The Life of Christopher Columbus by Edward Everett Hale
The letter to the Lady Juana, which gives Columbus's own statement of the indignities put upon him in San Domingo, is written in his most crabbed Spanish. He never wrote the Spanish language accurately, and the letter, as printed from his own manuscript, is even curious in its infelicities. It is so striking an illustration of the character of the man that we print here an abstract of it, with some passages translated directly from his own language.
Columbus writes, towards the end of the year 1500, to the former nurse of Don Juan, an account of the treatment he has received. "If my complaint of the world is new, its method of abuse is very old," he says. "God has made me a messenger of the new heaven and the new earth which is spoken of in the Apocalypse by the mouth of St. John, after having been spoken of by Isaiah, and he showed me the place where it was." Everybody was incredulous, but the queen alone gave the spirit of intelligence and zeal to the undertaking. Then the people talked of obstacles and expense. Columbus says "seven years passed in talk, and nine in executing some noted acts which are worthy of remembrance," but he returned reviled by all.
"If I had stolen the Indies and had given them to the Moors I could not have had greater enmity shown to me in Spain." Columbus would have liked then to give up the business if he could have come before the queen. However he persisted, and he says he "undertook a new voyage to the new heaven and the new earth which before had been hidden, and if it is not appreciated in Spain as much as the other countries of India it is not surprising, because it is all owing to my industry." He "had believed that the voyage to Paria would reconcile all because of the pearls and gold in the islands of Espanola." He says, "I caused those of our people whom I had left there to come together and fish for pearls, and arranged that I should return and take from them what had been collected, as I understood, in measure a fanega (about a bushel). If I have not written this to their Highnesses it is because I wished also to have as much of gold. But that fled before me, as all other things; I would not have lost them and with them my honor, if I could have busied myself with my own affairs.
"When I went to San Domingo I found almost half of the colony uprising, and they made war upon me as a Moor, and the Indians on the other side were no less cruel.
"Hojida came and he tried to make order, and he said that their Highnesses had sent him with promises of gifts and grants and money. He made up a large company, for in all Espanola there were few men who were not vagabonds, and no one lived there who had wife or children." Hojida retired with threats.
"Then Vincente Ganez came with four ships. There were outbreaks and suspicions but no damage." He reported that six other ships under a brother of the Alcalde would arrive, and also the death of the queen, but these were rumors without foundation.
"Adrian (Mogica) attempted to go away as before, but our Lord did not permit him to carry out his bad plan." Here Columbus regrets that he was obliged to use force or ill-treat Adrian, but says he would have done the same had his brother wished to kill him or wrest from him the government which the king and queen had given him to guard.
"For six months I was ready to leave to take to their Highnesses the good news of the gold and to stop governing a dissolute people who feared neither king nor queen, full of meanness and malice. I would have been able to pay all the people with six hundred thousand maravedis and for that there were more than four millions of tithes without counting the third part of the gold."
Columbus says that be begged before his departure that they would send some one at his expense to take command, and yet again a subject with letters, for he says bitterly that he has such a singular reputation that if he "were building churches and hospitals they would say they were cells for stolen goods."
Then Bobadilla came to Santo Domingo while Columbus was at LaVega and the Adelantado at Jaragua. "The second day of his arrival he declared himself governor, created magistrates, made offices, published grants for gold and tithes, and everything else for a term of twenty years." He said he had come to pay the people, and declared he would send Columbus home in irons. Columbus was away. Letters with favors were sent to others, but none to him. Columbus resorted to methods to gain time so that their Highnesses could understand the state of things. But he was constantly maligned and persecuted by those who were jealous of him. He says:
"I think that you will remember that when the tempest threw me into the port of Lisbon, after having lost my sails, I was accused of having the intention to give India to that country. Afterwards their Highnesses knew to the contrary. Although I know but little, I cannot conceive that any one would suppose me so stupid as not to know that though India might belong to me, yet I could not keep it without the help of a prince."
Columbus complains that he has been judged as a governor who has been sent to a peaceful, well-regulated province. He says, "I ought to be judged as a captain sent from Spain to the Indies to conquer a warlike people, whose custom and religion are all opposed to ours, where the people live in the mountains without regular houses for themselves, and where, by the will of God, I have placed under the rule of the king and queen another world, and by which Spain, which calls itself poor, is today the richest empire. I ought to be judged as a captain who for many years bears arms incessantly.
"I know well that the errors that I have committed have not been with bad intentions, and I think that their Highnesses will believe what I say; but I know and see that they use pity for those who work against them."
"If, nevertheless, their Highnesses order that another shall
judge me, which I hope will not be, and this ought to be on an
examination made in India, I humbly beg of them to send there two
conscientious and respectable people, at my expense, which may
know easily that one finds five marcs of gold in four hours.
However that may be, it is very necessary that they should go