Columbus's Exploration of the New World

THE native name of the island whereon Columbus landed was Guanhana. To the Spaniards and others it is yet San Salvador; but the English having given it the vulgar name of Cat Island, persist in calling it so. It lies about two hundred and fifty miles E.S.E. of the southern point of the peninsula of Florida, and is one of the larger of the Bahama group. After examining it, the admiral cruised among others of the same group; naming some of them. He also touched at outlying islands as he sailed southward, and on the 28th of October he saw the northern shores of Cuba. Entering a beautiful river, which he called San Salvador, he anchored, and in honor of Prince Juan (John), the son of Isabella, he named the great island Juana. But it has retained its native name of Cuba. He sailed northwesterly along its coast as far as the eastern entrance to Laguna de Moron, which was the nearest approach to the North American continent ever vouchsafed to Columbus. There he first saw a weed, the leaves of which the natives rolled into long slim packages, called tobacco, and smoked. It was the modern cigar. The Spaniards considered the habit a nauseous indulgence, and did not adopt it. They left to an Englishman, born fifty years afterward, the fame of introducing this use of tobacco to Europeans.

Columbus persuaded several of the native inhabitants of Cuba, of both sexes, to go with him to Spain, and at the middle of November he sailed in that direction. Head winds and rough weather caused him to return to Cuba. He signalled for the Pinzons to follow him. Martin Alonzo did not heed the order, and very soon the Pinta disappeared on the eastern horizon.

Early in December, Columbus saw the eastern end of Cuba, and a few days later, as he sailed toward Europe, the charming vision of beautiful Haiti, now St. or San Domingo, burst upon his sight. The country so much resembled Spain in its natural features, that he named it Hispaniola-Little Spain. On its shores he lingered with delight many days. He received an invitation from one of the leading caciques or native rulers to anchor his vessels near his residence, and whilst sailing along the coast for the purpose of casting anchor in the harbor of the friendly chief, the Santa Maria was wrecked late on Christmas eve, in consequence of bad steering. Columbus and his crew took refuge on board the caravel Nina, commanded by Vincent Pinzon, where a matin hymn to the Virgin was chanted by the admiral and his followers in the morning twilight, and utterances of thanksgiving went up to God for their deliverance from great peril on that holy festival of the church. When the cacique heard of the disaster, he sent men and canoes in abundance to unload the vessel. It was soon done with willing hands, for a truly Christian spirit animated these pagans. "So loving, and tractable, and peaceable are these people," Columbus wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella from Hispaniola afterward, "that I declare to your majesties that there is not in this world a better nation or a better land. They love their neighbors as themselves. Their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile."

Satan had entered that paradise. Many of the followers of Columbus asked permission to remain on the island. The Nina was crowded; and, delighted with the idea of planting the germ of a Christian colony there, the admiral gave his consent. Of the wreck of the vessel they built a fort, which Columbus named La Navidad-the Nativity, in commemoration of their having escaped shipwreck on Christmas day. A fort! What need had they of a fort among such a people? Alas! it was a sign of premeditated wickedness. Thirty-nine remained. Arana, the alguazil, was placed in command of them, and they were conjured by Columbus to act honestly and live united in good-fellowship. As soon as the admiral had departed, they broke every promise. Each, bent upon private gain and incited by a desire and expectation of acquiring great wealth in a short time, broke from the social tie and acted independently. The gentle natives were compelled to yield to their avarice and lust. The golden ornaments of the women were seized, and two or three of them were made wives by each of the Spaniards. Robbery and licentiousness marked every step in the career of these Europeans. They went to different parts of the island in search of reported treasures, and soon found an incarnation of retributive justice in the person of a fierce Carib chief who ruled much of Haiti, and who slew the Spaniards and burnt their fortress to ashes. These acts of the intruders were only the beginnings of similar performances, as the Spaniards colonized the West India Islands, and especially Haiti. These Indian Christians made that Pagan Eden a wilderness and a land of unutterable woes, for the real Christian kindness of the so-called Indians was requited by the most barbarous cruelty. Thousands of men, women, and children perished under the hardships imposed upon them as slave-workers in the fields and in mines, and many were made abject beasts of burden for the gain of their white conquerors.

Early in January, 1493, Columbus left La Navidad, in the Nina, and sailed for Spain. He soon saw the Pinta. The avaricious Pinzon had heard of a region of gold, from one of the natives, and with a desire to secure the treasure for himself he had deserted the admiral. He had returned to Hispaniola, and there heard of the shipwreck of the Santa Maria, but he did not go to the assistance of Columbus because it might interfere with his own selfish projects. The admiral would have cruised longer among the islands, but this conduct of Pinzon, and the fact that the latter had kidnapped four men and two girls for the purpose of selling them as slaves in Spain, had destroyed his confidence in that commander, and he determined to hurry home and rid himself of so undesirable a companion. The Nina's prow was turned toward Europe, and the Pinta followed.

The caravels encountered dead calms and fierce tempests on that winter voyage, and were separated. In one of these storms, Columbus, fearing the destruction of the vessels and with them the loss of all knowledge of his discoveries, placed a written narrative of his adventures in a sealed cask, and committed it to the waves. The sailors, in affright, vowed that they would, if spared, attend mass in their shirts only at the first Christian church they should come to. That vow they performed at the Azores, which they reached in February. They were all saved. At dawn on the 4th of March, about eight weeks after she had left La Navidad, the Nina appeared off the rock of Cintra at the mouth of the Tagus, in Portugal, and soon afterwards she was anchored in the waters of that river.

Columbus immediately sent a courier with a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, in which he announced his great discovery. He also wrote a letter to John, King of Portugal, who was then at Valparaiso. That monarch sent a cavalier to Columbus with his congratulations and an invitation for the admiral to come to his court. Columbus went and was treated with distinguished attentions. A numerous train of cavaliers escorted him back to his ship. He stopped at a monastery on the way to visit John's queen, who had expressed a strong desire to see the great discoverer; and on the 13th of March he again put to sea. Two days later, at noon, the Nina entered the harbor of Palos, where the admiral was received with the greatest demonstrations of joy. It was then seven months and twelve days since he left that harbor for the regions of the unknown, and out of those mysterious regions he had brought the wonderful tidings of a new-found world.

On the evening of the same day, the Pinta sailed into the harbor of Palos. Martin Alonzo Pinzon, her commander, after she had been driven into the Bay of Biscay by a storm, had entered the port of Bayonne, and from thence had sent a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella recounting his adventures and the discoveries, hoping to gain for himself the prepossessions of the Spanish court. He also expected to be hailed at Palos with great acclamations, and to receive royal honors from his sovereigns, for he supposed Columbus was yet fighting the waves of the Atlantic, or was engulfed in their bosom. When, therefore, he saw the flag of the Nina fluttering in the breeze at Palos, and heard the praises of him whom he chose to regard as his rival, Pinzon, jealous, and fearing the admiral as his accuser, sought seclusion until the discoverer had left the port. And when an answer to his letter was received from the monarchs filled with reproaches, and forbidding him to appear at court, his "heart died within him." Killed by disappointed ambition and mortified pride, the body of Martin Alonzo Pinzon was laid in the grave a few days after the reading of the royal epistle.

Columbus hastened to Seville, where he received a letter from the monarchs expressing their delight because of his great achievements, and inviting him to repair immediately to their court at Barcelona. The letter was addressed to "Don Christopher Columbus, our admiral of the ocean sea, and viceroy and governor of the islands discovered in the Indies." To their presence the honored Italian hastened, taking with him six of the Indians whom he had brought from Cuba-four young men and two beautiful maidens. Great preparations had been made for his reception, for his discoveries and the recent conquest of the Moors were regarded by the sovereigns as special indications of the favor of God. A procession was formed on a brilliant April day (such as may be seen only in Catalonia), composed of priests, nobles, and military men. In that procession, among the hidalgos, rode the admiral, richly dressed, the cynosure of every eye, preceded by music, soldiers, and brilliantly dressed Catalonian guards, and followed by the dusky natives of the West Indies. The latter wore handsomely embroidered white tunics, with jewelled bands around their heads bearing lofty plumes of gay colors, and golden circlets around their bare arms and legs. They carried birds of strange and brilliant plumage from the tropical islands. After them came the crews of the vessels of the expedition, carrying a crown of gold sent by the friendly cacique of Hispaniola, and many curious things, such as images of stone rudely wrought; a masque with eyes of gold; a living alligator; palm branches with the fruit dried on them; reed arrows winged with beautiful feathers, and a hundred other strange objects from those far-off lands. Over these waved the Green Cross banner which had floated over those mysterious islands of the sea; also the modest white banner of the admiral, bearing the arms which had been granted to him, namely, those of the Spanish kingdom quartered by a group of islands surrounded by billows, and inscribed with the words, in golden letters,

POR CASTILLA Y POR LEON NUEVO MUNDO HALLO COLON: "For Castile and for Leon, Columbus has discovered a New World."

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