The Life of Columbus
by Arthur Helps
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


In 1497, letters patent were issued from the Sovereigns to the admiral, authorizing him to grant repartimientos of the lands in the Indies to the Spaniards. It is noticeable that in this document there is no mention of Indians, so that they had not come to form portion of a repartimiento at this period. The document in question is of a formal character, expressed in the style of legal documents of the present day, by virtue of which the fortunate Spaniard who gets the land is "to have, and to hold, and to possess," and so forth; and is enabled "to sell and to give, and to present, and to traffic with, and to exchange, and to pledge, and to alienate, and to do with it and in it all that he likes or may think good."

While the acts of legislation above narrated, which cannot be said to have been favourable to good government in the Indies, were being framed at the Court of Spain, Don Bartholomew Columbus was doing much in his administration of Hispaniola that led to very mischievous results.

Before the admiral left the island, he had discovered some mines to the southward, and had thought of choosing a port in their vicinity, where he might establish a colony. He had spoken about this in his letters to the Government at home. As he entered the Bay of Cadiz on his return, he met some vessels there, which were bound for Hispaniola, and which contained letters from their Highnesses approving of his suggestion. By these ships, therefore, he sent orders to his brother to make this southern settlement; and the "Adelantado" accordingly proceeded southwards, and fixed upon a port at the entrance or the river Ozama. He sent for artizans from Isabella, and commenced building a fortress, which he called St. Domingo, and which afterwards became the chief port of the island.


There was one part of Hispaniola into which the Spaniards had not yet penetrated: it was called Xaragua, and was reigned over by a Cacique named Bohechio, whose sister, Anacaona, the wife of Caonabo, and a noted beauty, seems also to have had much authority in those parts. The Adelantado, after seeing the works at St. Domingo commenced, resolved to enter the kingdom of Xaragua, whither he proceeded at the head of one hundred men. Arriving at the river Neyba, he found an immense army of Indians drawn up there to oppose his progress. Don Bartholomew made signs to them that his errand was peaceful; and the good-natured Indians accepting his proffers of amity, he was conducted some thirty leagues further to the city of Xaragua, where he was received with processions of dancing and singing women, and feasted magnificently. After having been well entertained by these Indians, the "Adelantado" proceeded to business, and, in plain terms, demanded tribute of them. Bohechio pleaded that there was no gold in his dominions, to which the Adelantado replied that he did not wish to impose tribute upon any people, except of the natural production to be found in their country. It was finally settled that Bohechio should pay tribute in cotton and cazabi-bread. He acceded to this agreement very willingly; and the Adelantado and this cacique parted on the most friendly terms.

Don Bartholomew then returned to Isabella, where he found that about three hundred men had died from disease, and that there was great dearth of provisions. He distributed the sick men in his fortresses, and in the adjacent Indian villages, and afterwards set out on a journey to his new fort of St. Domingo, collecting tribute by the way. In all these rapid and energetic proceedings of the Adelantado, and still more from causes over which he had no control, the Spaniards must have suffered much; and, doubtless, those complaints on their part, which were soon to break out very menacingly, were not unheard at the present time.

If the Spaniards, however, complained of the labours which Don Bartholomew imposed upon them, the Indians complained still more, and far more justly, of the tribute imposed upon them. Several of the minor chiefs, upon this occasion of collecting tribute, complained to the great Cacique Guarionex, and suggested a rising of the Indians. This cacique seems to have been a peaceful, prudent man, and well aware of the power of the Spaniards. But he now consented to place himself at the head of an insurrection, which, however, the lieutenant-governor, soon made aware of it, quelled at once by a battle in which he was victorious over Guarionex, taking him and other principal persons captive. The chief movers of the revolt were put to death; but Guarionex was delivered up to his people, who flocked by thousands to his place of imprisonment, clamouring for his restitution.


About this time messengers came from Bohechio and Anacaona, informing the Adelantado that the tribute of that country was ready for him, and he accordingly went to fetch it. During his absence from the seat of government, and under the less vigorous administration of Don Diego Columbus, who had been left at the head of affairs at Isabella, those discontents among the Spaniards, which had no doubt been rife for a long time, broke out in a distinct manner. I allude to the well-known insurrection of Roldan, whom the admiral, on his departure, had left as chief justice in the island. The disputes between the chief justice and the governor were to form the first of a series of similar proceedings to take place afterwards in many colonies even down to our own times. It may be imagined that the family of Columbus were a hard race to deal with; and any one observing that the admiral was very often engaged in disputes, and almost always in the right, might conjecture that he was one of those persons who pass through life proving that all people about them are wrong, and going a great way to make them so. This would have been an easy mode of explaining many things, and therefore very welcome to a narrator, but it would not be at all just towards Columbus to saddle upon him any such character. Here were men who had come out with very grand. expectations, and who found themselves pinched with hunger, having dire storms to encounter, and vast labours to undergo; who were restrained within due bounds by no pressure of society; who were commanded by a foreigner, or by members of his family, whom they knew to have many enemies at court; who thought that the Sovereigns themselves could scarcely reach them at this distance; and who imagined that they had worked themselves out of an law and order, and that they deserved an Alsatian immunity. With such men (many of them, perhaps, "not worthy of water,") the admiral and his brothers had to get useful works of all kinds done; and did contrive to get vessels navigated, forts built, and some ideas of civilization maintained. But it was an arduous task at all times: and this Roldan did not furnish the least of the troubles which the admiral and his brothers had to endure.


Roldan, too, if we could hear him, would probably have something to say. He wished, it appears, to return to Spain, as Father Buil and Margarite had done; and urged that a certain caravel which the Governor Don Bartholomew Columbus had built, might be launched for that purpose. Such is the account of Ferdinand Columbus, who maintains that the said caravel could not be lunched for want of tackle. He also mentions that Roldan complained of the restless life the Adelantado led his men, building forts and towns; and said that there was no hope of the admiral coming back to the colony with supplies. Without going into these squabbles—and indeed it is very difficult when a quarrel of this kind arises, taking it up at the point where it breaks out, to judge it upon that only, since the stream of ill-will may have run underground for a long time—suffice it to say, that Roldan and his men grew more and more insubordinate; were not at all quelled by the presence of the Adelantado on his return from Xaragua; and finally quitted Isabella in a body. The Adelantado contrived to keep some men faithful to him, promising them, amongst other things, two slaves each. Negotiations then took place between the Adelantado and Roldan, which must be omitted for the present, to enter upon the further dealing of Don Bartholomew with the Indians.


These poor, islanders were now harassed both by the rebels and by the loyal Spaniards, whom the Adelantado could not venture to curb much, for fear of their going over to the other party. The Indians were also tempted by Roldan to join him, as he contended that tribute had been unjustly imposed upon them. From all these difficulties, Guarionex made his escape by flying to the territories of Maiobanex, the cacique of a hardy race, who inhabited the hilly country towards Cabron. This flight of Guarionex was a very serious affair, as it threatened the extinction of tribute in that cacique's territory; and Don Bartholomew accordingly pursued the fugitive. After some skirmishes with the troops of Maiobanex, in which, as usual, the Spaniards were victorious, the Adelantado sent a messenger to Maiobanex, telling him that the Spaniards did not seek war with him, but that he must give up Guarionex, otherwise his own territory would be destroyed by fire and sword. Maiobanex replied, that everyone knew that Guarionex was a good man, endowed with all virtue, wherefore he judged him to be worthy of assistance and defence, but that they, the Spaniards, were violent and bad men, and that he would have neither friendship nor commerce with them.


Upon receiving this answer, the Adelantado burnt several villages, and approached nearer to the camp of Maiobanex. Fresh negotiations were entered into: Maiobanex convoked an assembly of his people; and they contended that Guarionex ought to be given up, and cursed the day when first he came amongst them. Their noble chief, however, said, "that Guarionex was a good man, and deserved well at his hands, for he had given him many royal gifts when he came to him, and had taught him and his wife to join in choral songs and to dance, of which he made no little account, and for which he was grateful: wherefore, he would be party to no treaty to desert Guarionex, since he had fled to him, and he had pledged himself to take care of the fugitive; and would rather suffer all extremities than give detractors a cause for speaking ill, to say that he had delivered up his guest." The assemblage of the people being dismissed, Maiobanex informed his guest that he would stand by him to the last.


The fugitive cacique, however, finding that Maiobanex's people were ill-disposed towards him, quitted, of his own accord, their territory; but by so doing, he was not enabled to save his generous host, who, with his family, was surprized and taken; and Guarionex himself being shortly afterwards captured and put in chains at Fort Concepcion, the two caciques probably shared the same prison. Thus concludes a story, which, if it had been written by some Indian Plutarch, and the names had been more easy to pronounce, might have taken its just place amongst the familiar and household stories which we tell our children, to make them see the beauty of great actions.



A good starting-point for that important part of the narrative which comes next—namely, the discovery of the American continent by Columbus—will be a recital of the first clause in the instructions given by Ferdinand and Isabella to the admiral, in the year 1497, previously to his undertaking his third voyage—a voyage which, though not to be compared to his first one, is still very memorable, on account of the discoveries he made, and the sufferings he experienced in the course of it.

The first clause of the instructions is to the effect, that the Indians of the islands are to be brought into peace and quietude, being reduced into subjection "benignantly;" and also, as the principal end of the conquest, that they be converted to the sacred Catholic Faith, and have the holy Sacraments administered to them.

It will be needless to recount the vexations of that "much-enduring man," Columbus, before his embarkation. Suffice it to say, that he set sail from the port of San Lucar on the 30th of May, 1498, with six vessels, and two hundred men, in addition to the sailors that were necessary to navigate the vessels. In the course of his voyage he was obliged to avoid a French squadron which was cruizing in those seas, as France and Spain were then at war. From Gomera, one of the Canary islands, he despatched three of his ships directly to Hispaniola, declaring in his instructions to their commanders, that he was going to the Cape Verde islands, and thence, "in the name of the Sacred Trinity," intended to navigate to the south of those islands, until he should arrive under the equinoctial line, in the hope of being "guided by God to discover something which may be to His service, and to that of our Lords, the King and Queen, and to the honour of Christendom;" "for, I believe," he adds, "that no one has ever traversed this way, and that this sea is nearly unknown."


With one ship, therefore, and two caravels, the great admiral made for the Cape Verde islands, "a false name," as he observes, for nothing was to be seen there of a green colour. He reached these islands on the 27th of June, and quitted them on the 4th of July, having been in the midst of such a dense fog all the time, that, he says, "it might have been cut with a knife," Thence he proceeded to the south-west, intending afterwards to take a westerly direction. When he had gone, as he says, one hundred and twenty leagues, he began to find those floating fields of sea-weed which he had encountered in his first voyage. Here he took an observation at nightfall, and found that the north star was in five degrees. The wind suddenly abated, and the heat was intolerable; so much so, that nobody dared to go below deck to look after the wine and the provisions. This extraordinary heat lasted eight days. The first day was clear, and if the others had been like it, the admiral says, not a man would have been left alive, but they would all have been burnt up.


At last a favourable breeze sprang up, enabling the admiral to take a westerly course, the one he most desired, as he had before noticed in his voyages to the Indies that about a hundred miles west of the Azores there was always a sudden change of temperature.[15]

[Footnote 15: I suppose he came into or out of one of those warm ocean rivers which have so great an effect in modifying the temperature of the earth—perhaps into the one which comes from the south of Africa through the Gulf of Mexico, to our own shores, and on which we so much depend.]


On Sunday, the 22nd of July, in the evening, the sailors saw innumerable birds going from the south-west to the north-east, which flight of birds was a sign that land was not far off. For several successive days birds were seen, and an albatross perched upon the admiral's vessel. Still the fleet went on without seeing land, and, as it was in want of fresh water, the admiral was thinking of changing his course, and, indeed, on Thursday, the 31st of July, had commenced steering northwards for some hours, when, to use his own words, "as God had always been accustomed to show mercy to him," a certain mariner of Huelva, a follower of the admiral's, named Alonzo Perez, happened to go up aloft upon the maintop-sail of the admiral's ship, and suddenly saw land towards the south-west, about fifteen leagues off. This land which he described was in the form of three lofty hills or mountains. It would be but natural to conjecture that, as Columbus had resolved to name the first land he should discover "Trinidad," it was by an effort of the will, or of the imagination, that these three eminences were seen first; but it is exceedingly probable that such eminences were to be seen from the point whence Alonzo Perez first saw land.[16]

[Footnote 16: Cape Cashepou is backed by three peaked mountains, of which a representation is given in Day's West Indies, vol 2, p. 31.]

The sailors sang the "Salve Regina," with other pious hymns in honour of God and "Our Lady," according to the custom of the mariners of Spain, who, in terror or in joy, were wont to find an expression for their feelings in such sacred canticles.


The admiral's course, when he was going northwards, had been in the direction of the Carib islands, already well known to him; but with great delight he now turned towards Trinidad, making for a cape which, from the likeness of a little rocky islet near it to a galley in full sail, he named "La Galera." [17] There he arrived "at the hour of complines," but, not finding the port sufficiently deep for his vessels to enter, he proceeded westwards.

[Footnote 17: This point is sometimes placed at the north-east of Trinidad; but wrongly so. It is now Cape Galeota.—See Humbolt's Examen Critique, vol. i. p. 310.]


The first thing noticeable as he neared these shores, was that the trees grew well on the margin of the sea. There were houses and people,—and very beautiful lands, which reminded him, from their beauty and their verdure, of the gardens of Valencia as seen in the month of March. It was also to be observed that these lands were well cultivated.

On the following morning he continued in a westerly direction in search of a port, where he might take in water, and refit his ships, the timber of which had shrunk, from extreme heat, so that they sadly needed caulking. He did not find a port, but came to deep soundings somewhere near Point Alcatraz, where he brought to, and took in fresh water. This was on a Wednesday, the first of August. From the point where he now was, the low lands of the Orinoco must have been visible, and Columbus must have beheld the continent of America for the first time.[18] He supposed it to be an island of about twenty leagues in extent, and he gave it the somewhat insignificant name of Zeta.

[Footnote 18: The northern part of the continent had been discovered by Sebastian Cabot, on the 24th of June, 1497.]

The same signs of felicity which greeted his eyes on his first sight of land, continued to manifest themselves. Farms and populous places[19] were visible above the water as he coasted onwards; with the trees flourishing close to the sea—a sure sign of the general mildness of the weather, wherever it occurs.

[Footnote 19: "Vido muchas labranzas por luengo de Costa y muchas Poblaciones."—LAS CASAS, Hist. de las Indias, MS., lib. i cap. 132.]

The next day he proceeded westwards along the southern part of Trinidad, until he arrived It the westernmost point, which he called "La punta de Arenal;" and now he beheld the gulf of Paria, which he called "La Balena" (the gulf of the whale). It was just after the rainy season, and the great rivers which flow into that gulf were causing its waters to rush with impetuosity out of the two openings [20] which lead into the open sea. The contest between the fresh water and the salt water produced a ridge of waters, on the top of which the admiral was borne into the gulf at such risk, that, writing afterwards of this event to the Spanish court, he says, "Even to-day I shudder lest the waters should have upset the vessel when they came under its bows."

[Footnote 20: The Boca del Drago and the Boca de la Sierpe.]


Previously to entering the gulf, the admiral had sought to make friends with some Indians who approached him in a large canoe, by ordering his men to come upon the poop, and dance to the sound of a tambourine; but this, naturally enough, appears to have been mistaken for a warlike demonstration, and it was answered by a flight of arrows from the Indians.

The admiral, still supposing that he was amongst islands, called the land to the left of him, as he moved up the gulf, the island of Gracia; and he continued to make a similar mistake throughout the whole of his course up the gulf, taking the various projections of the indented coast for islands. Throughout his voyage in the gulf, Columbus met with nothing but friendly treatment from the natives. At last he arrived at a place which the natives told him was called Paria, and where they also informed him that, to the westward, the country was more populous. He took four of these natives, and went onwards, until he came to a point which he named Punto de Aguja (Needle Point), where, he says, he found the most beautiful lands in the world, very populous, and whence, to use his own words, "an infinite number of canoes came off to the ships."

Proceeding onwards, the admiral came to a place where the women had pearl bracelets, and, on his enquiring where these came from, they made signs, directing him out of the Gulf of Paria towards the island of Cubagua. Here he sent some of his men on shore, who were very well received and entertained by two of the principal Indians. It is needless to dwell upon this part of the narrative. Very few of the places retain the names which the admiral gave them, and, consequently, it is difficult to trace his progress. He began to conjecture, from the immense amount of fresh water brought down by the rivers into the Gulf of Paria, that the land which he had been calling the island of Gracia was not an island, but a continent, of which fact he afterwards became more convinced. But little time was given him for research of any kind. He was anxious to reach Hispaniola, in order to see after his colonists there, and to bring them the stores which he had in charge; and so, after passing through the "Boca del Drago," and reconnoitring the island of Margarita, which he named, he was compelled to go on his way to Hispaniola. We are hardly so much concerned with what the admiral saw and heard, as with what he afterwards thought and reported. To understand this, it will be desirable to enter somewhat into the scientific questions which occupied the mind of this great mariner and most observant man.


The discovery of the continent of America by Columbus, in his third voyage, was the result of a distinct intention on his part to discover some new land, and cannot be attributed to chance. It would be difficult to define precisely the train of ideas which led Columbus to this discovery. The Portuguese navigations were one compelling cause. Then the change, already alluded to, which Columbus had noticed in his voyages to the Indies, on passing a line a hundred leagues west of the Azores, was in his mind, as it was in reality, a circumstance of great moment[21] and significance. It was not a change of temperature alone that he noticed, but a change in the heavens, the air, the sea, and the magnetic current.

[Footnote 21: It is the opinion of HUMBOLDT, as mentioned before, that the celebrated division, made by Alexander the Sixth between the Castilian and Portuguese monarchs, was adopted in reference to these phenomena which Columbus had noticed: and, if the line of no variation were a "constant," no better marine boundary could well be suggested.]

In the first place, the needles of the compass, instead of north-easting, north-wested at this line; and that remarkable phenomenon occurred just upon the passage of the line, as if, Columbus says, one passed a hill. Then, the sea there was full of sea-weed like small pine-branches, laden with a fruit similar to pistachio nuts. Moreover, on passing this imaginary line, the admiral had invariably found that the temperature became agreeable, and the sea calm. Accordingly, in the course of this voyage, when they were suffering from that great heat which has been mentioned, he determined to take a westerly course, which led, as we have seen, to his discovering the beautiful land of Paria.[22]

[Footnote 22: Las Casas, who had other authentic information about this voyage besides the manuscripts of Columbus, says, that the admiral intended to have gone southwards, after he had taken a westerly course, on quitting the place where he was becalmed. Had he done so, which the state of his ships would not permit, he might have been the discoverer of Brazil.]


Now Columbus was one of those men of divining minds, who must have general theories on which to thread their observations; and, as few persons have so just a claim to theorize as those who have added largely to the number of ascertained facts (a privilege which they generally make abundant use of), so Columbus may well be listened to, when propounding his explanation of the wonderful change in sea, air, sky, and magnetic current, which he discerned at this distance of a hundred leagues from the Azores.

His theory was, that the earth was not a perfect sphere, but pear-shaped; and he thought that, as he proceeded westwards in this voyage, the sea went gradually rising, and his ships rising too, until they came nearer to the heavens. It is very possible that this theory had been long in his mind, or, at any rate, that he held it before he reached the coast of Paria. When there, new facts struck his mind, and were combined with his theory. He found the temperature much more moderate than might have been expected so near the equinoctial line, far more moderate than on the opposite coast of Africa. In the evenings, indeed, it was necessary for him to wear an outer garment of fur. Then, the natives were lighter coloured, more astute, and braver than those of the islands. Their hair, too, was different.

Then, again, he meditated upon the immense volume of fresh waters which descended into the Gulf of Paria. And, in fine, the conclusion which his pious mind came to, was, that when he reached the land which he called the island of Gracia, he was at the base of the earthly Paradise. He also, upon reflection, concluded that it was a continent which he had discovered, the same continent of the east which he had always been in search of; and that the waters, which we now know to be a branch of the river Orinoco, formed one of the four great rivers which descended from the garden of Paradise.

Very different were the conjectures of the pilots. Some said that they were in the Sea of Spain, others, in that of Scotland, and, being in despair about their whereabouts, they concluded that they had been under the guidance of the Devil. The admiral, however, was not a man to be much influenced by the sayings of the unthoughtful and the unlearned. He fortified himself by references to St. Isidro, Beda, Strabo, St. Ambrose, and Duns Scotus, and held stoutly to the conclusion that he had discovered the site of the earthly Paradise. It is said, that he exclaimed to his men, that they were in the richest country in the world.

Columbus did not forget to claim, with all due formalities, the possession of this approach to Paradise, for his employers, the Catholic Sovereigns. Accordingly, when at Paria, he had landed and taken possession of the coast in their names, erecting a great cross upon the shore, which, he tells Ferdinand and Isabella, he was in the habit of doing at every headland, the religious aspect of the conquest being one which always had great influence with the admiral, as he believed it to have with the Catholic monarchs. In communicating this discovery, he reminds them how they bade him go on with the enterprise, if he should discover only stones and rocks, and had told him that they counted the cost for nothing, considering that the Faith would be increased, and their dominions widened.


It was, however, no poor discovery of mere "rocks and stones" which the admiral had now made. It will be interesting to see his first impressions of the men and the scenery of this continent which he had now, unconsciously, for the first time, discovered. He says, "I found some lands, the most beautiful in the world, and very populous." The lands in the island of Trinidad he had previously compared to Valencia, in Spain, during the month of March. It is also noticeable that he had observed that the fields were cultivated. Of the people, he says, "They are all of good stature, well made, and of very graceful bearing, with much and smooth hair;" and he mentions that on their heads they wore the beautiful Arab head-dress (called keffeh), made of worked and coloured handkerchiefs, which appeared in the distance as if they were silken.

The description given by Columbus of the natives whom he encounters in his voyages is almost always favourable. Indeed, the description of any man or thing depends as much on the person describing, as on the thing or person described. Those little differences in look or dress, which excite the ready mockery of the untravelled rustic, appear very slight indeed to the man who, like Columbus or Las Casas, has seen many lands, and travelled over many minds. The rude Spanish common soldier perceived a far greater difference between himself and the Indian, than did the most accomplished man who visited the Indies, when he made to himself a similar comparison. Occasionally, in a narrow nature, however cultivated, the commonest prejudices hold their ground; but, in general, knowledge sees behind and beyond disgust, and suffices to conquer it.


Columbus, however, found the men, the country, and the products, equally admirable. It is somewhat curious that he does not mention his discovery of pearls to the Catholic monarchs, and he afterwards makes a poor excuse for this. The real reason I conjecture to have been a wish to preserve this knowledge to himself, that the fruits of this enterprise might not be prematurely snatched from him. His shipmates, however, were sure to disperse the intelligence; and the gains to be made on the Pearl Coast were, probably, the most tempting bait for future navigators to follow in the track of Columbus, and complete the discovery of the earthly Paradise.


Of the delights of this Paradise Columbus himself was to have but a slight and mocking foretaste. He had been constantly ill during the voyage, suffering from the gout and from an inflammation in his eyes which rendered him almost blind. His new colony in Hispaniola demanded his attention, and must often have been the cause of anxious thought to him; and the grave but glowing enthusiast made his way to St. Domingo, and afterwards returned to Spain, to be vexed henceforth by those mean miseries and small disputes which afflicted him for the remainder of his days—miseries the more galling, as they were so disproportionately small in comparison with the greatness of such a man, and with the aims and hopes which they effectually hindered.



It was on the 30th of August, 1498, that Columbus arrived at Hispaniola, where he found the state of his colony far from cheering, the defection of Roldan and his followers having put everything into confusion. The admiral supposed at first that the enmity of Roldan's party was chiefly directed against his brother, the Adelantado, and the admiral hoped that, now he had arrived, some agreement would speedily be concluded with Roldan, of which he might inform the catholic sovereigns by the vessels which he purposed to send back immediately to Spain. This was very far, however, from being the case. These vessels, five in number, left the port of St. Domingo bearing no good news of peace and amity amongst the Spaniards, but laden with many hundreds of Indian slaves, which had been taken in the following manner. Some cacique failed to perform the personal services imposed upon him and his people, and fled to the forests; upon which, orders were given to pursue him, and a large number of slaves were captured and put into these ships. Columbus, in his letters to the sovereigns, enters into an account of the pecuniary advantage that will arise from these slave-dealing transactions, and from the sale of logwood. He estimates, that "in the name of the sacred Trinity" there may be sent as many slaves as sale could be found for in Spain, and that the value of the slaves, for whom there would be a demand to the number of four thousand, as he calculated from certain information, and of the logwood, would amount to forty cuentos (i. e. forty million maravedis). The number of slaves who were sent in these five ships was six hundred, of which two hundred were given to the masters of the vessels in payment of freight. In the course of these letters, throughout which Columbus speaks after the fashion of a practised slave-dealer, he alludes to the intended adoption, on behalf of private individuals, of a system of exchange of slaves for goods wanted from the mother country. The proposed arrangement was as follows:—The masters of vessels were to receive slaves from the colonists, were to carry them to Spain, and to pay for their maintenance during the voyage; they were then to allow the colonists so much money, payable at Seville, in proportion to the number of slaves brought over. This money they would expend according to the orders of the colonists, who would thus be able to obtain such goods as they might stand in need of. It was upon the same occasion of writing home to Spain that the admiral strongly urged upon the Catholic Sovereigns that the Spanish colonists should be allowed to make use of the services of the Indians for a year or two until the colony should be in a settled state, a proposal which he did not wait for their highnesses' authority to carry out, and which led to a new form of the repartimiento. But this brings us back to Roldan's story, being closely connected with it.


After great trouble and many attempts at agreement, in which mention is more than once made of slaves, the dispute between Roldan's party, rebels they might almost be called, and Columbus, was at last, after two years' negotiation, brought to a close. Roldan kept his chief-justiceship; and his friends received lands and slaves. It brings to mind the conclusion of many a long war in the old world, in which two great powers have been contending against each other, with several small powers on each side, the latter being either ruined in the course of the war, or sacrificed at the end. The admiral gave repartimientos to those followers of Roldan who chose to stay in the island, which were constituted in the following manner. The admiral placed under such a caciqne so many thousand matas (shoots of the cazabi), or, which came to the same thing, so many thousand montones (small mounds a foot and a half high, and ten or twelve feet round, on each of which a cazabi shoot was planted); and Columbus then ordered that the cacique or his people should till these lands for whomsoever they were assigned to. The repartimiento had now grown to its second state—not lands only, but lands and the tillage of them. We shall yet find that there is a further step in this matter, before the repartimiento assumes its utmost development. It seems, too, that in addition to these repartimientos, Columbus gave slaves to those partizans of Roldan who stayed in the island. Others of Roldan's followers, fifteen in number, chose to return to Spain; they received a certain number of slaves, some one, some two, some three; and the admiral sent them home in two vessels which left the port of St. Domingo at the beginning of October, 1499.


On the arrival in Spain of these vessels, the Queen was in the highest degree angered by the above proceedings, and said that the admiral had received no authority from her to give her vassals to anyone. She accordingly commanded proclamation to be made at Seville, Granada, and other places, that all persons who were in possession of Indians, given to them by the admiral, should, under pain of death, send those Indians back to Hispaniola, "and that particularly they should send back those Indians, and not the others who had been brought before, because she was informed that the others had been taken in just war." The former part of this proclamation has been frequently alluded to, and no doubt it deserves much praise; but from the latter part it is clear that there were some Indians who could justly, according to Queen Isabella, be made slaves. By this time, therefore, at any rate the question had been solved, whether by the learned in the law, theologians and canonists, I know not, but certainly in practice, that the Indians taken in war could be made slaves. The whole of this transaction is very remarkable, and, in some measure, inexplicable, on the facts before us. There is nothing to show that the slaves given to Roldan's followers were made slaves in a different way from those who had been sent over on former occasions, both by the admiral and his brother, for the benefit of the crown. And yet the Queen, whom no one has ever accused of condescending to state craft, seems to deal with this particular case as if it were something quite new. It cannot be said that the crown was favoured, for the question is put upon the legitimacy of the original capture; and to confirm this, there is a letter from the Sovereigns to one of their household, from which it may be inferred, though the wording is rather obscure, that they, too, gave up the slaves which had come over for them on this occasion.

Every body would be sorry to take away any honour from Isabella; and all who are conversant with that period must wish that her proclamation could be proved to have gone to the root of the matter; and that it had forbidden the sending Indians to Spain as slaves, on any pretext whatever.


To return to the affairs of Hispaniola. Columbus had now settled the Roldan revolt and other smaller ones; he had now, too, reduced the Indians into subjection; the mines were prospering; the Indians were to be brought together in populous villages, that so they might better be taught the Christian faith, and serve as vassals to the crown of Castile; the royal revenues (always a matter of much concern to Columbus) would, he thought, in three years amount to sixty millions of reals; and now there was time for him to sit down, and meditate upon the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem, or the conversion of Cathay. If there had been any prolonged quiet for him, such great adventures would probably have begun to form the staple of his high thoughts. But he had hardly enjoyed more than a month of repose, when that evil came down upon him, which "poured the juice of aloes into the remaining portion of his life."

The Catholic sovereigns had hitherto, upon the whole, behaved well to Columbus. He had bitter enemies at court. People were for ever suggesting to the monarchs that this foreigner was doing wrong. The admiral's son, Ferdinand, gives a vivid picture of some of the complaints preferred against his father. He says, "When I was at Granada, at the time the most serene Prince Don Miguel died, more than fifty of them (Spaniards who had returned from the Indies), as men without shame, bought a great quantity of grapes, and sat themselves down in the court of the Alhambra, uttering loud cries, saying, that their Highnesses and the admiral made them live in this poor fashion on account of the bad pay they received, with many other dishonest and unseemly things, which they kept repeating. Such was their effrontery that when the Catholic king came forth they all surrounded him, and got him into the midst of them, saying, 'Pay! pay!' and if by chance I and my brother, who were pages to the most serene Queen, happened to pass where they were, they shouted to the very heavens saying, 'Look at the sons of the admiral of Mosquitoland, of that man who has discovered the lands of deceit and disappointment, a place of sepulchre and wretchedness to Spanish hidalgoes:' adding many other insulting expressions, on which account we excused ourselves from passing by them."


Unjust clamour, like the above, would not alone have turned the hearts of the Catholic sovereigns against Columbus; but this clamour was supported by serious grounds for dissatisfaction in the state and prospects of the colony: and when there is a constant stream of enmity and prejudice against a man, his conduct or his fortune will, some day or other, offer an opportunity for it to rush in upon him.


However this may be, soon after the return of the five vessels from St. Domingo, mentioned above, which first told the news of the revolt of Roldan, Ferdinand and Isabella appear to have taken into serious consideration the question of suspending Columbus. He had, himself, in the letters transmitted by these ships, requested that some one might be sent to conduct the affairs of justice in the colony; but if Ferdinand and Isabella began by merely looking out for such an officer, they ended in resolving to send one who should take the civil as well as judicial authority into his own hands. This determination was not, however, acted upon hastily. On the 21st of March, 1499, they authorized Francis de Bobadilla "to ascertain what persons have raised themselves against justice in the island of Hispaniola, and to proceed against them according to law." On the 21st of May, 1499, they conferred upon this officer the government, and signed an order that all arms and fortresses in the Indies should be given up to him. On the 26th of the same month, they gave him the following remarkable letter to Columbus:-

"Don Christopher Columbus, our Admiral of the Ocean: We have commanded the Comendador Francis de Bobadilla, the bearer of this that he speak to you on our part some things which he will tell you: we pray you give him faith and credence, and act accordingly. "I the King, I the Queen, "By their command, "MIGUEL PEREZ DE ALMAZAN,"


Bobadilla, however, was not sent from Spain until the beginning of July, 1500, and did not make his appearance in Hispaniola till the 23rd of August of the same year. Their Highnesses, therefore, must have taken time before carrying their resolve into execution; and what they meant by it is dubious. Certainly, not that the matter should have been transacted in the coarse way which Bobadilla adopted. It is a great pity, and a sad instance of mistaken judgment, that they fixed upon him for their agent. I imagine him to have been such a man as may often be met with, who, from his narrowness of mind and distinctness of prejudice, is supposed to be high- principled and direct in his dealings; and whose untried reputation has great favour with many people: until, placed in power some day, he shows that to rule well requires other things than one-sidedness in the ruling person; and is fortunate if he does not acquire that part of renown which consists in notoriety, by committing some colossal blunder, henceforth historical from its largeness.


The first thing that Bobadilla did on arriving at St. Domingo was to take possession of the admiral's house (he being at the fort La Concepcion), and then to summon the admiral before him, sending him the royal letter. Neither the admiral nor his brothers attempted to make any resistance; and Bobadilla, with a stupid brutality, which I suppose he took for vigour, put them in chains, and sent them to Spain. There is no doubt that the Castilian population of Hispaniola were rejoiced at Bobadilla's coming, and that they abetted him in his violence. Accusations came thickly against Columbus: "the stones rose up against him and his brothers," says the historian Herrera, emphatically, The people told how he had made them work, even sick men, at his fortresses, at his house, at the mills, and other buildings; how he had starved them; how he had condemned men to be whipped for the slightest causes, as, for instance, for stealing a peck of wheat when they were dying of hunger. Considering the difficulties he had to deal with, and the scarcity of provisions, many of these accusations, if rightly examined, would probably have not merely failed in producing anything against Columbus, but would have developed some proofs of his firmness and sagacity as a governor. Then his accusers went on to other grounds, such as his not having baptized Indians "because he desired slaves rather than Christians:" moreover, that he had entered into war unjustly with the Indians, and that he had made many slaves, in order to send them to Castile. It is highly unlikely that these latter charges were preferred by a single colonist, unless, perhaps, by some man in religious orders. The probability is, that they came from the other side of the water; and this does give considerable strength to the report, that the displeasure of the court with respect to the Admiral's proceedings against the Indians had to do with his removal from the government of the Indies. If so, it speaks largely for the continued admirable intentions of the Spanish court in this matter.

Poor Columbus! His chains lay very heavily upon him. He insisted, however, upon not having them taken off, unless by royal command, and would ever keep them by him, ("I always saw them in his room," says his son Ferdinand), ordering that they should be buried with him. He did not know how many wretched beings would have to traverse those seas, in bonds much worse than his, with no room allowed them for writing, as was his case,—not even for standing upright; nor did he foresee, I trust, that some of his doings would further all this coming misery. In these chains Columbus is of more interest to us than when in full power as governor of the Indies; for so it is, that the most infelicitous times of a man's life are those which posterity will look to most, and love him most for. This very thought may have comforted him; but happily he had other sources of consolation in the pious aspirations which never deserted him.

We have come now to the end of Columbus's administration of the Indies. Whatever we may think of his general policy, we cannot but regret his removal at the present time, when there appeared some chance of solidity in his government: though we must honestly admit, that the Catholic Sovereigns, with such evidence as they had before them, were far from wrong in recalling him, had it been done in a manner worthy of his and of their greatness.



The career of Columbus had already been marked by strong contrasts. First, a "pauper pilot," then the viceroy of a new world; alternately hoping, and fearing, despondent, and triumphant, he had passed through strange vicissitudes of good and evil fortune. But no two events in his life stand out in stronger contrast to each other than his return to Spain after his first voyage, and his return now. He was then a conqueror; he was now a prisoner. He was then the idol of popular favour; he was now the unpopular victim of insidious maligners. In truth, the contrast was so startling as to strike home to the hearts of the common people, even of those—and there were many such—who had lost kinsmen or friends in that fatal quest for gold which the admiral had originated and stimulated. The broad fact was this: Columbus had given Spain a new world; Spain loaded him with fetters in return. There was a reaction. The current of public opinion began to turn in his favour. The nation became conscious of ingratitude to its benefactor. The nobility were shocked at the insult to one of their own order. And no sooner had the Sovereigns learned from Columbus of his arrival, and of his disgrace, than they issued immediate orders for his liberation, and summoned him to their court at Grenada, forwarding money to enable him to proceed there in a style befitting his rank. They then received him with all possible signs of distinction; repudiated Bobadilla's arbitrary proceedings; and promised the admiral compensation and satisfaction. As a mark of their disapprobation of the way in which Bobadilla had acted under their commission, they pointedly refused to enquire into the charges against Columbus, and dismissed them as not worthy of investigation.

But though the Sovereigns acted thus promptly on the admiral's behalf, there is no doubt that one of them, at least, was in no wise displeased at his being removed from his government. At each fresh discovery, Ferdinand had repented more and more of the concession by which Columbus was to receive an eighth part of the profits of the newly-found countries, and to be their governor-general. He probably apprehended that this viceroy, when once master of the boundless wealth which was supposed to be nearly within his grasp, would become more powerful than his master, and might finally throw off his allegiance altogether. But here was an opportunity, without any flagrant breach of faith, of eluding the bargain, by refusing, on very plausible grounds of policy, to reinstate Columbus immediately in his viceroyalty. Isabella, who had always been his firm friend, would probably have refused to acquiesce in, any scheme for absolutely depriving him of his rights, but it was sufficiently obvious that just at present, while the colonists were excited against him, it would be prudent that some one else should take the reins of government.


The Queen granted Columbus a private audience. He told his story with much simple eloquence—so pathetically, indeed, that his warmhearted mistress is said to have been moved to tears at the recital. He described the difficulties which he had encountered and the machinations of the enemies who had been constantly thwarting him. He pleaded that he had been obliged to create a line of conduct for himself, having to deal with an entirely new combination of circumstances without any precedent to guide him. And he implored the Queen to believe that the accusations which had, of late, poured in against him, were prompted by the disappointed ambition and the jealousy of his enemies, and had not any solid foundation in fact.

Isabella replied in a very sensible speech, telling him that, while she fully appreciated his services, and knew the rancour of his enemies, she was afraid that he had given some cause for complaint. "Common report," she said,[Charlevoix.] "accuses you of acting with a degree of severity quite unsuitable for an infant colony, and likely to excite rebellion there. But the matter as to which I find it hardest to give you my pardon, is your conduct in reducing to slavery a number of Indians who had done nothing to deserve such a fate. This was contrary to my express orders. As your ill fortune willed it, just at the time when I heard of this breach of my instructions, everybody was complaining of you, and no one spoke a word in your favour. And I felt obliged to send to the Indies a commissioner to investigate matters, and give me a true report; and, if necessary, to put limits to the authority which you were accused of overstepping. If you were found guilty of the charges, he was to relieve you of the government and to send you to Spain to give an account of your stewardship. This was the extent of his commission. I find that I have made a bad choice in my agent; and I will take care to make an example of Bobadilla, which shall serve as a warning to others not to exceed their powers. I cannot, however, promise to re-instate you at once in your government. People are too much inflamed against you, and must have time to cool. As to your rank of admiral, I never intended to deprive you of it. But you must bide your time and trust in me."


It was arranged that the appointment of the new governor should be for two years only, at the expiration of which period, as Isabella thought, the administration of the colonies might be again entrusted to Columbus; while Ferdinand doubtless considered that some pretext might be found in the meantime for omitting to re-appoint him at all. And though Columbus may have been told verbally that it was their Highnesses' intention to re-instate him after the lapse of two years, it is noteworthy that the document appointing Ovando makes no mention of any limitation of the term of his (Ovando's) government. The words are, "that he is to be governor as long as it is their Highnesses' will and pleasure." Bobadilla, fortunately for the islanders, was forthwith to be superseded; for, if Columbus had chastised them with whips, Bobadilla was chastising them with scorpions. His first object was the discovery of gold; and to secure this he took a census of the natives, and assigned them all as slaves to the colonists. A large proportion of the latter, as we have seen, were simply the scourings of Spanish prisons; and the brutality with which these men treated their wretched helots was very terrible. Some estimate of the amount of pressure employed may be formed from the fact that, although Bobadilla had reduced the royalty payable to the Sovereigns from one-third to one-eleventh of the gold found, this smaller proportion produced a larger revenue. In other words, about four times as much gold was discovered under Bobadilla's system as under that of Columbus.


But when the Sovereigns heard of the cruelties which that system involved, they urged forward the departure of Ovando, whom they had selected as governor, and who, to judge from his previous career, was a man eminently fitted to rule justly and mercifully. He was well known to Ferdinand and Isabella, having been chosen by the Queen as one of the companions for her eldest son, Prince John. With regard to his personal appearance, we are told that he was of moderate stature, and had a "vermilion-coloured beard," which fact hardly conveys much to our minds; but it is added, in general terms, that his presence expressed authority. With respect to his mental qualifications, we learn that he was a friend to justice, an honourable person both in words and deeds, and that he held all avarice and covetousness in much aversion. He was humble, too, they say, and when he was appointed Commendador Mayor of the Order of Alcantara, he would never allow himself to be addressed by the title of "Lordship," which belonged to that office.


Previous to Ovando's departure from court, the monarchs were particular in giving him instructions both verbal and written. Among these instructions was one which Isabella especially insisted on, namely, "that all the Indians in Hispaniola should be free from servitude and be unmolested by anyone, and that they should live as free vassals, governed and protected by justice, as were the vassals of Castile." Like the vassals in Spain, the Indians were to pay tribute; they were also to assist in getting gold, but for this they were to be paid daily wages. Other commands were given at the same time for the conversion of the Indians, and to insure their being treated kindly.


Respecting the general government of the country, it was arranged that on Ovando's going out, all those who received pay from the government in the Indies, as well those who had accompanied Bobadilla as those who had come out originally with Columbus, should return to Spain, and that a new set to replace them should go out with Ovando. This was done because most of these soldiers and officials had necessarily been connected with the late troubles in the colony, and it would be a good plan to start afresh, as it were. At the same time it was provided that no Jews, Moors, or new converts were to go to the Indies, or be permitted to remain there; but negro slaves "born in the power of Christians, were to be allowed to pass to the Indies, and the officers of the royal revenue were to receive the money to be paid for their permits." This is the first notice with respect to negroes going to the Indies. These instructions were given in the year 1501.

On Ovando's arrival in the colony, Bobadilla was to undergo the ordeal of a "residencia," a kind of examination well known and constantly practised in Spain, to which Authorities were subject on going out of office—being of the nature of a general impeachment. It is satisfactory to find, that amongst the orders given to Ovando, there are some for the restitution of the admiral's property, and the maintenance of his mercantile rights.

Just before Ovando took leave of the king, he received a formal lecture upon the duties of a governor. The King, the Queen, and a privy councillor, Antonio de Fonseca, were the persons present; and, as I imagine, the latter addressed Ovando on the part of their Highnesses. As it is not often that we have an opportunity of hearing a didactic lecture on the modes and duties of government given in the presence of a great master of that art, and probably looked over, if not prepared, by him, we must enter the royal cabinet, and hear some part of this discourse.

The first point which Fonseca impresses upon Ovando is, that before all things, he is to look to what concerns the reverence of God and His worship. Then he is to examine into the life and capacity of the men about him, and to put good men into office; taking care, however, not to leave all the authority in the hands of subordinates (here we may well imagine Ferdinand nodded approvingly), to the diminution of his own power, "nor to make them so great that they shall have occasion to contrive novelties," in order to make themselves greater. Also, let there be change of authorities, so that many may have a share of profit and honour, and be made skilful in affairs.

That he should use moderation in making repartimientos and tributes, not overtaxing the people, which moderation would be furthered by his taking care that his personal and his household expenses were within due bounds. (Here, I fancy, the monarchs looked at each other, thought of their own frugal way of living, and Isabella smiled.)

That he should not make himself judge in a cause, but let culprits be tried in the ordinary way. Thus he will avoid unpopularity, for "the remembrance of the crime perishes: not so that of the punishment." (This aphorism must, I think, have been composed by Ferdinand himself. His writing is always exceedingly concise and to the purpose.)

That he should not listen to tale-bearers, (parleros) either of his own household or to those out of it; nor take vengeance upon anybody who had spoken ill of him, it being "an ugly thing to believe that anybody could speak ill of one who did ill to no one, but good to all," That it is one of the conditions of bad governors, "moved therein by their own consciences" to give heed to what they hear is said of them, and to take ill that, which if it had been said, they had better not have heard. Rather let injurious sayings be overcome by magnanimity.

That it would be good for him to give free audience to all, and to hear what they had to say; and if their counsel turned out ill, not to look coldly upon them for that. The same in war, or in any other undertaking: his agents must not have to fear punishment for failure, nor calumny for success: "for there were many persons who, to avoid the envy of their superiors, sought rather to lose a victory than to gain it," (Here Ferdinand ought to have looked a little ashamed, being conscious that his own practice by no means came up to what he perceives to be noble and wise policy in the matter.)

That he (Ovando) should look to what example he gives both in word and deed,—governors living, as in a theatre, in the midst of the world. If he does ill, even those who follow him in that, will not the less disesteem him.

That although it is necessary for him to know the life of everyone, yet he must not be over-inquisitive about it, nor rout up offences which are not brought before him officially. "Since if all offences were looked into, few men, or none, would be without punishment." Besides, for secret faults men may correct themselves: if those faults are made known, and especially if they are punished in excess, shame is lost, and men give way to their bad impulses.

That he is to encourage those who work, and to discourage the idle, as the universal Father does.

That, as regards liberality, he should so conduct himself, that men should not dare to ask him for things which they would know he must deny: this would be a great restraint upon them, and a great proof of good reputation in a governor.

That, in fine, all that had been said consisted in this, that he was to govern as he would be, governed: and that "it behoved him to be intent in business, to show courage in difficulties, and management in all things, brevity in executing useful determinations, yet not as if carried away by passion, but always upon good counsel; considering much what a charge was upon him, for this thought would be useful to him at all times: and above all things he was to take heed (in order that the same thing might not happen to him which had happened to the admiral) that when any occasion for dealing briefly with an offence occurred, he should have swift recourse to punishment, for in such cases the remedy ought to be like a thunderbolt."

After reading the above, we cannot say that the Catholic monarchs were inattentive to the government of their Indian possessions, nor can the sagacity which directed that attention be for a moment questioned. Indeed that sagacity is so remarkable, that it may naturally occur to the learned reader to inquire, whether Machiavelli's "Prince" had yet been published, and whether King Ferdinand could have read that much-abused manual of crafty statesmen. It was, however, about twelve years after this memorable audience granted by Ferdinand and Isabella to Ovando that "The Prince" is alluded to by Machiavelli, and described as a small unpublished work.


Charged with these instructions, then, Nicholas de Ovando left the port of San Lucas on the 13th of February, 1502, to take possession of his new government, having under him a gallant company of two thousand five hundred persons, a large proportion of them being hidalgoes. On his way he met with a terrible storm, in which one of his largest vessels foundered, and he had some difficulty in reaching St. Domingo at all. This, however, he succeeded in doing on the 15th of April, and entered at once upon the reforms which he was commissioned to institute.


He announced the residencia of Bobadilla, and placed Roldan under arrest. He exerted himself to found settlements along the coast, and at first, no doubt, he endeavoured to carry out the merciful directions which he had received with regard to the Indians. But, like Bobadilla, he was a knight of a religious order, with a certain narrow way of looking at things incident to his profession, with no especial culture that we know of, and with little originality of character. In these respects he presented a remarkable contrast to Columbus, who was a man of various accomplishments, large minded, enthusiastic, fluent, affectionate, inventive. And so, whereas Columbus had always treated the natives with consideration and humanity, Ovando soon began to rule them with a rod of iron. We must not linger too long over his administration of what we may call Columbus's kingdom, but there is one sad episode which it is worth while to recount, if only to make the policy of Columbus stand out in brighter relief.


When Anacaona, the Queen of Xaragua, had received the admiral's brother, Don Bartolome, on a former occasion, the Spaniards affirmed her to be a wise woman, of good manners, and pleasant address; and she is said to have earnestly entreated her brother to take warning by the fate of her husband, Caonabo, and to love and obey the Christians. As she was now to play the hostess again, this time to Ovando, we may refer to the account of her former reception of a Spanish governor, the Adelantado, of which there are some details furnished by Peter Martyr.

After mentioning that the queen and her brother received the lieutenant with all courtesy and honour, he says: "They brought our men to their common hall, into which they come together as often as they make any notable games or triumphs, as we have said before. Here, after many dancings, singings, maskings, runnings, wrestlings, and other trying of masteries, suddenly there appeared in a large plain near unto the hall, two great armies of men of war, which the king for his pastime had caused to be prepared, as the Spaniards use the play with reeds, which they call Juga de Canias. As the armies drew near together, they assailed the one the other as fiercely as if mortal enemies with their banners spread should fight for their goods, their lands, their lives, their liberty, their country, their wives and their children, so that within the moment of an hour, four men were slain, and many wounded. The battle also would have continued longer, if the king had not, at the request of our men, caused them to cease."


At this time, in the year 1503, some of Roldan's former partizans were settled in the province of Xaragua, and were a great trouble to the colony. Herrera says, in a quiet sarcastic way, "they lived in the discipline they had learnt from Roldan;" and the governing powers of Xaragua found them "intolerable." He also adds that Anacaona's people were in policy, in language, and in other things superior to all the other inhabitants of the island. As might be expected, there were constant disturbances between these Spaniards and the adjacent Indians; and the Spaniards took care to inform the governor that their adversaries, the Indians of Xaragua, intended to rebel. Perhaps they did so intend. Ovando resolved, after much consultation, to take a journey to Xaragua. It must be said, in justice to Ovando, that this does not look as if he thought the matter were a light one. Xaragua was seventy leagues from St. Domingo. The governor set out well accompanied, with seventy horsemen and three hundred foot soldiers.


Anacaona, who had some suspicion of his intentions, summoned all her feudatories around her "to do horour" to him, when she heard of his coming. She went out to meet Ovando with a concourse of her subjects, and with the same festivities of singing and dancing as in former days she had adopted when she went to receive the Adelantado. Various pleasures and amusements were provided for the strangers, and probably Anacaona thought that she had succeeded in soothing and pleasing this severe looking governor, as she had done the last. But the former followers of Roldan were about the governor, telling him that there certainly was an insurrection at hand, that if he did not look to it now, and suppress it at once, the revolt would be far more difficult to quell when it did break out. Thus they argued, using all those seemingly wise arguments of wickedness which from time immemorial have originated and perpetuated treachery. Ovando listened to these men; indeed he must have been much inclined to believe them, or he would hardly have come all this way. He was now convinced that an insurrection was intended.


With these thoughts in his mind, he ordered that, on a certain Sunday, after dinner, all the cavalry should get to horse, on the pretext of a tournament. The infantry, too, he caused to be ready for action. He himself, a Tiberius in dissembling, went to play at quoits, and was disturbed by his men coming to him and begging him to look on at their sports. The poor Indian queen hurried with the utmost simplicity into the snare prepared for her. She told the governor that her caciques, too, would like to see this tournament, upon which, with demonstrations of pleasure, he bade her come with all her caciques to his quarters, for he wanted to talk to them, intimating, as I conjecture, that he would explain the festivity to them. Meanwhile, he gave his cavalry orders to surround the building; he placed the infantry at certain commanding positions; and told his men, that when, in talking with the caciques, he should place his hand upon the badge of knighthood which hung upon his breast, they should rush in and bind the caciques and Anacaona. It fell out as he had planned. All these deluded Indian chiefs and their queen were secured. She alone was led out of Ovando's quarters, which were then set fire to, and all the chiefs burnt alive. Anacaona was afterwards hanged and the province was desolated.

Humanity does not gain much, after all, by this man's not taking the title of "Lordship" which he had a right to.

Finally, the governor collected the former followers of Roldan in Xaragua, and formed a town of their settlement, which he named "the city of the true peace" (La villa de la vera Paz), but which a modern chronicler well says might more properly havc been named "Aceldama, the field of blood." I observe that the arms assigned to this new settlement were a dove with the olive-branch, a rainbow, and a cross.


But it is time to return to Columbus, who in the mean time was chafing at the inactivity which had been forced upon him. His was a restless spirit, perhaps too restless for an organizer, who ought to possess an inexhaustible amount of patience, and to be able to wait as well as to labour. He had formed a theory that some strait existed through which a passage might be made from the neighbourhood of St. Domingo to those regions in Asia from which the Portuguese were just beginning to reap a large profit, and which must be very near that home of the gold which had always occupied his thoughts. He pressed the Sovereigns to provide him with ships for an expedition having for its special object the discovery of this strait; and on the occurrence of some delay as to the equipment of vessels for the purpose, he seems to have written to Ferdinand, reproaching him with the treatment which he had received, and with the want of confidence manifested towards him now. To this Ferdinand answered in a letter which was certainly well calculated to soothe the Admiral's indignation. It was to the following effect, "You ought to be convinced of our displeasure at your captivity, for we lost not a moment in setting you free. Your innocence is well known; you are aware of the consideration and friendship with which we have treated you; the favours which you have received from us shall not be the last that you will receive; we assure to you your privileges, and are desirous that you and your children may enjoy them. We offer to confirm them to you again, and to put your eldest son in possession of all your offices, whenever you wish....We beg you to set out as soon as possible."


On the 9th of May the preparations were complete, and Columbus set sail from Cadiz with his brother, Don Bartholomew, and his second son, Fernando. As an instance of the admiral's chivalrous love of adventure, it may be mentioned that upon hearing that the Portuguese fortress of Arzilla, on the African coast, was besieged by the Moors, he first proceeded thither, quite voluntarily, to its relief. When he reached it, however, he found that the siege had been raised; and his services were not, therefore, called into requisition.


After a singularly prosperous voyage, he reached Martinique on the 13th of June. His instructions from the Sovereigns expressly interdicted him from visiting St. Domingo; but, on finding that his largest ship required some repairs to make her seaworthy, he boldly disregarded the prohibition, and sent a boat to ask Ovando to furnish him with another vessel in place of the damaged one, and to allow his squadron to take refuge in the harbour during a hurricane which he foresaw to be imminent. Ovando refused both requests. His commission set forth that Columbus was not to visit the island; and the contingency of hurricanes was not provided for. Besides, the governor believed that this prediction of a hurricane was a mere pretext of the admiral's for obtaining admission to the harbour. To an eye unaccustomed to tropical changes, the weather appeared to be "set fair." Scarcely a ripple passed over the sea; scarcely a breath stirred the luxuriant foliage on shore. Ovando repulsed with scorn the admiral's suggestion that, at any rate, the departure of the fleet for Spain should he delayed. This fleet was the richest in cargo that had ever left the islands. It contained all the gold which had been wrung out of the natives by Bobadilla's harsh measures. Of one nugget, especially, the old chroniclers speak in the most glowing terms. According to them, it was the largest piece of virgin gold ever discovered. It had been found accidentally, by an Indian woman at the mines, while listlessly moving her rake to and fro in the water one day during dinner time. Its value was estimated at 1,350,000 maravedis;[About 416 English Pounds] and in the festivities which took place on the occasion, it was used as a dish for a roast pig, the miners saying that no king of Castile has ever feasted from a dish of such value. We do not find that the poor Indian woman had any part in the good fortune. Indeed, as Las Casas observes, she was fortunate if she had any portion of the meat, not to speak of the dish. Bobadilla had purchased the nugget for Ferdinand and Isabella, and had shipped it with other treasure valuable enough to go a long way towards compensating the sovereigns for all their expenditure on the new colony—if the fleet could only reach Spain in safety.

But on the second day after its departure the Admiral's prediction became terribly verified. A tornado of unexampled fury swept over the seas; and those on shore could judge of the fate that was likely to befall the unfortunate squadron, as many of the buildings and trees on the island were levelled with the ground by the force of the tempest. Of all the ships, only one—and that the frailest of the fleet—was able to accomplish the voyage to Spain. A few vessels managed to return, in dire distress, to the island; but by far the greater number foundered at sea. The historians of the period do not fail to remark that, while the ship which reached Spain safely was the one carrying the admiral's property, a special providence decreed that his enemies—Bobadilla, Roldan, and their associates in cruelty and plunder—should perish with their ill-gotten gains.

Like Cassandra, Columbus witnessed the discomfiture of the disbelievers in his prophecy: like her he was denied the right of sanctuary upon the occurrence of the disaster which he had foretold. Repulsed from port by Ovando, however, the admiral sailed along the coast, and succeeded in bringing his own ship under the lee of the land when the storm came on. But the three other caravels were in no little danger (particularly the disabled one, which was commanded by the Adelantado), and some days elapsed before the little squadron was re-united in the port of Azua, to the west of San Domingo.


Thence he proceeded to Jaquimo, on the extremity of the same coast, and after refitting his ships, set sail for Jamaica on the 14th of July, 1502. Passing that island, he met with light and varying winds, and contrary currents, in the archipelago of reefs and keys which he had previously named the Queen's Garden.


For about nine weeks he made so little progress that his crews began to clamour for the abandonment of the expedition. The ships were worm-eaten and leaky. Provisions were running short. The seamen had seen their commander thrust away from what might be called his own door; and the sight of his powerlessness had strengthened their independence until it amounted to insubordination. Fortunately, however, before the discontent broke out into open mutiny, a breeze sprang up from the east, and the admiral easily persuaded his unruly crews that it was better to prosecute their voyage than to remain beating about the islets waiting to return home.

They were soon gladdened by the sight of the pine-clad slopes of the little island of Guanaja, lying about forty miles from Truxillo, on the coast of Honduras. Here there appeared a canoe, much more like the ships of the old world than any they had seen before, manned by twenty-five Indians who had come from the continent on a trading voyage among the islands. Their cargo consisted of cotton fabrics, iron-wood swords, flint knives, copper axe-heads, and a fruit called by the natives cacao, to which the Spaniards were now introduced for the first time, but the merits of which, as a beverage, they were not slow to appreciate. The admiral treated these people with much kindness, and won their confidence at once by presenting them with some of the glittering toys which never failed to dazzle a barbarian eye.


One old Indian, whom Columbus selected as apparently the most intelligent of the band, consented to accompany him as pilot, and indicated, by signs, his knowledge of a land, not far distant, where there were ships, and arms, and merchandize, and, in fact, all the marks of civilization which were displayed to him by the Spaniards themselves, and with which he professed to be perfectly familiar. Whether he intended to mislead Columbus, or whether, like most of his race, he was merely proud of being impassive, and of being able to repress all indication of astonishment at startling novelties, it is certain that his demeanour and his signs were interpreted by the admiral to indicate an acquaintance with a country, rich and civilized, lying towards the east; which country could, of course, be no other than the long sought-for kingdom of the Grand Khan. Had Columbus, in pursuance of his first intention, steered to the west, a few hours would have brought him to the coast of Yucatan; and the riches of Mexico would have rewarded his discovery. But this savage, like his evil destiny, crossed his path at the critical moment, and turned him from the road to fortune.


Steering along the coast of Honduras, on the 12th of September, he reached Cape Gracias a Dios, to which he gave this name in pious thankfulness for the southerly turn taken by the land at that point, so that the east winds, which had hitherto obstructed him, were now favourable to his course along the coast. A month later he entered several bays on the Isthmus of Panama, where he was able to procure provisions and to refit his vessels, but failed to obtain any intelligence either of the kingdom of the Khan, or of the strait which he fancied would lead him there. The natives whom he encountered were generally disposed to be friendly; but, in one instance, when the depth of water in a creek obliged him to moor his vessels close to the shore, an attack of the Indians was only repulsed by the use of artillery, the thunder and lightning of which seemed always to possess, in the eyes of the savages, a supernatural and therefore awful character. On another occasion, when a conference was held with one of the tribes, great alarm was caused by a notary, who attended to take notes of the conversation. The savages had never before seen the operation of writing; and they regarded it as a spell which was to have some magic effect upon them, and which they must neutralize by various mystic fumigations which they believed to act as counter-charms. "They were themselves skilled sorcerers," says Columbus,—whose credulity in such matters was only that of his age.


It was not until the 5th of December that the admiral could resolve to abandon his easterly course, although the conviction had been gradually forcing itself upon him that the condition of his ships was such as to render a prosecution of his voyage almost impossible. He had scarcely turned back, intending to found a settlement on the river Veragua, before he encountered a storm which tried his worm-eaten caravels very severely. The thunder and lightning wore incessant; the waterspouts (the first they had seen) threatened to engulph them; huge crests of waves burst in phosphorescent floods over them; and their escape, if we consider the smallness of the caravels, and the force of a tropical cyclone, was little less than miraculous. At last, after eight days' tossing to and fro, the admiral gained the mouth of a river, which he named the Bethlehem, because he entered it on the day of the Epiphany.


In this neighbourhood there was a powerful cacique, named Quibia, whose territory contained much gold, and with whom, therefore, the Spaniards were anxious to treat. But he outwitted them. Offering to supply them with guides to conduct them to his gold mines, he really sent them, not to his own mines, but to those of a rival cacique, of Urira. Here, however, they succeeded in acquiring, by barter and by actual discovery, large quantities of the precious metal, which seemed to be so abundant, that the admiral made sure that he had come to the very Aurea Chersonesus from which Solomon had obtained the gold for the temple at Jerusalem. He had seen more signs of gold here in two days, he said, than he had seen in St. Domingo in four years. His first step was to form a settlement to provide a depot for the gold which might be collected. A convenient site was found near the mouth of the river Bethlehem, and by the end of March the Adelantado had built a village of huts, in which it was proposed that he should remain, with about eighty followers, while Columbus returned to Spain for supplies.


But rumours soon reached the Adelantado of a projected attack on the settlement by the natives, and he took measures to seize Quibia in his own palace. The Indians, dismayed at the capture of their cacique, offered large quantities of gold for his ransom, but the Adelantado preferred to keep him as a hostage for peace. However, as he was being conveyed down the river, on board one of the boats, he managed, although bound hand and foot, and in the custody of one of the most powerful of the Spaniards, to spring overboard and to make his escape, swimming under water to the shore. Henceforward, as might have been expected, there was war to the knife between the natives and the settlers. An attempt was made to burn down the village by means of blazing arrows. A boat's crew of eleven Spaniards, who had proceeded some distance up the river, were attacked by savages in canoes, and only one man escaped to carry to the settlement the news of the massacre of his companions.


The admiral, with three of the caravels, was in the offing, awaiting a wind favourable for his departure, but the dry weather had made the river so shallow that it was impossible for the caravel left with the settlers to cross the bar, and as they had no boat strong enough to weather the surf, it seemed impossible for them to carry to him tidings of their condition. They were in despair; for if they were left, they knew that they were left to perish. The admiral, on his part, had become uneasy, not knowing that their failure to communicate with him was owing to the fact that their only seaworthy boat had been destroyed by the Indians. His own boats were small and scarcely weathertight. But some of Quibia's family who had been taken on board the squadron as prisoners, had made their escape by swimming to the shore, three miles off; and this feat encouraged a bold pilot of Seville, named Ledesma, who was on board the admiral's caravel, to attempt a similar exploit. Never was bearer of reprieve for the condemned more welcome. Ledesma communicated with the Adelantado, and conveyed to the admiral intelligence of the desperate state of affairs. The result was, that when in a few days the wind moderated, all the settlers were taken on board the squadron, which now only consisted of three ships, as it was found necessary to abandon the caravel which had been left inside the harbour bar.

And there was no time to spare. The rough weather had severely tried the crazy and worm-eaten vessels; and anxiety and want of rest were having their effect on Columbus. Making his way first to Porto Bello, where he was obliged to leave another caravel as no longer seaworthy, on the 31st of May he quitted the coast at a point on the west of the Gulf of Darien, and steered northward towards Cuba. A collision between his two remaining ships rendered them still more unfit to cope with the squalls and breakers of the Archipelago; but at last, in the middle of June, with his crews in despair, nearly all his anchors lost, and his vessels worm-eaten so as to be "as full of holes as a honey-comb," he arrived off the southern coast of Cuba, where he obtained supplies of cassava bread from friendly natives.


Failing to make head against the wind so as to reach Hispaniola, Columbus shaped his course for Jamaica, and there, in the harbour which he had named Santa Gloria on his former visit, his voyage was perforce brought to a conclusion. As his ships could not float any longer, he ran them on shore, side by side, and built huts upon the decks for housing the crews. Such a habitation, like the Swiss lake dwellings, afforded remarkable advantages of position in case of attack by a hostile tribe.


The admiral's first care was to prevent any offence being given to the aborigines which might give cause for such an attack. Knowing, by sad experience, the results of permitting free intercourse between the Spaniards and the natives, he enforced strictly a rule forbidding any Spaniard to go ashore without leave; and took measures for regulating the traffic for food so as to prevent the occurrence of any quarrel. Diego Mendez, who had been his lieutenant, and had shown himself the boldest of his officers throughout this voyage, volunteered to proceed into the interior of the island to make arrangements for the periodical supply of provisions from some of the more remote tribes, as it was certain that the sudden addition to the population would soon exhaust the resources of the immediate neighbourhood. This service Mendez performed with great adroitness, and a regular market was established to which the natives brought fish, game and cassava bread, in exchange for Spanish toys and ornaments.


Although the Spaniards were thus secure from starvation for the present, their position was most critical. The journey to the easternmost extremity of Jamaica would probably not be unattended with difficulty and danger, for it must be effected through the midst of Indian tribes, hostile to each other, and therefore probably not unanimous in being friendly towards strangers. But the most formidable obstacle to communication with the government of Hispaniola was the strait of forty leagues' breadth, full of tumbling breakers and rushing currents, which separated the two islands. However, it was necessary that the attempt should be made; and Diego Mendez, though he considered it to be "not merely difficult, but impossible, to cross in so small a vessel as a canoe," volunteered for the service, after all the other Spaniards had declined to undertake it. He was to be the bearer of a letter from the admiral to Ovando, asking him to send a vessel to release the castaways from their imprisonment, and of a despatch to the Sovereigns, giving a detailed account of the Admiral's voyage and a glowing description of the riches of Veragua. This despatch is very characteristic of the writer, bearing, as it does, the marks of strong enthusiasm, of almost fanatical superstition, of confidence in the midst of despair, and of exultation in the face of ruin. Describing his reflections during the storm at the mouth of the river Bethlehem, he breaks into the following rhapsody, which, probably in perfect good faith, dwells on the contrast between the goodness of God and the bad faith of man, in a way which ought to have touched Ferdinand nearly. It is worth quoting at full length, as an example of the wild fervour of a rapt enthusiast.

"Wearied and sighing," writes Columbus, "I fell into a slumber, when I heard a piteous voice saying to me, 'O fool, and slow to believe and serve thy God, who is the God of all! What did He more for Moses, or for His servant David, than He has done for thee? From the time of thy birth He has ever had thee under His peculiar care. When He saw thee of a fitting age, He made thy name to resound marvellously throughout the earth, and thou wert obeyed in many lands, and didst acquire honourable fame among Christians. Of the gates of the ocean sea, shut up with such mighty chains, He delivered to thee the keys; the Indies, those wealthy regions of the world, He gave thee for thine own, and empowered thee to dispose of them to others, according to thy pleasure. What did He more for the great people of Israel, when He led them forth from Egypt? Or for David, whom, from being it shepherd, He made a king in Judaea? Turn to Him, then, and acknowledge thine error: His mercy is infinite. He has many and vast inheritances yet in reserve. Fear not to seek them. Thine age shall be no impediment to any great undertaking. Abraham was above a hundred years when he begat Isaac; and was Sarah youthful? Thou urgest despondingly for succour. Answer! Who hath afflicted thee so much, and so many times, God, or the world? The privileges and promises which God hath made to thee He hath never broken,[23] neither hath He said, after having received thy services, that His meaning was different, and to be understood in a different sense. He fulfils all that He promises, and with increase. Such is His custom. I have shown thee what thy Creator hath done for thee, and what He doeth for all. The present is the reward of the toils and perils thou hast endured in serving others.' I heard this," adds Columbus, "as one almost dead, and had no power to reply to words so true, excepting to weep for my errors. Whoever it was that spoke to me finished by saying, 'Fear not! All these tribulations are written in marble, and not without cause.'"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse