CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, 1436-1506.
Discovery of Madeira, Cape de Verd Islands, the Azores, Congo, and Guinea--Bartholomew Diaz--Cabot and Labrador--The geographical and commercial tendencies of the middle ages--The erroneous idea of the distance between Europe and Asia--Birth of Christopher Columbus--His first voyages--His plans rejected--His sojourn at the Franciscan convent--His reception by Ferdinand and Isabella--Treaty of the 17th of April, 1492--The brothers Pinzon--Three armed caravels at the port of Palos--Departure on the 3rd of August, 1492.
The year 1492 is an era in geographical annals. It is the date of the discovery of America. The genius of one man was fated to complete the terrestrial globe, and to show the truth of Gagliuffi's saying,--
Unus erat mundus; duo sint, ait iste; fuere.
The old world was to be entrusted with the moral and political education of the new. Was it equal to the task, with its ideas still limited, its tendencies still semi-barbarous, and its bitter religious animosities? We must leave the answer to these questions to the facts that follow.
Between the year 1405, when Béthencourt had just accomplished the colonization of the Canary Islands, and the year 1492, what had taken place? We will give a short sketch of the geographical enterprise of the intervening years. A considerable impetus had been given to science by the Arabs (who were soon to be expelled from Spain), and had spread throughout the peninsula. In all the ports, but more especially in those of Portugal, there was much talk of the continent of Africa, and the rich and wonderful countries beyond the sea. "A thousand anecdotes," says Michelet, "stimulated curiosity, valour and avarice, every one wishing to see these mysterious countries where monsters abounded and gold was scattered over the surface of the land." A young prince, Don Henry, duke of Viseu, third son of John I., who was very fond of the study of astronomy and geography, exercised a considerable influence over his contemporaries; it is to him that Portugal owes her colonial power and wealth and the expeditions so repeatedly made, which were vividly described, and their results spoken of as so wonderful, that they may have aided in awakening Columbus' love of adventure. Don Henry had an observatory built in the southern part of the province of Algarve, at Sagres, commanding a most splendid view over the sea, and seeming as though it must have been placed there to seek for some unknown land; he also established a naval college, where learned geographers traced correct maps and taught the use of the mariner's compass. The young prince surrounded himself with learned men, and especially gathered all the information he could as to the possibility of circumnavigating Africa, and thus reaching India. Though he had never taken part in any maritime expedition, his encouragement and care for seamen gave him the soubriquet of "the Navigator," by which name he is known in history. Two gentlemen belonging to Don Henry's court, Juan Gonzales Zarco, and Tristram Vaz Teixeira had passed Cape Nun, the terror of ancient navigators, when they were carried out to sea and passed near an island to which they gave the name of Porto-Santo. Sometime afterwards, as they were sailing towards a black point that remained on the horizon, they came to a large island covered with splendid forests; this was Madeira.
In 1433, Cape Bojador, which had for long been such a difficulty to navigators, was first doubled by the two Portuguese sailors, Gillianès and Gonzalès Baldaya, who passed more than forty leagues beyond it.
Encouraged by their example, Antonio Gonzalès, and Nuño Tristram, in 1441, sailed as far as Cape Blanco, "a feat," says Faria y Souza "that is generally looked upon as being little short of the labours of Hercules," and they brought back with them to Lisbon some gold-dust taken from the Rio del Ouro. In a second voyage Tristram noticed some of the Cape de Verd Islands, and went as far south as Sierra Leone. In the course of this expedition, he bought from some Moors off the coast of Guinea, ten negroes, whom he took back with him to Lisbon and parted with for a very high price, they having excited great curiosity. This was the origin of the slave-trade in Europe, which for the next 400 years robbed Africa of so many of her people, and was a disgrace to humanity.
In 1441, Cada Mosto doubled Cape Verd, and explored a part of the coast below it. About 1446, the Portuguese, advancing further into the open sea than their predecessors, came upon the group of the Azores. From this time all fear vanished, for the formidable line had been passed, beyond which the air was said to scorch like fire; expeditions succeeded each other without intermission, and each brought home accounts of newly-discovered regions. It seemed as if the African continent was really endless, for the further they advanced towards the south, the further the cape they sought appeared to recede. Some little time before this King John II. had added the title of Seigneur of Guinea to his other titles, and to the discovery of Congo had been added that of some stars in the southern hemisphere hitherto unknown, when Diogo Cam, in three successive voyages, went further south than any preceding navigator, and bore away from Diaz the honour of being the discoverer of the southern point of the African continent. This cape is called Cape Cross, and here he raised a monument called a padrao or padron in memory of his discovery, which is still standing. On his way back, he visited the King of Congo in his capital, and took back with him an ambassador and numerous suite of natives, who were all baptized, and taught the elements of the Christian religion, which they were to propagate on their return to Congo.
A short time after Diogo Cam's return in the month of August, 1487, three caravels left the Tagus under the command of Bartholomew Diaz, a gentleman attached to the king's household, and an old sailor on the Guinea seas. He had an experienced mariner under him, and the smallest of the three vessels freighted with provisions, was commanded by his brother Pedro Diaz. We have no record of the earlier part of this expedition; we only know, from Joao de Barros, to whom we owe nearly all we learn of Portuguese navigation, that beyond Congo he followed the coast for some distance, and came to an anchorage that he named "Das Voltas" on account of the manner in which he had to tack to reach it, and there he left the smallest of the caravels under the care of nine sailors. After having been detained here five days by stress of weather, Diaz stood out to sea, and took a southerly course, but for thirteen days his vessels were tossed hither and thither by the tempest.
As he went further south the temperature fell and the air became very cold; at last the fury of the elements abated, and Diaz took an easterly course hoping to sight the land, but after several days had passed, and being in about 42 degrees south latitude, he anchored in the bay "dos Vaquieros," so named from the numbers of horned animals and shepherds, who fled inland at the sight of the two vessels.
At this time Diaz was about 120 miles east of the Cape of Good Hope, which he had doubled without seeing it. They then went to Sam Braz (now Mossel) bay, and coasted as far as Algoa bay and to an island called Da Cruz where they set up a padrao. But here the crews being much discouraged by the dangers they had passed through, and feeling much the scarcity and bad quality of the provisions, refused to go any farther. "Besides," they said, "as the land is now on our left, let us go back and see the Cape, which we have doubled without knowing it."
Diaz called a council, and decided that they should go forwards in a north-easterly direction for two or three days longer. We owe it to his firmness of purpose that he was able to reach a river, 75 miles from Da Cruz that he called Rio Infante, but then the crew refusing to go farther, Diaz was obliged to return to Europe. Barros says, "When Diaz left the pillar that he had erected, it was with such sorrow and so much bitterness, that it seemed almost as though he were leaving an exiled son, and especially when he thought of all the dangers that he and his companions had passed through, and the long distance which they had come with only this memorial as a remembrance: it was indeed painful to break off when the task was but half completed." At last they saw the Cape of Good Hope, or as Diaz and his followers called it then, the "Cape of Torments," in remembrance of all the storms and tempests they had passed through before they could double it. With the foresight which so often accompanies genius, John II. substituted for the "Cape of Torments," the name of the "Cape of Good Hope," for he saw that now the route to India was open at last, and his vast plans for the extension of the commerce and influence of his country were about to be realized.
On the 24th of August, 1488, Diaz returned to Angra das Voltas, where he had left his smallest caravel. He found six of his nine men dead, and the seventh was so overcome with joy at seeing his companions again that he died also. No particular incident marked the voyage home; they reached Lisbon in December, 1488, after staying at Benin, where they traded, and at La Mina to receive the money gained by the commerce of the colony.
It is strange but true, that Diaz not only received no reward of any kind for this voyage which had been so successful, but he seemed to be treated rather as though he had disgraced himself, for he was not employed again for ten years. More than this the command of the expedition that was sent to double the cape which Diaz had discovered, was given to Vasco da Gama, and Diaz was only to accompany it to La Mina holding a subordinate position. He was to hear of the marvellous campaign of his successful rival in India, and to see what an effect such an event would have upon the destiny of his country.
He took part in Cabral's expedition which discovered Brazil, but he had not the pleasure of seeing the shores to which he had been the pioneer, for the fleet had only just left the American shore, when a fearful storm arose; four vessels sank, and among them the one that Diaz commanded. It is in allusion to his sad fate that Camoens puts the following prediction into the mouth of Adamastor, the spirit of the Cape of Tempests. "I will make a terrible example of the first fleet that shall pass near these rocks, and I will wreak my vengeance on him who first comes to brave me in my dwelling."
In fact it was only in 1497, maybe five years after the discovery of America, that the southern point of Africa was passed by Vasco da Gama, and it may be affirmed that if this latter had preceded Columbus, the discovery of the new continent might have been delayed for several centuries. The navigators of this period were very timorous, and did not dare to sail out into mid-ocean; not liking to venture upon seas that were but little known, they always followed the coast-line of Africa, rather than go further from land. If the Cape of Tempests had been doubled, the sailors would have gone by this route to India, and none would have thought of going to the "Land of Spices," that is to say Asia, by venturing across the Atlantic. Who, in fact, would have thought of seeking for the east by the route to the west? But in truth this was the great idea of that day, for Cooley says, "The principal object of Portuguese maritime enterprise in the fifteenth century was to search for a passage to India by the Ocean." The most learned men had not gone so far as to imagine the existence of another continent to complete the equilibrium and balance of the terrestrial globe. Some parts of the American continent had been already discovered, for an Italian navigator Sebastian Cabot had landed on Labrador in 1487, and the Scandinavians had certainly disembarked on this unknown land. The colonists of Greenland, too had explored Winland, but so little disposition was there at this time to believe in the existence of a new world, that Greenland, Winland, and Labrador were all thought to be a continuation of the European continent.
The main question before the navigators of the fifteenth century was the opening up of an easier communication with the shores of Asia. The route to India, China, and Japan (countries already known through the wonderful narrative of Marco Polo), viâ, Asia Minor, Persia, and Tartary, was long and dangerous. The transport of goods was too difficult and costly for these "ways terrestrial" ever to become roads for commerce. A more practicable means of communication must be found. Thus all the dwellers on the coasts, from England to Spain, as well as the people living on the shores of the Mediterranean, seeing the great Atlantic ocean open to their vessels, began to inquire, whether indeed this new route might not conduct them to the shores of Asia.
The sphericity of the Globe being established, this reasoning was correct, for going always westward, the traveller must necessarily at last reach the east, and as to the route across the ocean, it would certainly be open. Who could, indeed, have suspected the existence of an obstacle 9750 miles in length, lying between Europe and Asia, and called America?
We must observe also that the scientific men of the Middle Ages believed that the shores of Asia were not more than 6000 miles distant from those of Europe. Aristotle supposed the terrestrial globe to be smaller than it really is. Seneca said "How far is it from the shores of Spain to India? A very few days' sail, should the wind be favourable." This was also the opinion of Strabo. So it seemed that the route between Europe and Asia must be short, and there being such places for ships to touch at as the Azores and Antilles, of which the existence was known in the fifteenth century, the transoceanic communication promised not to be difficult. This popular error as to distance had the happy effect of inducing navigators to try to cross the Atlantic, a feat which, had they been aware of the 15,000 miles of ocean separating Europe from Asia, they would scarcely have dared to attempt.
We must in justice allow that certain facts gave, or seemed to give, reason to the partisans of Aristotle and Strabo for their belief in the proximity of the eastern shores. Thus, a pilot in the service of the King of Portugal, while sailing at 1350 miles' distance from Cape St. Vincent, the south-western point of the Portuguese province of Algarve, met with a piece of wood ornamented with ancient sculptures, which he considered must have come from a continent not far off. Again, some fishermen had found near the island of Madeira, a sculptured post and some bamboos, which in shape resembled those found in India. The inhabitants of the Azores also, often picked up gigantic pine-trees, of an unknown species, and one day two human bodies were cast upon their shores, "corpses with broad faces," says the chronicler Herrera, "and not resembling Christians."
These various facts tended to inflame imagination. As in the fifteenth century men had no knowledge of that great Gulf-stream, which, in nearing the European coasts, brings with it waifs and strays from America, so they could only imagine that these various débris must come from Asia. Therefore, they argued, Asia could not be far off, and the communication between these two extremes of the old continent must be easy. One point must be clearly borne in mind, no geographer of this period had any notion of the existence of a new world; it was not even a desire of adding to geographical knowledge which led to the exploration of the western route. It was the men of commerce who were the leaders in this movement, and who first undertook to cross the Atlantic. Their only thought was of traffic, and of carrying it on by the shortest road.
The mariner's compass, invented, according to the generally received opinion, about 1302, by one Flavio Gioja of Amalfi, enabled vessels to sail at a distance from the coasts, and to guide themselves when out of sight of land. Martin Béhaim, with two physicians in the service of Prince Henry of Portugal, had also added to nautical science by discovering the way of directing the voyager's course according to the position of the sun in the heavens, and by applying the astrolabe to the purposes of navigation. These improvements being adopted, the commercial question of the western route increased daily in importance in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, countries in which three-quarters of the science is made up of imagination. There was discussion, there were writings. The excited world of commerce disputed with the world of science. Facts, systems, doctrines, were grouped together. The time was come when there was needed one single intelligence to collect together and assimilate the various floating ideas. This intelligence was found. At length all the scattered notions were gathered together in the mind of one man, who possessed in a remarkable degree genius, perseverance, and boldness.
This man was no other than Christopher Columbus, born, probably near Genoa, about the year 1436. We say "probably," for the towns of Cogoreo and Nervi dispute with Savona and Genoa, the honour of having given him birth. The date of his birth varies, with different biographers, from 1430 to 1445, but the year 1436 would appear to be the correct one, according to the most reliable documents. The family of Columbus was of humble origin; his father, Domenic Columbus, a manufacturer of woollen stuffs, seems, however, to have been in sufficiently easy circumstances to enable him to give his children a more than ordinarily good education. The young Christopher, the eldest of the family, was sent to the University of Pavia, there to study Grammar, Latin, Geography, Astronomy, and Navigation.
At fourteen years of age Christopher left school and went to sea; from this time until 1487, very little is known of his career. It is interesting to give the remark of Humboldt on this subject, as reported by M. Charton; he said, "that he regretted the more this uncertainty about the early life of Columbus when he remembered all that the chroniclers have so minutely preserved for us upon the life of the dog Becerillo, or the elephant Aboulababat, which Haroun-al-Raschid sent to Charlemagne!" The most probable account to be gathered from contemporary documents and from the writings of Columbus himself, is that the young sailor visited the Levant, the west, the north, England several times, Portugal, the coast of Guinea, and the islands of Africa, perhaps even Greenland, for, by the age of forty "he had sailed to every part that had ever been sailed to before." He was looked upon as a thoroughly competent mariner, and his reputation led to his being chosen for the command of the Genoese galleys, in the war which that Republic was waging against Venice. He afterwards made an expedition, in the service of René, king of Anjou, to the coasts of Barbary, and in 1477, he went to explore the countries beyond Iceland.
This voyage being successfully terminated, Christopher Columbus returned to his home at Lisbon. He there married the daughter of an Italian gentleman, Bartolomeo Munez Perestrello, a sailor like himself and deeply interested in the geographical ideas of the day. The wife of Columbus, Dona Filippa, was without fortune, and Columbus, having none himself, felt he must work for the support of himself and his family. The future discoverer, therefore, set to work to make picture-books, terrestrial globes, maps, and nautical charts, and continued in this employment until 1481, but without at the same time abandoning his scientific and literary pursuits. It seems probable even, that during this period he studied deeply, and attained to knowledge far beyond that possessed by most of the sailors of his time. Can it have been that at this time "the Great Idea" first arose in his mind? It may well have been so. He was following assiduously the discussions relative to the western routes, and the facility of communication by the west, between Europe and Asia. His correspondence proves that he shared the opinion of Aristotle as to the relatively short distance separating the extreme shores of the old Continent. He wrote frequently to the most distinguished savants of his time. Martin Béhaim, of whom we have already spoken, was amongst his correspondents, and also the celebrated Florentine astronomer, Toscanelli, whose opinions in some degree influenced those of Columbus.
At this time Columbus, according to the portrait of him given by his biographer Washington Irving, was a tall man, of robust and noble presence. His face was long, he had an aquiline nose, high cheek bones, eyes clear and full of fire; he had a bright complexion, and his face was much covered with freckles. He was a truly Christian man, and it was with the liveliest faith that he fulfilled all the duties of the Catholic religion.
At the time when Christopher Columbus was in correspondence with the astronomer Toscanelli, he learnt that the latter, at the request of Alphonso V., King of Portugal, had sent to the king a learned Memoir upon the possibility of reaching the Indies by the western route. Columbus was consulted, and supported the ideas of Toscanelli with all his influence; but without result, for the King of Portugal, who was engaged at the time in war with Spain, died, without having been able to give any attention to maritime discoveries. His successor, John II., adopted the plans of Columbus and Toscanelli with enthusiasm. At the same time, with most reprehensible cunning, he tried to deprive these two savants of the benefit of their proposition; without telling them, he sent out a caravel to attempt this great enterprise, and to reach China by crossing the Atlantic. But he had not reckoned upon the inexperience of his pilots, nor upon the violence of the storms which they might encounter; the result was, that some days after their departure, a hurricane brought back to Lisbon the sailors of the Portuguese king. Columbus was justly wounded by this unworthy action, and felt that he could not reckon upon a king who had so deceived him. His wife being dead, he left Spain with his son Diego, towards the end of the year 1484. It is thought that he went to Genoa and to Venice, where his projects of transoceanic navigation were but badly received.
However it may have been, in 1485 we find him again in Spain. This great man was poor, without resources. He travelled on foot, carrying Diego his little son of ten years old, in his arms. From this period of his life, history follows him step by step; she no more loses sight of him, and she has preserved to posterity the smallest incidents of this grand existence. We find Columbus arrived in Andalusia, only half a league from the port of Palos. Destitute, and dying of hunger, he knocked at the door of a Franciscan convent, dedicated to Santa Maria de Rabida, and asked for a little bread and water for his poor child and for himself. The superior of the convent, Juan Perez de Marchena, gave hospitality to the unfortunate traveller. He questioned him, and was surprised by the nobleness of his language, but still more astonished was he, by the boldness of the ideas of Columbus, who made the good Father the confidant of his aspirations. For several months the wandering sailor remained in this hospitable convent; some of the monks were learned men, and interested themselves about him and his projects; they studied his plans; they mentioned him to some of the well-known navigators of the time; and we must give them the credit of having been the first to believe in the genius of Christopher Columbus. Juan Perez showed still greater kindness; he offered to take upon himself the charge of the education of Diego, and he gave to Columbus a letter of recommendation addressed to the confessor of the Queen of Castille.
This confessor, prior of the monastery of Prado, was deep in the confidence of Ferdinand and Isabella; but he did not approve of the projects of the Genoese navigator, and he rendered him no service whatever with his royal penitent. Columbus must still resign himself to wait. He went to live at Cordova, where the court was soon to come, and for livelihood he resumed his trade of picture-seller. Is it possible to quote from the lives of illustrious men an instance of a more trying existence than this of the great navigator? Could ill-fortune have assailed any man with more cruel blows? But this indomitable, indefatigable man of genius, rising up again after each trial, did not despair. He felt within him the sacred fire of genius, he worked on unceasingly, he visited influential persons, spreading his ideas and defending them, and combating all objections with the most heroic energy. At length he obtained the protection of the great cardinal-archbishop of Toledo, Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, and thanks to him, was admitted into the presence of the King and Queen of Spain.
Christopher Columbus must have imagined himself now at the end of all his troubles. Ferdinand and Isabella received his project favourably, and caused it to be submitted for examination to a council of learned men, consisting of bishops and monks who were gathered together ad hoc in a Dominican convent at Salamanca. But the unfortunate pleader was not yet at the end of his vicissitudes. In this meeting at Salamanca all his judges were against him. The truth was, that his ideas interfered with the intolerant religious notions of the fifteenth century. The Fathers of the Church had denied the sphericity of the earth, and since the earth was not round they declared that a voyage of circumnavigation was absolutely contrary to the Bible, and could not therefore, on any logical theory, be undertaken. "Besides," said these theologians, "if any one should ever succeed in descending into the other hemisphere, how could he ever mount up again into this one?" This manner of arguing was a very formidable one at this period; for Christopher Columbus saw himself, in consequence, almost accused of heresy, the most unpardonable crime which could be committed in these intolerant countries. He escaped any evil consequences from the hostile disposition of the Council, but the execution of his project was again adjourned.
Long years passed away. The unfortunate man of genius, despairing of success in Spain, sent his brother to England to make an offer of his services to the king, Henry VII. But it is probable that the king gave no answer. Then Christopher Columbus turned again with unabated perseverance to Ferdinand, but Ferdinand was at this time engaged in a war of extermination against the Moors, and it was not until 1492, when he had chased the Moors from Spain, that he was able again to listen to the solicitations of the Genoese sailor.
This time the affair was thoroughly considered, and the king consented to the enterprise. But Columbus, as is the manner of proud natures, wished to impose his own conditions. They bargained over that which should enrich Spain! Columbus, in disgust, was without doubt ready to quit, and for ever, this ungrateful country, but Isabella, touched by the thought of the unbelievers of Asia, whom she hoped to convert to the Catholic faith, ordered Columbus to be recalled, and then acceded to all his demands.
Columbus was in the fifty-sixth year of his age when he signed a treaty with the King of Spain at Santa-Feta on the 17th of April, 1492, being eighteen years after he had first conceived his project, and seven years from the time of his quitting the monastery of Palos. By this solemn convention, the dignity of high admiral was to belong to Columbus in all the lands which he might discover, and this dignity was to descend in perpetuity to his heirs and successors. He was named viceroy and governor of the new possessions which he hoped to conquer in the rich countries of Asia, and one-tenth part of the pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, provisions, and merchandise of whatever kind, which might be acquired in any manner whatsoever, within the limits of his jurisdiction, was of right to belong to him.
All was arranged, and at length Columbus was to put his cherished projects in execution. But let us repeat, he had no thought of meeting with the New World, of the existence of which he had not the faintest suspicion. His aim was "to explore the East by the West, and to pass by the way of the West to the Land whence come the spices." One may even aver that Columbus died in the belief that he had arrived at the shores of Asia, and never knew himself that he had made the discovery of America. But this in no way lessens his glory; the meeting with the new Continent was but an accident. The real cause of the immortal renown of Columbus was that audacity of genius which induced him to brave the dangers of an unknown ocean, to separate himself afar from those familiar shores, which, until now, navigators had never ventured to quit, to adventure himself upon the waves of the Atlantic Ocean in the frail ships of the period, which the first tempest might engulf, to launch himself, in a word, upon the deep darkness of an unknown sea.
The preparations began, Columbus entering into an arrangement with some rich navigators of Palos, the three brothers Pinzon, who made the necessary advances for defraying the expenses of fitting out the ships. Three caravels, named the Gallega, the Nina, and the Pinta, were equipped in the port of Palos. The Gallega was destined to carry the admiral, who changed her name to the Santa-Maria. The Pinta was commanded by Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and the Nina by his two brothers, Francis Martin, and Vincent Yanez Pinzon. It was difficult to man the ships, sailors generally being frightened at the enterprise, but at last the captains succeeded in getting together one hundred and twenty men, and on Friday, August 3rd, 1492, the admiral crossing at eight o'clock in the morning the bar of Saltez, off the town of Huelva, in Andalusia, adventured himself with his three half-decked caravels upon the Atlantic waves.
First voyage: The Great Canary--Gomera--Magnetic variation--Symptoms of revolt--Land, land--San Salvador--Taking possession--Conception--Fernandina or Great Exuma--Isabella, or Long Island--The Mucaras--Cuba--Description of the island--Archipelago of Notre-Dame--Hispaniola or San Domingo--Tortuga Island--The cacique on board the Santa-Maria--The caravel of Columbus goes aground and cannot be floated off--Island of Monte-Christi--Return--Tempest--Arrival in Spain--Homage rendered to Christopher Columbus.
During the first day's voyage, the admiral--the title by which he is usually known in the various accounts of his exploits--bearing directly southwards, sailed forty-five miles before sunset; turning then to the south-east, he steered for the Canaries, in order to repair the Pinta, which had unshipped her rudder, an accident caused perhaps by the ill-will of the steersman, who dreaded the voyage. Ten days later Columbus cast anchor before the Great Canary Island, where the rudder of the caravel was repaired. Nineteen days afterwards he arrived before Gomera, where the inhabitants assured him of the existence of an unknown land in the west of the Archipelago. He did not leave Gomera until the 6th of September. He had received warning that three Portuguese ships awaited him in the open sea, with the intention of barring his passage; however, without taking any heed of this news, he put to sea, cleverly avoided meeting his enemies, and steering directly westward, he lost all sight of land. During the voyage the admiral took care to conceal from his companions the true distance traversed each day; he made it appear less than it really was in the daily abstracts of his observations, that he might not add to the fear already felt by the sailors, by letting them know the real distance which separated them from Europe. Each day he watched the compasses with attention, and it is to him we owe the discovery of the magnetic variation, of which he took account in his calculations. The pilots, however, were much disturbed on seeing the compasses all "north-westers," as they expressed it.
On the 14th of September the sailors saw a swallow and some tropic-birds. The sight of these birds was an evidence of land being near, for they do not usually fly more than about seventy miles out to sea. The temperature was very mild, the weather magnificent; the wind blew from the east and wafted the caravels in the desired direction. But it was exactly this continuance of east wind which frightened the greater part of the sailors, who saw in this persistence, so favourable for the outward voyage, the promise of a formidable obstacle to their return home. On the 16th of September some tufts of seaweed, still fresh, were seen floating on the waves. But no land was to be seen, and this seaweed might possibly indicate the presence of submarine rocks, and not of the shores of a continent. On the 17th, thirty-five days after the departure of the expedition, floating weeds were frequently seen, and upon one mass of weed was found a live cray-fish, a sure sign this of the proximity of land.
During the following days a large number of birds, such as gannets, sea-swallows, and tropic-birds, flew around the caravels. Columbus turned their presence to account as a means of reassuring his companions, who were beginning to be terribly frightened at not meeting with land after six weeks of sailing. His own confidence never abated, but putting firm trust in God, he often addressed energetic words of comfort to those around him, and made them each evening chant the Salve Regina, or some other hymn to the Virgin. At the words of this heroic man, so noble, so sure of himself, so superior to all human weaknesses, the courage of the sailors revived, and they again went onwards.
We can well imagine how anxiously both officers and men scanned the western horizon towards which they were steering. Each one had a pecuniary motive for wishing to be the first to descry the New Continent, King Ferdinand having promised a reward of 10,000 maravédis, or 400 pounds sterling, to the first discoverer. The latter days of the month of September were enlivened by the presence of numerous large birds, petrels, man-of-war birds, and damiers, flying in couples, a sign that they were not far away from home. So Columbus retained his unshaken conviction that land could not be far off.
On the 1st of October, the admiral announced to his companions that they had made 1272 miles to the west since leaving Ferro; in reality, the distance traversed exceeded 2100 miles, and of this Columbus was quite aware, but persisted in his policy of disguising the truth in this particular. On the 7th of October, the crews were excited by hearing discharges of musketry from the Nina, the commanders of which, the two brothers Pinzon, thought they had descried the land; they soon found, however, that they had been mistaken. Still, on their representing that they had seen some parroquets flying in a south-westerly direction, the admiral consented to change his route so far as to steer some points to the south, a change which had happy consequences in the future, for had they continued to run directly westward, the caravels would have been aground upon the great Bahama Bank, and would probably have been altogether destroyed.
Still the ardently desired land did not appear. Each evening the sun as it went down dipped behind an interminable horizon of water. The crews who had several times been the victims of an optical illusion, now began to murmur against Columbus, "the Genoese, the foreigner," who had enticed them so far away from their country. Some symptoms of mutiny had already shown themselves on board the vessels, when, on the 10th of October, the sailors openly declared that they would go no further. In treating of this part of the voyage, the historians would seem to have drawn somewhat upon their imagination; they narrate scenes of serious import which took place upon the admiral's caravel, the sailors going so far as even to threaten his life. They say also, that the recriminations ended by a kind of arrangement, granting a respite of three days to Columbus, at the end of which time, should land not have been then discovered, the fleet was to set out on its return to Europe. All these statements we may look upon as pure fiction; there is nothing in the accounts given by Columbus himself which lends them the smallest credibility. But it has been needful to touch upon them, for nothing must be omitted relating to the great Genoese Navigator, and some amount of legend mixed up with history does not ill beseem the grand figure of Christopher Columbus. Still, it is an undoubted fact that there was much murmuring on board the caravels, but it would seem that the crews, cheered by the words of the admiral, and by his brave attitude in the midst of uncertainty, did not refuse to do their duty in working the ships.
On the 11th of October, the admiral noticed alongside of his vessel, a reed still green, floating upon the top of a large wave: at the same time the crew of the Pinta hoisted on board another reed, a small board, and a little stick, which appeared to have been cut with an instrument of iron; it was evident that human hands had been employed upon these things. Almost at the same moment, the men of the Nina perceived a branch of some thorny tree covered with blossoms. At all this every one rejoiced exceedingly; there could be no doubt now of the proximity of the coast. Night fell over the sea. The Pinta, the best sailor of the three vessels, was leading. Already, Columbus himself, and one Rodrigo Sanchez, comptroller of the expedition, had thought they had seen a light moving amidst the shadows of the horizon, when a sailor named Rodrigo, on board the Pinta, cried out, "Land, land."
What must have been the feelings in the breast of Columbus at that moment? Never had any man, since the first creation of the human race experienced a similar emotion to that now felt by the great navigator. Perhaps even it is allowable to think that the eye which first saw this New Continent, was indeed that of the admiral himself. But what matters it? The glory of Columbus consisted not in the having arrived, his glory was in the having set out. It was at two o'clock in the morning that the land was first seen, when the caravels were not two hours' sail away from it. At once all the crews deeply moved, joined in singing together the Salve Regina. With the first rays of the sun they saw a little island, six miles to windward of them. It was one of the Bahama group; Columbus named it San Salvador, and immediately falling on his knees, he began to repeat the hymn of Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine: "Te Deum laudamus, Te Deum confitemur."
At this moment, some naked savages appeared upon the newly discovered coast. Columbus had his long boat lowered, and got into it with Alonzo and Yanez Pinzon, the comptroller Rodrigo, the secretary Descovedo, and some others. He landed upon the shore, carrying in his hand the royal banner, whilst the two captains bore between them the green banner of the Cross, upon which were interlaced, the initials of Ferdinand and Isabella. Then the admiral solemnly took possession of the island in the name of the King and Queen of Spain, and caused a record of the act to be drawn up. During this ceremony the natives came round Columbus and his companions. M. Charton gives the account of the scene in the very words of Columbus: "Desiring to inspire them (the natives) with friendship for us, and being persuaded, on seeing them, that they would confide the more readily in us, and be the better disposed towards embracing our Holy Faith, if we used mildness in persuading them, rather than if we had recourse to force, I caused to be given to several amongst them, coloured caps, and also glass beads, which they put around their necks. I added various other articles of small value; they testified great joy, and showed so much gratitude that we marvelled greatly at it. When we were re-embarking, they swam towards us, to offer us parroquets, balls of cotton thread, zagayes (or long darts), and many other things; in exchange we gave them some small glass beads, little bells, and other objects. They gave us all they had, but they appeared to me to be very poor. The men and women both were as naked as when they were born. Amongst those whom we saw, one woman was rather young, and none of the men appeared to be more than thirty years of age. They were well made, their figures handsome, and their faces agreeable. Their hair, coarse as that of a horse's tail, hung down in front as low as their eyebrows, behind it formed a long mass, which they never cut. There are some who paint themselves with a blackish pigment; their natural colour being neither black nor white, but similar to that of the inhabitants of the Canary islands; some paint themselves with white, some with red, or any other colour, either covering the whole body with it, or the whole face, or perhaps only the eyes, or the nose. They do not carry arms like our people, and do not even know what they are. When I showed them some swords, they laid hold of them by the blades, and cut their fingers. They have no iron; their zagayes are sticks, the tip is not of iron, but sometimes made of a fish tooth, or of some other hard substance. They have much grace in their movements. I remarked that several had scars upon their bodies, and I asked them by means of signs, how they had been wounded. They answered in the same manner, that the inhabitants of the neighbouring islands had come to attack them, and make them prisoners, and that they had defended themselves. I thought then and I still think that they must have come from the mainland to make them prisoners for slaves; they would be faithful and gentle servants. They seem to have the power of repeating quickly what they hear. I am persuaded that they might be converted to Christianity without difficulty, for I believe that they belong to no sect."
When Columbus returned on board, several of the savages swam after his boat; the next day, the 13th, they came in crowds around the ships, on board of enormous canoes shaped out of the trunks of trees; they were guided by means of a kind of baker's shovel, and some of the canoes were capable of holding forty men. Several natives wore little plates of gold hanging from their nostrils; they appeared much surprised at the arrival of the strangers, and quite believed that these white men must have fallen from the skies. It was with a mixture of respect and curiosity that they touched the garments of the Spaniards, considering them doubtless, a kind of natural plumage. The scarlet coat of the admiral excited their admiration above everything, and it was evident they looked upon Columbus as a parroquet of a superior species; at once they seemed to recognize him as the chief amongst the strangers.
So Columbus and his followers visited this new island of San Salvador. They were never tired of admiring the beauty of its situation, its magnificent groves, its running streams, and verdant meadows. The fauna of the island offered little variety; parroquets of radiant plumage abounded amongst the trees, but they appeared to be the only species of birds upon the island. San Salvador presented an almost flat plateau of which no mountain broke the uniformity; a small lake occupied the centre of the island. The explorers imagined that San Salvador must contain great mineral riches, since the inhabitants were adorned with ornaments of gold. But was this precious metal derived from the island itself? Upon this point the admiral questioned one of the natives, and succeeded in learning from him by means of signs, that in turning the island and sailing towards the south, the admiral would find a country of which the king possessed great vessels of gold and immense riches. The next morning, at daybreak, Columbus gave orders to have the ships prepared for sea; he set sail, and steered towards the continent of which the natives had spoken, which, as he imagined, could be none other than Cipango.
Here an important observation must be made, showing the state of geographical knowledge at this period: viz. that Columbus now believed himself to have arrived at Asia, Cipango being the name given by Marco Polo to Japan. This error of the admiral, shared in by all his companions, was not rectified for many years afterwards, and thus, as we have already remarked, the great navigator after four successive voyages to the islands, died, without knowing that he had discovered a new world. It is beyond doubt that the sailors of Columbus, and Columbus himself, imagined that they had arrived, during that night of the 12th October, 1492, either at Japan, or China, or the Indies. This is the reason why America so long bore the name of the "Western Indies," and why the aborigines of this continent, in Brazil and in Mexico, as well as in the United States, are still classed under the general appellation of "Indians."
So Columbus dreamt only of reaching the shores of Japan. He coasted along San Salvador, exploring its western side. The natives, running down to the shore, offered him water and cassava bread, made from the root of a plant called the "Yucca." Several times the admiral landed upon the coast at different points, and with a sad want of humanity, he carried away some of the natives, that he might take them with him to Spain. Poor men! already the strangers began to tear them from their country; it would not be long before they began to sell them! At last the caravels lost sight of San Salvador, and were again upon the wide ocean.
Fortune had favoured Columbus in thus guiding him into the centre of one of the most beautiful archipelagos which the world contains. These new lands which he discovered were as a casket of precious stones, which needed only to be opened, and the hands of the discoverer were full of treasures. On the 15th October, at sunset, the flotilla came to anchor near the western point of a second island, at a distance of only fifteen miles from San Salvador; this island was named Conception; on the morrow the admiral landed upon the shore, having his men well armed for fear of surprise; the natives, however, proved to be of the same race as those of San Salvador, and gave a kind welcome to the Spaniards. A south-easterly wind having arisen, Columbus soon put to sea again, and twenty-seven miles further westward, he discovered a third island, which he called Fernandina, but which now goes by the name of the Great Exuma. All night they lay-to, and next day, the 17th October, large native canoes came off to the vessels. The relations with the natives were excellent, the savages peacefully exchanging fruit, and small balls of cotton for glass beads, tambourines, needles, which took their fancy greatly, and some molasses, of which they appeared very fond. These natives of Fernandina wore some clothing, and appeared altogether more civilized than those of San Salvador; they inhabited houses made in the shape of tents and having high chimneys; the interiors of these dwellings were remarkably clean and well kept. The western side of the island, with its deeply indented shore, formed a grand natural harbour, capable of containing a hundred vessels.
But Fernandina did not afford the riches so much coveted by the Spaniards as spoils to take back to Europe; there were no gold-mines here; the natives who were on board the flotilla always spoke, however, of a larger island, situated to the south and called Saometo, in which the precious metal was found. Columbus steered in the direction indicated, and during the night of Friday, the 19th of October, he cast anchor near this Saometo, calling it Isabella; in modern maps it goes by the name of Long Island. According to the natives of San Salvador, there was a powerful king in this island, but the admiral for several days awaited in vain the advent of this great personage; he did not show himself. The island of Isabella was beautiful of aspect, with its clear lakes, and thick forests; the Spaniards were never tired of admiring the new type of nature presented to their view, and of which the intense verdure was wonderful to European eyes. Parroquets in innumerable flocks were flying amongst the thick trees, and great lizards, doubtless iguanas, glided with rapid movements in the high grass. The inhabitants of the island fled at first at the sight of the foreigners, but soon becoming bolder, they trafficked with the Spaniards in the productions of their country.
Still Columbus held firmly to the notion of reaching the shores of Japan. The natives had mentioned to him a large island a little to the west which they called Cuba, and this the admiral supposed must form part of the kingdom of Cipango; he felt little doubt but that he would soon arrive at the town of Quinsay, or Hang-tchoo-foo, formerly the capital of China. With this object, as soon as the winds permitted, the fleet weighed anchor. On Thursday, the 25th of October, seven or eight islands lying in a straight line were sighted, these were probably the Mucaras. Columbus did not stop to visit them, and on the Sunday he came in sight of Cuba. The caravels were moored in a river, to which the Spaniards gave the name of San Salvador; after a short stay, they sailed again towards the west, and entered a harbour situated at the mouth of a large river which was afterwards called the harbour of Las Nuevitas del Principe.
Numerous palm-trees were growing upon the shores of the island, having leaves so broad that only one was required for roofing a native hut. The natives had fled at the approach of the Spaniards, who found upon the shore idols of female form, tame birds, bones of animals, also dumb dogs, and some fishing instruments. The Cuban savages, however, were ready to be enticed like the others, and they consented to barter their goods with the Spaniards. Columbus believed himself to be now on the mainland, and only a few leagues from Hang-tchoo-foo; this idea being so rooted in his mind, that he even busied himself in despatching some presents to the great Khan of China. On the 2nd of November he desired one of the officers of his ship, and a Jew who could speak Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic, to set out to seek this native monarch. The ambassadors, carrying with them strings of beads, and having six days given to them for the fulfilment of their mission, started, taking a route leading towards the interior of this so-called continent.
In the meantime, Columbus explored for nearly six miles a splendid river which flowed beneath the shade of woods of odoriferous trees. The inhabitants freely bartered their goods with the Spaniards, and frequently mentioned to them a place named Bohio, where gold and pearls might be obtained in abundance. They added that men lived there who had dogs' heads, and who fed upon human flesh.
The admiral's envoys returned to the port on the 6th of November, after a four days' absence. Two days had sufficed to bring them to a village composed of about fifty huts, where they were received with every mark of respect; the natives kissing their feet and hands, and taking them for deities descended from the skies. Among other details of native customs, they reported that both men and women smoked tobacco by means of a forked pipe, drawing up the smoke through their nostrils. These savages were acquainted with the secret of obtaining fire by rubbing briskly two pieces of wood against each other. Cotton was found in large quantities in the houses, made up into the form of tents, one of these containing as much as 11,000 pounds of the material. As to the grand khan they saw no vestige of him.
Another consequence of the error of Columbus must be noticed here, one which, according to Irving, changed the whole series of his discoveries. He believed himself to be on the coast of Asia, and therefore looked upon Cuba as a portion of that continent. In consequence, he never thought of making the tour of Cuba, but decided on returning towards the east. Now, had he not been deceived on this occasion, and had he continued to follow the same direction as at first, the results of his enterprise would have been greatly modified. He might then have drifted towards Florida at the south-eastern point of North America, or he might have run direct to Mexico. In this latter case, instead of ignorant and savage natives, what would he have found? The inhabitants of the great Aztec Empire, of the half-civilized kingdom of Montezuma. There he would have seen towns, armies, enormous wealth, and his rôle would no doubt have been the same as that afterwards played by Fernando Cortès. But it was not to be thus, and the admiral, persevering in his mistake, directed his flotilla towards the east, weighing anchor on the 12th of November, 1492.
Columbus tacked in and out along the Cuban coast; he saw the two mountains--Cristal and Moa; he explored a harbour to which he gave the name of Puerto del Principe, and an archipelago which he called the Sea of Nuestra Señora. Each night the fishermen's fires were seen upon the numerous islands, the inhabitants of which lived upon spiders and huge worms. Several times the Spaniards landed upon different points of the coast, and there planted the cross as a sign of taking possession of the country. The natives often spoke to the admiral about a certain island of Babeque, where gold abounded, and thither Columbus resolved to go, but Martin-Alonzo Pinzon, the captain of the Pinta, the best sailer of the three ships, was beforehand with him, and at day-break on the 21st of November, he had completely disappeared from sight. The admiral was very angry at this separation, his feelings on the subject appearing plainly in his narrative, where he says, "Pinzon has said and done to me many like things." Continuing his exploration of the coast of Cuba, Columbus discovered the Bay of Moa, the Point of Mangle, Point Vaez, and the harbour of Barracoa, but nowhere did he meet with cannibals, although the huts of the natives were often to be seen adorned with human skulls, a sight which appeared to give great satisfaction to the islanders on board the fleet. On the following days, they saw the Boma River, and the caravels, doubling the point of Los Azules, found themselves upon the eastern part of the island, whose coast they had now reconnoitred for a distance of 375 miles. But Columbus instead of continuing his route to the south turned off to the east, and on the 5th of December perceived a large island, called by the natives Bohio. This was Hayti, or San Domingo.
In the evening, the Nina by the admiral's orders, entered a harbour which was named Port Mary; it is situated at the north-western extremity of the island, and, with the cape near which it lies, is now called St. Nicholas. The next day the Spaniards discovered a number of headlands, and an islet, called Tortuga Island. Everywhere on the appearance of the ships, the Indian canoes took to flight. The island, along which they were now coasting, appeared very large and very high, from which latter peculiarity it gained, later on, its name of Hayti, which signifies High Land. The coast was explored by the Spaniards as far as Mosquito Bay; its natural features, its plains and hills, its plants and the birds which fluttered amongst the beautiful trees of the island, all recalled to the memory the landscapes of Castille, and for this reason Columbus named it Hispaniola, or Spanish Island. The inhabitants were extremely timid and distrustful; they fled away into the interior and no communication could be held with them. Some sailors, however, succeeded in capturing a young woman, whom they carried on board with them. She was young and rather pretty. The admiral gave her, besides rings and beads, some clothing, of which she had great need, and after most generous treatment, he sent her back to shore.
This good conduct had the result of taming the natives, and the next day, when nine of the sailors, well armed, ventured as far as sixteen miles inland, they were received with respect, the savages running to them in crowds, and offering them everything which their country produced. The sailors returned to the ships enchanted with their excursion. The interior of the island they had found rich in cotton plants, mastic-trees and aloes, while a fine river, named afterwards the Three Rivers, flowed gently along its limpid course. On December 15th, Columbus again set sail, and was carried by the wind towards Tortuga Island, upon which he saw a navigable stream of water, and a valley so beautiful that he called it the Vale of Paradise. The day following, having tacked into a deep gulf, an Indian was seen who, notwithstanding the violence of the wind, was skilfully manoeuvring a light canoe. This Indian was invited to come on board, was loaded with presents by the admiral, and then put on shore again, at one of the harbours of Hispaniola, now called the Puerto de Paz. This kindness tended to attach the natives to the admiral, and from that day they came in numbers round the caravels; their king came with them, a strong, vigorous, and somewhat stout young man of twenty years of age; he was naked, like his subjects of both sexes, who showed him much respect, but with no appearance of servility. Columbus ordered royal honours to be rendered to him, and in return, the king, or rather cacique, informed the admiral that the provinces to the east abounded in gold.
Next day another cacique arrived, offering to place all the treasures of his country at the service of the Spaniards. He was present at a fête in honour of the Virgin Mary, that Columbus caused to be celebrated with great pomp on board his vessel, which was gaily dressed with flags on the occasion. The cacique dined at the admiral's table, apparently enjoying the repast; after he had himself tasted of the different viands and beverages, he sent the dishes and goblets to the members of his suite; he had good manners, spoke little, but showed great politeness. After the feast, he gave the admiral some thin leaves of gold, while Columbus, on his side, presented him with some coins, upon which were engraved the portraits of Ferdinand and Isabella, and after explaining to him by signs that these were the representations of the most powerful sovereigns in the world, he caused the royal banners of Castille to be displayed before the savage prince. When night fell, the cacique retired, highly delighted with his visit; and on his departure he was saluted with a salvo of artillery. On the day following, the crews before quitting this hospitable coast, set up a large cross in the middle of the little town. In issuing from the gulf formed by Tortuga Island and Hispaniola, they discovered several harbours, capes, bays, and rivers; at the point of Limbé, a small island which Columbus named St. Thomas, and finally, an enormous harbour safe and sheltered, hidden between the island and the Bay of Acul, and to which access was given by a canal surrounded by high mountains covered with trees.
The admiral often disembarked upon this coast, the natives receiving him as an ambassador from heaven, and imploring him to remain among them. Columbus gave them quantities of little bells, brass rings, glass beads, and other toys, which they eagerly accepted. A cacique named Guacanagari, reigning over the province of Marien, sent to the admiral a belt adorned with the figure of an animal with large ears, of which the nose and tongue were made of beaten gold. Gold appeared to be abundant in the island, and the natives soon brought a considerable quantity of it to the strangers. The inhabitants of this part of Hispaniola seemed to be superior in intelligence and appearance to those of that portion of the island which had been first visited; in the opinion of Columbus, the paint, red, black, or white, with which the natives covered their bodies, served to protect them from sunstroke. The huts of these savages were pretty and well built. Upon Columbus questioning them as to the country which produced gold, they always indicated one towards the east, a country which they called Cibao, and which the admiral continued to identify with Cipango or Japan.
On Christmas Day a serious accident occurred to the admiral's caravel, the first damage sustained in this hitherto prosperous voyage. An inexperienced steersman was at the helm of the Santa-Maria during an excursion outside the Gulf of St. Thomas; night came on, and he allowed the vessel to be caught in some currents which threw her upon the rocks; the caravel grounded and her rudder stuck fast. The admiral, awakened by the shock, ran upon deck; he ordered an anchor to be fastened forward, by which the ship might warp herself off and so float again. The master and some of the sailors charged with the execution of this order, jumped into the long boat, but seized with a sudden panic, they rowed away in haste to the Nina. Meantime the tide fell, and the Santa-Maria ran further aground; it became necessary to cut away the masts to lighten her, and soon it was evident that everything on board must be removed to the other ship. The cacique Guacanagari, quite understanding the dangerous situation of the caravel, came with his brothers and other relations, accompanied by a great number of the Indians, and helped in unlading the ship. Thanks to this prince, not a single article of the cargo was stolen, and during the whole night armed natives kept watch around the stores of provisions.
The next day Guacanagari went on board the Nina, to console the admiral, and to place all his own possessions at his disposal, at the same time offering him a repast of bread, doe's flesh, fish, roots, and fruit. Columbus, much moved by these tokens of friendship, formed the design of founding an establishment on this island. With this purpose in view, he addressed himself to gain the hearts of the Indians by presents and kindness, and wishing also to give them an adequate notion of his power, he ordered the discharge of an arquebuse and a small cannon, of which the reports frightened the poor savages terribly. On December 26th, the Spaniards commenced the construction of a fort upon this part of the coast, the intention of the admiral being to leave there a certain number of men, with a year's provision of bread, wine, and seed, and to give them the long boat belonging to the Santa-Maria. The works at the fort were pushed forward with rapidity. It was also on the 26th that they received news of the Pinta, which had been separated from the flotilla since November 21st. The natives announced that she was at anchor in a river at the extreme point of the island, but a canoe despatched by Guacanagari returned without having found her. Then Columbus, not wishing to continue his explorations under the present conditions, since the loss of the Santa-Maria, which could not be floated again, left him but one caravel, decided to return to Spain, and preparations for the departure began.
On the 2nd of January Columbus caused his soldiers to act a mimic battle, greatly to the admiration of the cacique and his subjects. Afterwards the admiral chose out thirty-nine men to form the garrison of the fortress during his absence, naming Rodrigo de Escovedo as their commander. The greater part of the cargo of the Santa-Maria was to be left behind with them, for their year's provision. Amongst these first colonists of the New World were included a writer, an alguazil, a cooper, a doctor, and a tailor. These Spaniards were charged with the mission of seeking for gold-mines, and of choosing a suitable site for the building of a town. On the 3rd of January, after solemn leave-takings of the cacique and the new colonists, the Nina weighed anchor and sailed out of the harbour. An island was soon discovered, having upon it a very high mountain; to this was given the name of Monte-Christi. Columbus had already sailed for two days along the coast, when he was aware of the approach of the Pinta, and very soon her captain, Martin Alonzo Pinzon, came on board the Nina, endeavouring to excuse his conduct. The real truth was that Pinzon had taken the lead with the view of being the first to reach the pretended island of Babeque, of which the riches had been described in glowing colours by the natives. The admiral was very ready to accept the bad reasons given him by Captain Pinzon, and learnt from him that the Pinta had done nothing but coast along the shores of Hispaniola, without discovering any new island.
On the 7th of January the ships lay to, to stop a leak which had sprung in the hold of the Nina. Columbus profited by this delay to explore a wide river, situated about three miles from Monte-Christi, and which carried so much gold-dust along with it, that he gave it the name of the Golden River. The admiral would have desired to visit this part of Hispaniola with greater care, but the crews were in haste to return home, and under the influence of the brothers Pinzon, began to murmur against his authority.
On the 9th of January the caravels set sail and steered towards the east-south-east, skirting the coast, and distinguishing by names even its smallest sinuosities; of such were point Isabella, the cape of La Roca, French Cape, Cape Cabron, and the Bay of Samana, situated at the eastern extremity of the island, where was a port, in which the fleet, being becalmed, came to anchor. At first the relations between the foreigners and the natives were excellent, but a change was suddenly perceived, the savages ceasing to barter, and making some hostile demonstrations, which left no doubt of the bad intentions entertained by them. On the 13th of January the savages made a sudden and unexpected attack upon the Spaniards, who, however, put a bold face on the matter, and by the aid of their weapons, put their enemies to flight after a few minutes' combat. Thus, for the first time, the blood of the Indian flowed beneath the hand of the European.
On the morrow Columbus again set sail, having on board four young natives, whom, notwithstanding their objections, he persisted in carrying off with him. His crews, embittered and fatigued, caused him great uneasiness, and in his narrative of the voyage, this great man, superior though he were to all human weaknesses, and a being whom adverse fate could not humble, bemoans himself bitterly over this trial. It was on the 16th of January that the homeward voyage commenced in good earnest, and Cape Samana, the extreme point of Hispaniola, disappeared below the horizon. The passage proved a quick one, and no incident is recorded until the 12th of February, when the vessels encountered a fearful storm lasting three days, with furious wind, enormous waves, and much lightning from the north-north-east. Three times did the terrified sailors make a vow of pilgrimage to St. Mary of Guadalupe, to our Lady of Loretto, and to St. Clara of Moguer, and at length, in extremity of fear, the whole crew swore to go and pray in their shirts and with naked feet in some church dedicated to the Virgin. But in spite of all, the storm raged with redoubled fury, and even the admiral feared for the result. In case of a catastrophe, he thought it well hastily to write upon a parchment an abstract of his discoveries, with a request that who ever should find the document would forward it to the King of Spain; wrapping the parchment in oil-cloth, he enclosed it in a wooden barrel, which was thrown into the sea.
At sunrise on the 15th of February the hurricane abated, the two caravels which had been separated by the storm again joined company, and after three days they cast anchor at the island of St. Mary, one of the Azores; as soon as they arrived there, the admiral sought to further the accomplishment of the vows made during the storm, and with this object, sent half of his people on shore; but these were unhappily made prisoners by the Portuguese, who did not restore them to liberty for five days, notwithstanding the urgent remonstrances made by Columbus. The admiral put to sea again on the 23rd of February; again the winds were contrary, and again, amidst a violent tempest, he took fresh vows in company with all his crew, promising to fast on the first Saturday which should follow their arrival in Spain. At last, on the 4th of March, the pilots sighted the mouth of the Tagus, in which the Nina took refuge, whilst the Pinta, caught by the wind, was carried away into the Bay of Biscay.
The Portuguese welcomed the admiral kindly, the king even admitting him to an audience. Columbus was in haste to return to Spain; as soon as the weather permitted, the Nina again set sail, and at mid-day on the 15th of March, she cast anchor in the port of Palos, after seven months and a half of navigation, during which Columbus had discovered the islands of San Salvador, Conception, Great Exuma, Long Island, the Mucaras, Cuba, and San Domingo.
The court of Ferdinand and Isabella was then at Barcelona, whither the admiral was summoned. He set out immediately, taking with him the Indians whom he had brought from the New World. The enthusiasm he excited was extreme; from all parts the people ran to look at him as he passed, rendering him royal honours. His entry into Barcelona was magnificent. The king and queen, with the grandees of Spain, received him with great pomp at the palace of the Deputation. He there gave an account of his wonderful voyage, and presented the specimens of gold which he had brought with him; then all the assembly knelt down and chanted the Te Deum. Christopher Columbus was afterwards ennobled by letters patent, and the king granted him a coat of arms bearing this device: "To Castille and Leon, Columbus gives a New World." The fame of the Genoese navigator rang through the whole of Europe; the Indians whom he had brought with him were baptized in presence of the whole court; and thus, the man of genius, so long poor and unknown, had now risen to the highest point of celebrity.
Second Voyage: Flotilla of seventeen vessels--Island of Ferro--Dominica--Marie-Galante--Guadaloupe--The Cannibals--Montserrat--Santa-Maria-la-Rodonda--St. Martin and Santa Cruz--Archipelago of the Eleven Thousand Virgins--The island of St. John Baptist, or Porto Rico--Hispaniola--The first Colonists massacred--Foundation of the town of Isabella--Twelve ships laden with treasure sent to Spain--Fort St. Thomas built in the Province of Cibao--Don Diego, Columbus' brother, named Governor of the Island--Jamaica--The Coast of Cuba--The Remora--Return to Isabella--The Cacique made prisoner--Revolt of the Natives--Famine--Columbus traduced in Spain--Juan Aguado sent as Commissary to Isabella--Gold-mines--Departure of Columbus--His arrival at Cadiz.
The narrative of the adventures of the great Genoese navigator had over-excited the minds of the hearers. Imagination already caught glimpses of golden continents situated beyond the seas. All the passions which are engendered by cupidity were seething in the people's hearts. The admiral, under pressure of public opinion, must set forth again with the most brief delay. He was himself also, eager to return to the theatre of his conquests, and to yet enrich the maps of the day with more new discoveries. He declared himself, therefore, ready to start.
The king and queen placed at his disposal a flotilla composed of three large ships and fourteen caravels. Twelve hundred men were to sail in them. Several Castilian nobles, with firm faith in the lucky star of Columbus, decided to try their fortune with him beyond seas. In the holds of the vessels were horses, cattle, instruments of all kinds for collecting and purifying gold, grain of various kinds; in a word, everything that might be needful in the establishing an important colony. Of the ten natives brought to Europe, five returned to their country, three, who were ill, remained behind in Europe, the other two were dead. Columbus was named captain-general of the squadron, with unlimited powers.
On the 25th of September, 1493, the seventeen ships left Cadiz, with all sails set, amidst the acclamations of an immense crowd of people and on the 1st of October, they cast anchor at the island of Ferro, the most westerly of the Canary group. On sailing again, the fleet was favoured by wind and sea, and after twenty-three days of navigation came in sight of new land. At sunrise on the 3rd of November, being the Sunday in the octave of All Saints, the pilot of the flag-ship, the Marie-Galante, cried out, "Good news, there is land." This land proved to be an island covered with trees; the admiral, thinking it uninhabited, did not stop; but, after passing several scattered islets, he arrived before a second island. The first he named Dominica, the second Marie-Galante, names which they retain to the present day. The next day a still larger island was in sight, and, says the narrative of this voyage given by Peter Martyr, the contemporary of Columbus, "When they were arrived, they saw it was the island of the infamous cannibals, or Caribbees, of whom they had only heard a rumour during the first voyage."
The Spaniards, well armed, landed upon the shore, where they found about thirty circular houses built of wood and covered with palm leaves. In the interior of the huts were suspended hammocks made of cotton. In the centre of the village were placed two trees or posts around which were entwined the dead bodies of two serpents. At the approach of the strangers the natives fled in haste, leaving behind them several prisoners whom they were preparing to devour. The sailors searched the houses, and found both leg and arm bones, heads so newly cut off that the blood was still moist, and other human remains, which left no doubt as to the food consumed by these Caribbees. This island, which, with its principal rivers, the admiral caused to be partially explored, was named Guadaloupe, on account of the resemblance it bore to one of the Spanish provinces. Some Indian women were carried off by the sailors, but, after having been kindly treated on board the admiral's ship, they were sent back to land, Columbus hoping that this conduct towards the females would induce the men of the place to come on board, but in this he was disappointed.
On the 8th of November the signal for departure was given, and the whole fleet sailed for Hispaniola, the present San Domingo, and the island upon which Columbus had left thirty-nine of the companions of his first voyage. In turning again towards the north, a large island was discovered, to which the natives who had been kept on board after having been saved from the jaws of the Caribbees, gave the name of Mandanino. They declared that it was inhabited only by women, and as Marco Polo had mentioned an Asiatic country which possessed an exclusively feminine population, Columbus was confirmed in the idea that he was sailing upon the coast of Asia. He felt a great desire to explore this island, but the contrary winds completely prevented his doing so. Thirty miles from thence an island was seen surrounded by high mountains; it received the name of Montserrat; on the next day another, which was called Santa-Maria la Rodonda; and on the day following two more islands, St. Martin and Santa Cruz.
The squadron anchored before Santa Cruz, to take in water. There occurred a scene of grave import, reported by Peter Martyr in such expressive words, that we cannot do better than quote them: "The admiral," he says, "ordered thirty men from his ship to go ashore and explore the island; and these men, being landed on the coast, were aware of four dogs and as many young men and women coming towards them, extending their arms in supplication, and praying for help and deliverance from the cruel people. The cannibals on seeing this fled, as in the island of Guadaloupe, and all retired into the forests. And our people remained two days on the island to visit it.
"During that time, those who had remained with the boat saw a canoe coming towards them from a distance, containing eight men and as many women; to these our people made signs; but they on approaching, began to transpierce ours with their arrows, before they had time to cover themselves with their bucklers, so that one Spaniard was killed by a shaft aimed by a woman, who also transfixed another with a second arrow. These savages had poisoned arrows, the poison being contained in the tip; amongst them was a woman whom all the others obeyed, bowing before her. And this was, as they conjectured, a queen, having a son of cruel appearance, robust, and with the face of a lion, who followed her.
"Ours then, considering that it was better to fight hand to hand, than to wait for greater evils in thus fighting at a distance, advanced their boat by rowing, and by so great violence did they make it move forward, that the stern of the said boat came with such velocity, it caused the enemies' canoe to founder.
"But these Indians, being very good swimmers, without moving themselves either more slowly or more rapidly, did not cease, both men and women, to shoot arrows with all their might, at our people. And they succeeded in reaching, by swimming, a rock covered with the water, upon which they mounted, and still fought manfully. Nevertheless, they were finally taken, and one of them slain, and the son of the queen, pierced in two places; when they were taken to the admiral's ship they showed no less ferociousness and atrocity of mien, than if they had been lions of Libya who felt themselves taken in the net. And such were they that no man could have even looked upon them without his heart trembling with horror, so greatly was their look hideous, terrible, and infernal."
From all this it is clear that the strife between the Indians and the Europeans was beginning to be serious. Columbus sailed again towards the north, going in the midst of islands "pleasant and innumerable," covered with forests overshadowed by mountains of various hues. This collection of islands was called the Archipelago of the Eleven Thousand Virgins. Soon appeared the island of St. John Baptist (now Porto Rico), a place infested by Caribbees, but cultivated with care, and appearing truly superb from its immense woods. Some sailors landed upon the shore, but only found there a dozen uninhabited huts. The admiral put to sea again, and sailed along the southern coast of Porto Rico for about one hundred and fifty miles.
On Friday, the 12th of November, Columbus at last reached the island of Hispaniola. With what emotions must he not have been agitated in revisiting the theatre of his first success, in seeking to behold that fortress in which he had left his companions! What might not have happened in the course of a year to those Europeans left alone in this barbarous land? Soon a great canoe, bringing the brother of the Cacique Guacanagari, came alongside of the Marie-Galante, and the Indian prince springing on board, offered two images of gold to the admiral. Still Columbus sought for his fortress, but, although he had anchored opposite its site, there was no trace whatever to be seen of it. With feelings of the deepest anxiety as to the fate of his companions, he went on shore. What was his dismay, when he found nothing left of the fortress but a few ashes! What could have become of his compatriots? Had their lives been the forfeit of this first attempt at colonization? The admiral ordered the simultaneous discharge of the cannon from all the ships to announce his arrival at Hispaniola. But none of his companions appeared. Columbus, in despair, immediately despatched messengers to the Cacique Guacanagari; who, on their return brought sad news. If Guacanagari might be believed, some other caciques, irritated by the presence of the foreigners in their island, had attacked the unfortunate colonists, and had massacred them to the last man. Guacanagari himself had received a wound in endeavouring to defend them, and to corroborate his story he showed his leg enveloped in a cotton bandage.
Columbus did not believe in this intervention of the cacique, but, resolving to dissimulate, he welcomed Guacanagari kindly when he came on board the next day; the cacique accepted an image of the Virgin, suspending it on his bosom. He appeared astonished at the sight of the horses which they showed him, these animals having been hitherto quite unknown to himself and his companions. When his visit was over, he returned to the shore, regained the region of mountains, and was seen no more.
The admiral then despatched one of his captains with three hundred men under his orders, to scour the country and carry off the cacique. This captain penetrated far into the interior, but found no traces of the cacique, nor of the unfortunate colonists. During this excursion, a great river was discovered, and also a fine sheltered harbour, which was named Port Royal. However, in spite of the bad success of his first attempt, Columbus had resolved to found a new colony upon this island, which appeared to be rich both in gold and silver. The natives constantly spoke of mines situated in the province of Cibao, and in the month of January two gentlemen, Alonzo de Hojeda and Corvalan, set out accompanied by a numerous escort to verify these assertions. They discovered four rivers having auriferous sands, and brought back with them a nugget which weighed nine ounces. The admiral on seeing these riches was confirmed in his idea that Hispaniola was the famous Ophir, spoken of in the Book of Kings. After looking for a site upon which to build a town, he laid the foundation of Isabella in a spot at the mouth of a river which formed a harbour, and at a distance of thirty miles east from Monte Christi. On the Feast of the Epiphany, thirteen priests officiated in the church in presence of an immense crowd of natives.
Columbus was now anxious to send news of the colony to the King and Queen of Spain. Twelve ships laden with gold collected in the island, and with various specimens of the produce of the soil, were prepared to return to Europe under the command of Captain Torrès. This flotilla set sail on the 2nd of February, 1494, and a short time afterwards Columbus sent back one more of the five ships which remained to him, with the Lieutenant Bernard of Pisa, against whom he had cause of complaint.
As soon as order was established in the colony of Isabella, the admiral, leaving his brother behind as governor, set out, accompanied by five hundred men, to visit the mines of Cibao. The country they traversed seemed to be splendidly fertile; vegetables came to perfection in thirteen days; corn sown in February was in full ear in April, and each year yielded two abundant harvests. They crossed successively mountains and valleys, where often the pick-axe had to be used to clear a way over these still virgin lands; at last the Spaniards arrived at Cibao. There the admiral caused a fort to be constructed of wood and stone on a hill near the brink of a large river; it was surrounded with a deep ditch, and Columbus bestowed upon it the name of St. Thomas, in derision of some of his officers who were incredulous upon the subject of the gold-mines. It ill became them to doubt, for from all parts the natives brought nuggets and gold dust, which they were eager to exchange for beads, and above all for the hawks' bells, of which the silvery sound excited them to dance. This country was not only a land of gold, it was also a country rich in spices and aromatic gums, the trees which bore them forming quite large forests. The Spaniards considered the conquest of this wealthy island a cause of unmixed congratulation.
Columbus left fifty-six men to guard the Fort of St. Thomas, under the command of Don Pedro de Margarita, while he returned to Isabella, towards the beginning of April, being much hindered on the road by excessive rain. On his arrival he found the infant colony in great disorder; famine was threatening from the want of flour, which could not be obtained, for there were no mills; both soldiers and workmen were exhausted with fatigue. Columbus sought to oblige the gentlemen to aid them; but these proud Hidalgos, anxious as they were to conquer fortune, would not stoop to pick it up, and refused to perform any manual labour. The priests upholding them in this conduct, Columbus, who was forced to act with vigour, was obliged to place the churches under an interdict. He could not spare time to remain any longer at Isabella, but was in haste to make further discoveries; therefore, having formed a council, composed of three gentlemen and the chief of the missionaries, under the presidency of Don Diego, to govern the colony, he set out on the 24th of April with three vessels, to complete the cycle of his discoveries.
The flotilla sailing towards the south, a new island was soon discovered, which was called by the natives Jamaica. The highest point of the island was a mountain of which the sides sloped gently down. The inhabitants appeared clever, and much given to the mechanical arts, but they were far from pacific in character, and several times opposed the landing of the Spaniards, who, however, repulsed them, and at length the savages were induced to conclude a treaty of alliance with the admiral. From Jamaica Columbus pushed his researches more towards the west. He imagined himself to be arrived at the point where the old geographers placed the golden region of the west, Chersonesus. Strong currents carried him towards Cuba, along whose coast he sailed for a distance of six hundred and sixty-six miles. During this dangerous navigation amongst shallows and narrow passages, he named more than seven hundred islands, discovered a great number of harbours, and often entered into communication with the natives.
In the month of May, the look-out-men on board the ships descried a large number of grassy islands, fertile and inhabited. Columbus, on approaching the shore, entered a river, of which the water was so warm that the hand could not remain in it, a fact evidently of exaggeration, and one which later researches have not authenticated. The fishermen of this coast employed a certain fish called the Remora or sucking-fish, "which fulfilled for them the same office as the dog does for the hunter. This fish was of an unknown species, having a body like a great eel, and upon the back of his head a very tenacious skin, in fashion like a purse, wherewith to take the fishes. They keep this fish fastened by a cord to the boat, always in the water, for it cannot bear the look of the air. And when they see a fish or a turtle, which there are larger than great bucklers, then they loose the fish by slackening the rope. And when he feels himself at liberty, suddenly, and more rapidly than the flight of an arrow, he (the remora) assails the said fish or turtle, throws over him his skin in the manner of a purse, and holds his prey so firmly, be it fish or turtle, by the part visible beyond the shell, that none can wrest it from him, if he be not drawn to the surface of the water; the cord is therefore pulled up, and gathered in little by little; and no sooner does he see the splendour of the air, than incontinent he lets go of his prey. And the fishermen descend as far as is necessary to take the prey, and they put it on board the boat, and fasten the fish-hunter with as much of rope as is necessary for him to regain his old position and place; then, by means of another rope, they give him for reward a small piece of the flesh of his prey."
The exploration of the coasts continued towards the west. The admiral visited several countries, in which abounded goslings, ducks, herons, and those dumb dogs which the natives eat, as we should kids, and which were probably either almigui or racoons. As the ships advanced, the sandy channels became narrower and narrower, and navigation more and more difficult, but the admiral adhered to his resolution of continuing the exploration of these coasts. One day, he imagined he saw upon a point of land some men dressed in white, whom he took for brothers of the order of Santa Maria de la Merced; he sent some sailors to open communication with them, when it proved to be simply an optical illusion; these so-called monks turning out to be great tropical herons, to whom distance had lent the appearance of human beings.
During the first days of June, Columbus was obliged to stop to repair the ships, of which the keels were much damaged by the shallow water on the coast. On the seventh day of the month he caused a solemn mass to be celebrated on the shore: during the service an old cacique arrived, who, the ceremony being over, offered the admiral some fruits, and then this native sovereign pronounced some words which the interpreters thus translated:--
"It hath been told us after what manner thou hast invested and enveloped with thy power these lands, which were to you unknown, and how thy presence has caused great terror to the people and the inhabitants. But I hold it my duty to exhort and to warn thee that two roads present themselves before the souls, when they are separated from the bodies: the one, filled with shadows and sadness destined for those who are harmful and hurtful to the human species; the other, pleasant and delightful, reserved for those who in their life-time have loved peace and the repose of the people. Therefore, if thou rememberest that thou art mortal, and that the future retribution will be meted out according to the works of the present life, thou wilt take care to do harm to nobody." What philosopher of ancient or modern time could have spoken better or in sounder language! All the human side of Christianity is expressed in these magnificent words, and they came from the mouth of a savage! Columbus and the cacique separated, charmed with one another, and the more astonished of the two was not, perhaps, the old native. The rest of his tribe appeared to live in the practice of the excellent precepts indicated by their chief. Land was common property amongst the natives, as much so as sun, air, and water. The Meum and Tuum, cause of all strife, did not exist amongst them, and they lived content with little. "They enjoy the Golden Age," says the narrative, "they protect not their possessions with ditches and hedges, they leave their gardens open; without laws, without books, without judges, they by nature follow what is right, and hold as bad and unjust whatever sins against, or causes harm to another."
Leaving Cuba, Columbus returned towards Jamaica, and sailed along the whole of the southern coast as far as the eastern extremity of the island. His intention was to attack the islands of the Caribbees, and destroy that mischievous brood. But the admiral was at this time seized with an illness, brought on by watching and fatigue, which obliged him to suspend his projects. He was forced to return to Isabella, where, under the influence of good air and repose, and the care of his brother and his friends, he recovered his health. The colony greatly needed his presence. The governor of St. Thomas had aroused the indignation of the natives by his cruel exactions, and had refused to listen to the remonstrances upon the subject addressed to him by Don Diego, the brother of Columbus; he had returned to Isabella from St. Thomas during the absence of the admiral and he embarked for Spain upon one of the ships which had just brought Don Bartolomeo, the second brother of Columbus, to Hispaniola. When the admiral regained his health he resolved to punish the cacique who had revolted against the governor of St. Thomas, feeling that it would be unwise to allow his authority, in the person of his delegates, to be set at nought. In the first place he sent nine men well armed to take prisoner a bold cacique named Caonabo. The leader Hojeda, with an intrepidity of which we shall have further instances in the future, carried off the cacique from the midst of his own people, and brought him prisoner to Isabella. Columbus afterwards sent Caonabo to Europe, but the ship in which he sailed was wrecked during the voyage, and he was never heard of more.
In the meantime, Antonio de Torrès, sent by the King and Queen of Spain to compliment Columbus in their names, arrived at San Domingo with four vessels. Ferdinand declared himself highly content with the successes of the admiral, and informed him that he was about to establish a monthly service of transport between Spain and Hispaniola.
The carrying off of Caonabo had excited a general revolt amongst the natives, who burned to revenge the chief, so deeply insulted and unjustly carried away. The Cacique Guacanagari, notwithstanding the share he had had in the murder of the first colonists, alone remained faithful to the Spaniards. Columbus, accompanied by his brother Bartolomeo and the cacique, marched against the rebels and soon met with an army of natives, the numbers of which, with manifest exaggeration, he places at 100,000 men. However numerous it may have been, this army was quickly routed by a small detachment, composed of 200 infantry, twenty-five cavalry, and twenty-five dogs. This victory to all appearance re-established the admiral's authority. The Indians were condemned to pay tribute to the Spaniards, those living near the mines were ordered to furnish every three months a small quantity of gold, while the others, more distant, were to contribute twenty-five pounds of cotton. But rebellion had been only curbed, not extinguished. At the voice of a woman, Anacaona, widow of Caonabo, the natives rose a second time; and even succeeded in drawing over the hitherto faithful Guacanagari to their side; the rebels destroyed all the fields of maize, and everything else which had been planted, and then retired into the mountains. The Spaniards, seeing themselves thus reduced to all the horrors of famine, indulged their anger by terrible reprisals against the natives; it is calculated that one-third of the island population perished from hunger, sickness, and the weapons of the companions of Columbus. These unfortunate Indians paid dearly indeed for their intercourse with the conquering Europeans.
The good fortune of Columbus was by this time on the wane. While his authority in Hispaniola was continually more and more compromised, his reputation and his character were the objects of violent attack in Europe. The officers whom he had sent back to the mother country, loudly accused him of injustice and cruelty; they even insinuated that he sought to render himself independent of the king; and against all these attacks, Columbus, being absent, could not defend himself. Ferdinand, influenced by this unworthy discourse, chose a commissioner, whom he ordered to proceed to the West Indies and to examine into the truth of the accusations. This gentleman was named Juan d'Aguado, and the choice of such a man to fulfil such a mission, possessing as he did a mind both prejudiced and partial, was not a happy one. Aguado arrived at Isabella in the month of October, at the time when the admiral was absent on an exploring expedition, and began at once to treat the brother of Columbus with extreme haughtiness, while Diego on his side, relying upon his title of governor-general, refused to submit to the commands of the royal commissioner. Aguado soon considered himself ready to return to Spain, although the examination he had made was a most incomplete one, when a fearful hurricane occurred, which sank the vessels which had brought him over in the harbour. There now remained only two caravels at Hispaniola, but Columbus, who had returned to the colony, acting with a greatness of soul which cannot be too much admired, placed one of these ships at the disposal of the commissioner, with the proviso that he himself would embark in the other, to plead his cause in person before the king.
So matters stood, when the news arriving of the discovery of fresh gold-mines in Hispaniola, caused the admiral to put off his departure. Covetousness was a power strong enough to cut short all discussions; there was no longer any mention of the King of Spain, nor of the inquiry which he had ordered; officers were sent off to the new auriferous ground, finding there nuggets of which some weighed as much as twenty ounces, and a lump of amber of the weight of 300 pounds. Columbus ordered two fortresses to be erected for the protection of the miners, one on the boundary of the province of Cibao, the other upon the banks of the River Hayna. Having taken this precaution, he set out for Europe, full of eagerness to justify himself. The two caravels sailed from the harbour of St. Isabella on the 10th of March, 1496. On board of the admiral's ship were 225 persons and thirty Indians. On the 9th of April he touched at Marie-Galante, and on the 10th at Guadaloupe, to take in water; here there occurred a sharp skirmish with the natives. On the 20th he left this inhospitable island, and for a whole month he had to contend with contrary winds. On the 11th of June land was sighted in Europe, and on the next day the caravels entered the harbour of Cadiz.
This second return of the great navigator was not welcomed, as the first had been, by the acclamations of the populace. To enthusiasm had succeeded coldness and envy; the companions even of the admiral took part against him. Discouraged as they were, with illusions destroyed, and not bringing back that wealth, for the acquisition of which they had encountered so many dangers, and submitted to so much fatigue, they became unjust, and forgot that it was not the fault of Columbus if the mines hitherto worked had been a source of expense rather than of profit.
However, the admiral was received at court with a certain measure of favour, the narrative of his second voyage doing much to reinstate him in public opinion. And who could deny that during that expedition he had discovered the islands of Dominica, Marie-Galante, Guadaloupe, Montserrat, Santa-Maria, Santa Cruz, Porto Rico, Jamaica? Had he not also carried out a new survey of Cuba and San Domingo? Columbus fought bravely against his adversaries, even employing against them the weapon of irony. To those who denied the merit of his discoveries, he proposed the experiment of making an egg remain upright while resting upon one end, and when they could not succeed in doing this, the admiral, breaking the top of the shell, made the egg stand upon the broken part. "You had not thought of that," said he; "but behold! it is done."
Third Voyage: Madeira--Santiago in the Cape Verd Archipelago--Trinidad--First sight of the American Coast in Venezuela, beyond the Orinoco, now the Province of Cumana--Gulf of Paria--The Gardens--Tobago--Grenada--Margarita--Cubaga--Hispaniola during the absence of Columbus--Foundation of the town of San Domingo--Arrival of Columbus--Insubordination in the Colony--Complaints in Spain--Bovadilla sent by the king to inquire into the conduct of Columbus--Columbus sent to Europe in fetters with his two brothers--His appearance before Ferdinand and Isabella--Renewal of royal favour.
Columbus had not yet given up the hope of pursuing his conquests on the further side of the Atlantic Ocean. No fatigue, no injustice from his fellow-men could stop him. After having triumphed, although not without difficulty, over the malice of his enemies, he succeeded in organizing a third expedition under the auspices of the Spanish government. The king granted him eight vessels, forty cavalry soldiers, and one hundred infantry, sixty sailors, twenty miners, fifty labourers, twenty workmen of various trades, thirty women, some doctors, and even some musicians. The admiral obtained the concession besides, that all the punishments in use in Spain should be changed into transportation to the islands. He was thus the precursor of the English in the intelligent idea of peopling new colonies with convicts, whom labour was to reform.
Columbus put to sea on the 30th of May, 1498, although he was still suffering from gout, and from the various mental trials which he had experienced since his return. Before starting, he learnt that a French fleet was lying in wait off Cape St. Vincent, with the purpose of hindering the expedition. To avoid it, Columbus made for Madeira, and anchored there; from that island he dispatched all his vessels, except three, to Hispaniola under the command of the Captains Pedro de Arana, Alonzo Sanchez of Carabajal, and Juan Antonio Columbus, one of his own relations, while he, with a large ship and two caravels bore down to the south with the intention of crossing the equator, and seeking for more southern countries, which, according to the general opinion, must be even richer in all kinds of productions. On the 27th of June the small flotilla touched at the islands of Sel and of Santiago, which form part of the Cape Verd group. It sailed again on the 4th of July, and made 360 miles to the south-west, experiencing long calms and intense heat; on arriving abreast of Sierra Leone, it steered due west, and at mid-day on the 31st of July, one of the sailors raised the cry of "land." It was an island situated at the north-eastern extremity of South America, and very near the coast. The admiral gave it the name of Trinidad, and all the crews chanted the Salve Regina in sign of thankfulness. On the morrow, the 1st of August, at fifteen miles from the part of the land which had been first seen, the three vessels were moored near to the Point of Alcatraz, and the admiral sent some of his sailors ashore to obtain water and wood. The coast appeared to be uninhabited, but numerous footprints of animals were observed, made, as was thought, by goats.
On the 2nd of August a long canoe, manned by twenty-four natives, came towards the ships. These Indians, tall of stature, and paler in colour than those of Hispaniola, wore upon the head a turban formed of a cotton scarf of brilliant colours, and a small skirt of the same material around the body. The Spaniards endeavoured to entice them on board, by showing them mirrors and glass trinkets; the sailors even executing lively dances, in the hope of inspiring them with confidence; but the savages, taking fright at the sound of a tambourine, which seemed to them a sign of hostility, discharged a flight of arrows, and directed their canoe towards one of the caravels, whose pilot endeavoured to reassure them by steering towards them; but in vain, the canoe soon made off, and was seen no more.
Columbus again set sail, and discovered a new island which he called Gracia; but what he imagined to be an island, was, in reality, a portion of the American coast, and that part of the shore of Venezuela, which, being intersected by the numerous branches of the Orinoco, forms the Delta of that river. On this day the Continent of America, although unknown to him, was really discovered by Christopher Columbus, in that part of Venezuela which goes by the name of the Province of Cumana. Between this coast and the Island of Trinidad there is a dangerous gulf, the Gulf of Paria, in which a ship can with difficulty resist the currents which flow towards the west with great rapidity. The admiral, who believed himself to be in the open sea, was exposed to great peril in this gulf, where the rivers, falling into the sea from the continent, and being swollen at that time by an accidental flood, poured great masses of water upon the ships. Columbus, in writing to the king and queen, describes this incident in the following terms:--
"Being up on deck, at an advanced hour of the night, I heard a kind of terrible roaring; I tried to see through the darkness, and all at once I beheld a sea like a hill, as high as the ship, advancing slowly from the south towards my vessels. Opposing this great wave was a current, which met it with a frightful noise. I had no doubt then that we should be engulfed, and even now the remembrance causes me a feeling of horror. By good fortune, however, the current and the wave passed us, going towards the mouth of the canal, where, after long strife, they gradually sank to rest."
Notwithstanding the difficulties of the navigation, Columbus continued to explore this sea, of which the waters became gradually calmer as he sailed northwards; he discovered various headlands, one of them was to the east of the Island of Trinidad, and called the Cape of Pera Blanca. Another was on the west of the promontory of Paria, and named Cape Lapa. Several harbours were also noticed, amongst others one situated at the mouth of the Orinoco, to which was given the name of the Port of Monkeys. Columbus landed on the shore, west of Point Cumana, and received a kindly welcome from the numerous inhabitants. Towards the west, beyond the point of Alcatraz, the country was magnificent, and there according to the natives, much gold and pearls were to be obtained. Here the admiral would gladly have remained for some time if he could have found a safe anchorage. But as this was impossible, he felt it best to make for Port Isabella, especially as his crews were worn down by fatigue, and his own health much affected, besides the sufferings he experienced from the bad state of his eyesight. So he sailed onwards along the Venezuelan coast, making friends as far as possible with the natives. These Indians were agreeable in feature, and of magnificent physique; their dwellings displayed a certain amount of taste, their houses being built with façades in front, and containing articles of furniture ingeniously made. The natives wore plates of gold as ornaments upon their necks. As to the country, it was superb; the rivers, the mountains, the immense forests made it a real land of delight. So the admiral gave this beautiful country the name of Gracia, and by many arguments he tried to prove that in this spot was situated that terrestrial Paradise once inhabited by Adam and Eve, being the cradle of the whole human race. To explain to a certain degree this idea of the great navigator, we must not forget that he imagined himself all this time to be on the shores of Asia. This spot which delighted him so much, he called "the Gardens."
On the 23rd of August, after having at the expense of much danger and fatigue, overcome the perils of this bay, Columbus issued from the Gulf of Paria by the narrow strait to which he gave the name, retained to this day, of the Dragon's Mouth. Arrived in the open sea, the Spaniards discovered the Island of Tobago situated to the north-east of Trinidad, and then, more to the north, the Island of Conception, now known as Grenada. They next steered to the south-west and returned towards the American coast; after sailing along which for 120 miles, they discovered, on the 25th of August, the populous Island of Margarita, and afterwards the Island of Cubaga, situated very close to the mainland. At this place the natives had established a pearl-fishery, and busied themselves in collecting this valuable product. Columbus sent a boat on shore, when a very profitable traffic was carried on, the natives giving in exchange for broken pottery or hawks' bells, pounds' weight of pearls, some of which were very large, and of the finest water.
The admiral stopped at this point of his discoveries; the temptation was strong to explore this country, but both officers and crews were exhausted. Orders were therefore given to start for San Domingo, where matters of the gravest moment demanded the presence of Columbus. Before his departure from Hispaniola he had authorized his brother to lay the foundations of a new town. With this end Don Bartolomeo had explored the different portions of the island, and having discovered at the distance of 150 miles from Isabella a magnificent harbour at the mouth of a fine river, he there marked out the first streets of a town which became later on the city of San Domingo. Here Don Bartolomeo fixed his residence, while Don Diego remained as Governor of Isabella. By this arrangement Columbus' two brothers had the whole administration of the colony in their hands. But there were many malcontents who were ready to revolt against their authority, and it was while this bad spirit was abroad that the admiral arrived at San Domingo. He approved of all that his brothers had done, their administration having been in fact, marked by great wisdom, and he published a proclamation recalling to their obedience the Spaniards who had revolted. On the 18th of October he despatched five ships to Spain, and with them an officer commissioned to inform the king of the new discoveries, and of the state of the colony, endangered by the fomenters of disorder.
Meanwhile, the affairs of Columbus had taken a bad turn in Europe. Since his departure calumnies against himself and his brothers had been ever on the increase. Some rebels who had been expelled the colony, denounced the encroaching dynasty of the Columbus family, thus exciting the jealousy of a vain and ungrateful monarch. Even the queen, until now the constant patroness of the Genoese navigator, was indignant at the arrival on board the vessels of three hundred Indians who had been torn from their country, and who were treated as slaves. Isabella did not know that this abuse of power had been carried out unknown to Columbus and during his absence; he was held responsible for it, and to inquire into his conduct, the Court sent to Hispaniola a commander of the order of Calatrava, named Francis de Bovadilla, to whom were given the titles of Governor-general, and Intendant of Justice. He was in reality meant to supersede Columbus. Bovadilla, invested with discretionary powers, set out with two caravels towards the end of June, 1500. On the 23rd of August, the colonists sighted the two ships, which were then endeavouring to enter the harbour of San Domingo.
At this time Christopher Columbus and his brother Bartolomeo were absent, engaged in superintending the erection of a fort in the province of Xaragua; Don Diego was commanding in their absence. Bovadilla landed and went to hear mass, displaying during the ceremony a very significant ostentation; then, having summoned Don Diego before him, he ordered him to resign his office into his hands. The admiral, warned by a messenger of what was occurring, arrived in great haste. He examined the letters patent brought by Bovadilla, and having read them, he declared his willingness to recognize him as intendant of justice, but not as governor-general of the colony.
Then Bovadilla gave him a letter from the king and queen, couched in the following terms:--
"Don Christopher Columbus, our Admiral in the ocean,
"We have ordered Commander Don Francis Bovadilla to explain to you our intentions. We command you to give credit to, and to execute, whatever he shall order on our part.
"I, THE KING, I, THE QUEEN."
In this letter, the title of Viceroy appertaining to Columbus by the solemn conventions signed by Ferdinand and Isabella, was not even mentioned. Columbus, suppressing his just indignation, quietly submitted. Then arose against the fallen admiral a whole host of false friends. All those who owed their fortune to Columbus turned against him; accusing him of having desired to render himself independent. Foolish calumnies! How could this idea have occurred to the mind of a foreigner, a Genoese, alone in the midst of a Spanish colony!
Bovadilla found the moment propitious for harsh measures. Don Diego was already imprisoned, and the governor soon ordered Don Bartolomeo and Christopher Columbus himself to be put in fetters. The admiral, accused of high treason, was placed with his two brothers on board a vessel bound for Spain, under the command of Alphonso de Villejo. That officer, a man of feeling, and ashamed of the treatment to which Columbus was exposed, wished to strike off his chains; but Columbus refused. He, the conqueror of a new world, would arrive loaded with chains in that kingdom of Spain, which he had so greatly enriched!
The admiral judged rightly in thus acting, for public opinion was revolted by the sight of him in this depth of humiliation, bound like a felon, and treated as a criminal. Gratitude towards the man of genius asserted itself against the bad passions which had been so unjustly excited, and there arose a cry of indignation against Bovadilla. The king and queen, swayed by the feelings of the people, loudly blamed the conduct of the commander, and addressed an affectionate letter to Columbus, inviting him to present himself at court.
Thus a bright day again dawned for Columbus. He appeared before Ferdinand, not as the accused, but as himself the accuser; then, his fortitude giving way under the remembrance of the unworthy treatment he had experienced, this unfortunate great man wept, and caused those around to weep with him. He pointed proudly to the story of his life. He showed himself to be almost without resources, he whom they accused of ambition, and of enriching himself out of the government of the colony! Verily, the man who had made the discovery of a world, did not possess a roof to shelter his own head!
Isabella, ever good and compassionate, wept in company with the old sailor, and for sometime could not make him any answer, so choked was she with her tears. At length she was able to utter some affectionate words; in assuring Columbus of her protection, she promised to avenge him of his enemies; she excused the bad choice they had made in sending this Bovadilla to the islands, and she declared he should expiate his guilt by an exemplary punishment. In addition, she desired the admiral to allow some time to elapse before returning to his government, in order that the minds prejudiced against him might return to sentiments of honour and justice.
The mind of Christopher Columbus was calmed by the gracious words of the queen; he showed himself content with his reception, and admitted the necessity of the delay enjoined upon him by Isabella. The chief wish of his heart was again to serve his adopted country and its sovereigns, and he sketched out grand designs of what still remained to be attempted in the way of discovery. His third voyage, in spite of its short duration, had not been without fruit, but had enriched the map with such new names as Trinidad, the Gulf of Paria, the coast of Cumana, the Islands of Tobago, of Grenada, of Margarita, and of Cubaga.
Fourth Voyage: A Flotilla of four vessels--Canary Islands--Martinique--Dominica--Santa-Cruz--Porto-Rico--Hispaniola--Jamaica--Cayman Island--Pinos Island--Island of Guanaja--Cape Honduras--The American Coast of Truxillo on the Gulf of Darien--The Limonare Islands--Huerta--The Coast of Veragua--Auriferous Strata--Revolt of the Natives--The Dream of Columbus--Porto-Bello--The Mulatas--Putting into port at Jamaica--Distress--Revolt of the Spaniards against Columbus--Lunar Eclipse--Arrival of Columbus at Hispaniola--Return of Columbus to Spain--His death, on the 20th of March, 1506.
Christopher Columbus saw himself now reinstated in favour, as he deserved to be, at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Perhaps the king may have still evinced a certain degree of coldness towards him, but the queen was his avowed and enthusiastic protectress. His official title as viceroy had not, however, been restored to him, but the admiral, with his usual magnanimity, did not demand it. He had the satisfaction of seeing Bovadilla deposed, partly for his abuse of power, and partly because his conduct towards the Indians had become atrocious; his inhuman proceedings towards them being pushed to such a length, that under his administration the native population of Hispaniola, sensibly decreased.
During this time the island began to fulfil the hopes of Columbus, who had prophesied that in three years the crown would derive from it a revenue of sixty millions. Gold was obtained in abundance from the best worked mines; a slave had dug up on the banks of the Hayna, a mass, equal in weight to 3600 golden crowns; it was easy to foresee that the new colonies would yield incalculable riches.
The admiral, who could not bear to remain inactive, earnestly demanded to be sent on a fourth voyage, although he was by this time sixty-six years of age. In support of his request he adduced some very plausible reasons. One year before the return of Columbus, the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, had returned from the Indies, after having doubled the Cape of Good Hope. Columbus felt certain that by sailing to India by the much safer and shorter western route, the Spaniards might enter into profitable competition with the Portuguese traders. He constantly maintained, believing as he did that he had been alongside the Asiatic territory, that the islands and continents discovered by him were only separated by a strait from the Moluccas. He therefore wished, without even returning to Hispaniola and the colonies already settled, to direct his course at once to the Indies. It is evident that the ex-Viceroy had again become the hardy navigator of his earlier years. The king agreed to the admiral's request, and placed him in command of a flotilla composed of four vessels, the Santiago, Gallego, Vizcaino, and a caravel, as admiral's galley. These ships were of small tonnage, the largest being only of seventy tons, and the smallest of fifty; they were in fact, little better than coasting-vessels.
Columbus left Cadiz on the 9th of May, 1502, with crews numbering in all 150 men. He took with him his brother Bartolomeo, and his son Fernando, the child of his second marriage, and at this time scarcely thirteen years old. On the 20th of May, the vessels stopped at Gran Canaria, and on the 15th of June arrived at Martinique, one of the Windward Islands; afterwards they touched at Dominica, Santa-Cruz, and Porto-Rico, and at length, after a prosperous voyage, reached Hispaniola, on the 29th of June. The intention of Columbus, acting on the queen's advice, was not to land upon the island whence he had been so unworthily expelled; but his badly-constructed ship was scarcely sea-worthy, and repairs to the keel were greatly needed. Therefore the admiral demanded permission of the governor to enter the harbour.
The new governor, successor to Bovadilla, was a just and moderate man, a knight of the order of Alcantara, named Nicholas Ovando. His excessive caution, however, made him fear that the presence of Columbus in the colony might be a cause of disorder; he therefore thought it right to refuse the request. The admiral concealed the indignation which such treatment could not but cause him, and returned good for evil, by offering wise counsel to the governor in the following instance. The fleet which was to take Bovadilla back to Europe, and to bear with it, besides the enormous lump of gold already mentioned, other treasures of great value, was ready to put to sea. But the weather was very threatening, and Columbus, with a sailor's penetration, having observed the signs of an approaching storm, implored the governor not to expose the ships and passengers to such danger. Ovando would not listen to the advice, and the ships put to sea; scarcely had they reached the eastern point of the island before a terrible hurricane arose, causing twenty-one of the ships to founder with all on board. Bovadilla was drowned, and with him the greater part of the enemies of Columbus, but by an exception which may be called providential, the ship which carried the poor remains of the admiral's fortune, escaped destruction. In this storm ten millions' worth of gold and precious stones was engulfed by the ocean.
Meanwhile, the four caravels of Columbus, denied access to the harbour, had been driven before the storm. They were separated one from the other, and disabled, but they succeeded in meeting together again, and by the 14th of July, the squall had carried them within sight of Jamaica. Arrived there, strong currents bore them towards the islands called the Queen's Garden, and then in the direction of east-south-east. The little flotilla contended for sixty days against the wind without making more than 210 miles, and at length was driven towards the coast of Cuba, which led to the discovery of Cayman and Pinos Islands.
Columbus then steered to the south-west, sailing upon seas hitherto unvisited by any European ship, and throwing himself once more into the course of discovery with all the passionate ardour of a navigator. Chance conducted him towards the southern coast of America; he discovered the island of Guanaja, on the 30th of July, and on the 14th of August he touched at Cape Honduras, that narrow strip of land, which, prolonged by the Isthmus of Panama, unites the two continents of America. Thus, for the second time Columbus, without being aware of it, approached the real soil of America. For more than nine months he followed the windings of these shores, in the face of all kinds of perils and difficulties, and succeeded in laying down the chart of the coast from the part since named Truxillo, as far as the Gulf of Darien. Each night he cast anchor, that he might not be driven far from the shore, and at length reached that eastern extremity of the coast where it ends abruptly in the Cape Gracias a Dios.
This cape was doubled on the 14th of September, but the ships encountered contrary winds so violent, that even the admiral, himself the oldest sailor of the crews, had never before experienced the like. He relates this terrible episode in his letter to the king of Spain in the following terms: "During eighty-four days the waves continued their assaults, nor did my eyes perceive sun, nor stars, nor any planet; the seams of my vessels gaped, my sails were torn; tackle, boats, rigging, all were lost; my sailors, ill and frightened, devoted themselves to the pious duties of religion; no one failed to promise pilgrimages, and all confessed to each other, thinking that each moment might prove their last. I have seen many tempests, but never have I experienced any of such duration and violence. Many of my men who passed for intrepid sailors, lost courage; but that which broke my heart, was the pain of my son, whose tender age added to my despair, and whom I saw the prey of greater suffering, greater torments, than fell to the lot of any one amongst us; but it was doubtless no other than God, who bestowed upon him such energy, that it was He alone who animated the courage, and reawakened the patience of the sailors under their severe toil; in a word, looking upon him, one might have fancied him a sailor who had grown old in contending with storms, an astonishing fact, almost incredible, but one which awakened some gleam of joy amidst the sorrows which overwhelmed me. I was ill, and several times I thought my last hour was near.... To complete my misery comes the thought that twenty years of service, of fatigues and perils, have brought me no profit, and I find myself to-day unpossessed of even a roof to shelter me in Spain, and forced to betake myself to an inn when I would obtain repose or food; and when there I often find myself unable to pay my reckoning." Do not these lines indicate clearly the intensity of sorrow which overwhelmed the soul of Columbus? In the midst of such dangers and anxieties, how could he preserve the energy needful to command an expedition?
Throughout the duration of the storm, the ships had been following the line of coast which successively bears the names of Honduras, Mosquito, Nicaragua, Costa-Rica, Veragua, and Panama, the twelve Limonare Islands being also discovered at this time, and at last, on the 25th of September, Columbus cast anchor between the small island of Huerta and the continent. On the 5th of October he again set sail, and after having taken the bearings of the Bay of Almirante, he anchored opposite to the village of Cariaz. There he remained until the 15th of October, the repairs of the vessels meanwhile going actively forward.
Columbus now believed himself to be arrived near the mouth of the Ganges, and from the natives speaking of a certain province of Ciguare, which was surrounded by the sea, he felt himself confirmed in this opinion. They declared that it was a country containing rich gold-mines, of which the most important was situated seventy-five miles to the south. When the admiral again set sail, he followed the wooded coast of Veragua, where the Indians appeared to be very wild. On the 26th of November, the flotilla entered the harbour of El Retrete, which is now the port of Escribanos. The ships battered by the winds, were now in a most miserable plight; it was absolutely necessary to repair the damage they had sustained, and for this purpose to prolong the stay at El Retrete. Upon quitting this harbour Columbus was met by a storm even more dreadful than those which had preceded it: "During nine days," he says, "I remained without hope of being saved. Never did any man see a more violent or terrible sea; it was covered with foam, the wind permitted no ships to advance, nor to steer towards any cape; I was kept in that sea, of which the waves seemed to be of blood, and the surges boiled as though heated by fire. Never have I seen so appalling an aspect of the heavens: on fire during one whole day and night like a furnace, they sent forth thunder and flame incessantly, and I feared each moment that the masts and sails would be carried away. The growling of the thunder was so horrible that it appeared sufficient to crush our vessels; and during the whole time the rain fell with such violence that one could scarcely call it rain, but rather a second Deluge. My sailors, overcome by so much trouble and suffering, prayed for death as putting a term to their miseries; my ships opened in all directions, and boats, anchors, ropes, and sails were once again lost."
During this long and painful navigation, the admiral had sailed one thousand and fifty miles. His crews were by this time quite exhausted; he was therefore obliged to turn back and to regain the river of Veragua, but not being able to find safe shelter there for his ships, he went a short distance off to the mouth of Bethlehem river, now called the Yebra, in which he cast anchor on the feast of the Epiphany in the year 1503. On the morrow the tempest was again renewed, and on the 24th of January, a sudden increase of water in the river caused the cables which held the ships to snap, and the vessels were only saved with great trouble.
In spite of all this, the admiral, who never forgot the principal object of his mission in these new countries, had succeeded in establishing regular intercourse with the natives. The cacique of Bethlehem showed a friendly disposition, and pointed out a country fifteen miles inland, where he said the gold-mines were very rich. On the 6th of February, Columbus despatched a force of seventy men to the spot indicated, under the command of his brother Bartolomeo. After travelling through a very undulating country, watered by rivers so winding that one of them had to be crossed thirty-nine times, the Spaniards arrived at the auriferous tracts. They were immense, and extended quite out of sight. Gold was so abundant that one man alone could collect enough of it in ten days to fill a measure. In four hours, Bartolomeo and his men had picked up gold to an enormous amount. They returned to the admiral, who, when he heard their narrative, resolved to settle upon this coast, and to have some wooden barracks constructed.
The mines of this region were indeed of incomparable richness; they appeared to be inexhaustible, and quite made Columbus forget Cuba and San Domingo. His letter to King Ferdinand evinces his enthusiasm on the subject; one may feel some astonishment at reading the following sentiment from the pen of this great man, one indeed which is neither that of a philosopher nor of a Christian. "Gold! gold! excellent thing! It is from gold that spring riches! it is by means of gold that everything in the world is done, and its power suffices often to place souls in Paradise."
The Spaniards set to work with ardour to store up this gold in their ships. Hitherto the relations with the natives had been peaceable, although these people were of fierce disposition. But after a time the cacique, irritated by the usurpation of the foreigners, resolved to murder them and burn their dwellings. One day the natives suddenly attacked the Spaniards in considerable force, and a very severe battle ensued, ending in the repulse of the Indians. The cacique had been taken prisoner with all his family, but he succeeded with his children in escaping from custody, and took refuge in the mountains in company with a great number of his followers. In the month of April, a considerable troop of the natives again attacked the Spaniards, who exterminated a large proportion of them.
Meanwhile, the health of Columbus became more and more enfeebled; the wind failed him for quitting the harbour, and he was in despair. One day, exhausted by fatigue, he fell asleep, and heard a pitying voice which addressed him as follows:--words which shall be given verbatim, for they bear the imprint of that kind of ecstatic religious fervour which gives a finishing touch to the picture of the great navigator.
"'O foolish man! why such unwillingness to believe in and to serve thy God, the God of the Universe? What did He more for Moses His servant, and for David? Since thy birth, has He not had for thee the most tender solicitude; and when he saw thee of an age in which His designs for thee could be matured, has He not made thy name resound gloriously through the world? Has He not bestowed upon thee the Indies, the richest part of the earth? Has He not set thee free to make an offering of them to Him according to thine own will? Who but He has lent thee the means of executing His designs? Bounds were placed at the entrance of the ocean; they were formed of chains which could not be broken through. To thee were given the keys. Thy power was recognized in distant lands, and thy glory was proclaimed by all Christians. Did God even show Himself more favourable to the people of Israel, when He rescued them from Egypt? Did He favour David more, when from a shepherd boy He made him king of Judah? Turn to Him, confessing thy fault, for His compassion is infinite. Thine old age will prove no obstacle in the great actions which await thee: He holds in His hands a heritage the most brilliant. Was not Abraham a hundred years old, and had not Sarah already passed the flower of her youth when Isaac was born? Thou seekest an uncertain help. Answer me: who has exposed thee so often to so many dangers? Is it God, or the world? God never withholds the blessings promised to His servants. It is not His manner after receiving a service to pretend that His intentions have not been carried out, and to give a new interpretation to His desires; it is not He who seeks to give to arbitrary acts a favourable colour. His words are to be taken literally; all that He promises He gives with usury. Thus does He ever. I have told thee all that the Creator has done for thee; at this very moment He is showing thee the prize and the reward of the perils and sufferings to which thou hast been exposed in the service of thy fellow-men.' And I listened to this voice, overcome though I were with suffering; but I could not muster strength to reply to these assured promises; I contented myself by deploring my fault with tears. The voice concluded with these words:--'Take confidence, hope on; the record of thy labours will, with justice, be engraved on marble.'"
Columbus, as soon as he recovered, was anxious to leave this coast. He had desired to found a colony here, but his crews were not sufficiently numerous to justify the risk of leaving a part of them on land. The four caravels were full of worm-holes, and one of them had to be left behind at Bethlehem. On Easter day the admiral put to sea, but scarcely had he gone ninety miles before a leak was discovered in one of the ships; it was necessary to steer for the coast with all speed, and happily Porto-Bello was reached in safety, where the ship was abandoned, her injuries being irreparable. The flotilla consisted now of but two caravels, without boats, almost without provisions, and with 7000 miles of ocean to traverse. It sailed along the coast, passed the port of El Retrete, discovered the group of islands called the Mulatas, and at length entered the Gulf of Darien. This was the farthest point east reached by Columbus.
On the 1st of May the admiral steered for Hispaniola; by the 10th he was in sight of the Cayman Islands, but he found it impossible to make head against the winds which drove him to the north-west nearly as far as Cuba. There, while in shallow water, he encountered a storm, during which anchors and sails were carried away, and the two ships came into collision during the night. The hurricane then drove them southwards, and the admiral at length reached Jamaica with his shattered vessels, casting anchor on the 23rd of June in the harbour of San-Gloria, now called the bay of Don Christopher. Columbus wished to have gone to Hispaniola, where he would have found the stores needful for revictualling the ships, resources which were absolutely wanting in Jamaica; but his two caravels, full of worm-holes, "like to bee-hives," could not without danger attempt the ninety miles' voyage; the question now arose, how to send a message to Ovando, the governor of Hispaniola.
The caravels let in water in every direction, and the admiral was obliged to run them aground; he then tried to organize a life in common upon shore. The Indians at first gave him assistance, and furnished the crews with the provisions of which they were in need, but the miserable and much tried sailors showed resentment against the admiral; they were ready for revolt, while the unfortunate Columbus, exhausted by illness, was confined to a bed of pain. It was in these trying circumstances that two brave officers, Mendez and Fieschi, proposed to the admiral to attempt to cross from Jamaica to Hispaniola in Indian canoes. This was in reality a voyage of six hundred miles, for it was necessary to row along the coast as far as the port where the colony was established. But these courageous officers were ready to face every peril, when it was a question of saving their companions. Columbus, appreciating the boldness of a proposal, which under other circumstances he would himself have been the first to make, gave the required permission to Mendez and Fieschi, who set out, while he, without ships, almost without provisions, remained with his crew upon this uncultivated island.
Soon the misery of the shipwrecked people--for so we may fairly call them--became so great that a revolt ensued. The admiral's companions, blinded by their sufferings, imagined that their chief dared not return to the harbour in Hispaniola, to which Ovando had already denied him entrance. They thought this proscription applied to them equally with the admiral, and said among themselves that the governor, in excluding the flotilla from the harbours of the colony, must have acted under orders from the king. These absurd reasonings irritated minds already badly disposed, and at length on the 2nd of January, 1504, two brothers named Porras, one the captain of one of the caravels and the other the military treasurer, placed themselves at the head of the malcontents. Their wish was to return to Europe, and they rushed towards the admiral's tent, crying, "Castille! Castille!" Columbus was ill and in bed. His brother and his son threw themselves between him and the mutineers to defend him. At the sight of the aged admiral, the rebels stopped, and their violence abated; but they would not listen to the admiral's remonstrances and counsels; they did not understand that nothing could save them but general concord, and each, in unselfish forgetfulness, working for the public good. No! their decision was taken to quit the island, no matter by what means. Porras and his followers ran down to the shore, took possession of the canoes of the natives, and steered for the eastern extremity of the island. Arrived there, with no respect left for anything, and drunk with fury, they pillaged the Indians' dwellings--thus rendering the admiral responsible for their deeds of violence--and they dragged some unfortunate natives on board of the canoes which they had stolen. Porras and his companions continued their navigation; but when several leagues from shore, they were struck by a gust of wind which placed them in peril: with the object of lightening the canoes, they threw their prisoners overboard. After this barbarous execution, the canoes endeavoured, following the example of Mendez and Fieschi, to gain the island of Hispaniola, but in vain, they were continually thrown back upon the coasts of Jamaica.
Meanwhile the admiral, left alone with his friends and the sick, succeeded in establishing order in his little world. But the distress increased, and famine threatened. The natives wearied of providing food for these foreigners, whose sojourn upon their island was so prolonged; besides, they had seen the Spaniards fighting amongst themselves, a sight which had much destroyed their prestige, and convinced the Indians that these Europeans were nothing more than ordinary mortals; thus, they no longer respected nor feared them. The authority of Columbus over the native population was diminishing day by day, and an accidental circumstance was needed, of which the admiral cleverly took advantage, to bring back a renown which was necessary for the safety of his companions.
A lunar eclipse, foreseen and calculated by Columbus, was due on a certain day. On the morning of this day, the admiral sent to request an interview with the caciques of the island. They accepted the invitation, and when they were assembled in the tent of Columbus, the latter announced to them that God, desirous of punishing them for their inhospitable conduct, and their bad feeling towards the Spaniards, would that evening refuse them the light of the moon. All came to pass as the admiral had foretold; the shadow of the earth began to conceal the moon, whose disc had the appearance of being eaten away by some formidable monster. The savages in terror cast themselves at the feet of Columbus, praying him to intercede with Heaven on their behalf, and promising to place all they had at his disposal. Columbus, after some well feigned hesitation, pretended to yield to the prayers of the natives. Under pretext of supplicating the Deity, he remained in his tent during the whole time of the eclipse, only reappearing at the moment when the phenomenon was nearly over. Then he told the caciques that God had heard his prayer, and extending his arm he commanded the moon to reappear. Soon the disc was seen to issue from the cone of the shadow, and the queen of night shone forth in all her splendour. From that day forward, the grateful and submissive Indians accepted the admiral's authority as one manifestly delegated to him by the celestial powers.
While these events were passing at Jamaica, Mendez and Fieschi had long ago arrived at their destination. These brave officers had reached Hispaniola after a voyage of four days, little short of miraculous, accomplished as it was in a frail canoe. They immediately made the governor acquainted with the desperate condition of Columbus and his companions. Ovando, in a spirit of malice and injustice, detained these officers, and after a delay of eight months, under pretext of ascertaining the real condition of affairs, he despatched to Jamaica one of his own followers, a man named Diego Escobar, who was an especial enemy to Columbus. Escobar, on his arrival at Jamaica, would not communicate with Columbus; he did not even land, but contented himself with putting on shore, for the use of the distressed crews, "a side of pork and a barrel of wine;" then he again set sail without having allowed a single person to come on board. This infamous behaviour is but too real, although humanity almost refuses to believe in it.
The admiral was indignant over this cruel mockery; but he showed no violence, used no recrimination. The arrival of Escobar somewhat reassured the shipwrecked men, for at least it proved that their situation was known. Deliverance was therefore only a matter of time, and the morale of the Spaniards gradually improved.
The admiral was desirous of bringing about a reconciliation with Porras and the rebels, who, since their separation, had incessantly ravaged the island, and been guilty of odious cruelties towards the unfortunate natives. Columbus proposed to restore them to favour, but these foolish people only answered his generous overtures by advancing to attack him in his retreat. Those Spaniards who had remained faithful to the cause of order, were obliged to take up arms, and they valiantly defended the admiral, losing but one man in this sad affair. They took both the brothers Porras prisoners, and remained masters of the field of battle: then the rebels threw themselves on their knees before Columbus, who, in compassion for their sufferings, granted them pardon.
At length, just one year after the departure of Mendez and Fieschi, a ship appeared, equipped by them at the expense of Columbus, which was destined to restore the shipwrecked company to their homes. On the 24th of June, 1504, every one went on board, and quitting Jamaica, the theatre of accumulated miseries, both moral and physical, they set sail for Hispaniola. Arrived in harbour, after a prosperous voyage, Columbus, to his no small surprise, found himself at first received with much respect, the governor Ovando, as a shrewd man not willing to go against public opinion, doing him honour. But this happy temper did not last. Soon the quarrels recommenced, and then Columbus, unable as well as unwilling to hear more, humiliated, and even maltreated, freighted two ships, of which he shared the command with his brother Bartolomeo, and on the 12th of September, 1504, he for the last time set out for Europe.
His fourth voyage had increased geographical knowledge by the discovery of the Cayman Islands, Martinique, Guanaja, the Limonare Islands, with the coasts of Honduras, Mosquito, Nicaragua, Veragua, Costa-Rica, Porto-Bello, and Panama, the Mulatas Islands, and the Gulf of Darien.
During this, his last voyage across the ocean, Columbus was destined to be again tried by storms. His own vessel was disabled, and he and his crew were obliged to go on board his brother's ship. On the 19th of October, another fearful hurricane broke the mast of this vessel, which had then to make more than two thousand miles with incomplete sails. At last, on the 7th of November, the admiral entered the harbour of San-Lucar. Here a sad piece of news was awaiting him. Isabella, his generous protectress, was dead. Who was there now to take an interest in the old Genoese?
The admiral was coldly received by the ungrateful and jealous king Ferdinand, who did not even disdain to use subterfuges and delays, hoping thus to evade the solemn treaties given under his sign manual; he ended by proposing to Columbus the acceptance of a small Castilian town, Camon de los Condes, in exchange for his titles and dignities. This ingratitude and faithlessness overwhelmed the aged man; his health, already so much impaired, did not improve, and grief carried him to the grave. On the 20th of May, at Valladolid, at the age of seventy, he rendered up his soul to God with these words: "O Lord, into Thy hands I resign my soul and body."
The remains of Columbus were at first laid in the monastery of St. Francis; in 1513, they were removed to the Carthusian monastery of Seville. But it seemed as if, even after death, repose were to be denied to the great navigator, for in 1536 his body was transported to the cathedral of San Domingo. Local tradition affirms that when, after the Treaty of Basle in 1795, the Spanish government, before giving up to France the eastern portion of the island of San Domingo, ordered the removal of the ashes of the great sailor to Havana, a canon substituted some other remains for those of Christopher Columbus, and that the latter were deposited in the choir of the cathedral, to the left of the altar. Thanks to this manoeuvre of the canon, whether dictated by a sentiment of local patriotism or by respect to the last wishes of Columbus who had indicated San Domingo as his chosen place of sepulture, it is not the dust of the illustrious navigator which Spain possesses at Havana, but probably that of his brother Diego. The discovery so lately made in the cathedral of San Domingo, on the 10th of September, 1877, of a leaden chest containing human bones, and bearing an inscription stating that it encloses the remains of the Discoverer of America, seems to confirm in every particular the tradition which has been just mentioned.
But after all, it matters little whether the body of Columbus be at San Domingo or at Havana; his name and his glory are everywhere.