The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8

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Author: Clements R. Markham  | Date: A.D. 1498

Columbus Discovers South America

A.D. 1498

CLEMENTS ROBERT MARKHAM

On September 25, 1493, Columbus sailed from Palos and began his second voyage of discovery. He had seventeen vessels and about fifteen hundred men. In November he discovered Dominica in the West Indies. Arriving at La Navidad, Española (Haiti), he found that the colony which he had left there on returning from his first visit had been killed by the Indians. At a point farther east he founded Isabella, the first European town in the New World.

In April, 1594, he sailed westward and along the south shore of Cuba, which he mistook for a peninsula of Asia. He next discovered Jamaica, and in September returned to Isabella. The Indians rose in rebellion against the Spaniards, who had ill-used them, and Columbus quelled the insurrection, in a battle on the Vega Real, April 25, 1495. He had before planned for the enslavement of hostile Indians, an act from which his reputation has somewhat suffered.

Owing to hardship and discontent, some of the colonists carried complaints to Spain. Bishop Fonseca, who had charge of colonial affairs, upheld the complainants, and in 1495 Juan Aguado was sent as royal commissioner to Española. Aguado prepared a report, fearing the effects of which, Columbus returned to Spain at the same time (1496) with him. A brother of Columbus was left in charge of the government at Española. The Spanish sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, dismissed the charges against Columbus, and on May 30, 1498, he sailed from San Lucar on his third voyage to the New World.

The great navigator was no longer the powerful, enduring man of six years before. Exposure, months of sleepless watching, anxiety, and tropical fevers had at length done their work. The bright intellect, the vivid imagination, the great heart, the generous nature, would be the same until death, but the constitution was shattered. The admiral now suffered from ophthalmia, gout, and a complication of diseases. The last six years of his life were destined to be a time of much and cruel suffering, aggravated by ingratitude, perfidy, and injustice.

In fitting out the third expedition every petty annoyance and obstruction that the malice of Bishop Fonseca could invent was used to thwart and delay the admiral. Each subordinate official knew that insolence to the object of the Bishop’s envy and dislike, and neglect of his wishes, were the surest ways to the favor of his chief. One creature of Fonseca, named Jimeno de Briviesca, carried his insolence beyond the bounds of the endurance even of the dignified and long-suffering admiral, who very properly took him by the scruff of the neck on one occasion and kicked him off the poop of the flagship. The delays of Fonseca and his agents caused incalculable injury to the public service, as will presently appear.

The sovereigns had ordered that six million maravedis—about ten thousand dollars—should be granted for the equipment of the expedition, and that eight vessels should be provided. The contractor for provisions was Jonato Berardi, a Florentine merchant settled at Seville; and, owing to his death, the contracting work fell upon his assistant Amerigo Vespucci, who was very actively employed on this service from April, 1497, to May, 1498. In 1492 Vespucci came to Spain as a partner of an Italian trader at Cadiz named Donato Nicolini, and he afterward became the chief clerk or agent of Berardi. It was thus that Columbus first became acquainted with Amerigo Vespucci, when the admiral had reached the ripe age of forty-five. As for his provisions, a good deal of the meat turned bad on the voyage, and the contract was not very satisfactorily carried out. It is strange that this beef and biscuit contractor should have given his name to the New World, but perhaps not more strange than that a bacon contractor should be the patron saint of England and of Genoa.

The admiral was most anxious to despatch supplies and reenforcements to his brother, and he succeeded in sending off two caravels in advance, under the command of Hernandez Coronel, who had been appointed chief magistrate of Española. The other vessels consisted of two naos, or ships of a hundred tons, and four caravels. After months of harassing and unnecessary delay, they dropped down the Guadalquiver from Seville and the admiral sailed. He touched at Porto Santo and Madeira, and reached Gomera on May 19th. Columbus had become aware, through information collected from the natives of the islands, that there was extensive land, probably a continent, to the southward. He had also received a letter from a skilled and learned jeweller named Jaime Ferrer, dated August 5, 1495, in which it was laid down that the most valuable things came from very hot countries, where the natives are black or tawny. These and other considerations led him to determine to cross the Atlantic on a lower parallel than he had ever done before; and he invoked the Holy Trinity for protection, intending to name the first land that was sighted in their honor. But he was impressed with the importance of sending help to the colony without delay.

He therefore detached one ship and two caravels from Gomera to make the voyage direct. The ship was commanded by Alonzo Sanchez de Carbajal of Baeza. One caravel was intrusted to Pedro de Arana, brother of Beatriz Enriquez and brother-in-law of the admiral. The other had for her captain a Genoese cousin, Juan Antonio Colombo. It will be remembered that Antonio, the brother of Domenico Colombo and uncle of the admiral, lived at the little coast village of Quinto, near Genoa, and had three sons—Juan Antonio, Mateo, and Amighetto. When these cousins heard of the greatness and renown of Christopher, they thought at least one of them might get some benefit from his prosperity. So the younger ones gave all the little money they could scrape together to enable the eldest to go to Spain. His illustrious kinsman welcomed him with affection, and as he was a sailor he received charge of a caravel, in which trust he proved himself, as Las Casas tells us, to be careful, efficient, and fit for command. The three vessels sailed from Gomera direct for Española on June 21st. Columbus continued his voyage of discovery with one vessel and two caravels. Pero Alonzo Nino, the pilot of the Nina in the first voyage, was with him. Herman Perez Matteos was another pilot, and there were a few other old shipmates in the squadron. The admiral touched at Buena Vista, one of the Cape de Verd Islands, remaining at anchor for a few days, and on July 5th he sailed away into the unknown ocean, for many days on a southwest course. His intention was to go south as far as the latitude of Sierra Leone, 80 30’ N., and then to steer west until he reached land.

After ten days the vessels were in regions of calms, and the people began to suffer from the intense heat. The sun melted the tar of the rigging, and the seams of the decks began to open. For days and days the scorching heat continued, but at length there were some refreshing showers, and light breezes sprang up from the west. But their progress was very slow, and their stock of water nearly exhausted. So the admiral ordered the course to be altered to northwest, in hopes of reaching Dominica. It was July 31st, the people were parched with thirst, and yet no land had been seen. In the afternoon of that day the admiral’s servant, Alonzo Perez of Huelva, went to the masthead, and reported land in the shape of three separate peaks. Columbus had declared his intention of naming the first land sighted after the Holy Trinity, and the coincidence of its appearing in the form of three peaks made a deep impression on his mind. The island of Trinidad retains its name to this day. The admiral gave heartfelt thanks to God, and all the crews chanted the Salve Regina and other hymns of prayer and praise. Meanwhile the little squadron glided through the water, approaching the newly discovered land, and Columbus named the most eastern point "Cabo de la Galera," by reason of a great rock off it, which at a distance looked like a galley under sail. All along the coast the trees were seen to come down to the sea, the most lovely sight that eyes could rest on; and at last, on August 1st, an anchorage was found, and they were able to fill up with water from delicious streams and fountains. The main continent of South America was seen to the south, appearing like a long island, and it received the name of "Isla Santa." The point near the watering-place was called "Punta de la Playa."

The western end of the island was named "Punta del Arenal," and here an extraordinary phenomenon presented itself. A violent current was rushing out through a channel or strait not more than two leagues wide, causing great perturbation of the sea, with such an uproar of rushing water that the crews were filled with alarm for the safety of the vessels. The admiral named the channel "La Boca de la Sierpe." He piloted his little squadron safely through it and reached the Gulf of Paria, named by him "Golfo de la Ballena." The land to the westward, forming the mainland of Paria, received the name of "Isla de Gracia." Standing across to the western side of the Gulf, the admiral was delighted with the beauty of the country and with the view of distant mountains. Near a point named "Aguja" the country was so fruitful and charming that he called it "Jardines," and here he saw many Indians, among them women wearing bracelets of pearls, and when they were asked whence the pearls were obtained they pointed to the westward. As many pearls as could be bartered from the natives were collected for transmission to the sovereigns, for here was a new source of wealth, another precious commodity from the New World.

Columbus was astonished at the vast mass of fresh water that was pouring into the Gulf of Paria. He correctly divined the cause, and made the deduction that a river with such a volume of water must come from a great distance. His prescient mind showed him the mighty river Orinoco, the wide savannas, and the lofty range of the Andes; but the trammels of the erroneous measurements of astronomers bound them to Asia, and prevented him from picturing them to himself in the New World he had really discovered. That the land must be continuous appeared to be proved, not only from the deductions of science, but also from the Word of God. For he believed it to be established from the revealed Word (II Esdras vi. 42) that the ocean only covered one-seventh of the globe, and that the other six-sevenths was dry land. Moreover, his splendid intellect was united with a powerful imagination. When he had grasped the facts with masterly intuition, his fancy often raised upon them some strange theory, derived partly from his extensive reading, partly from his own teeming brain. Thinking that a long and rapid course was insufficient to account for the volume of water and the violence of the currents, he conceived the idea that the earth, though round, was not a perfect sphere, and that it rose in one part of the equinoctial line so as to be somewhat of a pear shape. Thus he accounted for the exceptional volume of water by the motion of rivers flowing down from the end of the pear. One step farther in the realms of fancy, and he indulged in a dream that this centre and apex of the earth’s surface, with its mighty rivers, could be no other than the terrestrial paradise. Writing as one thought coursed after another in his teeming fancy, we find these passing whims of a vivid imagination embodied in the journal intended for the information of the sovereigns.

But time was passing on, and it was important that he should convey the provisions with which his vessels were loaded to his infant colony. He had seen that another narrow channel led from the northern side of the gulf, and had named it "Boca del Dragon." On August 12th he had piloted his vessels to the Punta de Paria, and prepared to pass through the channel. At that critical moment it fell calm, while the two currents flowed violently toward the opening, where they met and formed a broken, confused sea. But the admiral made use of the currents, and by the exercise of consummate seamanship took his three vessels clear of the danger and out into the open sea. The islands of Tobago and Granada were sighted, receiving the names of "Asuncion" and "Concepcion." Then the rocks and islets to the westward came in view, named the "Testigos" and "Guardias," and the island "Margarita." The latter name shows that the admiral had obtained the correct information from the natives of Paria respecting the locality of the pearl-fishery.

The admiral now crowded all sail to reach Española, intending to make a landfall at the mouth of the river Azuma, where he knew that his brother, the Adelantado (Governor), had founded the new city, and named it Santo Domingo, in memory of their old father, Domenico Colombo. But the current carried him far to the westward, and on August 19th he sighted the coast fifty leagues to leeward of the new capital. On hearing of his arrival on the coast, Bartolome got on board a caravel and joined him; but it was not until the 31st that the two brothers entered San Domingo together, the admiral for the first time. Young Diego, the third and youngest brother, welcomed them on their arrival. The admiral had been absent for two years and a half, during which time the Adelantado had conducted the government of the colony with remarkable vigor and ability. Yet, owing to the mutinous conduct of the worst of the settlers, there was a very disastrous report to make.

When the Adelantado assumed the command on the departure of the admiral for Spain in March, 1496, his first step, in compliance with the instructions he had received, was to proceed to the valley on the south side of the island, in which the gold mine of Hayna was situated, and to build a fort, which he named "San Cristoval." He next, having received supplies and reenforcements, together with letters from the admiral, by the caravels under Nino, took steps for the foundation of the new capital. Still following his brother’s instructions, he selected a site at the mouth of the river Azuma, where there were good anchorage in the bay and a fertile valley along the banks of the river. On a bank commanding the harbor a fortress was erected, and named "Santo Domingo," while the city was subsequently built on the east bank of the river. It became the capital of the colony. Before long Isabella, on the north coast, was entirely abandoned. Trees soon grew upon the streets and through the roofs of the houses. It presented a scene of wild desolation, and ghosts were believed to wander in crowds through the abandoned city. Ruins of the house of Columbus, of the church, and the fort can still be traced out by those who penetrate into the dense jungle which now covers that part of the coast.

The next proceeding of the indefatigable Adelantado was the settlement of the beautiful province of Xaragua, forming the southwestern portion of the island. It was ruled over by a chief named Behechio, with whom dwelt the famous Anacaona, his sister, widow of Caonabo, but, unlike that fierce Carib, a constant friend of the Spaniards. Behechio met the Adelantado in battle array on the banks of the river Neyva, the eastern boundary of his dominions. But as soon as they were informed that the errand of the Spanish Governor was a peaceful one, both Behechio and Anacaona, who was a princess of great ability and of a most amiable disposition, received him with cordial hospitality. When, after a time, he opened the subject of tribute to them, they showed opposition. But Bartolome proved himself to be a masterly diplomatist, and in the end Behechio not only consented to impose a tribute, the details of which were amicably arranged, but undertook to collect and deliver it periodically to the Spanish authorities. These Indians were quite ready to submit to beings who appeared to be superior in power and intelligence to themselves. If the sovereigns of Spain had trusted Columbus and his brothers fully and completely, had established trading-stations and imposed a moderate tribute, and had absolutely prohibited the overrunning of the country by penniless and worthless adventurers, they would have had a rich and prosperous colony. The discontent and rebellion of the natives were solely caused by the misconduct of the Spaniards.

An insurrection broke out in the Vega Real, headed by the chief Guarionex, who, after suffering innumerable wrongs from the Spaniards, was at last driven to desperation by an outrage on his wife. He assembled a number of dependent caciques, but the news was promptly communicated to the garrison of Fort Concepcion and forwarded to Santo Domingo. The Adelantado stamped out the rebellion with his accustomed vigor. He came by forced marches to Concepcion, and thence, without stopping, to the camp of the natives, who were completely taken by surprise. Guarionex and the other caciques were captured, and their followers dispersed. Always generous after victory, Bartolome Columbus released Guarionex at the prayer of his people, a measure which was alike magnanimous and politic. But it was impossible to rule over the natives satisfactorily unless the Spanish settlers could be forced to submit to the laws, and the Adelantado was not powerful enough to keep the bad characters in subjection. The loyal and decent men of the colony were in a small minority. The consequence was that the unfortunate Guarionex was again goaded into insurrection. On the approach of the Adelantado he fled into the mountains of Ciguey, on the northeast coast, and took refuge with a dependent cacique named Mayobanex, whose residence was near Cape Cabron, the western extreme of the Samana peninsula. A difficult and arduous mountain campaign followed, which Bartolome conducted with remarkable military skill. It ended in the capture and imprisonment of both the chiefs.

Behechio now announced that he had collected the required tribute, consisting of a very large quantity of cotton, and that it was ready for delivery. The Adelantado therefore proceeded to Xaragua, and not only found this great store of cotton, but received an offer from the generous chief to supply him with as much cassava-bread as he needed for the use of the colony. This was a most acceptable present, for the lazy, ill-conditioned settlers had neglected to cultivate their fields, and a famine was imminent. The Adelantado ordered a caravel to be sent round to Xaragua to be freighted with cotton and bread, and returned himself to Isabella after taking a cordial farewell of his native friends. He had shown extraordinary talent in his government of the native population, and his rule had been a complete success. Always moderate in victory, he had suppressed the insurrections without bloodshed, and had conciliated the people by his moderation. He had made long and difficult marches, had subdued opposition by his readiness of resource and energy, and had administered the native affairs with humanity and excellent judgment.

Unfortunately his power was insufficient to cope successfully with the insubordinate Spaniards. The ringleader of the mutineers was Francisco Roldan, a man whom Columbus had raised from the dust. He had been a servant; and the admiral, noting his ability, had intrusted him with some judicial functions. When he sailed for Spain he appointed Roldan chief justice of the colony. This ungrateful miscreant fostered discontent and mutiny by every art of persuasion and calumny at his command, and soon had a large band of worthless and idle ruffians ready to follow his lead. His first plan was to murder the Adelantado and seize the government, but he lacked the courage or the opportunity to put it into execution. His next step was to march into the Vega Real with seventy armed mutineers, and attempt to surprise Fort Concepcion. The garrison was commanded by a loyal soldier named Miguel Ballester, who closed the gates and defied the rebels, sending to the Adelantado for help. Bartolome at once hastened to his assistance, and on his arrival at Fort Concepcion he sent a messenger to Roldan, remonstrating with him, and urging him to return to his duty. But Roldan found his force increasing by the adhesion of all the discontented men in the colony, and his insolence increased with his power. All would probably have been lost but for the opportune arrival of Pedro Hernandez Coronel in February, 1498, who had been despatched from San Lucar by the admiral in the end of the previous year with reenforcements. He also brought out the confirmation of Bartolome’s rank as Adelantado.

The Adelantado was thus enabled to leave Fort Concepcion and establish his head-quarters at Santo Domingo. He sent Coronel as an envoy to Roldan, to endeavor to persuade him to return to his duty; but the mutineer feared to submit, believing that he had gone too far for forgiveness. He marched into the province of Xaragua, where he allowed his dissolute followers to abandon themselves to every kind of excess. The three caravels which had been despatched from Gomera by the admiral unfortunately made a bad landfall, and appeared off Xaragua. Roldan concealed the fact that he was a leader of mutineers, and, receiving the captains in his official capacity, induced them to supply him with stores and provisions, while his followers busily endeavored to seduce the crews, and succeeded to some extent. When Roldan’s true character was discovered, the caravels put to sea with the loyal part of their crews, while Alonzo Sanchez de Carbajal, a loyal and thoroughly honest man, who was zealous for the good of the colony, remained behind to endeavor to persuade Roldan to submit to the admiral’s authority. He only succeeded in obtaining from him a promise to enter into negotiations with a view to the termination of the deplorable state of affairs he had created, and with this Carbajal proceeded to Santo Domingo.

Such was the state of affairs when Columbus arrived at the new seat of his government. His brother had ruled with ability and vigor during his absence, had administered native affairs very successfully, but his power had been insufficient to subdue the band of Spanish miscreants who were still in open mutiny. The admiral was filled with grief and disappointment at the turn affairs had taken. A thoroughly loyal man himself, with no thought or desire but for the good of the colony, he was thwarted by treacherous miscreants, who cared for nothing but the accumulation of riches for themselves, and a life of indulgence and licentious ease. After long consideration he resolved upon a policy of conciliation. The unsettled state of affairs was bringing ruin on the island, and the restoration of peace was an absolute necessity. The magnanimous Genoese was incapable of personal resentment. The men themselves were, indeed, beneath his contempt; but he felt bound to treat with them, and even to make great concessions, if necessary, for the good of the public service. The welfare of the colony was his sole object, and he did not hesitate to sacrifice every personal feeling to his sense of duty. It is with some impatience that one finds the grand schemes of discovery and colonization interrupted by such contemptible means, and the course of the narrative checked by the necessity for recording, however briefly, the paltry dissensions of vile miscreants such as Roldan and his crew.

The mutineers were most unwilling to make any agreement. They were leading the sort of lawless and licentious life that exactly suited them, and were disinclined to submit to any authority. The interests of their leaders, however, were not quite the same, and the acceptance of advantageous terms would suit them. Carbajal was employed by the admiral to conduct the negotiations, while the veteran Ballester returned to Spain in November, 1498, with the news of the rebellion, and a request from the admiral that a learned and impartial judge might be sent out to decide all disputes.

It was finally agreed that Roldan should return to his duty, still retaining the office of chief justice; that all past offences should be condoned, and that he and his followers should receive grants of land, with the services of the Indians. The admiral consented to these terms most unwillingly, and under the conviction that this was the only way to avoid the greater evil of civil dissension. He resolved, however, that any future outbreak must be firmly and vigorously suppressed by force. Although Roldan had now resumed his position as a legitimate official ready to maintain order, it could hardly be expected that his fatal example would not be followed by other unprincipled men of the same stamp when the opportunity offered.

Trouble arose owing to the conduct of a young Castilian named Hernando de Guevara. Roldan was established in Xaragua, when the youthful gallant arrived at the house of his cousin, Adrian de Mujica, one of the ringleaders in Roldan’s mutiny, and fell in love with Higueymota, the daughter of Anacaona. Guevara, for some misconduct, had been ordered by the admiral to leave the island, but instead of obeying he had made his way to Xaragua, and caused trouble by this love passage, for he had a rival in Roldan himself, who ordered him to desist from the pursuit of the daughter of Anacaona, and to return to Santo Domingo. Guevara refused to obey, but he was promptly arrested and sent as a prisoner to the capital. When his cousin Mujica, who was then in the Vega Real, received the news, he raised a mutiny, offering rewards to the soldiers if they would follow him in an attempt to rescue Guevara. The admiral, though suffering from illness, showed remarkable energy on this occasion. Marching very rapidly at the head of eighteen chosen men, he surprised the mutineers, captured the ringleader, and carried him off to the fort of Concepcion. Some severity had now become incumbent upon the authorities, and Mujica was condemned to death. The admiral regretted the necessity, but in no other way could a motive be supplied to deter others from keeping the country in a constant state of lawless disorder. Guevara, Riqueline, and other disorderly characters were imprisoned in the fort at Santo Domingo, and by August, 1500, peace was quite established throughout the island.

Thus had Columbus restored tranquillity to the colony. By prudent and conciliatory negotiations, during which he had exercised the most wonderful self-abnegation and patience, he had succeeded in averting the serious danger caused by the formidable revolt of Roldan. But as the habit of disorder was threatening to become chronic, he wisely took another way with the sedition of Mujica, maintaining order by a resort to prompt and vigorous action, and making a salutary example which was calculated to be deterrent in its effects.

With the restoration of peace, trade revived and prosperity began to return. The receivers of grants of land found that they had a stake in the country, and sought to derive profit from their crops. Similar activity appeared at the mines, and the building at Santo Domingo progressed rapidly. The admiral began to hope that the first troubles incident to an infant colony were over, and that the time had arrived for Spain to feel the advantages of his great achievement. He now looked forward to further and more important discoveries followed by colonization on the main continent.

Yet at this very time a blow was about to come from a quarter whence it was least to be expected, which was destined to shatter all the hopes of this long-suffering man, and dissipate all his bright visions of the future.1

1On the arrival (August 24, 1500) of Francisco de Boabdilla as royal commissioner, he deposed Columbus and his brothers and sent them in chains to Spain. Although they were immediately released, Columbus was not reinstated in his dignities. His fourth and final voyage (1502-1504) came far short of his anticipations.

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Chicago: Clements R. Markham, "Columbus Discovers South America," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed July 3, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SKNUK5MD92WT6IM.

MLA: Markham, Clements R. "Columbus Discovers South America." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 3 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SKNUK5MD92WT6IM.

Harvard: Markham, CR, 'Columbus Discovers South America' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 3 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SKNUK5MD92WT6IM.