The Life of Christopher Columbus by Edward Everett Hale
THE SECOND EXPEDITION SAILS FROM CADIZ AT CANARY ISLANDS--DISCOVERY OF DOMINICA AND GUADELOUPE--SKIRMISHES WITH THE CARIBS--PORTO RICO DISCOVERED--HISPANIOLA--THE FATE OF THE COLONY AT LA NAVIDAD.
There is not in history a sharper contrast, or one more dramatic, than that between the first voyage of Columbus and the second. In the first voyage, three little ships left the port of Palos, most of the men of their crews unwilling, after infinite difficulty in preparation, and in the midst of the fears of all who stayed behind.
In the second voyage, a magnificent fleet, equipped with all that the royal service could command, crowded with eager adventurers who are excited by expectations of romance and of success, goes on the very same adventure.
In the first voyage, Columbus has but just turned the corner after the struggles and failures of eight years. He is a penniless adventurer who has staked all his reputation on a scheme in which he has hardly any support. In the second case, Columbus is the governor-general, for aught he knows, of half the world, of all the countries he is to discover; and he knows enough, and all men around him know enough, to see that his domain may be a principality indeed.
Success brings with it its disadvantages. The world has learned since, if it did not know it then, that one hundred and fifty sailors, used to the hard work and deprivations of a seafaring life, would be a much more efficient force for purposes of discovery, than a thousand and more courtiers who have left the presence of the king and queen in the hope of personal advancement or of romantic adventure. Those dainty people, who would have been soldiers if there were no gunpowder, are not men to found states; and the men who have lived in the ante-chambers of courts are not people who co-operate sympathetically with an experienced man of affairs like Columbus.
From this time forward this is to be but a sad history, and the sadness, nay, the cruelty of the story, results largely from the composition of the body of men whom Columbus took with him on this occasion. It is no longer coopers and blacksmiths and boatswains and sailmakers who surround him. These were officers of court, whose titles even cannot be translated into modern language, so artificial were their habits and so conventional the duties to which they had been accustomed. Such men it was, who made poor Columbus endless trouble. Such men it was, who, at the last, dragged him down from his noble position, so that he died unhonored, dispirited and poor. To the same misfortune, probably, do we owe it that, for a history of this voyage, we have no longer authority so charming as the simple, gossipy journal which Columbus kept through the first voyage, of which the greater part has happily been preserved. It may be that he was too much pressed by his varied duties to keep up such a journal. For it is alas! an unfortunate condition of human life, that men are most apt to write journals when they have nothing to tell, and that in the midst of high activity, the record of that activity is not made by the actor. In the present case, a certain Doctor Chanca, a native of Seville, had been taken on board Columbus's ship, perhaps with the wish that he should be the historian of the expedition. It may be that in the fact that his journal was sent home is the reason why the Admiral's, if he kept one, has never been preserved. Doctor Chanca's narrative is our principal contemporary account of the voyage. From later authorities much can be added to it, but all of them put together are not, for the purposes of history, equal to the simple contemporaneous statement which we could have had, had Columbus's own journal been preserved.
The great fleet sailed from Cadiz on the twenty-fifth day of September, in the year 1493, rather more than thirteen months after the sailing of the little fleet from Palos of the year before. They touched at the Grand Canary as before, but at this time their vessels were in good condition and there was no dissatisfaction among the crews. From this time the voyage across the ocean was short. On the third day of November, 11 the Sunday after All Saints Day had dawned, a pilot on the ship cried out to the captain that he saw land. So great was the joy among the people, that it was marvellous to hear the shouts of pleasure on all hands. And for this there was much reason because the people were so much fatigued by the hard life and by the water which they drank that they all hoped for land with much desire."
The reader will see that this is the ejaculation of a tired landsman; one might say, of a tired scholar, who was glad that even the short voyage was at an end. Some of the pilots supposed that the distance which they had run was eight hundred leagues from Ferro; others thought it was seven hundred and eighty. As the light increased, there were two islands in sight the first was mountainous, being the island of "Dominica," which still retains that name, of the Sunday when it was discovered; the other, the island of Maria Galante, is more level, but like the first, as it is described by Dr. Chanca, it was well wooded. The island received its name from the ship that Columbus commanded. In all, they discovered six islands on this day.
Finding no harbor which satisfied him in Dominica, Columbus landed on the island of Maria Galante, and took possession of it in the name of the king and queen. Dr. Chanca expresses the amazement which everyone had felt on the other voyage, at the immense variety of trees, of fruits and of flowers, which to this hour is the joy of the traveller in the West Indies.
"In this island was such thickness of forest that it was wonderful, and such a variety of trees, unknown to anyone, that it was terrible, some with fruit, some with flowers, so that everything was green. * * * There were wild fruits of different sorts, which some not very wise men tried, and, on merely tasting them, touching them with their tongues, their faces swelled and they had such great burning and pain that they seemed to rage (or to have hydrophobia). They were cured with cold things." This fruit is supposed to have been the manchireel, which is known to produce such effects.
They found no inhabitants on this island and went on to another, now called Guadeloupe. It received this name from its resemblance to a province of the same name in Spain. They drew near a mountain upon it which "seemed to be trying to reach the sky," upon which was a beautiful waterfall, so white with foam that at a distance some of the sailors thought it was not water, but white rocks. The Admiral sent a light caravel to coast along and find harbor. This vessel discovered some houses, and the captain went ashore and found the inhabitants in them. They fled at once, and he entered the houses. There he found that they had taken nothing away. There was much cotton, "spun and to be spun," and other goods of theirs, and he took a little of everything, among other things, two parrots, larger and different from what had been seen before. He also took four or five bones of the legs and arms of men. This last discovery made the Spaniards suppose that these islands were those of Caribs, inhabited by the cannibals of whom they had heard in the first voyage.
They went on along the coast, passing by some little villages, from which the inhabitants fled, "as soon as they saw the sails." The Admiral decided to send ashore to make investigations, and next morning "certain captains" landed. At dinnertime some of them returned, bringing with them a boy of fourteen, who said that he was one of the captives of the people of the island. The others divided, and one party "took a little boy and brought him on board." Another party took a number of women, some of them natives of the island, and others captives, who came of their own accord. One captain, Diego Marquez, with his men, went off from the others and lost his way with his party. After four days he came out on the coast, and by following that, he succeeded in coming to the fleet. Their friends supposed them to have been killed and eaten by the Caribs, as, since some of them were pilots and able to set their course by the pole-star, it seemed impossible that they should lose themselves.
During the first day Columbus spent here, many men and women came to the water's edge, "looking at the fleet and wondering at such a new thing; and when any boat came ashore to talk with them, saying, 'tayno, tayno,' which means good. But they were all ready to run when they seemed in danger, so that of the men only two could be taken by force or free-will. There were taken more than twenty women of the captives, and of their free-will came other women, born in other islands, who were stolen away and taken by force. Certain captive boys came to us. In this harbor we were eight days on account of the loss of the said captain."
They found great quantities of human bones on shore, and skulls hanging like pots or cups about the houses. They saw few men. The women said that this was because ten canoes had gone on a robbing or kidnapping expedition to other islands. "This people," says Doctor Chanca, "appeared to us more polite than those who live in the other islands we have seen, though they all have straw houses." But he goes on to say that these houses are better made and provided, and that more of both men's and women's work appeared in them. They had not only plenty of spun and unspun cotton, but many cotton mantles, "so well woven that they yield in nothing (or owe nothing) to those of our country."
When the women, who had been found captives, were asked who the people of the island were, they replied that they were Caribs. When they heard that we abhorred such people for their evil use of eating men's flesh, they rejoiced much." But even in the captivity which all shared, they showed fear of their old masters.
"The customs of this people, the Caribs," says Dr. Chanca, "are beastly;" and it would be difficult not to agree with him, in spite of the "politeness" and comparative civilization he has spoken of.
They occupied three islands, and lived in harmony with each other, but made war in their canoes on all the other islands in the neighborhood. They used arrows in warfare, but had no iron. Some of them used arrow-heads of tortoise shell, others sharply toothed fish-bones, which could do a good deal of damage among unarmed men. "But for people of our nation, they are not arms to be feared much."
These Caribs carried off both men and women on their robbing expeditions. They slaughtered and ate the men, and kept the women as slaves; they were, in short, incredibly cruel. Three of the captive boys ran away and joined the Spaniards.
They had twice sent out expeditions after the lost captain, Diego Marquez, and another party had returned without news of him, on the very day on which he and his men came in. They brought with them ten captives, boys and women. They were received with great joy. "He and those that were with him, arrived so DESTROYED BY THE MOUNTAIN, that it was pitiful to see them. When they were asked how they had lost themselves, they said that it was the thickness of the trees, so great that they could not see the sky, and that some of them, who were mariners, had climbed up the trees to look at the star (the Pole-star) and that they never could see it."
One of the accounts of this voyage[*] relates that the captive women, who had taken refuge with the Spaniards, were persuaded by them to entice some of the Caribs to the beach. "But these men, when they had seen our people, all struck by terror, or the consciousness of their evil deeds, looking at each other, suddenly drew together, and very lightly, like a flight of birds, fled away to the valleys of the woods. Our men then, not having succeeded in taking any cannibals, retired to the ships and broke the Indians' canoes."
[*] That of Peter Martyr.
They left Guadeloupe on Sunday, the tenth of November. They passed several islands, but stopped at none of them, as they were in haste to arrive at the settlement of La Navidad in Hispaniola, made on the first voyage. They did, however, make some stay at an island which seemed well populated. This was that of San Martin. The Admiral sent a boat ashore to ask what people lived on the island, and to ask his way, although, as he afterwards found, his own calculations were so correct that he did not need any help. The boat's crew took some captives, and as it was going back to the ships, a canoe came up in which were four men, two women and a boy. They were so astonished at seeing the fleet, that they remained, wondering what it could be, "two Lombard-shot from the ship," and did not see the boat till it was close to them. They now tried to get off, but were so pressed by the boat that they could not. "The Caribs, as soon as they saw that flight did not profit them, with much boldness laid hands on their bows, the women as well as the men. And I say with much boldness, because they were no more than four men and two women, and ours more than twenty-five, of whom they wounded two. To one they gave two arrow-shots in the breast, and to the other one in the ribs. And if we had not had shields and tablachutas, and had not come up quickly with the boat and overturned their canoe, they would have shot the most of our men with their arrows. And after their canoe was overturned, they remained in the water swimming, and at times getting foothold, for there were some shallow places there. And our men had much ado to take them, for they still kept on shooting as they could. And with all this, not one of them could be taken, except one badly wounded with a lance-thrust, who died, whom thus wounded they carried to the ships."
Another account of this fight says that the canoe was commanded by one of the women, who seemed to be a queen, who had a son "of cruel look, robust, with a lion's face, who followed her." This account represents the queen's son to have been wounded, as well as the man who died. "The Caribs differed from the other Indians in having long hair; the others wore theirs braided and a hundred thousand differences made in their heads, with crosses and other paintings of different sorts, each one as he desires, which they do with sharp canes." The Indians, both the Caribs and the others, were beardless, unless by a great exception. The Caribs, who had been taken prisoners here, had their eyes and eyebrows blackened, "which, it seems to me, they do as an ornament, and with that they appear more frightful." They heard from these prisoners of much gold at an island called Cayre.
They left San Martin on the same day, and passed the island of Santa Cruz, and the next day (November 15) they saw a great number of islands, which the Admiral named Santa Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. This seemed "a country fit for metals," but the fleet made no stay there. They did stop for two days at an island called Burenquen. The Admiral named it San Juan Bautista (Saint John Baptist). It is what we now call Porto Rico. He was not able to communicate with any of the inhabitants, as they lived in such fear of the Caribs that they all fled. All these islands were new to the Admiral and all "very beautiful and of very good land, but this one seemed better than all of them."
On Friday, the twenty-second of November, they landed at the island of Hispaniola or Hayti which they so much desired. None of the party who had made the first voyage were acquainted with this part of the island; but they conjectured what it was, from what the Indian captive women told them.
The part of the island where they arrived was called Hayti, another part Xamana, and the third Bohio. "It is a very singular country," says Dr. Chanca, "where there are numberless great rivers and great mountain ridges and great level valleys. I think the grass never dries in the whole year. I do not think that there is any winter in this (island) nor in the others, for at Christmas are found many birds' nests, some with birds, and some with eggs." The only four-footed animals found in these islands were what Dr. Chanca calls dogs of various colors, and one animal like a young rabbit, which climbed trees. Many persons ate these last and said they were very good. There were many small snakes, and few lizards, because the Indians were so fond of eating them. "They made as much of a feast of them as we would do of pheasants."
"There are in this island and the others numberless birds, of those of our country, and many others which never were seen there. Of our domestic birds, none have ever been seen here, except that in Zuruquia there were some ducks in the houses, most of them white as snow, and others black."
They coasted along this island for several days, to the place where the Admiral had left his settlement. While passing the region of Xamana, they set ashore one of the Indians whom they had carried off on the first voyage. They "gave him some little things which the Admiral had commanded him to give away." Another account adds that of the ten Indian men who had been carried off on the first voyage, seven had already died on account of the change of air and food. Two of the three whom the Admiral was bringing back, swam ashore at night. "The Admiral cared for this but little, thinking that he should have enough interpreters among those whom he had left in the island, and whom he hoped to find there again." It seems certain that one Indian remained faithful to the Spaniards; he was named Diego Colon, after the Admiral's brother.
On the day that the captive Indian was set ashore, a Biscayan sailor died, who had been wounded by the Caribs in the fight between the boat's crew and the canoe. A boat's crew was sent ashore to bury him, and as they came to land there came out "many Indians, of whom some wore gold at the neck and at the ears. They sought to come with the christians to the ships, and they did not like to bring them, because they had not had permission from the Admiral." The Indians then sent two of their number in a little canoe to one of the caravels, where they were received kindly, and sent to speak with the Admiral."
"They said, through an interpreter, that a certain king sent them to know what people we were, and to ask that we might be kind enough to land, as they had much gold and would give it to him, and of what they had to eat. The Admiral commanded silken shirts and caps and other little things to be given them, and told them that as he was going where Guacanagari was, he could not stop, that another time he would be able to see him. And with that, they (the Indians) went away."
They stopped two days at a harbor which they called Monte Christi, to see if it were a suitable place for a town, for the Admiral did not feel altogether satisfied with the place where the settlement of La Navidad had been made on the first voyage. This Monte Christi was near "a great river of very good water" (the Santiago). But it is all an inundated region, and very unfit to live in.
"As they were going along, viewing the river and land, some of our men found, in a place close by the river, two dead men, one with: a cord (lazo) around his neck, and the other with one around his foot. This was the first day. On the next day following, they found two other dead men farther on than these others. One of these was in such a position that it could be known that he had a plentiful beard. Some of our men suspected more ill than good, and with reason, as the Indians are all beardless, as I have said."
This port was not far from the port where the Spanish settlement had been made on the first voyage, so that there was great reason for these anxieties. They set sail once more for the settlement, and arrived opposite the harbor of La Navidad on the twenty-seventh of November. As they were approaching the harbor, a canoe came towards them, with five or six Indians on board, but, as the Admiral kept on his course without waiting for them, they went back.
The Spaniards arrived outside the port of La Navidad so late that they did not dare to enter it that night. "The Admiral commanded two Lombards to be fired, to see if the christians replied, who had been left with the said Guacanagari, (this was the friendly cacique Guacanagari of the first voyage), for they too had Lombards," "They never replied, nor did fires nor signs of houses appear in that place, at which the people were much discouraged, and they had the suspicion that was natural in such a case."
"Being thus all very sad, when four or five hours of the night had passed, there came the same canoe which they had seen the evening before. The Indians in it asked for the Admiral and the captain of one of the caravels of the first voyage. They were taken to the Admiral's ship, but would not come on board until they had "spoken with him and seen him." They asked for a light, and as soon as they knew him, they entered the ship. They came from Guacanagari, and one of them was his cousin.
They brought with them golden masks, one for the Admiral and another for one of the captains who had been with him on the first voyage, probably Vicente Yanez Pinzon. Such masks were much valued among the Indians, and are thought to have been meant to put upon idols, so that they were given to the Spaniards as tokens of great respect. The Indian party remained on board for three hours, conversing with the Admiral and apparently very glad to see him again. When they were asked about the colonists of La Navidad, they said that they were all well, but that some of them had died from sickness, and that others had been killed in quarrels among themselves. Their own cacique, Guacanagari, had been attacked by two other chiefs, Caonabo and Mayreni. They had burned his village, and he had been wounded in the leg, so that he could not come to meet the Spaniards that night. As the Indians went away, however, they promised that they would bring him to visit them the next day. So the explorers remained "consoled for that night."
Next day, however, events were less reassuring. None of last night's party came back and nothing was seen of the cacique. The Spaniards, however, thought that the Indians might have been accidentally overturned in their canoe, as it was a small one, and as wine had been given them several times during their visit.
While he was still waiting for them, the Admiral sent some of his men to the place where La Navidad had stood. They found that the strong fort with a palisade was burned down and demolished. They also found some cloaks and other clothes which had been carried off by the Indians, who seemed uneasy, and at first would not come near the party.
"This did not appear well" to the Spaniards, as the Admiral had told them how many canoes had come out to visit him in that very place on the other voyage. They tried to make friends, however, threw out to them some bells, beads and other presents, and finally a relation of the cacique and three others ventured to the boat, and were taken on board ship.
These men frankly admitted that the "christians" were all dead. The Spaniards had been told so the night before by their Indian interpreter, but they had refused to believe him. They were now told that the King of Canoaboa[*] and the King Mayreni had killed them and burned the village.
[*] "Canoaboa" was thought to mean "Land of Gold."
They said, as the others had done, that Guacanagari was wounded in the thigh and they, like the others, said they would go and summon him. The Spaniards made them some presents, and they, too, disappeared.
Early the next morning the Admiral himself, with a party, including Dr. Chanca, went ashore.
"And we went where the town used to be, which we saw all burnt, and the clothes of the christians were found on the grass there. At that time we saw no dead body. There were among us many different opinions, some suspecting that Guacanagari himself was (concerned) in the betrayal or death of the christians, and to others it did not appear so, as his town was burnt, so that the thing was very doubtful."
The Admiral directed the whole place to be searched for gold, as he had left orders that if any quantity of it were found, it should be buried. While this search was being made, he and a few others went to look for a suitable place for a new settlement. They arrived at a village of seven or eight houses, which the inhabitants deserted at once. Here they found many things belonging to the christians, such as stockings, pieces of cloth, and "a very pretty mantle which had not been unfolded since it was brought from Castile." These, the Spaniards thought, could not have been obtained by barter. There was also one of the anchors of the ship which had gone ashore on the first voyage.
When they returned to the site of La Navidad they found many Indians, who had become bold enough to come to barter gold. They had shown the place where the bodies of eleven Spaniards lay "covered already by the grass which had grown over them." They all "with one voice" said that Canoaboa and Mayreni had killed them. But as, at the same time, they complained that some of the christians had taken three Indian wives, and some four, it seemed likely that a just resentment on the part of the islanders had had something to do with their death.
The next day the Admiral sent out a caravel to seek for a suitable place for a town, and he himself went out to look for one in a different direction. He found a secure harbor and a good place for a settlement, But he thought it too far from the place where he expected to find a gold mine. On his return, he found the caravel he had sent out. As it was coasting along the island, a canoe had come out to it, with two Indians on board, one of whom was a brother of Guacanagari. This man begged the party to come and visit the cacique. The "principal men" accordingly went on shore, and found him in bed, apparently suffering from his wounded thigh, which he showed them in bandages. They judged from appearances that he was telling them the truth.
He said to them, "by signs as best be could," that since he was thus wounded, they were to invite the Admiral to come to visit him. As they were going away, he gave each of them a golden jewel, as each "appeared to him to deserve it." "This gold," says Dr. Chanca, "is made in very delicate sheets, like our gold leaf, because they use it for making masks and to plate upon bitumen. They also wear it on the head and for earrings and nose-rings, and therefore they beat it very thin as they only wear it for its beauty and not for its value."
The Admiral decided to go to the cacique on the next day. He was visited early in the day by his brother, who hurried on the visit.
The Admiral went on shore and all the best people (gente de pro) with him, handsomely dressed, as would be suitable in a capital city." They carried presents. with them, as they had already received gold from him.
"When we arrived, we found him lying in his bed, according to their custom, hanging in the air, the bed being made of cotton like a net. He did not rise, but from the bed made a semblance of courtesy, as best he knew how. He showed much feeling, with tears in his eyes, at the death of the christians, and began to talk of it, showing, as best he could, how some died of sickness, and how others had gone to Canoaboa to seek for the gold mine, and that they had been killed there, and how the others had been killed in their town."
He presented to the Admiral some gold and precious stones. One of the accounts says that there were eight hundred beads of a stone called ciba, one hundred of gold, a golden coronet, and three small calabashes filled with gold dust. Columbus, in return, made him a present.
"I and a navy surgeon were there," says Dr. Chanca. "The Admiral now said that we were learned in the infirmities of men, and asked if he would show us the wound. He replied that it pleased him to do so. I said that it would be necessary, if he could, for him to go out of the house, since with the multitudes of people it was dark, and we could not see well. He did it immediately, as I believe, more from timidity than from choice. The surgeon came to him and began to take off the bandage. Then he said to the Admiral that the injury was caused by ciba, that is, by a stone. When it was unbandaged we managed to examine it. It is certain that he was no more injured in that leg than in the other, although he pretended that it was very painful."
The Spaniards did not know what to believe. But it seemed certain that an attack of some enemy upon these Indians had taken place, and the Admiral determined to continue upon good terms with them. Nor did he change this policy toward Guacanagari. How far that chief had tried to prevent the massacre will never be known. The detail of the story was never fully drawn from the natives. The Spaniards had been cruel and licentious in their dealing with the Indians. They had quarrelled among themselves, and the indignant natives, in revenge, had destroyed them all.