The Life of Christopher Columbus by Edward Everett Hale
DISCOVERY OF HAYTI OR HISPANIOLA--THE SEARCH FOR GOLD--HOSPITALITY AND INTELLIGENCE OF THE NATIVES--CHRISTMAS DAY--A SHIPWRECK--COLONY TO BE FOUNDED--COLUMBUS SAILS EAST AND MEETS MARTIN PINZON--THE TWO VESSELS RETURN TO EUROPE --STORM--THE AZORES--PORTUGAL--HOME.
On the sixth of December they crossed from the eastern cape of Cuba to the northwestern point of the island, which we call Hayti or San Domingo. He says he gave it this name because "the plains appeared to him almost exactly like those of Castile, but yet more beautiful."
He coasted eastward along the northern side of the island, hoping that it might be the continent, and always inquiring for gold when he landed; but the Indians, as before, referred him to yet another land, still further south, which they still called Bohio. It was not surrounded by water, they said. The word "caniba," which is the origin of our word "cannibal," and refers to the fierce Caribs, came often into their talk. The sound of the syllable can made Columbus more sure that he was now approaching the dominions of the Grand Khan of eastern Asia, of whom Marco Polo had informed Europe so fully.
On the twelfth of the month, after a landing in which a cross had been erected, three sailors went inland, pursuing the Indians. They captured a young woman whom they brought to the fleet. She wore a large ring of gold in her nose. She was able to understand the other Indians whom they had on board. Columbus dressed her, gave her some imitation pearls, rings and other finery, and then put her on shore with three Indians and three of his own men.
The men returned the next day without going to the Indian village. Columbus then sent out nine men, with an Indian, who found a town of a thousand huts about four and a half leagues from the ship. They thought the population was three thousand. The village in Cuba is spoken of as having twenty people to a house. Here the houses were smaller or the count of the numbers extravagant. The people approached the explorers carefully, and with tokens of respect. Soon they gained confidence and brought out food for them: fish, and bread made from roots, "which tasted exactly as if it were made of chestnuts."
In the midst of this festival, the woman, who had been sent back from the ship so graciously, appeared borne on the shoulders of men who were led by her husband.
The Spaniards thought these natives of St. Domingo much whiter than those of the other islands. Columbus says that two of the women, if dressed in Castilian costume, would be counted to be Spaniards. He says that the heat of the country is intense, and that if these people lived in a cooler region they would be of lighter color.
On the fourteenth of December he continued his voyage eastward, and on the fifteenth landed on the little island north of Hayti, which he called Tortuga, or Turtle island. At midnight on the sixteenth he sailed, and landed on Hispaniola again. Five hundred Indians met him, accompanied by their king, a fine young man of about twenty years of age. He had around him several counselors, one of whom appeared to be his tutor. To the steady questions where gold could be found, the reply as steady was made that it was in "the Island of Babeque." This island, they said, was only two days off, and they pointed out the route. The interview ended in an offer by the king to the Admiral of all that he had. The explorers never found this mysterious Babeque, unless, as Bishop Las Casas guessed, Babeque and Jamaica be the same.
The king visited Columbus on his ship in the evening, and Columbus entertained him with European food. With so cordial a beginning of intimacy, it was natural that the visitors should spend two or three days with these people. The king would not believe that any sovereigns of Castile could be more powerful than the men he saw. He and those around him all believed that they came direct from heaven.
Columbus was always asking for gold. He gave strict orders that it should always be paid for, when it was taken. To the islanders it was merely a matter of ornament, and they gladly exchanged it for the glass beads, the rings or the bells, which seemed to them more ornamental. One of the caciques or chiefs, evidently a man of distinction and authority, had little bits of gold which he exchanged for pieces of glass. It proved that he had clipped them off from a larger piece, and he went back into his cabin, cut that to pieces, and then exchanged all those in trade for the white man's commodities. Well pleased with his bargain, he then told the Spaniards that he would go and get much more and would come and trade with them again.
On the eighteenth of December, the wind not serving well, they waited the return of the chief whom they had first seen. In the afternoon he appeared, seated in a palanquin, which was carried by four men, and escorted by more than two hundred of his people. He was accompanied by a counselor and preceptor who did not leave him. He came on board the ship when Columbus was at table. He would not permit him to leave his place, and readily took a seat at his side, when it was offered. Columbus offered him European food and drink; he tasted of each, and then gave what was offered to his attendants. The ceremonious Spaniards found a remarkable dignity in his air and gestures. After the repast, one of his servants brought a handsome belt, elegantly wrought, which he presented to Columbus, with two small pieces of gold, also delicately wrought.
Columbus observed that this cacique looked with interest on the hangings of his ship-bed, and made a present of them to him, in return for his offering, with some amber beads from his own neck, some red shoes and a flask of orange flower water.
On the nineteenth, after these agreeable hospitalities, the squadron sailed again, and on the twentieth arrived at a harbor which Columbus pronounced the finest he had ever seen. The reception he met here and the impressions he formed of Hispaniola determined him to make a colony on that island. It may be said that on this determination the course of his after life turned. This harbor is now known as the Bay of Azul.
The men, whom he sent on shore, found a large village not far from the shore, where they were most cordially received. The natives begged the Europeans to stay with them, and as it proved, Columbus accepted the invitation for a part of his crew. On the first day three different chiefs came to visit him, in a friendly way, with their retinues. The next day more than a hundred and twenty canoes visited the ship, bringing with them such presents as the people thought would be acceptable. Among these were bread from the cassava root, fish, water in earthen jars, and the seeds of spices. These spices they would stir in with water to make a drink which they thought healthful.
On the same day Columbus sent an embassy of six men to a large town in the interior. The chief by giving his hand "to the secretary" pledged himself for their safe return.
The twenty-third was Sunday. It was spent as the day before had been, in mutual civilities. The natives would offer their presents, and say "take, take," in their own language. Five chiefs were among the visitors of the day. From their accounts Columbus was satisfied that there was much gold in the island, as indeed, to the misery and destruction of its inhabitants, there proved to be. He thought it was larger than England. But he was mistaken. In his journal of the next day he mentions Civao, a land to the west, where they told him that there was gold, and again he thought he was approaching Cipango, or Japan.
The next day he left these hospitable people, raising anchor in the morning, and with a light land wind continued towards the west. At eleven in the evening Columbus retired to rest. While he slept, on Christmas Day, there occurred an accident which changed all plans for the expedition so far as any had been formed, and from which there followed the establishment of the ill-fated first colony. The evening was calm when Columbus himself retired to sleep, and the master of the vessel followed his example, entrusting the helm to one of the boys. Every person on the ship, excepting this boy, was asleep, and he seems to have been awake to little purpose.
The young steersman let the ship drift upon a ridge of rock, although, as Columbus says, indignantly, there were breakers abundant to show the danger. So soon as she struck, the boy cried out, and Columbus was the first to wake. He says, by way of apology for himself, that for thirty-six hours he had not slept until now. The master of the ship followed him. But it was too late. The tide, such as there was, was ebbing, and the Santa Maria was hopelessly aground. Columbus ordered the masts cut away, but this did not relieve her.
He sent out his boat with directions to carry aft an anchor and cable, but its crew escaped to the Nina with their tale of disaster. The Nina's people would not receive them, reproached them as traitors, and in their own vessel came to the scene of danger. Columbus was obliged to transfer to her the crew of the Santa Maria.
So soon as it was day, their friendly ally, Guacanagari, came on board. With tears in his eyes, he made the kindest and most judicious offers of assistance. He saw Columbus's dejection, and tried to relieve him by expressions of his sympathy. He set aside on shore two large houses to receive the stores that were on the Santa Maria, and appointed as many large canoes as could be used to remove these stores to the land. He assured Columbus that not a bit of the cargo or stores should be lost, and this loyal promise was fulfilled to the letter.
The weather continued favorable. The sea was so light that everything on board the Santa Maria was removed safely. Then it was that Columbus, tempted by the beauty of the place, by the friendship of the natives, and by the evident wishes of his men, determined to leave a colony, which should be supported by the stores of the Santa Maria, until the rest of the party could go back to Spain and bring or send reinforcements. The king was well pleased with this suggestion, and promised all assistance for the plan. A vault was dug and built, in which the stores could be placed, and on this a house was built for the home of the colonists, so far as they cared to live within doors.
The chief sent a canoe in search of Martin Pinzon and the Pinta, to tell them of the disaster. But the messengers returned without finding them. At the camp, which was to be a city, all was industriously pressed, with the assistance of the friendly natives. Columbus, having no vessel but the little Nina left, determined to return to Europe with the news of his discovery, and to leave nearly forty men ashore.
It would appear that the men, themselves, were eager to stay. The luxury of the climate and the friendly overtures of the people delighted them, They had no need to build substantial houses. So far as houses were needed, those of the natives were sufficient. All the preparations which Columbus thought necessary were made in the week between the twenty-sixth of December and the second of January. On that day he expected to sail eastward, but unfavorable winds prevented.
He landed his men again, and by the exhibition of a pretended battle with European arms, he showed the natives the military force of their new neighbors. He fired a shot from an arquebuse against the wreck of the Santa Maria, so that the Indians might see the power of his artillery. The Indian chief expressed his regret at the approaching departure, and the Spaniards thought that one of his courtiers said that the chief had ordered him to make a statue of pure gold as large as the Admiral.
Columbus explained to the friendly chief that with such arms as the sovereigns of Castile commanded they could readily destroy the dreaded Caribs. And he thought he had made such an impression that the islanders would be the firm friends of the colonists.
"I have bidden them build a solid tower and defense, over a vault. Not that I think this necessary against the natives, for I am satisfied that with a handful of people I could conquer the whole island, were it necessary, although it is, as far as I can judge, larger than Portugal, and twice as thickly peopled." In this cheerful estimate of the people Columbus was wholly wrong, as the sad events proved before the year had gone by.
He left thirty-nine men to be the garrison of this fort; and the colony which was to discover the mine of gold. In command he placed Diego da Arana, Pedro Gutierres and Rodrigo de Segovia. To us, who have more experience of colonies and colonists than he had had, it does not seem to promise well that Rodrigo was "the king's chamberlain and an officer of the first lord of the household." Of these three, Diego da Arana was to be the governor, and the other two his lieutenants. The rest were all sailors, but among them there were Columbus's secretary, an alguazil, or person commissioned in the civil service at home, an "arquebusier," who was also a good engineer, a tailor, a ship carpenter, a cooper and a physician. So the little colony had its share of artificers and men of practical skill. They all staid willingly, delighted with the prospects of their new home.
On the third of January Columbus sailed for Europe in the little Nina. With her own crew and the addition she received from the Santa Maria, she must have been badly crowded. Fortunately for all parties, on Sunday, the third day of the voyage, while they were still in sight of land, the Pinta came in sight. Martin Pinzon came on board the Nina and offered excuses for his absence. Columbus was not really satisfied with them, but he affected to be, as this was no moment for a quarrel. He believed that Pinzon had left him, that, in the Pinta, he might be alone when he discovered the rich gold-bearing island of Babeque or Baneque. Although the determination was made to return, another week was spent in slow coasting, or in waiting for wind. It brought frequent opportunities for meeting the natives, in one of which they showed a desire to take some of their visitors captive. This would only have been a return for a capture made by Pinzon of several of their number, whom Columbus, on his meeting Pinzon, had freed. In this encounter two of the Indians were wounded, one by a sword, one by an arrow. It would seem that he did not show them the power of firearms.
This was in the Bay of Samana, which Columbus called "The Bay of Arrows," from the skirmish or quarrel which took place there. They then sailed sixty-four miles cast, a quarter northeast, and thought they saw the land of the Caribs, which he was seeking. But here, at length, his authority over his crew failed. The men were eager to go home;--did not, perhaps, like the idea of fight with the man-eating Caribs. There was a good western wind, and on the evening of the sixteenth of January Columbus gave way and they bore away for home.
Columbus had satisfied himself in this week that there were many islands east of him which he had not hit upon, and that to the easternmost of these, from the Canaries, the distance would prove not more than four hundred leagues. In this supposition he was wholly wrong, though a chain of islands does extend to the southeast.
He seems to have observed the singular regularity by which the trade winds bore him steadily westward as he came over. He had no wish to visit the Canary Islands again, and with more wisdom than could have been expected, from his slight knowledge of the Atlantic winds, he bore north. Until the fourteenth of February the voyage was prosperous and uneventful. One day the captive Indians amused the sailors by swimming. There is frequent mention of the green growth of the Sargasso sea. But on the fourteenth all this changed. The simple journal thus describes the terrible tempest which endangered the two vessels, and seemed, at the moment, to cut off the hope of their return to Europe.
"Monday, February 14.--This night the wind increased still more; the waves were terrible. Coming from two opposite directions, they crossed each other, and stopped the progress of the vessel, which could neither proceed nor get out from among them; and as they began continually to break over the ship, the Admiral caused the main-sail to be lowered. She proceeded thus during three hours, and made twenty miles. The sea became heavier and heavier, and the wind more and more violent. Seeing the danger imminent, he allowed himself to drift in whatever direction the wind took him, because he could do nothing else. Then the Pinta, of which Martin Alonzo Pinzon was the commander, began to drift also; but she disappeared very soon, although all through the night the Admiral made signals with lights to her, and she answered as long as she could, till she was prevented, probably by the force of the tempest, and by her deviation from the course which the Admiral followed." Columbus did not see the Pinta again until she arrived at Palos. He was himself driven fifty-four miles towards the northeast.
The journal continues. "After sunrise the strength of the wind increased, and the sea became still more terrible. The Admiral all this time kept his mainsail lowered, so that the vessel might rise from among the waves which washed over it, and which threatened to sink it. The Admiral followed, at first, the direction of east-northeast, and afterwards due northeast. He sailed about six hours in this direction, and thus made seven leagues and a half. He gave orders that every sailor should draw lots as to who should make a pilgrimage to Santa Maria of Guadeloupe, to carry her a five-pound wax candle. And each one took a vow that he to whom the lot fell should make the pilgrimage.
"For this purpose, he gave orders to take as many dry peas as there were persons in the ship, and to cut, with a knife, a cross upon one of them, and to put them all into a cap, and to shake them up well. The first who put his hand in was the Admiral. He drew out the dry pea marked with the cross; so it was upon him that the lot fell, and he regarded himself, after that, as a pilgrim, obliged to carry into effect the vow which he had thus taken. They drew lots a second time, to select a person to go as pilgrim to Our Lady of Lorette, which is within the boundaries of Ancona, making a part of the States of the Church: it is a place where the Holy Virgin has worked and continues to work many and great miracles. The lot having fallen this time upon a sailor of the harbor of Santa Maria, named Pedro de Villa, the Admiral promised to give him all the money necessary for the expenses. He decided that a third pilgrim should be sent to watch one night at Santa Clara of Moguer, and to have a mass said there. For this purpose, they again shook up the dry peas, not forgetting that one which was marked with the cross, and the lot fell once again to the Admiral himself. He then took, as did all his crew, the vow that, on the first shore which they might reach, they would go in their shirts, in a procession, to make a prayer in some church in invocation of Our Lady."
"Besides the general vows, or those taken by all in common, each man made his own special vow, because nobody expected to escape. The storm which they experienced was so terrible, that all regarded themselves as lost; what increased the danger was the circumstance that the vessel lacked ballast, because the consumption of food, water and wine had greatly diminished her load. The hope of the continuance of weather as fine as that which they had experienced in all the islands, was the reason why the Admiral had not provided his vessel with the proper amount of ballast. Moreover, his plan had been to ballast it in the Women's Island, whither he had from the first determined to go. The remedy which the Admiral employed was to fill with sea water, as soon as possible, all the empty barrels which had previously held either wine or fresh water. In this way the difficulty was remedied.
"The Admiral tells here the reasons for fearing that our Saviour would allow him to become the victim of this tempest, and other reasons which made him hope that God would come to his assistance, and cause him to arrive safe and sound, so that intelligence such as that which he was conveying to the king and queen would not perish with him. The strong desire which he had to be the bearer of intelligence so important, and to prove the truth of all which he had said, and that all which he had tried to discover had really been discovered, seemed to contribute precisely to inspire him with the greatest fear that he could not succeed. He confessed, himself, that every mosquito that passed before his eyes was enough to annoy and trouble him. He attributed this to his little faith, and his lack of confidence in Divine Providence. On the other hand, he was re-animated by the favors which God had shown him in granting to him so great a triumph as that which he had achieved, in all his discoveries, in fulfilling all his wishes, and in granting that, after having experienced in Castile so many rebuffs and disappointments, all his hopes should at last be more than surpassed. In one word, as the sovereign master of the universe, had, in the outset, distinguished him in granting all his requests, before he had carried out his expedition for God's greatest glory, and before it had succeeded, he was compelled to believe now that God would preserve him to complete the work which he had begun." Such is Las Casas's abridgment of Columbus's words.
"For which reasons he said he ought to have had no fear of the tempest that was raging. But his weakness and anguish did not leave him a moment's calm. He also said that his greatest grief was the thought of leaving his two boys orphans. They were at Cordova, at their studies. What would become of them in a strange land, without father or mother? for the king and queen, being ignorant of the services he had rendered them in this voyage, and of the good news which he was bringing to them, would not be bound by any consideration to serve as their protectors.
"Full of this thought, he sought, even in the storm, some means of apprising their highnesses of the victory which the Lord had granted him, in permitting him to discover in the Indies all which he had sought in his voyage, and to let them know that these coasts were free from storms, which is proved, he said, by the growth of herbage and trees even to the edge of the sea. With this purpose, that, if he perished in this tempest, the king and queen might have some news of his voyage, he took a parchment and wrote on it all that he could of his discoveries, and urgently begged that whoever found it would carry it to the king and queen. He rolled up this parchment in a piece of waxed linen, closed this parcel tightly, and tied it up securely; he had brought to him a large wooden barrel, within which he placed it, without anybody's knowing what it was. Everybody thought the proceeding was some act of devotion. He then caused it to be thrown into the sea."[*]
[*] Within a few months, in the summer of 1890, a well known English publisher has issued an interesting and ingenious edition, of what pretended to be a fac simile of this document. The reader is asked to believe that the lost barrel has just now been found on the western coast of England. But publishers and purchasers know alike that this is only an amusing suggestion of what might have been.
The sudden and heavy showers, and the squalls which followed some time afterwards, changed the wind, which turned to the west. They had the wind thus abaft, and he sailed thus during five hours with the foresail only, having always the troubled sea, and made at once two leagues and a half towards the northeast. He had lowered the main topmast lest a wave might carry it away.
With a heavy wind astern, so that the sea frequently broke over the little Nina, she made eastward rapidly, and at daybreak on the fifteenth they saw land. The Admiral knew that he had made the Azores, he had been steadily directing the course that way; some of the seamen thought they were at Madeira, and some hopeful ones thought they saw the rock of Cintra in Portugal. Columbus did not land till the eighteenth, when he sent some men on shore, upon the island of Santa Maria. His news of discovery was at first received with enthusiasm.
But there followed a period of disagreeable negotiation with Castaneda, the governor of the Azores. Pretending great courtesy and hospitality, but really acting upon the orders of the king of Portugal, he did his best to disable Columbus and even seized some of his crew and kept them prisoners for some days. When Columbus once had them on board again, he gave up his plans for taking ballast and water on these inhospitable islands, and sailed for Europe.
He had again a stormy passage. Again they were in imminent danger. "But God was good enough to save him. He caused the crew to draw lots to send to Notre Dame de la Cintra, at the island of Huelva, a pilgrim who should come there in his shirt. The lot fell upon himself. All the crew, including the Admiral, vowed to fast on bread and water on the first Saturday which should come after the arrival of the vessel. He had proceeded sixty miles before the sails were torn; then they went under masts and shrouds on account of the unusual strength of the wind, and the roughness of the sea, which pressed them almost on all sides. They saw indications of the nearness of the land; they were in fact, very near Lisbon."
At Lisbon, after a reception which was at first cordial, the Portuguese officers showed an inhospitality like that of Castaneda at the Azores. But the king himself showed more dignity and courtesy. He received the storm-tossed Admiral with distinction, and permitted him to refit his shattered vessel with all he needed. Columbus took this occasion to write to his own sovereigns.
On the thirteenth he sailed again, and on the fifteenth entered the bay and harbor of Palos, which he had left six months and a half before. He had sailed on Friday. He had discovered America on Friday. And on Friday he safely returned to his home.
His journal of the voyage ends with these words: "I see by this voyage that God has wonderfully proved what I say, as anybody may convince himself, by reading this narrative, by the signal wonders which he has worked during the course of my voyage, and in favor of myself, who have been for so long a time at the court of your Highnesses in opposition and contrary to the opinions of so many distinguished personages of your household, who all opposed me, treating my project as a dream, and my undertaking as a chimera. And I hope still, nevertheless, in our Lord, this voyage will bring the greatest honor to Christianity, although it has been performed with so much ease."