It was executed in a bay at the extreme southwestern corner of Cuba. It has been remarked by Munoz, that at that moment, in that place, a ship boy at the masthead could have looked over the group of low islands and seen the open sea, which would have shown that Cuba was an island.
The facts, which were controlling, were these, that the vessels were leaky and the crews sick and discontented. On the thirteenth of June, Columbus stood to the southeast. He discovered the island now known as the Island of Pines. He called it Evangelista. He anchored here and took in water. In an interview, not unlike that described, in which the old Cuban expressed his desire to return with Columbus, it is said that an Evangelistan chief made the same offer, but was withheld by the remonstrances, of his wife and children. A similar incident is reported in the visit to Jamaica, which soon followed. Columbus made a careful examination of that island. Then he crossed to Hispaniola, where, from the Indians, he received such accounts from the new town of Isabella as assured him that all was well there.
With his own indomitable zeal, he determined now to go to the Carib islands and administer to them the vengeance he had ready. But his own frame was not strong enough for his will. He sank exhausted, in a sort of lethargy. The officers of his ship, supposing he was dying, put about the vessels and the little squadron arrived, none too soon as it proved, at Isabella.
He was as resolute as ever in his determination to crush the Caribs, and prevent their incursions upon those innocent islanders to whom he had made so many promises of protection. But he fell ill, and for a short time at least was wholly unconscious. The officers in command took occasion of his illness, and of their right to manage the vessels, to turn back to the city of Isabella. He arrived there "as one half dead," and his explorations and discoveries for this voyage were thus brought to an end. To his great delight he found there his brother Bartholomew, whom he had not seen for eight years. Bartholomew had accompanied Diaz in the famous voyage in which he discovered the Cape of Good Hope. Returning to Europe in 1488 he had gone to England, with a message from Christopher Columbus, asking King Henry the Seventh to interest himself in the great adventure he proposed.
The authorities differ as to the reception which Henry gave to this great proposal. Up to the present time, no notice has been found of his visit in the English archives. The earliest notice of America, in the papers preserved there, is a note of a present of ten pounds "to hym that found the new land," who was Cabot, after his first voyage. Bartholomew Columbus was in England on the tenth of February, 1488; how much later is not known. Returning from England he staid in France, in the service of Madama de Bourbon. This was either Anne of Beaujeu, or the widow of the Admiral Louis de Bourbon. Bartholomew was living in Paris when he heard of his brother's great discovery.
He had now been appointed by the Spanish sovereigns to command a fleet of three vessels, which had been sent out to provision the new colony. He had sailed from Cadiz on the thirtieth of April, 1494, and he arrived at Isabella on St. John's Day of the same year.
Columbus welcomed him with delight, and immediately made him his first-lieutenant in command of the colony. There needed a strong hand for the management of the colony, for the quarrels which had existed before Columbus went on his Cuban voyage had not diminished in his absence. Pedro Margarita and Father Boil are spoken of as those who had made the most trouble. They had come determined to make a fortune rapidly, and they did not propose to give up such a hope to the slow processes of ordinary colonization. Columbus knew very well that those who had returned to Spain had carried with them complaints as to his own course. He would have been glad on some accounts to return, himself, at once; but he did not think that the natives of the islands were sufficiently under the power of the new colony to be left in safety.
First of all he sent back four caravels, which had recently arrived from Europe, with five hundred Indians whom he had taken as slaves. He consigned them to Juan de Fonseca's care. He was eager himself to say that he sent them out that they might be converted, to Christianity, and that they might learn the Spanish language and be of use as interpreters. But, at the same time, he pointed out how easy it would be to make a source of revenue to the Crown from such involuntary emigration. To Isabella's credit it is to be said, that she protested against the whole thing immediately; and so far as appears, no further shipments were made in exactly the same way. But these poor wretches were not sent back to the islands, as she perhaps thought they were. Fonseca did not hesitate to sell them, or apprentice them, to use our modern phrase, and it is said by Bernaldez that they all died. His bitter phrase is that Fonseca took no more care of them than if they had been wild animals.
Columbus did not recover his health, so as to take a very active part in affairs for five months after his arrival at San Domingo. He was well aware that the Indians were vigorously organized, with the intention of driving his people from the island, or treating the colony as they had treated the colony of Navidad. He called the chief of the Cipangi, named Guarionexius, for consultation. The interpreter Didacus, who had served them so faithfully, married the king's sister, and it was hoped that this would be a bond of amity between the two nations.
Columbus sent Ojeda into the gold mountains with fifty armed men to make an alliance with Canabao. Canabao met this party with a good deal of perplexity. He undoubtedly knew that he had given the Spaniards good reason for doubting him. It is said that he had put to death twenty Spaniards by treasonable means, but it is to be remembered that this is the statement of his enemies. He, however, came to Columbus with a large body of his people, all armed. When he was asked why he brought so large a force with him, he said that so great a king as he, could not go anywhere without a fitting military escort. But Ojeda did not hesitate to take him prisoner and carry him into Isabella, bound. As has been said, he was eventually sent to Spain, but he died on the passage.
Columbus made another fortress, or tower, on the border of King Guarionexius's country, between his kingdom and Cipango. He gave to this post the name of the "Tower of the Conception," and meant it to be a rallying point for the miners and others, in case of any uprising of the natives against them. This proved to be an important centre for mining operations. From this place, what we should call a nugget of gold, which one of the chiefs brought in, was sent to Spain. It weighed twenty ounces. A good deal of interest attached also to the discovery of amber, one mass of which weighed three hundred pounds. Such discoveries renewed the interest and hope which had been excited in Spain by the first accounts of Hispaniola.
Columbus satisfied himself that he left the island really subdued; and in this impression he was not mistaken. Certain that his presence in Spain was needed, if he would maintain his own character against the attacks of the disaffected Spaniards who had gone before him, he set sail on the Nina on the tenth of March, taking with him as a consort a caravel which had been built at Isabella. He did not arrive in Cadiz till the eleventh of June, having been absent from Spain two years and nine months.
His return to Spain at this time gave Isabella another opportunity to show the firmness of her character, and the determination to which alone belongs success.
The excitement and popularity which attended the return from the first voyage had come to an end. Spain was in the period of reaction. The disappointment which naturally follows undue expectations and extravagant prophecies, was, in this instance, confirmed by the return of discontented adventurers. Four hundred years have accustomed the world to this reflex flow of disappointed colonists, unable or unwilling to work, who come back from a new land to say that its resources have been exaggerated. In this case, where everything was measured by the standard of gold, it was certainly true that the supply of gold received from the islands was very small as compared with the expenses of the expedition which had been sent out.
Five hundred Indians, who came to be taught the language, entering Spain as slaves, were but a poor return for the expenses in which the nation, not to say individuals, had been involved. The people of Spain, therefore, so far as they could show their feeling, were prejudiced against Columbus and those who surrounded him. They heard with incredulity the accounts of Cuba which he gave, and were quite indifferent to the geographical theories by which he wanted to prove that it was a part of Asia. He believed that the rich mines, which he had really found in Hispaniola, were the same as those of Ophir. But after five years of waiting, the Spanish public cared but little for such conjectures.
As he arrived in Cadiz, he found three vessels, under Nino, about to sail with supplies. These were much needed, for the relief of the preceding year, sent out in four vessels, had been lost by shipwreck. Columbus was able to add a letter of his own to the governor of Isabella, begging him to conform to the wishes expressed by the king and queen in the dispatches taken by Nino. He recommended diligence in exploring the new mines, and that a seaport should be founded in their neighborhood. At the same time he received a gracious letter from the king and queen, congratulating him on his return, and asking him to court as soon as he should recover from his fatigue.
Columbus was encouraged by the tone of this letter. He had chosen to act as if he were in disgrace, and dressed himself in humble garb, as if he were a Franciscan monk, wearing his beard as the brethren of those orders do. Perhaps this was in fulfillment of one of those vows which, as we know, he frequently made in periods of despondency.
He went to Burgos, where Ferdinand and Isabella were residing, and on the way made such a display of treasure as he had done on the celebrated march to Barcelona. Canabao, the fierce cacique of Hispaniola, had died on the voyage, but his brother and nephew still lived, and he took them to the king and queen, glittering on state occasions with golden ornaments. One chain of gold which the brother wore, is said to have been worth more than three thousand dollars of our time. In the procession Columbus carried various masks and other images, made by the Indians in fantastic shapes, which attracted the curiosity which in all nations surrounds the idols of a foreign creed.
The sovereigns received him cordially. No reference was made to the complaints of the adventurers who had returned. However the sovereigns may have been impressed by these, they were still confident in Columbus and in his merits, and do not seem to have wished to receive the partial accounts of his accusers. On his part, he pressed the importance of a new expedition, in order that they might annex to their dominions the eastern part of Asia. He wanted for this purpose eight ships. He was willing to leave two in the island of Hispaniola, and he hoped that he might have six for a voyage of discovery. The sovereigns assented readily to his proposal, and at the time probably intended to carry out his wishes.
But Spain had something else to do than to annex Asia or to discover America; and the fulfillment of the promises made so cordially in 1496, was destined to await the exigencies of European war and diplomacy. In fact, he did not sail upon the third expedition for nearly two years after his arrival in Cadiz.
In the autumn of 1496, an order was given for a sum amounting to nearly a hundred thousand dollars of our time, for the equipment of the promised squadron. At the same time Columbus was relieved from the necessity by which he was bound in his original contract, to furnish at least one-eighth of the money necessary in any of these expeditions. This burden was becoming too heavy for him to bear. It was agreed, however, that in the event of any profit resulting to the crown, he should be entitled to one-eighth of it for three ensuing years. This concession must be considered as an evidence that he was still in favor. At the end of three years both parties were to fall back upon the original contract.
But these noble promises, which must have been so encouraging to him, could not be fulfilled, as it proved. For the exigencies of war, the particular money which was to be advanced to Columbus was used for the repair of a fortress upon the frontier. Instead of this, Columbus was to receive his money from the gold brought by Nino on his return. Alas, it proved that a report that he had returned with so much gold, meant that he had Indian prisoners, from the sale of whom he expected to realize this money. And poor Columbus was virtually consigned to building and fitting out his ship from the result of a slave-trade, which was condemned by Isabella, and which he knew was wretchedly unprofitable.
A difficulty almost equally great resulted from the unpopularity of the expedition. People did not volunteer eagerly, as they had done, the minds of men being poisoned by the reports of emigrants, who had gone out in high hope, and had returned disappointed. It even became necessary to commute the sentences of criminals who had been sentenced to banishment, so that they might be transported into the new settlements, where they were to work without pay. Even these expedients did not much hasten the progress of the expedition.
Fonseca, the steady enemy of Columbus, was placed in command again at this time. The queen was overwhelmed with affliction by the death of Prince Juan; and it seemed to Columbus and his friends that every petty difficulty was placed in the way of preparation. When at length six vessels were fitted for sea, it was only after the wear and tear of constant opposition from officials in command; and the expedition, as it proved, was not what Columbus had hoped for, for his purposes.
On the thirtieth of May, however, in 1498, he was able to sail. As this was the period when the Catholic church celebrates the mystery of the Trinity, he determined and promised that the first land which he discovered should receive that sacred name. He was well convinced of the existence of a continent farther south than the islands among which he had cruised, and intended to strike that continent, as in fact he did, in the outset of his voyage.
CHAPTER X. — THE THIRD VOYAGE.
LETTER TO THE KING AND QUEEN—DISCOVERY OF TRINIDAD AND PARIA—CURIOUS SPECULATION AS TO THE EARTHLY PARADISE—ARRIVAL AT SAN DOMINGO—REBELLIONS AND MUTINIES IN THAT ISLAND—ROLDAN AND HIS FOLLOWERS—OJEDA AND HIS EXPEDITION—ARRIVAL OF BOBADILLA—COLUMBUS A PRISONER.
For the narrative of the third voyage, we are fortunate in having once more a contemporary account by Columbus himself. The more important part of his expedition was partly over when he was able to write a careful letter to the king and queen, which is still preserved. It is lighted up by bursts of the religious enthusiasm which governed him from the beginning. All the more does it show the character of the man, and it impresses upon us, what is never to be forgotten, the mixture in his motive of the enthusiasm of a discoverer, the eager religious feeling which might have quickened a crusader, and the prospects of what we should call business adventure, by which he tries to conciliate persons whose views are less exalted than his own.
In addressing the king and queen, who are called "very high and very powerful princes," he reminds them that his undertaking to discover the West Indies began in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which appointed him as a messenger for this enterprise. He asks them to remember that he has always addressed them as with that intention.
He reminds them of the seven or eight years in which he was urging his cause and that it was not enough that he should have showed the religious side of it, that he was obliged to argue for the temporal view as well. But their decision, for which he praises them indirectly, was made, he says, in the face of the ridicule of all, excepting the two priests, Marcheza and the Archbishop of Segovia. "And everything will pass away excepting the word of God, who spoke so clearly of these lands by the voice of Isaiah in so many places, affirming that His name should be divulged to the nations from Spain." He goes on in a review of the earlier voyages, and after this preface gives his account of the voyage of 1498.
They sailed from Santa Lucca the thirtieth of May, and went down to Madeira to avoid the hostile squadron of the French who were awaiting him at Cape St. Vincent. In the history by Herrara, of another generation, this squadron is said to be Portuguese. From Maderia, they passed to the Canary Islands, from which, with one ship and two caravels, he makes his voyage, sending the other three vessels to Hispaniola. After making the Cape de Verde Islands, he sailed southwest. He had very hot weather for eight days, and in the hope of finding cooler weather changed his course to the westward.
On the thirty-first of July, they made land, which proved to be the cape now known as Galeota, the southeastern cape of the island of Trinidad. The country was as green at this season as the orchards of Valencia in March. Passing five leagues farther on, he lands to refit his vessels and take on board wood and water. The next day a large canoe from the east, with twenty-four men, well armed, appeared.
The Admiral wished to communicate with them, but they refused, although he showed them basins and other things which he thought would attract them. Failing in this effort, he directed some of the boys of the crew to dance and play a tambourine on the poop of the ship. But this conciliatory measure had as little success as the other. The natives strung their bows, took up their shields and began to shoot the dancers. Columbus stopped the entertainment, therefore, and ordered some balls shot at them, upon which they left him. With the other vessel they opened more friendly communication, but when the pilot went to Columbus and asked leave to land with them, they went off, nor were any of them or theirs seen again.
On his arrival at Punta de Icacocos, at the southern point of Trinidad, he observes the very strong currents which are always noticed by voyagers, running with as much fury as the Guadalquiver in time of flood. In the night a terrible wave came from the south, "a hill as high as a ship," so that even in writing of it he feels fear. But no misfortune came from it.
Sailing the next day, he found the water comparatively fresh. He is, in fact, in the current produced by the great river Orinoco, which affects, in a remarkable way, all the tide-flow of those seas. Sailing north, he passes different points of the Island of Trinidad, and makes out the Punta de la Pena and the mainland. He still observes the freshness of the water and the severity of the currents.
As he sails farther westward, he observes fleets, and he sends his people ashore. They find no inhabitants at first, but eventually meet people who tell him the enemy of this country is Paria. Of these he took on board four. The king sent him an invitation to land, and numbers of the people came in canoes, many of whom wore gold and pearls. These pearls came to them from the north. Columbus did not venture to land here because the provisions of his vessels were already failing him.
He describes the people, as of much the same color as those who have been observed before, and were ready for intercourse, and of good appearance. Two prominent persons came to meet them, whom he thought to be father and son. The house to which the Spaniards were led was large, with many seats. An entertainment was brought forward, in which there were many sorts of fruits, and wine of many kinds. It was not made from grapes, however, and he supposed it must be made of different sorts of fruits.
A part of the entertainment was of maize, "which is a sort of corn which grows here, with a spike like a spindle." The Indians and their guests parted with regret that they could not understand each other's conversation. All this passed in the house of the elder Indian. The younger then took them to his house, where a similar collation was served, and they then returned to the ship, Columbus being in haste to press on, both on account of his want of supplies and the failure of his own health. He says he was still suffering from diseases which he had contracted on the last voyage, and with blindness. "That then his eyes did not give him as much pain, nor were they bloodshot as much as they are now."
He describes the people whom they at first visited as of fine stature, easy bearing, with long straight hair, and wearing worked handkerchiefs on their heads. At a little distance it seemed as if these were made of silk, like the gauze veil with which the Spaniards were familiar, from Moorish usage.
"Others," he says, "wore larger handkerchiefs round their waists, like the panete of the Spaniards." By this phrase he means a full garment hanging over the knees, either trousers or petticoats. These people were whiter in color than the Indians he had seen before. They all wore something at the neck and arms, with many pieces of gold at the neck. The canoes were much larger than he had seen, better in build and lighter; they had a cabin in the middle for the princes and their women.
He made many inquiries for gold, but was told he must go farther on, but he was advised not to go there, because his men would be in danger of being eaten. At first, Columbus supposed that this meant that the inhabitants of the gold-bearing countries were cannibals, but he satisfied himself afterwards that the natives meant that they would be eaten by beasts. With regard to pearls, also, he got some information that he should find them when he had gone farther west and farther north.
After these agreeable courtesies, the little fleet raised its anchors and sailed west. Columbus sent one caravel to investigate the river. Finding that he should not succeed in that direction, and that he had no available way either north or south, he leaves by the same entrance by which he had entered. The water is still very fresh, and he is satisfied, correctly as we know, that these currents were caused by the entrance of the great river of water.
On the thirteenth of August he leaves the island by what he calls the northern mouth of the river (Boca Grande), and begins to strike salt water again.
At this part of Columbus's letter there is a very curious discussion of temperature, which shows that this careful observer, even at that time, made out the difference between what are called isothermal curves and the curves of latitude. He observes that he cannot make any estimate of what his temperature will be on the American coast from what he has observed on the coast of Africa.
He begins now to doubt whether the world is spherical, and is disposed to believe that it is shaped like a pear, and he tries to make a theory of the difference of temperature from this suggestion. We hardly need to follow this now. We know he was entirely wrong in his conjecture. "Pliny and others," he says, "thought the world spherical, because on their part of it it was a hemisphere." They were ignorant of the section over which he was sailing, which he considers to be that of a pear cut in the wrong way. His demonstration is, that in similar latitudes to the eastward it is very hot and the people are black, while at Trinidad or on the mainland it is comfortable and the people are a fine race of men, whiter than any others whom he has seen in the Indies. The sun in the constellation of the Virgin is over their heads, and all this comes from their being higher up, nearer the air than they would have been had they been on the African coast.
With this curious speculation he unites some inferences from Scripture, and goes back to the account in the Book of Genesis and concludes that the earthly Paradise was in the distant east. He says, however, that if he could go on, on the equinoctial line, the air would grow more temperate, with greater changes in the stars and in the water. He does not think it possible that anyone can go to the extreme height of the mountain where the earthly Paradise is to be found, for no one is to be permitted to enter there but by the will of God, but he believes that in this voyage he is approaching it.
Any reader who is interested in this curious speculation of Columbus should refer to the "Divina Comedia" of Dante, where Dante himself held a somewhat similar view, and describes his entrance into the terrestrial paradise under the guidance of Beatrice. It is a rather curious fact, which discoverers of the last three centuries have established, that the point, on this world, which is opposite the city of Jerusalem, where all these enthusiasts supposed the terrestrial Paradise would be found, is in truth in the Pacific Ocean not far from Pitcairn's Island, in the very region where so many voyagers have thought that they found the climate and soil which to the terrestrial Paradise belong.
Columbus expresses his dissent from the recent theory, which was that of Dante, supposing that the earthly Paradise was at the top of a sharp mountain. On the other hand, he supposes that this mountain rises gently, but yet that no person can go to the top.
This is his curious "excursion," made, perhaps, because Columbus had the time to write it.
The journal now recurs to more earthly affairs. Passing out from the mouth of the "Dragon," he found the sea running westward and the wind gentle. He notices that the waters are swept westward as the trade winds are. In this way he accounts for there being so many islands in that part of the earth, the mainland having been eaten away by the constant flow of the waves. He thinks their very shape indicates this, they being narrow from north to south and longer from east to west. Although some of the islands differ in this, special reasons maybe given for the difference. He brings in many of the old authorities to show, what we now know to be entirely false, that there is much more land than water on the surface of the globe.
All this curious speculation as to the make-up of the world encourages him to beg their Highnesses to go on with the noble work which they have begun. He explains to them that he plants the cross on every cape and proclaims the sovereignty of their Majesties and of the Christian religion. He prays that this may continue. The only objection to it is the expense, but Columbus begs their Highnesses to remember how much more money is spent for the mere formalities of the elegancies of the court. He begs them to consider the credit attaching to plans of discovery and quickens their ambition by reference to the efforts of the princes of Portugal.
This letter closes by the expression of his determination to go on with his three ships for further discoveries.
This letter was written from San Domingo on the eighth of October. He had already made the great discovery of the mainland of South America, though he did not yet know that he had touched the continent. He had intentionally gone farther south than before, and had therefore struck the island of Trinidad, to which, as he had promised, he gave the name which it still bears. A sailor first saw the summits of three mountains, and gave the cry of land. As the ships approached, it was seen that these three mountains were united at the base. Columbus was delighted by the omen, as he regarded it, which thus connected his discovery with the vow which he had made on Trinity Sunday.
As the reader has seen, he first passed between this great island and the mainland. The open gulf there described is now known as the Gulf of Paria. The observation which he made as to the freshness of the water caused by the flow of the Orinoco, has been made by all navigators since. It may be said that he was then really in the mouth of the Orinoco.
Young readers, at least, will be specially interested to remember that it was in this region that Robinson Crusoe's island was placed by Defoe; and if they will carefully read his life they will find discussions there of the flow of the "great River Orinoco." Crossing this gulf, Columbus had touched upon the coast of Paria, and thus became the first discoverer of South America. It is determined, by careful geographers, that the discovery of the continent of North America, had been made before this time by the Cabots, sailing under the orders of England.
Columbus was greatly encouraged by the discovery of fine pearls among the natives of Paria. Here he found one more proof that he was on the eastern coast of Asia, from which coast pearls had been brought by the caravans on which, till now, Europe had depended for its Asiatic supplies. He gave the name "Gulf of Pearls" to the estuary which makes the mouth of the River Paria.
He would gladly have spent more time in exploring this region; but the sea-stores of his vessel were exhausted, he was suffering from a difficulty with his eyes, caused by overwatching, and was also a cripple from gout. He resisted the temptation, therefore, to make further explorations on the coast of Paria, and passed westward and northwestward. He made many discoveries of islands in the Caribbean Sea as he went northwest, and he arrived at the colony of San Domingo, on the thirtieth of August. He had hoped for rest after his difficult voyage; but he found the island in confusion which seemed hopeless.
His brother Bartholomew, from all the accounts we have, would seem to have administered its affairs with justice and decision; but the problem he had in hand was one which could not be solved so as to satisfy all the critics. Close around him he had a body of adventurers, almost all of whom were nothing but adventurers. With the help of these adventurers, he had to repress Indian hostilities, and to keep in order the natives who had been insulted and injured in every conceivable way by the settlers.
He was expected to send home gold to Spain with every vessel; he knew perfectly well that Spain was clamoring with indignation because he did not succeed in doing so. But on the island itself he had to meet, from day to day, conspiracies of Spaniards and what are called insurrections of natives. These insurrections consisted simply in their assertion of such rights as they had to the beautiful land which the Spaniards were taking away from them.
At the moment when Columbus landed, there was an instant of tranquility. But the natives, whom he remembered only six years ago as so happy and cheerful and hospitable, had fled as far as they could. They showed in every way their distrust of those who were trying to become their masters. On the other hand, soldiers and emigrants were eager to leave the island if they could. They were near starvation, or if they did not starve they were using food to which they were not accustomed. The eagerness with which, in 1493, men had wished to rush to this land of promise, was succeeded by an equal eagerness, in 1498, to go home from it.
As soon as he arrived, Columbus issued a proclamation, approving of the measures of his brother in his absence, and denouncing the rebels with whom Bartholomew had been contending. He found the difficulties which surrounded him were of the most serious character. He had not force enough to take up arms against the rebels of different names. He offered pardon to them in the name of the sovereigns, and that they refused.
Columbus was obliged, in order to maintain any show of authority, to propose to the sovereigns that they should arbitrate between his brother and Roldan, who was the chief of the rebel party. He called to the minds of Ferdinand and Isabella his own eager desire to return to San Domingo sooner, and ascribed the difficulties which had arisen, in large measure, to his long delay. He said he should send home the more worthless men by every ship.
He asked that preachers might be sent out to convert the Indians and to reform the dissolute Spaniards. He asked for officers of revenue, and for a learned judge. He begged at the same time that, for two years longer, the colony might be permitted to employ the Indians as slaves, but he promised they would only use such as they captured in war and insurrections.
By the same vessel the rebels sent out letters charging Columbus and his brother with the grossest oppression and injustice. All these letters came to court by one messenger. Columbus was then left to manage as best he could, in the months which must pass, before he could receive an answer.
He was not wholly without success. That is to say, no actual battles took place between the parties before the answer returned. But when it returned, it proved to be written by his worst enemy, Fonseca. It was a genuine Spanish answer to a letter which required immediate decision. That is to say, Columbus was simply told that the whole matter must be left in suspense till the sovereigns could make such an investigation as they wished. The hope, therefore, of some help from home was wholly disappointed.
Roldan, the chief of the rebels, was encouraged by this news to take higher ground than even he had ventured on before. He now proposed that he should send fifteen of his company to Spain, also that those who remained should not only be pardoned, but should have lands granted them; third, that a public proclamation should be made that all charges against him had been false; and fourth, that he should hold the office of chief judge, which he had held before the rebellion.
Columbus was obliged to accede to terms as insolent as these, and the rebels even added a stipulation, that if he should fail in fulfilling either of these articles, they might compel him to comply, by force or any other means. Thus was he hampered in the very position where, by the king's orders, and indeed, one would say, by the right of discovery, he was the supreme master.
For himself, he determined to return with Bartholomew to Spain, and he made some preparations to do so. But at this time he learned, from the western part of the island, that four strange ships had arrived there. He could not feel that it was safe to leave the colony in such a condition of latent rebellion as he knew it to be in; he wrote again to the sovereigns, and said directly that his capitulation with the rebels had been extorted by force, and that he did not consider that the sovereigns, or that he himself, were bound by it. He pressed some of the requests which he had made before, and asked that his son Diego, who was no longer a boy, might be sent out to him.
It proved that the ships which had arrived at the west of the island were under the command of Ojeda, who will be remembered as a bold cavalier in the adventures of the second voyage. Acting under a general permission which had been given for private adventurers, Ojeda had brought out this squadron, and, when Columbus communicated with him, was engaged in cutting dye-woods and shipping slaves.
Columbus sent Roldan, who had been the head of the rebels, to inquire on what ground he was there. Ojeda produced a license signed by Fonseca, authorizing him to sail on a voyage of discovery. It proved that Columbus's letters describing the pearls of Paria had awakened curiosity and enthusiasm, and, while the crown had passed them by so coldly, Ojeda and a body of adventurers had obtained a license and had fitted out four ships for adventure. The special interest of this voyage for us, is that it is supposed that Vespucci, a Florentine merchant, made at this time his first expedition to America.
Vespucci was not a professional seaman, but he was interested in geography, and had made many voyages before this time. So soon as it was announced that Ojeda was on the coast, the rebels of San Domingo selected him as a new leader. He announced to Columbus, rather coolly, that he could probably redress the grievances which these men had. He undoubtedly knew that he had the protection of Fonseca at home. Fortunately for Columbus, Roldan did not mean to give up his place as "leader of the opposition;" and it may be said that the difficulty between the two was a certain advantage to Columbus in maintaining his authority.
Meanwhile, all wishes on his part to continue his discoveries were futile, while he was engaged in the almost hopeless duty of reconciling various adventurers and conciliating people who had no interests but their own. In Spain, his enemies were doing everything in their power to undermine his reputation. His statements were read more and more coldly, and at last, on the twenty-first and twenty-sixth of May, 1499, letters were written to him instructing him to deliver into the hands of Bobadilla, a new commandant, all the fortresses any ships, houses and other royal property which he held, and to give faith and obedience to any instructions given by Bobadilla. That is to say, Bobadilla was sent out as a commander who was to take precedence of every one on the spot. He was an officer of the royal household, probably a favorite at court, and was selected for the difficult task of reconciling all difficulties, and bringing the new colony into loyal allegiance to the crown. He sailed for San Domingo in the middle of July, 1500, and arrived on the twenty-third of August.
On his arrival, he found that Columbus and his brother Bartholomew were both absent from the city, being in fact engaged in efforts to set what may be called the provinces in order. The young Diego Columbus was commander in their absence. The morning after he arrived, Bobadilla attended mass, and then, with the people assembled around the door of the church, he directed that his commission should be read. He was to investigate the rebellion, he was to seize the persons of delinquents and punish them with rigor, and he was to command the Admiral to assist him in these duties.
He then bade Diego surrender to him certain prisoners, and ordered that their accusers should appear before him. To this Diego replied that his brother held superior powers to any which Bobadilla could possess; he asked for a copy of the commission, which was declined, until Columbus himself should arrive. Bobadilla then took the oath of office, and produced, for the first time, the order which has been described above, ordering Columbus to deliver up all the royal property. He won the popular favor by reading an order which directed him to pay all arrears of wages due to all persons in the royal service.
But when he came before the fortress, he found that the commander declined to surrender it. He said he held the fortress for the king by the command of the Admiral, and would not deliver it until he should arrive. Bobadilla, however, "assailed the portal;" that is to say, he broke open the gate. No one offered any opposition, and the commander and his first-lieutenant were taken prisoners. He went farther, taking up his residence in Columbus's house, and seizing his papers. So soon as Columbus received account of Bobadilla's arrival, he wrote to him in careful terms, welcoming him to the island. He cautioned him against precipitate measures, told him that he himself was on the point of going to Spain, and that he would soon leave him in command, with everything explained. Bobadilla gave no answer to these letters; and when Columbus received from the sovereigns the letter of the twenty-sixth of May, he made no longer any hesitation, but reported in person at the city of San Domingo.
He traveled without guards or retinue, but Bobadilla had made hostile preparations, as if Columbus meant to come with military force. Columbus preferred to show his own loyalty to the crown and to remove suspicion. But no sooner did he arrive in the city than Bobadilla gave orders that he should be put in irons and confined in the fortress. Up to this moment, Bobadilla had been sustained by the popular favor of those around him; but the indignity, of placing chains upon Columbus, seems to have made a change in the fickle impressions of the little town.
Columbus, himself, behaved with magnanimity, and made no complaint. Bobadilla asked him to bid his brother return to San Domingo, and he complied. He begged his brother to submit to the authority of the sovereigns, and Bartholomew immediately did so. On his arrival in San Domingo he was also put in irons, as his brother Diego had been, and was confined on board a caravel. As soon as a set of charges could be made up to send to Spain with Columbus, the vessels, with the prisoners, set sail.
The master of the caravel, Martin, was profoundly grieved by the severe treatment to which the great navigator was subjected. He would gladly have taken off his irons, but Columbus would not consent. "I was commanded by the king and queen," he said, "to submit to whatever Bobadilla should order in their name. He has put these chains on me by their authority. I will wear them until the king and queen bid me take them off. I will preserve them afterwards as relics and memorials of the reward of my services." His son, Fernando, who tells this story, says that he did so, that they were always hanging in his cabinet, and that he asked that they might be buried with him when he died.
From this expression of Fernando Columbus, there has arisen, what Mr. Harrisse calls, a "pure legend," that the chains were placed in the coffin of Columbus. Mr. Harrisse shows good reason for thinking that this was not so. "Although disposed to believe that, in a moment of just indignation, Columbus expressed the wish that these tokens of the ingratitude of which he had been the victim should be buried, with him, I do not believe that they were ever placed in his coffin."
It will thus be seen that the third voyage added to the knowledge of the civilized world the information which Columbus had gained regarding Paria and the island of Trinidad. For other purposes of discovery, it was fruitless.
CHAPTER XI. — SPAIN, 1500, 1501.
A CORDIAL RECEPTION IN SPAIN—COLUMBUS FAVORABLY RECEIVED AT COURT—NEW INTEREST IN GEOGRAPHICAL DISCOVERY—HIS PLANS FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE—PREPARATIONS FOR A FOURTH EXPEDITION.
Columbus was right in insisting on wearing his chains. They became rather an ornament than a disgrace. So soon as it was announced in Spain that the great discoverer had been so treated by Bobadilla, a wave of popular indignation swept through the people and reached the court. Ferdinand and Isabella, themselves, had never intended to give such powers to their favorite, that he should disgrace a man so much his superior.
They instantly sent orders to Cadiz that Columbus should be received with all honor. So soon as he arrived he had been able to send, to Dona Juana de la Torre, a lady high in favor at court, a private letter, in which he made a proud defense of himself. This letter is still preserved, and it is of the first interest, as showing his own character, and as showing what were the real hardships which he had undergone.
The Lady Juana read this letter to Isabella. Her own indignation, which probably had been kindled by the general news that Columbus had been chained, rose to the highest. She received him, therefore, when he arrived at court, with all the more cordiality. Ferdinand was either obliged to pretend to join with her in her indignation, or he had really felt distressed by the behavior of his subordinate.
They did not wait for any documents from Bobadilla. As has been said, they wrote cordially to Columbus; they also ordered that two thousand ducats should be paid him for his expenses, and they bade him appear at Grenada at court. He did appear there on the seventeenth of December, attended by an honorable retinue, and in the proper costume of a gentleman in favor with the king and queen.
When the queen met him she was moved to tears, and Columbus, finding himself so kindly received, threw himself upon his knees. For some time he could not express himself except by tears and sobs. His sovereigns raised him from the ground and encouraged him by gracious words.
So soon as he recovered his self-possession he made such an address as he had occasion to make more than once in his life, and showed the eloquence which is possible to a man of affairs. He could well boast of his loyalty to the Spanish crown; and he might well say that, whether he were or were not experienced in government, he had been surrounded by such difficulties in administration as hardly any other man had had to go through. But really, it was hardly necessary that he should vindicate himself.
The stupidity of his enemies, had injured their cause more than any carelessness of Columbus could have done. The sovereigns expressed their indignation at Bobadilla's proceedings, and, indeed, declared at once that he should be dismissed from command. They never took any public notice of the charges which he had sent home; on the other hand, they received Columbus with dignity and favor, and assured him that he should be reinstated in all his privileges.
The time at which he arrived was, in a certain sense, favorable for his future plans, so far as he had formed any. On the other hand, the condition of affairs was wholly changed from what it was when he began his great discoveries, and the changes were in some degree unfavorable. Vasco da Gama had succeeded in the great enterprise by which he had doubled the Cape of Good Hope, had arrived at the Indies by the route of the Indian ocean, and his squadron had successfully returned.
This great adventure, with the commercial and other results which would certainly follow it, had quickened the mind of all Europe, as the discovery by Columbus had quickened it eight years before. So far, any plan for the discoveries over which Columbus was always brooding, would be favorably received. But, on the other hand, in eight years since the first voyage, a large body of skillful adventurers had entered upon the career which then no one chose to share with him. The Pinzon brothers were among these; Ojeda, already known to the reader, was another; and Vespucci, as the reader knows, an intelligent and wise student, had engaged himself in such discoveries.
The rumors of the voyages of the Cabots, much farther north than those made by Columbus, had gone through all Europe. In a word, Columbus was now only one of several skilful pilots and voyagers, and his plans were to be considered side by side with those which were coming forward almost every day, for new discoveries, either by the eastern route, of which Vasco da Gama had shown the practicability, or by the western route, which Columbus himself had first essayed.
It is to be remembered, as well, that Columbus was now an old man, and, whatever were his successes as a discoverer, he had not succeeded as a commander. There might have been reasons for his failure; but failure is failure, and men do not accord to an unsuccessful leader the honors which they are ready to give to a successful discoverer. When, therefore, he offered his new plans at court, he should have been well aware that they could not be received, as if he were the only one who could make suggestions. Probably he was aware of this. He was also obliged, whether he would or would not, to give up the idea that he was to be the commander of the regions which he discovered.
It had been easy enough to grant him this command before there was so much as an inch of land known, over which it would make him the master. But now that it was known that large islands, and probably a part of the continent of Asia, were to be submitted to his sway if he had it, there was every reason why the sovereigns should be unwilling to maintain for him the broad rights which they had been willing to give when a scratch of the pen was all that was needful to give them.
Bobadilla was recalled; so far well. But neither Ferdinand nor Isabella chose to place Columbus again in his command. They did choose Don Nicola Ovando, a younger man, to take the place of Bobadilla, to send him home, and to take the charge of the colony.
From the colony itself, the worst accounts were received. If Columbus and his brother had failed, Bobadilla had failed more disgracefully. Indeed, he had begun by the policy of King Log, as an improvement on the policy of King Stork. He had favored all rebels, he had pardoned them, he had even paid them for the time which they had spent in rebellion; and the natural result was utter disorder and license.
It does not appear that he was a bad man; he was a man wholly unused to command; he was an imprudent man, and was weak. He had compromised the crown by the easy terms on which he had rented and sold estates; he had been obliged, in order to maintain the revenue, to work the natives with more severity than ever. He knew very well that the system, under which he was working could not last long. One of his maxims was, "Do the best with your time," and he was constantly sacrificing future advantages for such present results as he could achieve.
The Indians, who had been treated badly enough before, were worse treated now. And during his short administration, if it may be called an administration,—during the time when he was nominally at the head of affairs—he was reducing the island to lower and lower depths. He did succeed in obtaining a large product of gold, but the abuses of his government were not atoned for by such remittances. Worst of all, the wrongs of the natives touched the sensitiveness of Isabella, and she was eager that his successor should be appointed, and should sail, to put an end to these calamities.
The preparations which were made for Ovando's expedition, for the recall of Bobadilla, and for a reform, if it were possible, in the administration of the colony, all set back any preparations for a new expedition of discovery on the part of Columbus. He was not forgotten; his accounts were to be examined and any deficiencies made up to him; he was to receive the arrears of his revenue; he was permitted to have an agent who should see that he received his share in future. To this agency he appointed Alonzo Sanchez de Carvajal, and the sovereigns gave orders that this agent should be treated with respect.
Other preparations were made, so that Ovando might arrive with a strong reinforcement for the colony. He sailed with thirty ships, the size of these vessels ranging from one hundred and fifty Spanish toneles to one bark of twenty-five. It will be remembered that the Spanish tonele is larger by about ten per cent than our English ton. Twenty-five hundred persons embarked as colonists in the vessels, and, for the first time, men took their families with them.
Everything was done to give dignity to the appointment of Ovando, and it was hoped that by sending out families of respectable character, who were to be distributed in four towns, there might be a better basis given to the settlement. This measure had been insisted upon by Columbus.
This fleet put to sea on the thirteenth of February, 1502. It met, at the very outset, a terrible storm, and one hundred and twenty of the passengers were lost by the foundering of a ship. The impression was at first given in Spain that the whole fleet had been lost; but this proved to be a mistake. The others assembled at the Canaries, and arrived in San Domingo on the fifteenth of April.
Columbus himself never lost confidence in his own star. He was sure that he was divinely sent, and that his mission was to open the way to the Indies, for the religious advancement of mankind. If Vasco de Gama had discovered a shorter way than men knew before, Christopher Columbus should discover one shorter still, and this discovery should tend to the glory of God. It seemed to him that the simplest way in which he could make men understand this, was to show that the Holy Sepulchre might, now and thus, be recovered from the infidel.
Far from urging geographical curiosity as an object, he proposed rather the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. That is, there was to be a new and last crusade, and the money for this enterprise was to be furnished from the gold of the farthest East. He was close at the door of this farthest East; and as has been said, he believed that Cuba was the Ophir of Solomon, and he supposed, that a very little farther voyaging would open all the treasures which Marco Polo had described, and would bring the territory, which had made the Great Khan so rich, into the possession of the king of Spain.
He showed to Ferdinand and Isabella that, if they would once more let him go forward, on the adventure which had been checked untimely by the cruelty of Bobadilla, this time they would have wealth which would place them at the head of the Christian sovereigns of the world.
While he was inactive at Seville, and the great squadron was being prepared which Ovando was to command, he wrote what is known as the "Book of Prophecies," in which he attempted to convince the Catholic kings of the necessity of carrying forward the enterprise which he proposed. He urged haste, because he believed the world was only to last a hundred and fifty-five years longer; and, with so much before them to be done, it was necessary that they should begin.
He remembered an old vow that he had undertaken, that, within seven years of the time of his discovery, he would furnish fifty thousand foot soldiers and five thousand horsemen for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. He now arranged in order prophecies from the Holy Scripture, passages from the writings of the Fathers, and whatever else suggested itself, mystical and hopeful, as to the success of an enterprise by which the new world could be used for the conversion of the Gentiles and for the improvement of the Christianity of the old world.
He had the assistance of a Carthusian monk, who seems to have been skilled in literary work, and the two arranged these passages in order, illustrated them with poetry, and collected them into a manuscript volume which was sent to the sovereigns.
Columbus accompanied the Book of Prophecies with one of his own long letters, written with the utmost fervor. In this letter he begins, as Peter the Hermit might do, by urging the sovereigns to set on foot a crusade. If they are tempted to consider his advice extravagant, he asks them how his first scheme of discovery was treated. He shows that, as heaven had chosen him to discover the new world, heaven has also chosen him to discover the Holy Sepulchre. God himself had opened his eyes that he might make the great discovery, which has reflected such honor upon them and theirs.
"If his hopes had been answered," says a Catholic writer, "the modern question of holy places, which is the Gordian knot of the religious politics of the future, would have been solved long ago by the gold of the new world, or would have been cut by the sword of its discoverer. We should not have seen nations which are separated from the Roman communion, both Protestant and Pantheistic governments, coming audaciously into contest for privileges, which, by the rights of old possession, by the rights of martyrdom and chivalry, belong to the Holy Catholic Church, the Apostolic Church, the Roman Church, and after her to France, her oldest daughter."
Columbus now supposed that the share of the western wealth which would belong to him would be sufficient for him to equip and arm a hundred thousand infantry and ten thousand horsemen.
At the moment when the Christian hero made this pious calculation he had not enough of this revenue with which "to buy a cloak," This is the remark of the enthusiastic biographer from whom we have already quoted.
It is not literally true, but it is true that Columbus was living in the most modest way at the time when he was pressing his ambitious schemes upon the court. At the same time, he wrote a poem with which he undertook to press the same great enterprise upon his readers. It was called "The End of Man," "Memorare novissima tua, et non peccabis in eternum."
In his letter to the king and queen he says, "Animated as by a heavenly fire, I came to your Highnesses; all who heard of my enterprise mocked it; all the sciences I had acquired profited me as nothing; seven years did I pass in your royal court, disputing the case with persons of great authority and learned in all the arts, and in the end they decided that all was vain. In your Highnesses alone remained faith and constancy. Who will doubt that this light was from the Holy Scriptures, illumining you, as well as myself, with rays of marvellous brightness."
It is probable that the king and queen were, to a certain extent, influenced by his enthusiasm. It is certain that they knew that something was due to their reputation and to his success. By whatever motive led, they encouraged him with hopes that he might be sent forward again, this time, not as commander of a colony, but as a discoverer. Discovery was indeed the business which he understood, and to which alone he should ever have been commissioned.
It is to be remembered that the language of crusaders was not then a matter of antiquity, and was not used as if it alluded to bygone affairs. It was but a few years since the Saracens had been driven out of Spain, and all men regarded them as being the enemies of Christianity and of Europe, who could not be neglected. More than this, Spain was beginning to receive very large and important revenues from the islands.
It is said that the annual revenues from Hispaniola already amounted to twelve millions of our dollars. It was not unnatural that the king and queen, willing to throw off the disgrace which they had incurred from Bobadilla's cruelty, should not only send Ovando to replace him, but should, though in an humble fashion, give to Columbus an opportunity to show that his plans were not chimerical.
CHAPTER XII. — FOURTH VOYAGE.
THE INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN FOR THE VOYAGE—HE IS TO GO TO THE MAINLAND OF THE INDIES—A SHORT PASSAGE—OVANDO FORBIDS THE ENTRANCE OF COLUMBUS INTO HARBOR—BOBADILLA'S SQUADRON AND ITS FATE—COLUMBUS SAILS WESTWARD—DISCOVERS HONDURAS, AND COASTS ALONG ITS SHORES—THE SEARCH FOR GOLD—COLONY ATTEMPTED AND ABANDONED—THE VESSELS BECOME UNSEAWORTHY—REFUGE AT JAMAICA—MUTINY LED BY THE BROTHERS PORRAS—MESSAGES TO SAN DOMINGO—THE ECLIPSE—ARRIVAL OF RELIEF—COLUMBUS RETURNS TO SAN DOMINGO, AND TO SPAIN.
It seems a pity now that, after his third voyage, Columbus did not remain in Spain and enjoy, as an old man could, the honors which he had earned and the respect which now waited upon him. Had this been so, the world would have been spared the mortification which attends the thought that the old man to whom it owes so much suffered almost everything in one last effort, failed in that effort, and died with the mortification of failure. But it is to be remembered that Columbus was not a man to cultivate the love of leisure. He had no love of leisure to cultivate. His life had been an active one. He had attempted the solution of a certain problem which he had not solved, and every day of leisure, even every occasion of effort and every word of flattery, must have quickened in him new wishes to take the prize which seemed so near, and to achieve the possibility which had thus far eluded him.
From time to time, therefore, he had addressed new memorials to the sovereigns proposing a new expedition; and at last, by an instruction which is dated on the fourteenth of March, in the year 1502, a fourth voyage was set on foot at the charge of the king and queen,—an instruction not to stop at Hispaniola, but, for the saving of time, to pass by that island. This is a graceful way of intimating to him that he is not to mix himself up with the rights and wrongs of the new settlement.
The letter goes on to say, that the sovereigns have communicated with the King of Portugal, and that they have explained to him that Columbus is pressing his discoveries at the west and will not interfere with those of the Portuguese in the east. He is instructed to regard the Portuguese explorers as his friends, and to make no quarrel with them. He is instructed to take with him his sons, Fernando and Diego. This is probably at his request.
The prime object of the instruction is still to strike the mainland of the Indies. All the instructions are, "You will make a direct voyage, if the weather does not prevent you, for discovering the islands and the mainland of the Indies in that part which belongs to us." He is to take possession of these islands and of this mainland, and to inform the sovereigns in regard to his discoveries, and the experience of former voyages has taught them that great care must be taken to avoid private speculation in "gold, silver, pearls, precious stones, spices and other things of different quality." For this purpose special instructions are given.
Of this voyage we have Columbus's own official account.
There were four vessels, three of which were rated as caravels. The fourth was very small. The chief vessel was commanded by Diego Tristan; the second, the Santiago, by Francisco de Porras; the third, the Viscaina (Biscayan), by Bartholomew de Fiesco; and the little Gallician by Pedro de Torreros. None of these vessels, as the reader will see, was ever to return to Spain. From de Porras and his brother, Columbus and the expedition were to receive disastrous blows.
It must be observed that he is once more in his proper position of a discoverer. He has no government or other charge of colonies entrusted to him. His brother Bartholomew and his youngest son Fernando, sail with him.
The little squadron sailed from the bay of Cadiz on the eleventh of May, 1502. They touched at Sicilla,—a little port on the coast of Morocco,—to relieve its people, a Portuguese garrison, who had been besieged by the Moors. But finding them out of danger, Columbus went at once to the Grand Canary island, and had a favorable passage.
From the Grand Canary to the island which he calls "the first island of the Indies," and which he named Martinino, his voyage was only seventeen days long. This island was either the St. Lucia or the Martinique of today. Hence he passed to Dominica, and thence crossed to San Domingo, to make repairs, as he said. For, as has been said, he had been especially ordered not to interfere in the affairs of the settlement.
He did not disobey his orders. He says distinctly that he intended to pass along the southern shore of San Domingo, and thence take a departure for the continent. But he says, that his principal vessel sailed very ill—could not carry much canvas, and delayed the rest of the squadron. This weakness must have increased after the voyage across the ocean. For this reason he hoped to exchange it for another ship at San Domingo.
But he did not enter the harbor. He sent a letter to Ovando, now the governor, and asked his permission. He added, to the request he made, a statement that a tempest was at hand which he did not like to meet in the offing. Ovando, however, refused any permission to enter. He was, in fact, just dispatching a fleet to Spain, with Bobadilla, Columbus's old enemy, whom Ovando had replaced in his turn.
Columbus, in an eager wish to be of use, by a returning messenger begged Ovando to delay this fleet till the gale had passed. But the seamen ridiculed him and his gale, and begged Ovando to send the fleet home.
He did so. Bobadilla and his fleet put to sea. In ten days a West India hurricane struck them. The ship on which Columbus's enemies, Bobadilla and Roldan, sailed, was sunk with them and the gold accumulated for years. Of the whole fleet, only one vessel, called the weakest of all, reached Spain. This ship carried four thousand pieces of gold, which were the property of the Admiral. Columbus's own little squadron, meanwhile—thanks probably to the seamanship of himself and his brother—weathered the storm, and he found refuge in the harbor which he had himself named "the beautiful," El Hermoso, in the western part of San Domingo.
Another storm delayed him at a port which he called Port Brasil. The word Brasil was the name which the Spaniards gave to the red log-wood, so valuable in dyeing, and various places received that name, where this wood was found. The name is derived from "Brasas,"—coals,—in allusion, probably, to the bright red color of the dye.
Sailing from this place, on Saturday, the sixteenth of June, they made sight of the island of Jamaica, but he pressed on without making any examination of the country, for four days sailing west and south-west. He then changed his course, and sailed for two days to the northwest and again two days to the north.
On Sunday, the twenty fourth of July, they saw land. This was the key now known as Cuyago, and they were at last close upon the mainland. After exploring this island they sailed again on Wednesday, the twenty-seventh, southwest and quarter southwest about ninety miles, and again they saw land, which is supposed to be the island of Guanaja or Bonacca, near the coast of Honduras.
The Indians on this island had some gold and some pearls. They had seen whites before. Columbus calls them men of good stature. Sailing from this island, he struck the mainland near Truxillo, about ten leagues from the island of Guanaja. He soon found the harbor, which we still know as the harbor of Truxillo, and from this point Columbus began a careful investigation of the coast.
He observed, what all navigators have since observed, the lack of harbors. He passed along as far as the river now known as the Tinto, where he took possession in the name of the sovereigns, calling this river the River of Possession. He found the natives savage, and the country of little account for his purposes. Still passing southward, he passed what we call the Mosquito Coast, to which he found the natives gave the name of Cariay.
These people were well disposed and willing to treat with them. They had some cotton, they had some gold. They wore very little clothing, and they painted their bodies, as most of the natives of the islands had done. He saw what he thought to be pigs and large mountain cats.
Still passing southward, running into such bays or other harbors as they found, he entered the "Admiral's Bay," in a country which had the name of Cerabaro, or Zerabora. Here an Indian brought a plate of gold and some other pieces of gold, and Columbus was, encouraged in his hopes of finding more.
The natives told him that if he would keep on he would find another bay which they called Arburarno, which is supposed to be the Laguna Chiriqui. They said the people, of that country, lived in the mountains. Here Columbus noticed the fact,—one which has given to philologists one of their central difficulties for four hundred years since,—that as he passed from one point to another of the American shores, the Indians did not understand each other's language. "Every ten or twenty leagues they did not understand each other." In entering the river Veragua, the Indians appeared armed with lances and arrows, some of them having gold also. Here, also, the people did not live upon the shore, but two or three leagues back in the interior, and they only came to the sea by their canoes upon the rivers.
The next province was then called Cobraba, but Columbus made no landing for want of a proper harbor. All his courses since he struck the continent had been in a southeasterly direction. That an expedition for westward discovery should be sailing eastward, seemed in itself a contradiction. What irritated the crews still more was, that the wind seemed always against them.
From the second to the ninth of November, 1502, the little fleet lay at anchor in the spacious harbor, which he called Puerto Bello, "the beautiful harbor." It is still known by that name. A considerable Spanish city grew up there, which became well known to the world in the last century by the attack upon it by the English in the years 1739 and 1742.
The formation of the coast compelled them to pass eastward as they went on. But the currents of the Gulf flow in the opposite direction. Here there were steady winds from the east and the northeast. The ships were pierced by the teredo, which eats through thick timbers, and is so destructive that the seamen of later times have learned to sheath the hulls of their vessels with copper.
The seamen thought that they were under the malign influence of some adverse spell. And after a month Columbus gave way to their remonstrances, and abandoned his search for a channel to India. He was the more ready to do this because he was satisfied that the land by which he lay was connected with the coast which other Spaniards had already discovered. He therefore sailed westward again, retracing his course to explore the gold mines of Veragua.
But the winds could change as quickly as his purposes, and now for nearly a fortnight they had to fight a tropical tempest. At one moment they met with a water-spout, which seemed to advance to them directly. The sailors, despairing of human help, shouted passages from St. John, and to their efficacy ascribed their escape. It was not until the seventeenth that they found themselves safely in harbor. He gave to the whole coast the name of "the coast of contrasts," to preserve the memory of his disappointments.
The natives proved friendly, as he had found them before; but they told him that he would find no more gold upon the coast; that the mines were in the country of the Veragua. It was, on the tenth day of January that, after some delay, Columbus entered again the river of that name.
The people told him where he should find the mines, and were all ready to send guides with his own people to point them out. He gave to this river, the name of the River of Belen, and to the port in which he anchored he gave the name of Santa Maria de Belen, or Bethlehem.
His men discovered the mines, so called, at a distance of eight leagues from the port. The country between was difficult, being mountainous and crossed by many streams. They were obliged to pass the river of Veragua thirty-nine times. The Indians themselves were dexterous in taking out gold. Columbus added to their number seventy-five men.
In one day's work, they obtained "two or three castellianos" without much difficulty. A castelliano was a gold coin of the time, and the meaning of the text is probably that each man obtained this amount. It was one of the "placers," such as have since proved so productive in different parts of the world.
Columbus satisfied himself that there was a much larger population inland. He learned from the Indians that the cacique, as he always calls the chief of these tribes, was a most important monarch in that region. His houses were larger than others, built handsomely of wood, covered with palm leaves.
The product of all the gold collected thus far is stated precisely in the official register. There were two hundred and twenty pieces of gold, large and small. Altogether they weighed seventy-two ounces, seven-eighths of an ounce and one grain. Besides these were twelve pieces, great and small, of an inferior grade of gold, which weighed fourteen ounces, three-eighths of an ounce, and six tomienes, a tomiene weighing one-third part of our drachm. In round numbers then, we will say that the result in gold of this cruising would be now worth $1,500.
Columbus collected gold in this way, to make his expedition popular at home, and he had, indeed, mortgaged the voyage, so to speak, by pledging the pecuniary results, as a fund to bear the expense of a new crusade. But, for himself, the prime desire was always discovery.
Eventually the Spaniards spent two months in that region, pressing their explorations in search of gold. And so promising did the tokens seem to him, that he determined to leave his brother, to secure the country and work the mines, while he should return to Spain, with the gold he had collected, and obtain reinforcements and supplies. But all these fond hopes were disappointed.
The natives, under a leader named Quibian, rallied in large numbers, probably intending to drive the colonists away. It was only by the boldest measures that their plans were met. When Columbus supposed that he had suppressed their enterprise, he took leave of his brother, as he had intended, leaving him but one of the four vessels.
Fortunately, as it proved, the wind did not serve. He sent back a boat to communicate with the settlement, but it fell into the hands of the savages. Doubtful as to the issue, a seaman, named Ledesma, volunteered to swim through the surf, and communicate with the settlement. The brave fellow succeeded. By passing through the surf again, he brought back the news that the little colony was closely besieged by the savages.
It seemed clear that the settlement must be abandoned, that Columbus's brother and his people must be taken back to Spain. This course was adopted. With infinite difficulty, the guns and stores which had been left with the colony were embarked on the vessels of the Admiral. The caravel which had been left for the colony could not be taken from the river. She was completely dismantled, and was left as the only memorial of this unfortunate colony.
At Puerto Bello he was obliged to leave another vessel, for she had been riddled by the teredo. The two which he had were in wretched condition. "They were as full of holes as a honey-comb." On the southern coast of Cuba, Columbus was obliged to supply them with cassava bread. The leaks increased. The ships' pumps were insufficient, and the men bailed out the water with buckets and kettles. On the twentieth of June, they were thankful to put into a harbor, called Puerto Bueno, on the coast of Jamaica, where, as it proved, they eventually left their worthless vessels, and where they were in exile from the world of civilization for twelve months.
Nothing in history is more pathetic than the memory that such a waste of a year, in the closing life of such a man as Columbus, should have been permitted by the jealousy, the cruelty, or the selfish ambition of inferior men.
He was not far from the colony at San Domingo. As the reader will see, he was able to send a message to his countrymen there. But those countrymen left him to take his chances against a strong tribe of savages. Indeed, they would not have been sorry to know that he was dead.
At first, however, he and his men welcomed the refuge of the harbor. It was the port which he had called Santa Gloria, on his first visit there. He was at once surrounded by Indians, ready to barter with them and bring them provisions. The poor Spaniards were hungry enough to be glad of this relief.
Mendez, a spirited sailor, had the oversight of this trade, and in one negotiation, at some distance from the vessels, he bought a good canoe of a friendly chief. For this he gave a brass basin, one of his two shirts, and a short jacket. On this canoe turned their after fortunes. Columbus refitted her, put on a false keel, furnished her with a mast and sail.
With six Indians, whom the chief had lent him, Diego Mendez, accompanied by only one Spanish companion, set sail in this little craft for San Domingo. Columbus sent by them a letter to the sovereigns, which gives the account of the voyage which the reader has been following.
When Mendez was a hundred miles advanced on his journey, he met a band of hostile savages. They had affected friendship until they had the adventurers in their power, when they seized them all. But while the savages were quarreling about the spoils, Mendez succeeded in escaping to his canoe, and returned alone to his master after fifteen days.
It was determined that the voyage should be renewed. But this time, another canoe was sent with that under the command of Mendez. He sailed again, storing his boats with cassava bread and calabashes of water. Bartholomew Columbus, with his armed band, marched along the coast, as the two canoes sailed along the shore.
Waiting then for a clear day, Mendez struck northward, on the passage, which was long for such frail craft, to San Domingo. It was eight months before Columbus heard of them. Of those eight months, the history is of dismal waiting, mutiny and civil war. It is pathetic, indeed, that a little body of men, who had been, once and again, saved from death in the most remarkable way, could not live on a fertile island, in a beautiful climate, without quarrelling with each other.
Two officers of Columbus, Porras and his brother, led the sedition. They told the rest of the crew that the Admiral's hope of relief from Mendez was a mere delusion. They said that he was an exile from Spain, and that he did not dare return to Hispaniola. In such ways they sought to rouse his people against him and his brother. As for Columbus, he was sick on board his vessel, while the two brothers Porras were working against him among his men.
On the second of January, 1504, Francesco de Porras broke into the cabin. He complained bitterly that they were kept to die in that desolate place, and accused the Admiral as if it were his fault. He told Columbus, that they had determined to go back to Spain; and then, lifting his voice, he shouted, "I am for Castile; who will follow me?" The mutinous crew instantly replied that they would do so. Voices were heard which threatened Columbus's life.
His brother, the Adelantado, persuaded Columbus to retire from the crowd and himself assumed the whole weight of the assault. The loyal part of the crew, however, persuaded him to put down his weapon, and on the other hand, entreated Porras and his companions to depart. It was clear enough that they had the power, and they tried to carry out their plans.
They embarked in ten canoes, and thus the Admiral was abandoned by forty-eight of his men. They followed, to the eastward, the route which Mendez had taken. In their lawless way they robbed the Indians of their provisions and of anything else that they needed. As Mendez had done, they waited at the eastern extremity of Jamaica for calm weather. They knew they could not manage the canoes, and they had several Indians to help them.
When the sea was smooth they started; but they had hardly gone four leagues from the land, when the waves began to rise under a contrary wind. Immediately they turned for shore, the canoes were overfreighted, and as the sea rose, frequently shipped water.
The frightened Spaniards threw overboard everything they could spare, retaining their arms only, and a part of their provisions. They even compelled the Indians to leap into the sea to lighten the boats, but, though they were skillful swimmers, they could not pretend to make land by swimming. They kept to the canoes, therefore, and would occasionally seize them to recover breath. The cruel Spaniards cut off their hands and stabbed them with their swords. Thus eighteen of their Indian comrades died, and they had none left, but such as were of most help in managing the canoes. Once on land, they doubted whether to make another effort or to return to Columbus.
Eventually they waited a month, for another opportunity to go to Hispaniola; but this failed as before, and losing all patience, they returned westward, to the commander whom they had insulted, living on the island "by fair means or foul," according as they found the natives friendly or unfriendly.
Columbus, meanwhile, with his half the crew, was waiting. He had established as good order as he could between his men and the natives, but he was obliged to keep a strict watch over such European food as he still had, knowing how necessary it was for the sick men in his number. On the other hand, the Indians, wholly unused to regular work, found it difficult to supply the food which so many men demanded.
The supplies fell off from day to day; the natives no longer pressed down to the harbor; the trinkets, with which food had been bought, had lost their charm; the Spaniards began to fear that they should starve on the shore of an island which, when Columbus discovered it, appeared to be the abode of plenty. It was at this juncture, when the natives were becoming more and more unfriendly, that Columbus justified himself by the tyrant's plea of necessity, and made use of his astronomical science, to obtain a supernatural power over his unfriendly allies.
He sent his interpreter to summon the principal caciques to a conference. For this conference he appointed a day when he knew that a total eclipse of the moon would take place. The chiefs met as they were requested. He told them that he and his followers worshipped a God who lived in the heavens; that that God favored such as did well, but punished all who displeased him.
He asked them to remember how this God had protected Mendez and his companions in their voyage, because they went obedient to the orders which had been given them by their chief. He asked them to remember that the same God had punished Porras and his companions with all sorts of affliction, because they were rebels. He said that now this great God was angry with the Indians, because they refused to furnish food to his faithful worshippers; that he proposed to chastise them with famine and pestilence.
He said that, lest they should disbelieve the warning which he gave, a sign would be given, in the heavens that night, of the anger of the great God. They would see that the moon would change its color and would lose its light. They might take this as a token of the punishment which awaited them.
The Indians had not that confidence in Columbus which they once had. Some derided what he said, some were alarmed, all waited with anxiety and curiosity. When the night came they saw a dark shadow begin to steal over the moon. As the eclipse went forward, their fears increased. At last the mysterious darkness covered the face of the sky and of the world, when they knew that they had a right to expect the glory of the full moon.
There were then no bounds to their terror. They, seized on all the provisions that they had, they rushed to the ships, they threw themselves at the feet of Columbus and begged him to intercede with his God, to withhold the calamity which he had threatened. Columbus would not receive them; he shut himself up in his cabin and remained there while the eclipse increased, hearing from within, as the narrator says, the howls and prayers of the savages.
It was not until he knew the eclipse was about to diminish, that he condescended to come forth, and told them that he had interceded with God, who would pardon them if they would fulfil their promises. In token of pardon, the darkness would be withdrawn from the moon.
The Indians saw the fulfilment of the promise, as they had seen the fulfilment of the threat. The moon reappeared in its brilliancy. They thanked the Admiral eagerly for his intercession, and repaired to their homes. From this time forward, having proved that he knew on earth what was passing in the heavens, they propitiated him with their gifts. The supplies came in regularly, and from this time there was no longer any want of provisions.
But no tales of eclipses would keep the Spaniards quiet. Another conspiracy was formed, as the eight remaining months of exile passed by, among the survivors. They meant to seize the remaining canoes, and with them make their way to Hispaniola. But, at the very point of the outbreak of the new mutiny, a sail was seen standing toward the harbor.
The Spaniards could see that the vessel was small. She kept the offing, but sent a boat on shore. As the boat drew near, those who waited so eagerly recognized Escobar, who had been condemned to death, in Isabella, when Columbus was in administration, and was pardoned by his successor Bobadilla. To see this man approaching for their relief was not hopeful, though he were called a Christian, and was a countryman of their own.
Escobar drew up to the ships, on which the Spaniards still lived, and gave them a letter from Ovando, the new governor of Hispaniola, with some bacon and a barrel of wine, which were sent as presents to the Admiral. He told Columbus, in a private interview, that the governor had sent him to express his concern at his misfortune, and his regret that he had not a vessel of sufficient size to bring off all the people, but that he would send one as soon as possible. He assured him that his concerns in Hispaniola were attended to faithfully in his absence; he asked him to write to the governor in reply, as he wished to return at once.
This was but scant comfort for men who had been eight months waiting to be relieved. But Escobar was master of the position. Columbus wrote a reply at once to Ovando, pointed out that the difficulties of his situation had been increased by the rebellion of the brothers Porras. He, however, expressed his reliance on his promise, and said he would remain patiently on his ships until relief came. Escobar took the letter, returned to his vessel, and she made sail at once, leaving the starving Spaniards in dismay, to the same fate which hung over them before.
Columbus tried to reassure them. He professed himself satisfied with the communications from Ovando, and told them that vessels large enough for them would soon arrive. He said that they could see that he believed this, because he had not himself taken passage with Escobar, preferring to share their lot with them. He had sent back the little vessel at once, so that no time might be lost in sending the necessary ships.
With these assurances he cheered their hearts. In truth, however, he was very indignant at Ovando's cool behavior. That he should have left them for months in danger and uncertainty, with a mere tantalizing message and a scanty present of food—all this naturally made the great leader indignant. He believed that Ovando hoped that he might perish on the island.
He supposed that Ovando thought that this would be favorable for his own political prospects, and he believed that Escobar was sent merely as a spy. This same impression is given by Las Casas, the historian, who was then at San Domingo. He says that Escobar was chosen simply because of his enmity to Columbus, and that he was ordered not to land, nor to hold conversation with any of the crew, nor to receive letters from any except the Admiral.
After Escobar's departure, Columbus sent an embassy on shore to communicate with the rebel party, who were living on the island. He offered to them free pardon, kind treatment, and a passage with him in the ships which he expected from Ovando, and, as a token of good will, he sent them a part of the bacon which Escobar had brought them.
Francesco de Porras met these ambassadors, and replied that they had no wish to return to the ships, but preferred living at large. They offered to engage that they would be peaceable, if the Admiral would promise them solemnly, that, in case two vessels arrived, they should have one to depart in; that if only one vessel arrived they should have half of it, and that the Admiral would now share with them the stores and articles of traffic, which he had left in the ship. But these demands Columbus refused to accept.
Porras had spoken for the rebels, but they were not so well satisfied with the answer. The incident gave occasion for what was almost an outbreak among them. Porras attempted to hold them in hand, by assuring them that there had been no real arrival of Escobar. He told them that there had been no vessel in port; that what had been seen was a mere phantasm conjured up by Columbus, who was deeply versed in necromancy.
He reminded them that the vessel arrived just in the edge of the evening; that it communicated with Columbus only, and then disappeared in the night. Had it been a real vessel would he not have embarked, with his brother and his son? Was it not clear that it was only a phantom, which appeared for a moment and then vanished?
Not satisfied, however, with his control over his men, he marched them to a point near the ships, hoping to plunder the stores and to take the Admiral prisoner. Columbus, however, had notice of the approach of this marauding party, and his brother and fifty followers, of whose loyalty he was sure, armed themselves and marched to meet them. The Adelantado again sent ambassadors, the same whom he had sent before with the offer of pardon, but Porras and his companions would not permit them to approach.
They determined to offer battle to the fifty loyal men, thinking to attack and kill the Adelantado himself. They rushed upon him and his party, but at the first shock four or five of them were killed.
The Adelantado, with his own hand, killed Sanchez, one of the most powerful men among the rebels. Porras attacked him in turn, and with his sword cut his buckler and wounded his hand. The sword, however, was wedged in the shield, and before Porras could withdraw it, the Adelantado closed upon him and made him prisoner. When the rebels saw this result of the conflict, they fled in confusion.
The Indians, meanwhile, amazed at this conflict among men who had descended from heaven, gazed with wonder at the battle. When it was over, they approached the field, and looked with amazement on the dead bodies of the beings whom they had thought immortal. It is said, however, that at the mere sound of a groan from one of the wounded they fled in dismay.
The Adelantado returned in triumph to the ships. He brought with him his prisoners. Only two of his party had been wounded, himself and his steward. The next day the remaining fugitives sent in a petition to the Admiral, confessing their misdeeds and asking for pardon.
He saw that their union was broken; he granted their prayer, on the single condition that Francesco de Porras should remain a prisoner. He did not receive them on board the ships, but put them under the command of a loyal officer, to whom he gave a sufficient number of articles for trade, to purchase food of the natives.
This battle, for it was such, was the last critical incident in the long exile of the Spaniards, for, after a year of hope and fear, two vessels were seen standing into the harbor. One of them was a ship equipped, at Columbus's own expense, by the faithful Mendez; the other had been fitted out afterwards by Ovando, but had sailed in company with the first vessel of relief.
It would seem that the little public of Isabella had been made indignant by Ovando's neglect, and that he had been compelled, by public opinion to send another vessel as a companion to that sent by Mendez. Mendez himself, having seen the ships depart, went to Spain in the interest of the Admiral.
With the arrival at Puerto Bueno, in Jamaica, of the two relief vessels, Columbus's chief sufferings and anxiety were over. The responsibility, at least, was in other hands. But the passage to San Domingo consumed six tedious weeks. When he arrived, however, it was to meet one of his triumphs. He could hardly have expected it.
But his sufferings, and the sense of wrong that he had suffered, had, in truth, awakened the regard of the people of the colony. Ovando took him as a guest to his house. The people received him with distinction.
He found little to gratify him, however. Ovando, had ruled the poor natives with a rod of iron, and they were wretched. Columbus's own affairs had been neglected, and he could gain no relief from the governor. He spent only a month on the island, trying, as best he could, to bring some order into the administration of his own property; and then, on the twelfth of September, 1504, sailed for Spain.
Scarcely had the ship left harbor when she was dismasted in a squall. He was obliged to cross to another ship, under command of his brother, the Adelantado. She also was unfortunate. Her mainmast was sprung in a storm, and she could not go on until the mast was shortened.
In another gale the foremast was sprung, and it was only on the seventh of November that the shattered and storm-pursued vessel arrived at San Lucar. Columbus himself had been suffering, through the voyage, from gout and his other maladies. The voyage was, indeed, a harsh experience for a sick man, almost seventy years old.
He went at once to Seville, to find such rest as he might, for body and mind.
CHAPTER XIII. — TWO SAD YEARS
—ISABELLA'S DEATH—COLUMBUS AT SEVILLE—HIS ILLNESS—LETTERS TO THE KING—JOURNEYS TO SEGOVIA, SALAMANCA, AND VALLADOLID—HIS SUIT THERE—PHILIP AND JUANA—COLUMBUS EXECUTES HIS WILL—DIES—HIS BURIAL AND THE REMOVAL OF HIS BODY—HIS PORTRAITS—HIS CHARACTER.
Columbus had been absent from Spain two years and six months. He returned broken in health, and the remaining two years of his life are only the sad history of his effort to relieve his name from dishonor and to leave to his sons a fair opportunity to carry forward his work in the world.