomacy. In fact, he did not sail upon the third expedition for nearly two years after his arrival in Cadiz.
In the autumn of 1496, an order was given for a sum amounting to nearly a hundred thousand dollars of our time, for the equipment of the promised squadron. At the same time Columbus was relieved from the necessity by which he was bound in his original contract, to furnish at least one-eighth of the money necessary in any of these expeditions. This burden was becoming too heavy for him to bear. It was agreed, however, that in the event of any profit resulting to the crown, he should be entitled to one-eighth of it for three ensuing years. This concession must be considered as an evidence that he was still in favor. At the end of three years both parties were to fall back upon the original contract.
But these noble promises, which must have been so encouraging to him, could not be fulfilled, as it proved. For the exigencies of war, the particular money which was to be advanced to Columbus was used for the repair of a fortress upon the frontier. Instead of this, Columbus was to receive his money from the gold brought by Nino on his return. Alas, it proved that a report that he had returned with so much gold, meant that he had Indian prisoners, from the sale of whom he expected to realize this money. And poor Columbus was virtually consigned to building and fitting out his ship from the result of a slave-trade, which was condemned by Isabella, and which he knew was wretchedly unprofitable.
A difficulty almost equally great resulted from the unpopularity of the expedition. People did not volunteer eagerly, as they had done, the minds of men being poisoned by the reports of emigrants, who had gone out in high hope, and had returned disappointed. It even became necessary to commute the sentences of criminals who had been sentenced to banishment, so that they might be transported into the new settlements, where they were to work without pay. Even these expedients did not much hasten the progress of the expedition.
Fonseca, the steady enemy of Columbus, was placed in command again at this time. The queen was overwhelmed with affliction by the death of Prince Juan; and it seemed to Columbus and his friends that every petty difficulty was placed in the way of preparation. When at length six vessels were fitted for sea, it was only after the wear and tear of constant opposition from officials in command; and the expedition, as it proved, was not what Columbus had hoped for, for his purposes.
On the thirtieth of May, however, in 1498, he was able to sail. As this was the period when the Catholic church celebrates the mystery of the Trinity, he determined and promised that the first land which he discovered should receive that sacred name. He was well convinced of the existence of a continent farther south than the islands among which he had cruised, and intended to strike that continent, as in fact he did, in the outset of his voyage.