The Life of Christopher Columbus by Edward Everett Hale
Chapter X. The Third Voyage.
LETTER TO THE KING AND QUEEN--DISCOVERY OF TRINIDAD AND PARIA--CURIOUS SPECULATION AS TO THE EARTHLY PARADISE--ARRIVAL AT SAN DOMINGO--REBELLIONS AND MUTINIES IN THAT ISLAND--ROLDAN AND HIS FOLLOWERS--OJEDA AND HIS EXPEDITION--ARRIVAL OF BOBADILLA--COLUMBUS A PRISONER.
For the narrative of the third voyage, we are fortunate in having once more a contemporary account by Columbus himself. The more important part of his expedition was partly over when he was able to write a careful letter to the king and queen, which is still preserved. It is lighted up by bursts of the religious enthusiasm which governed him from the beginning. All the more does it show the character of the man, and it impresses upon us, what is never to be forgotten, the mixture in his motive of the enthusiasm of a discoverer, the eager religious feeling which might have quickened a crusader, and the prospects of what we should call business adventure, by which he tries to conciliate persons whose views are less exalted than his own.
In addressing the king and queen, who are called "very high and very powerful princes," he reminds them that his undertaking to discover the West Indies began in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which appointed him as a messenger for this enterprise. He asks them to remember that he has always addressed them as with that intention.
He reminds them of the seven or eight years in which he was urging his cause and that it was not enough that he should have showed the religious side of it, that he was obliged to argue for the temporal view as well. But their decision, for which he praises them indirectly, was made, he says, in the face of the ridicule of all, excepting the two priests, Marcheza and the Archbishop of Segovia. "And everything will pass away excepting the word of God, who spoke so clearly of these lands by the voice of Isaiah in so many places, affirming that His name should be divulged to the nations from Spain." He goes on in a review of the earlier voyages, and after this preface gives his account of the voyage of 1498.
They sailed from Santa Lucca the thirtieth of May, and went down to Madeira to avoid the hostile squadron of the French who were awaiting him at Cape St. Vincent. In the history by Herrara, of another generation, this squadron is said to be Portuguese. From Maderia, they passed to the Canary Islands, from which, with one ship and two caravels, he makes his voyage, sending the other three vessels to Hispaniola. After making the Cape de Verde Islands, he sailed southwest. He had very hot weather for eight days, and in the hope of finding cooler weather changed his course to the westward.
On the thirty-first of July, they made land, which proved to be the cape now known as Galeota, the southeastern cape of the island of Trinidad. The country was as green at this season as the orchards of Valencia in March. Passing five leagues farther on, he lands to refit his vessels and take on board wood and water. The next day a large canoe from the east, with twenty-four men, well armed, appeared.
The Admiral wished to communicate with them, but they refused, although he showed them basins and other things which he thought would attract them. Failing in this effort, he directed some of the boys of the crew to dance and play a tambourine on the poop of the ship. But this conciliatory measure had as little success as the other. The natives strung their bows, took up their shields and began to shoot the dancers. Columbus stopped the entertainment, therefore, and ordered some balls shot at them, upon which they left him. With the other vessel they opened more friendly communication, but when the pilot went to Columbus and asked leave to land with them, they went off, nor were any of them or theirs seen again.
On his arrival at Punta de Icacocos, at the southern point of Trinidad, he observes the very strong currents which are always noticed by voyagers, running with as much fury as the Guadalquiver in time of flood. In the night a terrible wave came from the south, "a hill as high as a ship," so that even in writing of it he feels fear. But no misfortune came from it.
Sailing the next day, he found the water comparatively fresh. He is, in fact, in the current produced by the great river Orinoco, which affects, in a remarkable way, all the tide-flow of those seas. Sailing north, he passes different points of the Island of Trinidad, and makes out the Punta de la Pena and the mainland. He still observes the freshness of the water and the severity of the currents.
As he sails farther westward, he observes fleets, and he sends his people ashore. They find no inhabitants at first, but eventually meet people who tell him the enemy of this country is Paria. Of these he took on board four. The king sent him an invitation to land, and numbers of the people came in canoes, many of whom wore gold and pearls. These pearls came to them from the north. Columbus did not venture to land here because the provisions of his vessels were already failing him.
He describes the people, as of much the same color as those who have been observed before, and were ready for intercourse, and of good appearance. Two prominent persons came to meet them, whom he thought to be father and son. The house to which the Spaniards were led was large, with many seats. An entertainment was brought forward, in which there were many sorts of fruits, and wine of many kinds. It was not made from grapes, however, and he supposed it must be made of different sorts of fruits.
A part of the entertainment was of maize, "which is a sort of corn which grows here, with a spike like a spindle." The Indians and their guests parted with regret that they could not understand each other's conversation. All this passed in the house of the elder Indian. The younger then took them to his house, where a similar collation was served, and they then returned to the ship, Columbus being in haste to press on, both on account of his want of supplies and the failure of his own health. He says he was still suffering from diseases which he had contracted on the last voyage, and with blindness. "That then his eyes did not give him as much pain, nor were they bloodshot as much as they are now."
He describes the people whom they at first visited as of fine stature, easy bearing, with long straight hair, and wearing worked handkerchiefs on their heads. At a little distance it seemed as if these were made of silk, like the gauze veil with which the Spaniards were familiar, from Moorish usage.
"Others," he says, "wore larger handkerchiefs round their waists, like the panete of the Spaniards." By this phrase he means a full garment hanging over the knees, either trousers or petticoats. These people were whiter in color than the Indians he had seen before. They all wore something at the neck and arms, with many pieces of gold at the neck. The canoes were much larger than he had seen, better in build and lighter; they had a cabin in the middle for the princes and their women.
He made many inquiries for gold, but was told he must go farther on, but he was advised not to go there, because his men would be in danger of being eaten. At first, Columbus supposed that this meant that the inhabitants of the gold-bearing countries were cannibals, but he satisfied himself afterwards that the natives meant that they would be eaten by beasts. With regard to pearls, also, he got some information that he should find them when he had gone farther west and farther north.
After these agreeable courtesies, the little fleet raised its anchors and sailed west. Columbus sent one caravel to investigate the river. Finding that he should not succeed in that direction, and that he had no available way either north or south, he leaves by the same entrance by which he had entered. The water is still very fresh, and he is satisfied, correctly as we know, that these currents were caused by the entrance of the great river of water.
On the thirteenth of August he leaves the island by what he calls the northern mouth of the river [Boca Grande], and begins to strike salt water again.
At this part of Columbus's letter there is a very curious discussion of temperature, which shows that this careful observer, even at that time, made out the difference between what are called isothermal curves and the curves of latitude. He observes that he cannot make any estimate of what his temperature will be on the American coast from what he has observed on the coast of Africa.
He begins now to doubt whether the world is spherical, and is disposed to believe that it is shaped like a pear, and he tries to make a theory of the difference of temperature from this suggestion. We hardly need to follow this now. We know he was entirely wrong in his conjecture. "Pliny and others," he says, "thought the world spherical, because on their part of it it was a hemisphere." They were ignorant of the section over which he was sailing, which he considers to be that of a pear cut in the wrong way. His demonstration is, that in similar latitudes to the eastward it is very hot and the people are black, while at Trinidad or on the mainland it is comfortable and the people are a fine race of men, whiter than any others whom he has seen in the Indies. The sun in the constellation of the Virgin is over their heads, and all this comes from their being higher up, nearer the air than they would have been had they been on the African coast.
With this curious speculation he unites some inferences from Scripture, and goes back to the account in the Book of Genesis and concludes that the earthly Paradise was in the distant east. He says, however, that if he could go on, on the equinoctial line, the air would grow more temperate, with greater changes in the stars and in the water. He does not think it possible that anyone can go to the extreme height of the mountain where the earthly Paradise is to be found, for no one is to be permitted to enter there but by the will of God, but he believes that in this voyage he is approaching it.
Any reader who is interested in this curious speculation of Columbus should refer to the "Divina Comedia" of Dante, where Dante himself held a somewhat similar view, and describes his entrance into the terrestrial paradise under the guidance of Beatrice. It is a rather curious fact, which discoverers of the last three centuries have established, that the point, on this world, which is opposite the city of Jerusalem, where all these enthusiasts supposed the terrestrial Paradise would be found, is in truth in the Pacific Ocean not far from Pitcairn's Island, in the very region where so many voyagers have thought that they found the climate and soil which to the terrestrial Paradise belong.
Columbus expresses his dissent from the recent theory, which was that of Dante, supposing that the earthly Paradise was at the top of a sharp mountain. On the other hand, he supposes that this mountain rises gently, but yet that no person can go to the top.
This is his curious "excursion," made, perhaps, because Columbus had the time to write it.
The journal now recurs to more earthly affairs. Passing out from the mouth of the "Dragon," he found the sea running westward and the wind gentle. He notices that the waters are swept westward as the trade winds are. In this way he accounts for there being so many islands in that part of the earth, the mainland having been eaten away by the constant flow of the waves. He thinks their very shape indicates this, they being narrow from north to south and longer from east to west. Although some of the islands differ in this, special reasons maybe given for the difference. He brings in many of the old authorities to show, what we now know to be entirely false, that there is much more land than water on the surface of the globe.
All this curious speculation as to the make-up of the world encourages him to beg their Highnesses to go on with the noble work which they have begun. He explains to them that he plants the cross on every cape and proclaims the sovereignty of their Majesties and of the Christian religion. He prays that this may continue. The only objection to it is the expense, but Columbus begs their Highnesses to remember how much more money is spent for the mere formalities of the elegancies of the court. He begs them to consider the credit attaching to plans of discovery and quickens their ambition by reference to the efforts of the princes of Portugal.
This letter closes by the expression of his determination to go on with his three ships for further discoveries.
This letter was written from San Domingo on the eighth of October. He had already made the great discovery of the mainland of South America, though he did not yet know that he had touched the continent. He had intentionally gone farther south than before, and had therefore struck the island of Trinidad, to which, as he had promised, he gave the name which it still bears. A sailor first saw the summits of three mountains, and gave the cry of land. As the ships approached, it was seen that these three mountains were united at the base. Columbus was delighted by the omen, as he regarded it, which thus connected his discovery with the vow which he had made on Trinity Sunday.
As the reader has seen, he first passed between this great island and the mainland. The open gulf there described is now known as the Gulf of Paria. The observation which he made as to the freshness of the water caused by the flow of the Orinoco, has been made by all navigators since. It may be said that he was then really in the mouth of the Orinoco.
Young readers, at least, will be specially interested to remember that it was in this region that Robinson Crusoe's island was placed by Defoe; and if they will carefully read his life they will find discussions there of the flow of the "great River Orinoco." Crossing this gulf, Columbus had touched upon the coast of Paria, and thus became the first discoverer of South America. It is determined, by careful geographers, that the discovery of the continent of North America, had been made before this time by the Cabots, sailing under the orders of England.
Columbus was greatly encouraged by the discovery of fine pearls among the natives of Paria. Here he found one more proof that he was on the eastern coast of Asia, from which coast pearls had been brought by the caravans on which, till now, Europe had depended for its Asiatic supplies. He gave the name "Gulf of Pearls" to the estuary which makes the mouth of the River Paria.
He would gladly have spent more time in exploring this region; but the sea-stores of his vessel were exhausted, he was suffering from a difficulty with his eyes, caused by overwatching, and was also a cripple from gout. He resisted the temptation, therefore, to make further explorations on the coast of Paria, and passed westward and northwestward. He made many discoveries of islands in the Caribbean Sea as he went northwest, and he arrived at the colony of San Domingo, on the thirtieth of August. He had hoped for rest after his difficult voyage; but he found the island in confusion which seemed hopeless.
His brother Bartholomew, from all the accounts we have, would seem to have administered its affairs with justice and decision; but the problem he had in hand was one which could not be solved so as to satisfy all the critics. Close around him he had a body of adventurers, almost all of whom were nothing but adventurers. With the help of these adventurers, he had to repress Indian hostilities, and to keep in order the natives who had been insulted and injured in every conceivable way by the settlers.
He was expected to send home gold to Spain with every vessel; he knew perfectly well that Spain was clamoring with indignation because he did not succeed in doing so. But on the island itself he had to meet, from day to day, conspiracies of Spaniards and what are called insurrections of natives. These insurrections consisted simply in their assertion of such rights as they had to the beautiful land which the Spaniards were taking away from them.
At the moment when Columbus landed, there was an instant of tranquility. But the natives, whom he remembered only six years ago as so happy and cheerful and hospitable, had fled as far as they could. They showed in every way their distrust of those who were trying to become their masters. On the other hand, soldiers and emigrants were eager to leave the island if they could. They were near starvation, or if they did not starve they were using food to which they were not accustomed. The eagerness with which, in 1493, men had wished to rush to this land of promise, was succeeded by an equal eagerness, in 1498, to go home from it.
As soon as he arrived, Columbus issued a proclamation, approving of the measures of his brother in his absence, and denouncing the rebels with whom Bartholomew had been contending. He found the difficulties which surrounded him were of the most serious character. He had not force enough to take up arms against the rebels of different names. He offered pardon to them in the name of the sovereigns, and that they refused.
Columbus was obliged, in order to maintain any show of authority, to propose to the sovereigns that they should arbitrate between his brother and Roldan, who was the chief of the rebel party. He called to the minds of Ferdinand and Isabella his own eager desire to return to San Domingo sooner, and ascribed the difficulties which had arisen, in large measure, to his long delay. He said he should send home the more worthless men by every ship.
He asked that preachers might be sent out to convert the Indians and to reform the dissolute Spaniards. He asked for officers of revenue, and for a learned judge. He begged at the same time that, for two years longer, the colony might be permitted to employ the Indians as slaves, but he promised they would only use such as they captured in war and insurrections.
By the same vessel the rebels sent out letters charging Columbus and his brother with the grossest oppression and injustice. All these letters came to court by one messenger. Columbus was then left to manage as best he could, in the months which must pass, before he could receive an answer.
He was not wholly without success. That is to say, no actual battles took place between the parties before the answer returned. But when it returned, it proved to be written by his worst enemy, Fonseca. It was a genuine Spanish answer to a letter which required immediate decision. That is to say, Columbus was simply told that the whole matter must be left in suspense till the sovereigns could make such an investigation as they wished. The hope, therefore, of some help from home was wholly disappointed.
Roldan, the chief of the rebels, was encouraged by this news to take higher ground than even he had ventured on before. He now proposed that he should send fifteen of his company to Spain, also that those who remained should not only be pardoned, but should have lands granted them; third, that a public proclamation should be made that all charges against him had been false; and fourth, that he should hold the office of chief judge, which he had held before the rebellion.
Columbus was obliged to accede to terms as insolent as these, and the rebels even added a stipulation, that if he should fail in fulfilling either of these articles, they might compel him to comply, by force or any other means. Thus was he hampered in the very position where, by the king's orders, and indeed, one would say, by the right of discovery, he was the supreme master.
For himself, he determined to return with Bartholomew to Spain, and he made some preparations to do so. But at this time he learned, from the western part of the island, that four strange ships had arrived there. He could not feel that it was safe to leave the colony in such a condition of latent rebellion as he knew it to be in; he wrote again to the sovereigns, and said directly that his capitulation with the rebels had been extorted by force, and that he did not consider that the sovereigns, or that he himself, were bound by it. He pressed some of the requests which he had made before, and asked that his son Diego, who was no longer a boy, might be sent out to him.
It proved that the ships which had arrived at the west of the island were under the command of Ojeda, who will be remembered as a bold cavalier in the adventures of the second voyage. Acting under a general permission which had been given for private adventurers, Ojeda had brought out this squadron, and, when Columbus communicated with him, was engaged in cutting dye-woods and shipping slaves.
Columbus sent Roldan, who had been the head of the rebels, to inquire on what ground he was there. Ojeda produced a license signed by Fonseca, authorizing him to sail on a voyage of discovery. It proved that Columbus's letters describing the pearls of Paria had awakened curiosity and enthusiasm, and, while the crown had passed them by so coldly, Ojeda and a body of adventurers had obtained a license and had fitted out four ships for adventure. The special interest of this voyage for us, is that it is supposed that Vespucci, a Florentine merchant, made at this time his first expedition to America.
Vespucci was not a professional seaman, but he was interested in geography, and had made many voyages before this time. So soon as it was announced that Ojeda was on the coast, the rebels of San Domingo selected him as a new leader. He announced to Columbus, rather coolly, that he could probably redress the grievances which these men had. He undoubtedly knew that he had the protection of Fonseca at home. Fortunately for Columbus, Roldan did not mean to give up his place as "leader of the opposition;" and it may be said that the difficulty between the two was a certain advantage to Columbus in maintaining his authority.
Meanwhile, all wishes on his part to continue his discoveries were futile, while he was engaged in the almost hopeless duty of reconciling various adventurers and conciliating people who had no interests but their own. In Spain, his enemies were doing everything in their power to undermine his reputation. His statements were read more and more coldly, and at last, on the twenty-first and twenty-sixth of May, 1499, letters were written to him instructing him to deliver into the hands of Bobadilla, a new commandant, all the fortresses any ships, houses and other royal property which he held, and to give faith and obedience to any instructions given by Bobadilla. That is to say, Bobadilla was sent out as a commander who was to take precedence of every one on the spot. He was an officer of the royal household, probably a favorite at court, and was selected for the difficult task of reconciling all difficulties, and bringing the new colony into loyal allegiance to the crown. He sailed for San Domingo in the middle of July, 1500, and arrived on the twenty-third of August.
On his arrival, he found that Columbus and his brother Bartholomew were both absent from the city, being in fact engaged in efforts to set what may be called the provinces in order. The young Diego Columbus was commander in their absence. The morning after he arrived, Bobadilla attended mass, and then, with the people assembled around the door of the church, he directed that his commission should be read. He was to investigate the rebellion, he was to seize the persons of delinquents and punish them with rigor, and he was to command the Admiral to assist him in these duties.
He then bade Diego surrender to him certain prisoners, and ordered that their accusers should appear before him. To this Diego replied that his brother held superior powers to any which Bobadilla could possess; he asked for a copy of the commission, which was declined, until Columbus himself should arrive. Bobadilla then took the oath of office, and produced, for the first time, the order which has been described above, ordering Columbus to deliver up all the royal property. He won the popular favor by reading an order which directed him to pay all arrears of wages due to all persons in the royal service.
But when he came before the fortress, he found that the commander declined to surrender it. He said he held the fortress for the king by the command of the Admiral, and would not deliver it until he should arrive. Bobadilla, however, "assailed the portal;" that is to say, he broke open the gate. No one offered any opposition, and the commander and his first-lieutenant were taken prisoners. He went farther, taking up his residence in Columbus's house, and seizing his papers. So soon as Columbus received account of Bobadilla's arrival, he wrote to him in careful terms, welcoming him to the island. He cautioned him against precipitate measures, told him that he himself was on the point of going to Spain, and that he would soon leave him in command, with everything explained. Bobadilla gave no answer to these letters; and when Columbus received from the sovereigns the letter of the twenty-sixth of May, he made no longer any hesitation, but reported in person at the city of San Domingo.
He traveled without guards or retinue, but Bobadilla had made hostile preparations, as if Columbus meant to come with military force. Columbus preferred to show his own loyalty to the crown and to remove suspicion. But no sooner did he arrive in the city than Bobadilla gave orders that he should be put in irons and confined in the fortress. Up to this moment, Bobadilla had been sustained by the popular favor of those around him; but the indignity, of placing chains upon Columbus, seems to have made a change in the fickle impressions of the little town.
Columbus, himself, behaved with magnanimity, and made no complaint. Bobadilla asked him to bid his brother return to San Domingo, and he complied. He begged his brother to submit to the authority of the sovereigns, and Bartholomew immediately did so. On his arrival in San Domingo he was also put in irons, as his brother Diego had been, and was confined on board a caravel. As soon as a set of charges could be made up to send to Spain with Columbus, the vessels, with the prisoners, set sail.
The master of the caravel, Martin, was profoundly grieved by the severe treatment to which the great navigator was subjected. He would gladly have taken off his irons, but Columbus would not consent. "I was commanded by the king and queen," he said, "to submit to whatever Bobadilla should order in their name. He has put these chains on me by their authority. I will wear them until the king and queen bid me take them off. I will preserve them afterwards as relics and memorials of the reward of my services." His son, Fernando, who tells this story, says that he did so, that they were always hanging in his cabinet, and that he asked that they might be buried with him when he died.
From this expression of Fernando Columbus, there has arisen, what Mr. Harrisse calls, a "pure legend," that the chains were placed in the coffin of Columbus. Mr. Harrisse shows good reason for thinking that this was not so. "Although disposed to believe that, in a moment of just indignation, Columbus expressed the wish that these tokens of the ingratitude of which he had been the victim should be buried, with him, I do not believe that they were ever placed in his coffin."
It will thus be seen that the third voyage added to the knowledge of the civilized world the information which Columbus had gained regarding Paria and the island of Trinidad. For other purposes of discovery, it was fruitless.