Chapter IV.


It was on Friday, the twelfth of October, that they saw this island, which was an island of the Lucayos group, called, says Las Casas, "in the tongue of the Indians, Guanahani." Soon they saw people naked, and the Admiral went ashore in the armed boat, with Martin Alonzo Pinzon and, Vicente Yanez, his brother, who was captain of the Nina. The Admiral unfurled the Royal Standard, and the captain's two standards of the Greek Cross, which the Admiral raised on all the ships as a sign, with an F. and a Y.; over each letter a crown; one on one side of the {"iron cross symbol"} and the other on the other. When they were ashore they saw very green trees and much water, and fruits of different kinds.

"The Admiral called the two captains and the others who went ashore, and Rodrigo Descovedo, Notary of the whole fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and he said that they must give him their faith and witness how he took possession before all others, as in fact he did take possession of the said island for the king and the queen, his lord and lady. . . . Soon many people of the island assembled. These which follow are the very words of the Admiral, in his book of his first navigation and discovery of these Indies."

October 11-12. "So that they may feel great friendship for us, and because I knew that they were a people who would be better delivered and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force, I gave to some of them red caps and glass bells which they put round their necks, and many other things of little value, in which they took much pleasure, and they remained so friendly to us that it was wonderful.

"Afterwards they came swimming to the ship's boats where we were. And they brought us parrots and cotton-thread in skeins, and javelins and many other things. And they bartered them with us for other things, which we gave them, such as little glass beads and little bells. In short, they took everything, and gave of what they had with good will. But it seemed to me that they were a people very destitute of everything.

"They all went as naked as their mothers bore them, and the women as well, although I only saw one who was really young. And all the men I saw were young, for I saw none more than thirty years of age; very well made, with very handsome persons, and very good faces; their hair thick like the hairs of horses' tails, and cut short. They bring their hair above their eyebrows, except a little behind, which they wear long, and never cut. Some of them paint themselves blackish (and they are of the color of the inhabitants of the Canaries, neither black nor white), and some paint themselves white, and some red, and some with whatever they can get. And some of them paint their faces, and some all their bodies, and some only the eyes, and some only the nose.

"They do not bear arms nor do they know them, for I showed them swords and they took them by the edge, and they cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron at all; their javelins are rods without iron, and some of them have a fish's tooth at the end, and some of them other things. They are all of good stature, and good graceful appearance, well made. I saw some who had scars of wounds in their bodies, and I made signs to them [to ask] what that was, and they showed me how people came there from other islands which lay around, and tried to take them captive and they defended themselves. And I believed, and I [still] believe, that they came there from the mainland to take them for captives.

"They would be good servants, and of good disposition, for I see that they repeat very quickly everything which is said to them. And I believe that they could easily be made Christians, for it seems to me that they have no belief. I, if it please our Lord, will take six of them to your Highnesses at the time of my departure, so that they may learn to talk. No wild creature of any sort have I seen, except parrots, in this island."

All these are the words of the Admiral, says Las Casas. The journal of the next day is in these words:

Saturday, October 13. "As soon as the day broke, many of these men came to the beach, all young, as I have said, and all of good stature, a very handsome race. Their hair is not woolly, but straight and coarse, like horse hair, and all with much wider foreheads and heads than any other people I have seen up to this time. And their eyes are very fine and not small, and they are not black at all, but of the color of the Canary Islanders. And nothing else could be expected, since it is on one line of latitude with the Island of Ferro, in the Canaries.

"They came to the ship with almadias,[*] which are made of the trunk of a tree, like a long boat, and all of one piece--and made in a very wonderful manner in the fashion of the country--and large enough for some of them to hold forty or forty-five men. And others are smaller, down to such as hold one man alone. They row with a shovel like a baker's, and it goes wonderfully well. And if it overturns, immediately they all go to swimming and they right it, and bale it with calabashes which they carry.

[*] Arabic word for raft or float; here it means canoes.

"They brought skeins of spun cotton, and parrots, and javelins, and other little things which it would be wearisome to write down, and they gave everything for whatever was given to them.

"And I strove attentively to learn whether there were gold. And I saw that some of them had a little piece of gold hung in a hole which they have in their noses. And by signs I was able to understand that going to the south, or going round the island to the southward, there was a king there who had great vessels of it, and had very much of it. I tried to persuade them to go there; and afterward I saw that they did not understand about going.[*]

[*] To this first found land, called by the natives Guanahani, Columbus gave the name of San Salvador. There is, however, great doubt whether this is the island known by that name on the maps. Of late years the impression has generally been that the island thus discovered is that now known as Watling's island. In 1860 Admiral Fox, of the United States navy, visited all these islands, and studied the whole question anew, visiting the islands himself and working backwards to the account of Columbus's subsequent voyage, so as to fix the spot from which that voyage began. Admiral Fox decides that the island of discovery was neither San Salvador nor Watling's island, but the Samana island of the same group. The subject is so curious that we copy his results at more length in the appendix.

"I determined to wait till the next afternoon, and then to start for the southwest, for many of them told me that there was land to the south and southwest and northwest, and that those from the northwest came often to fight with them, and so to go on to the southwest to seek gold and precious stones.

"This island is very large and very flat and with very green trees, and many waters, and a very large lake in the midst, without any mountain. And all of it is green, so that it is a pleasure to see it. And these people are so gentle, and desirous to have our articles and thinking that nothing can be given them unless they give something and do not keep it back. They take what they can, and at once jump [into the water] and swim [away]. But all that they have they give for whatever is given them. For they barter even for pieces of porringus, and of broken glass cups, so that I saw sixteen skeins of cotton given for three Portuguese centis, that is a blanca of Castile, and there was more than twenty-five pounds of spun cotton in them. This I shall forbid, and not let anyone take [it]; but I shall have it all taken for your Highnesses, if there is any quantity of it.

"It grows here in this island, but for a short time I could not believe it at all. And there is found here also the gold which they wear hanging to their noses; but so as not to lose time I mean to go to see whether I can reach the island of Cipango.

"Now as it was night they all went ashore with their almadias."

Sunday, October 14. "At daybreak I had the ship's boat and the boats of the caravels made ready, and I sailed along the island, toward the north-northeast, to see the other port, * * * * what there was [there], and also to see the towns, and I soon saw two or three, and the people, who all were coming to the shore, calling us and giving thanks to God. Some brought us water, others things to eat. Others, when they saw that I did not care to go ashore, threw themselves into the sea and came swimming, and we understood that they asked us if we had come from heaven. And an old man came into the boat, and others called all [the rest] men and women, with a loud voice: 'Come and see the men who have come from heaven; bring them food and drink.'

"There came many of them and many women, each one with something, giving thanks to God, casting themselves on the ground, and raising their heads toward heaven. And afterwards they called us with shouts to come ashore.

"But I feared [to do so], for I saw a great reef of rocks which encircles all that island. And in it there is bottom and harbor for as many ships as there are in all Christendom, and its entrance very narrow. It is true that there are some shallows inside this ring, but the sea is no rougher than in a well.

"And I was moved to see all this, this morning, so that I might be able to give an account of it all to your Highnesses, and also [to find out] where I might make a fortress. And I saw a piece of land formed like an island, although it is not one, in which there were six houses, which could be cut off in two days so as to become an island; although I do not see that it is necessary, as this people is very ignorant of arms, as your Highnesses will see from seven whom I had taken, to carry them off to learn our speech and to bring them back again. But your Highnesses, when you direct, can take them all to Castile, or keep them captives in this same island, for with fifty men you can keep them all subjected, and make them do whatever you like.

"And close to the said islet are groves of trees, the most beautiful I have seen, and as green and full of leaves as those of Castile in the months of April and May, and much water.

"I looked at all that harbor and then I returned to the ship and set sail, and I saw so many islands that I could not decide to which I should go first. And those men whom I had taken said to me by signs that there were so very many that they were without number, and they repeated by name more than a hundred. At last I set sail for the largest one, and there I determined to go. And so I am doing, and it will be five leagues from the island of San Salvador, and farther from some of the rest, nearer to others. They all are very flat, without mountains and very fertile, and all inhabited. And they make war upon each other although they are very simple, and [they are] very beautifully formed."

Monday, October 15, Columbus, on arriving at the island for which he had set sail, went on to a cape, near which he anchored at about sunset. He gave the island the name of Santa Maria de la Concepcion.[*]

[*] This is supposed to be Caico del Norte.

"At about sunset I anchored near the said cape to know if there were gold there, for the men whom I had taken at the Island of San Salvador told me that there they wore very large rings of gold on their legs and arms. I think that all they said was for a trick, in order to make their escape. However, I did not wish to pass by any island without taking possession of it.

"And I anchored, and was there till today, Tuesday, when at the break of day I went ashore with the armed boats, and landed.

"They [the inhabitants], who were many, as naked and in the same condition as those of San Salvador, let us land on the island, and gave us what we asked of them.

* * * "I set out for the ship. And there was a large almadia which had come to board the caravel Nina, and one of the men from we Island of San Salvador threw himself into the sea, took this boat, and made off; and the night before, at midnight, another jumped out. And the almadia went back so fast that there never was a boat which could come up with her, although we had a considerable advantage. It reached the shore, and they left the almadia, and some of my company landed after them, and they all fled like hens.

"And the almadia, which they had left, we took to the caravel Nina, to which from another headland there was coming another little almadia, with a man who came to barter a skein of cotton. And some of the sailors threw themselves into the sea, because he did not wish to enter the caravel, and took him. And I, who was on the stern of the ship, and saw it all, sent for him and gave him a red cap and some little green glass beads which I put on his arm, and two small bells which I put at his ears, and I had his almadia returned, * * * and sent him ashore.

And I set sail at once to go to the other large island which I saw at the west, and commanded the other almadia to be set adrift, which the caravel Nina was towing astern. And then I saw on land, when the man landed, to whom I had given the above mentioned things (and I had not consented to take the skein of cotton, though he wished to give it to me), all the others went to him and thought it a great wonder, and it seemed to them that we were good people, and that the other man, who had fled, had done us some harm, and that therefore we were carrying him off. And this was why I treated the other man as I did, commanding him to be released, and gave him the said things, so that they might have this opinion of us, and so that another time, when your Highnesses send here again, they may be well disposed. And all that I gave him was not worth four maravedis."

Columbus had set sail at ten o'clock for a "large island" he mentions, which he called Fernandina, where, from the tales of the Indian captives, he expected to find gold. Half way between this island and Santa Maria, he met with "a man alone in an almadia which was passing" [from one island to the other], "and he was carrying a little of their bread, as big as one's fist, and a calabash of water and a piece of red earth made into dust, and then kneaded, and some dry leaves, which must be a thing much valued among them, since at San Salvador they brought them to me as a present.[*] And he had a little basket of their sort, in which he had a string of little glass bells and two blancas, by which I knew that he came from the Island of San Salvador. * * * He came to the ship; I took him on board, for so he asked, and made him put his almadia in the ship, and keep all he was carrying. And I commanded to give him bread and honey to eat, and something to drink.

[*] Was this perhaps tobacco?

"And thus I will take him over to Fernandina, and I will give him all his property so that he may give good accounts of us, so that, if it please our Lord, when your Highnesses send there, those who come may receive honor, and they may give us of all they have."

Columbus continued sailing for the island he named Fernandina, now called Inagua Chica. There was a calm all day and he did not arrive in time to anchor safely before dark. He therefore waited till morning, and anchored near a town. Here the man had gone, who had been picked up the day before, and he had given such good accounts that all night long the ship had been boarded by almadias, bringing supplies. Columbus directed some trifle to be given to each of the islanders, and that they should be given "honey of sugar" to eat. He sent the ship's boat ashore for water and the inhabitants not only pointed it out but helped to put the water-casks on board.

"This people," he says, "is like those of the aforesaid islands, and has the same speech and the same customs, except that these seem to me a somewhat more domestic race, and more intelligent. * * * And I saw also in this island cotton cloths made like mantles. * * *

"It is a very green island and flat and very fertile, and I have no doubt that all the year through they sow panizo (panic-grass) and harvest it, and so with everything else. And I saw many trees, of very different form from ours, and many of them which had branches of many sorts, and all on one trunk. And one branch is of one sort and one of another, and so different that it is the greatest wonder in the world. * * * One branch has its leaves like canes, and another like the lentisk; and so on one tree five or six of these kinds; and all so different. Nor are they grafted, for it might be said that grafting does it, but they grow on the mountains, nor do these people care for them. * * *

"Here the fishes are so different from ours that it is wonderful. There are some like cocks of the finest colors in the world, blue, yellow, red and of all colors, and others painted in a thousand ways. And the colors are so fine that there is no man who does not wonder at them and take great pleasure in seeing them. Also, there are whales. As for wild creatures on shore, I saw none of any sort, except parrots and lizards; a boy told me that he saw a great snake. Neither sheep nor goats nor any other animal did I see; although I have been here a very short time, that is, half a day, but if there had been any I could not have failed to see some of them." * * *

Wednesday, October 17. He left the town at noon and prepared to sail round the island. He had meant to go by the south and southeast. But as Martin Alonzo Pinzon, captain of the Pinta, had heard, from one of the Indians he had on board, that it would be quicker to start by the northwest, and as the wind was favorable for this course, Columbus took it. He found a fine harbor two leagues further on, where he found some friendly Indians, and sent a party ashore for water. "During this time," he says, "I went [to look at] these trees, which were the most beautiful things to see which have been seen; there was as much verdure in the same degree as in the month of May in Andalusia, and all the trees were as different from ours as the day from the night. And so [were] the fruits, and the herbs, and the stones and everything. The truth is that some trees had a resemblance to others which there are in Castile, but there was a very great difference. And other trees of other sorts were such that there is no one who could * * * liken them to others of Castile. * * *

"The others who went for water told me how they had been in their houses, and that they were very well swept and clean, and their beds and furniture [made] of things which are like nets of cotton.[*] Their houses are all like pavilions, and very high and good chimneys.[**]

[*] They are called Hamacas.

[**] Las Casas says they were not meant for smoke but as a crown, for they have no opening below for the smoke.

"But I did not see, among many towns which I saw, any of more than twelve or fifteen houses. * * * And there they had dogs. * * * And there they found one man who had on his nose a piece of gold which was like half a castellano, on which there were cut letters.[*] I blamed them for not bargaining for it, and giving as much as was asked, to see what it was, and whose coin it was; and they answered me that they did not dare to barter it."

[*] A castellano was a piece of gold, money, weighing about one-sixth of an ounce.

He continued towards the northwest, then turned his course to the east-southeast, east and southeast. The weather being thick and heavy, and "threatening immediate rain. So all these days since I have been in these Indies it has rained little or much."

Friday, October 19. Columbus, who had not landed the day before, now sent two caravels, one to the east and southeast and the other to the south-southeast, while he himself, with the Santa Maria, the SHIP, as he calls it, went to the southeast. He ordered the caravels to keep their courses till noon, and then join him. This they did, at an island to the east, which he named Isabella, the Indians whom he had with him calling it Saomete. It has been supposed to be the island now called Inagua Grande.

"All this coast," says the Admiral, "and the part of the island which I saw, is all nearly flat, and the island the most beautiful thing I ever saw, for if the others are very beautiful this one is more so." He anchored at a cape which was so beautiful that he named it Cabo Fermoso, the Beautiful Cape, "so green and so beautiful," he says, "like all the other things and lands of these islands, that I do not know where to go first, nor can I weary my eyes with seeing such beautiful verdure and so different from ours. And I believe that there are in them many herbs and many trees, which are of great value in Spain for dyes [or tinctures] and for medicines of spicery. But I do not know them, which I greatly regret. And as I came here to this cape there came such a good and sweet odor of flowers or trees from the land that it was the sweetest thing in the world."

He heard that there was a king in the interior who wore clothes and much gold, and though, as he says, the Indians had so little gold that whatever small quantity of it the king wore it would appear large to them, he decided to visit him the next day. He did not do so, however, as he found the water too shallow in his immediate neighborhood, and then had not enough wind to go on, except at night.

Sunday morning, October 21, he anchored, apparently more to the west, and after having dined, landed. He found but one house, from which the inhabitants were absent; he directed that nothing in it should be touched. He speaks again of the great beauty of the island, even greater than that of the others he had seen. "The singing of the birds," he says, "seems as if a man would never seek to leave this place, and the flocks of parrots which darken the sun, and fowls and birds of so many kinds and so different from ours that it is wonderful. And then there are trees of a thousand sorts, and all with fruit of their kinds. And all have such an odor that it is wonderful, so that I am the most afflicted man in the world not to know them."

They killed a serpent in one of the lakes upon this island, which Las Casas says is the Guana, or what we call the Iguana.

In seeking for good water, the Spaniards found a town, from which the inhabitants were going to fly. But some of them rallied, and one of them approached the visitors. Columbus gave him some little bells and glass beads, with which he was much pleased. The Admiral asked him for water, and they brought it gladly to the shore in calabashes.

He still wished to see the king of whom the Indians had spoken, but meant afterward to go to "another very great island, which I believe must be Cipango, which they call Colba." This is probably a mistake in the manuscript for Cuba, which is what is meant. It continues, "and to that other island which they call Bosio" (probably Bohio) "and the others which are on the way, I will see these in passing. * * * But still, I am determined to go to the mainland and to the city of Quisay and to give your Highnesses' letters to the Grand Khan, and seek a reply and come back with it."

He remained at this island during the twenty-second and twenty-third of October, waiting first for the king, who did not appear, and then for a favorable wind. "To sail round these islands," he says, "one needs many sorts of wind, and it does not blow as men would like." At midnight, between the twenty-third and twenty-fourth, he weighed anchor in order to start for Cuba.

"I have heard these people say that it was very large and of great traffic," he says, "and that there were in it gold and spices, and great ships and merchants. And they showed me that I should go to it by the west-southwest, and I think so. For I think that if I may trust the signs which all the Indians of these islands have made me, and those whom I am carrying in the ships, for by the tongue I do not understand them, it (Cuba) is the Island of Cipango,[*] of which wonderful things are told, and on the globes which I have seen and in the painted maps, it is in this district."

[*] This was the name the old geographers gave to Japan.

The next day they saw seven or eight islands, which are supposed to be the eastern and southern keys of the Grand Bank of Bahama. He anchored to the south of them on the twenty-sixth of October, and on the next day sailed once more for Cuba.

On Sunday, October 28, he arrived there, in what is now called the Puerto de Nipe; he named it the Puerto de San Salvador. Here, as he went on, he was again charmed by the beautiful country. He found palms "of another sort," says Las Casas, "from those of Guinea, and from ours." He found the island the "most beautiful which eyes have seen, full of very good ports and deep rivers," and that apparently the sea is never rough there, as the grass grows down to the water's edge. This greenness to the sea's edge is still observed there. "Up till that time," says Las Casas, ,he had not experienced in all these islands that the sea was rough." He had occasion to learn about it later. He mentions also that the island is mountainous.