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The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (Vol. II) by Washington Irving

Part 4 out of 10

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of the weather rendered the practicability even of this plan doubtful. The
wind continued high, the sea rough, and no boat could pass between the
squadron and the land. The situation of the ships was itself a matter of
extreme solicitude. Feebly manned, crazed by storms, and ready to fall to
pieces from the ravages of the teredo, they were anchored on a lee shore,
with a boisterous wind and sea, in a climate subject to tempests, and
where the least augmentation of the weather might drive them among the
breakers. Every hour increased the anxiety of Columbus for his brother,
his people, and his ships, and each hour appeared to render the impending
dangers more imminent. Days of constant perturbation, and nights of
sleepless anxiety, preyed upon a constitution broken by age, by maladies,
and hardships, and produced a fever of the mind, in which he was visited
by one of those mental hallucinations deemed by him mysterious and
supernatural. In a letter to the sovereigns he gives a solemn account of
a kind of vision by which he was comforted in a dismal night, when full
of despondency and tossing on a couch of pain:----

"Wearied and sighing," says he, "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 marvelously throughout the earth, and thou wert
obeyed in many lands, and didst acquire honorable fame among Christians.
Of the gates of the Ocean Sea, shut up with such mighty chains, he
delivered 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 a shepherd, he made a king in Judea? 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 an hundred years
when he begat Isaac; and was Sarah youthful? Thou urgest despondingly for
succor. Answer! who hath afflicted thee so much, and so many times?--God,
or the world? The privileges and promises which God hath made thee he hath
never broken; neither hath he said, after having received thy services,
that his meaning was different, and to be understood in a different sense.
He performs to the very letter. He fulfills 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 all 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 spake to me,
finished by saying, 'Fear not! Confide! All these tribulations are written
in marble, and not without cause.'"

Such is the singular statement which Columbus gave to the sovereigns of
his supposed vision. It has been suggested that this was a mere ingenious
fiction, adroitly devised by him to convey a lesson to his prince; but
such an idea is inconsistent with his character. He was too deeply imbued
with awe of the Deity, and with reverence for his sovereign, to make use
of such an artifice. The words here spoken to him by the supposed voice,
are truths which dwelt upon his mind, and grieved his spirit during his
waking hours. It is natural that they should recur vividly and coherently
in his feverish dreams; and in recalling and relating a dream one is
unconsciously apt to give it a little coherency. Besides, Columbus had a
solemn belief that he was a peculiar instrument in the hands of
Providence, which, together with a deep tinge of superstition, common to
the age, made him prone to mistake every striking dream for a revelation.
He is not to be measured by the same standard with ordinary men in
ordinary circumstances. It is difficult for the mind to realize his
situation, and to conceive the exaltations of spirit to which he must have
been subjected. The artless manner in which, in his letter to the
sovereigns, he mingles up the rhapsodies and dreams of his imagination,
with simple facts, and sound practical observations, pouring them forth
with a kind of scriptural solemnity and poetry of language, is one of the
most striking illustrations of a character richly compounded of
extraordinary and apparently contradictory elements.

Immediately after this supposed vision, and after a duration of nine days,
the boisterous weather subsided, the sea became calm, and the
communication with the land was restored. It was found impossible to
extricate the remaining caravel from the river; but every exertion was
made to bring off the people, and the property, before there should be a
return of bad weather. In this, the exertions of the zealous Diego Mendez
were eminently efficient. He had been for some days preparing for such an
emergency. Cutting up the sails of the caravel, he made great sacks to
receive the biscuit. He lashed two Indian canoes together with spars, so
that they could not be overturned by the waves, and made a platform on
them capable of sustaining a great burden. This kind of raft was laden
repeatedly with the stores, arms, and ammunition, which had been left on
shore, and with the furniture of the caravel, which was entirely
dismantled. When well freighted, it was towed by the boat to the ships. In
this way, by constant and sleepless exertions, in the space of two days,
almost every thing of value was transported on board the squadron, and
little else left than the hull of the caravel, stranded, decayed, and
rotting in the river. Diego Mendez superintended the whole embarkation
with unwearied watchfulness and activity. He, and five companions, were
the last to leave the shore, remaining all night at their perilous post,
and embarking in the morning with the last cargo of effects.

Nothing could equal the transports of the Spaniards, when they found
themselves once more on board of the ships, and saw a space of ocean
between them and those forests which had lately seemed destined to be
their graves. The joy of their comrades seemed little inferior to their
own; and the perils and hardships which yet surrounded them, were
forgotten for a time in mutual congratulations. The admiral was so much
impressed with a sense of the high services rendered by Diego Mendez,
throughout the late time of danger and disaster, that he gave him the
command of the caravel, vacant by the death of the unfortunate Diego
Tristan. [170]

Chapter X.

Departure from the Coast of Veragua.--Arrival at Jamaica.--Stranding of
the Ships.


The wind at length becoming favorable, Columbus set sail, towards the end
of April, from the disastrous coast of Veragua. The wretched condition of
the ships, the enfeebled state of the crews, and the scarcity of
provisions, determined him to make the best of his way to Hispaniola,
where he might refit his vessels and procure the necessary supplies for
the voyage to Europe. To the surprise of his pilot and crews, however, on
making sail, he stood again along the coast to the eastward, instead of
steering north, which they considered the direct route to Hispaniola. They
fancied that he intended to proceed immediately for Spain, and murmured
loudly at the madness of attempting so long a voyage, with ships destitute
of stores and consumed by the worms. Columbus and his brother, however,
had studied the navigation of those seas with a more observant and
experienced eye. They considered it advisable to gain a considerable
distance to the east, before standing across for Hispaniola, to avoid
being swept away, far below their destined port, by the strong currents
setting constantly to the west. [171] The admiral, however, did not impart
his reasons to the pilots, being anxious to keep the knowledge of his
routes as much to himself as possible, seeing that there were so many
adventurers crowding into the field, and ready to follow on his track. He
even took from the mariners their charts, [172] and boasts, in a letter to
the sovereigns, that none of his pilots would be able to retrace the route
to and from Veragua, nor to describe where it was situated.

Disregarding the murmurs of his men, therefore, he continued along the
coast eastward as far as Puerto Bello. Here he was obliged to leave one of
the caravels, being so pierced by worms, that it was impossible to keep
her afloat. All the crews were now crowded into two caravels, and these
were little better than mere wrecks. The utmost exertions were necessary
to keep them free from water; while the incessant labor of the pumps bore
hard on men enfeebled by scanty diet, and dejected by various hardships.
Continuing onward, they passed Port Retrete, and a number of islands to
which the admiral gave the name of Las Barbas, now termed the Mulatas, a
little beyond Point Blas. Here he supposed that he had arrived at the
province of Mangi in the territories of the Grand Khan, described by Marco
Polo as adjoining to Cathay. [173] He continued on about ten leagues
farther, until he approached the entrance of what is at present called
the Gulf of Darien. Here he had a consultation with his captains and
pilots, who remonstrated at his persisting in this struggle against
contrary winds and currents, representing the lamentable plight of the
ships, and the infirm state of the crews. [174] Bidding farewell,
therefore, to the main-land, he stood northward on the 1st of May, in
quest of Hispaniola. As the wind was easterly, with a strong current
setting to the west, he kept as near the wind as possible. So little did
his pilots know of their situation, that they supposed themselves to the
east of the Caribbee Islands, whereas the admiral feared that, with all
his exertions, he should fall to the westward of Hispaniola. [175] His
apprehensions proved to be well founded; for, on the 10th of the month,
he came in sight of two small low islands to the northwest of
Hispaniola, to which, from the great quantities of tortoises seen about
them, he gave the name of the Tortugas; they are now known as the Caymans.
Passing wide of these, and continuing directly north, he found himself, on
the 30th of May, among the cluster of islands on the south side of Cuba,
to which he had formerly given the name of the Queen's Gardens; having
been carried between eight and nine degrees west of his destined port.
Here he cast anchor near one of the Keys, about ten leagues from the main
island. His crews were suffering excessively through scanty provisions and
great fatigue; nothing was left of the sea-stores but a little biscuit,
oil, and vinegar; and they were obliged to labor incessantly at the pumps,
to keep the vessels afloat. They had scarcely anchored at these islands,
when there came on, at midnight, a sudden tempest, of such violence, that,
according to the strong expression of Columbus, it seemed as if the world
would dissolve. [176] They lost three of their anchors almost immediately,
and the caravel Bermuda was driven with such violence upon the ship of
the admiral, that the bow of the one, and the stern of the other, were
greatly shattered. The sea running high, and the wind being boisterous,
the vessels chafed and injured each other dreadfully, and it was with
great difficulty that they were separated. One anchor only remained to
the admiral's ship, and this saved him from being driven upon the rocks;
but at daylight the cable was found nearly worn asunder. Had the darkness
continued an hour longer, he could scarcely have escaped shipwreck. [177]

At the end of six days, the weather having moderated, he resumed his
course, standing eastward for Hispaniola: "his people," as he says,
"dismayed and down-hearted; almost all his anchors lost, and his vessels
bored as full of holes as a honeycomb." After struggling against contrary
winds and the usual currents from the east, he reached Cape Cruz, and
anchored at a village in the province of Macaca, [178] where he had
touched in 1494, in his voyage along the southern coast of Cuba. Here he
was detained by head winds for several days, during which he was supplied
with cassava bread by the natives. Making sail again, he endeavored to
beat up to Hispaniola; but every effort was in vain. The winds and
currents continued adverse; the leaks continually gained upon his
vessels, though the pumps were kept incessantly going, and the seamen
even baled the water out with buckets and kettles. The admiral now stood,
in despair, for the island of Jamaica, to seek some secure port; for
there was imminent danger of foundering at sea. On the eve of St. John,
the 23d of June, they put into Puerto Bueno, now called Dry Harbor, but
met with none of the natives from whom they could obtain provisions, nor
was there any fresh water to be had in the neighborhood. Suffering from
hunger and thirst, they sailed eastward, on the following day, to another
harbor, to which the admiral on his first visit to the island had given
the name of Port Santa Gloria.

Here, at last, Columbus had to give up his long and arduous struggle
against the unremitting persecution of the elements. His ships, reduced to
mere wrecks, could no longer keep the sea, and were ready to sink even in
port. He ordered them, therefore, to be run aground, within a bow-shot of
the shore, and fastened together, side by side. They soon filled with
water to the decks. Thatched cabins were then erected at the prow and
stern for the accommodation of the crews, and the wreck was placed in the
best possible state of defence. Thus castled in the sea, he trusted to be
able to repel any sudden attack of the natives, and at the same time to
keep his men from roving about the neighborhood and indulging in their
usual excesses. No one was allowed to go on shore without especial
license, and the utmost precaution was taken to prevent any offence being
given to the Indians. Any exasperation of them might be fatal to the
Spaniards in their present forlorn situation. A firebrand thrown into
their wooden fortress might wrap it in flames, and leave them defenceless
amidst hostile thousands.

Book XVI.

Chapter I.

Arrangement of Diego Mendez with the Caciques for Supplies of Provisions.
--Sent to San Domingo by Columbus in Quest of Relief.


The island of Jamaica was extremely populous and fertile; and the harbor
soon swarmed with Indians, who brought provisions to barter with the
Spaniards. To prevent any disputes in purchasing or sharing these
supplies, two persons were appointed to superintend all bargains, and the
provisions thus obtained were divided every evening among the people. This
arrangement had a happy effect in promoting a peaceful intercourse. The
stores thus furnished, however, coming from a limited neighborhood of
improvident beings, were not sufficient for the necessities of the
Spaniards, and were so irregular as often to leave them in pinching want.
They feared, too, that the neighborhood might soon be exhausted, in which
case they should be reduced to famine. In this emergency, Diego Mendez
stepped forward with his accustomed zeal, and volunteered to set off, with
three men, on a foraging expedition about the island. His offer being
gladly accepted by the admiral, he departed with his comrades well armed.
He was every where treated with the utmost kindness by the natives. They
took him to their houses, set meat and drink before him and his
companions, and performed all the rites of savage hospitality. Mendez made
an arrangement with the cacique of a numerous tribe, that his subjects
should hunt and fish, and make cassava bread, and bring a quantity of
provisions every day to the harbor. They were to receive, in exchange,
knives, combs, beads, fishhooks, hawks'-bells, and other articles, from a
Spaniard, who was to reside among them for that purpose. The agreement
being made, Mendez dispatched one of his comrades to apprise the admiral.
He then pursued his journey three leagues farther, when he made a similar
arrangement, and dispatched another of his companions to the admiral.
Proceeding onward, about thirteen leagues from the ships, he arrived at
the residence of another cacique, called Huarco, where he was generously
entertained. The cacique ordered his subjects to bring a large quantity of
provisions, for which Mendez paid him on the spot, and made arrangements
for a like supply at stated intervals. He dispatched his third companion
with this supply to the admiral, requesting, as usual, that an agent might
be sent to receive and pay for the regular deliveries of provisions.

Mendez was now left alone, but he was fond of any enterprise that gave
individual distinction. He requested of the cacique two Indians to
accompany him to the end of the island; one to carry his provisions, and
the other to bear the hammac, or cotton net in which he slept. These being
granted, he pushed resolutely forward along the coast, until he reached
the eastern extremity of Jamaica. Here he found a powerful cacique of the
name of Ameyro. Mendez had buoyant spirits, great address, and an
ingratiating manner with the savages. He and the cacique became great
friends, exchanged names, which is a kind of token of brotherhood, and
Mendez engaged him to furnish provisions to the ships. He then bought an
excellent canoe of the cacique, for which he gave a splendid brass basin,
a short frock or cassock, and one of the two shirts which formed his stock
of linen. The cacique furnished him with six Indians to navigate his bark,
and they parted mutually well pleased. Diego Mendez coasted his way back,
touching at the various places where he had made his arrangements. He
found the Spanish agents already arrived at them, loaded his canoe with
provisions, and returned in triumph to the harbor, where he was received
with acclamations by his comrades, and with open arms by the admiral. The
provisions he brought were a most seasonable supply, for the Spaniards
were absolutely fasting; and thenceforward Indians arrived daily, well
laden, from the marts which he had established. [179]

The immediate wants of his people being thus provided for, Columbus
revolved in his anxious mind the means of getting from this island. His
ships were beyond the possibility of repair, and there was no hope of any
chance sail arriving to his relief, on the shores of a savage island, in
an unfrequented sea. The most likely measure appeared to be, to send
notice of his situation to Ovando, the governor at San Domingo, entreating
him to dispatch a vessel to his relief. But how was this message to be
conveyed? The distance between Jamaica and Hispaniola was forty leagues,
across a gulf swept by contrary currents; there were no means of
transporting a messenger, except in the light canoes of the savages; and
who would undertake so hazardous a voyage in a frail bark of the kind?
Suddenly the idea of Diego Mendez, and the canoe he had recently
purchased, presented itself to the mind of Columbus. He knew the ardor and
intrepidity of Mendez, and his love of distinction by any hazardous
exploit. Taking him aside, therefore, he addressed him in a manner
calculated both to stimulate his zeal, and flatter his self-love. Mendez
himself gives an artless account of this interesting conversation, which
is full of character.

"Diego Mendez, my son," said the venerable admiral, "none of those whom I
have here understand the great peril in which we are placed, excepting you
and myself. We are few in number, and these savage Indians are many, and
of fickle and irritable natures. On the least provocation they may throw
firebrands from the shore, and consume us in our straw-thatched cabins.
The arrangement which you have made with them for provisions, and which at
present they fulfill so cheerfully, to-morrow they may break in their
caprice, and may refuse to bring us any thing; nor have we the means to
compel them by force, but are entirely at their pleasure. I have thought
of a remedy, if it meets with your views. In this canoe, which you have
purchased, some one may pass over to Hispaniola, and procure a ship, by
which we may all be delivered from this great peril into which we have
fallen. Tell me your opinion on the matter."

"To this," says Diego Mendez, "I replied: 'Senor, the danger in which we
are placed, I well know, is far greater than is easily conceived. As to
passing from this island to Hispaniola, in so small a vessel as a canoe, I
hold it not merely difficult, but impossible; since it is necessary to
traverse a gulf of forty leagues, and between islands where the sea is
extremely impetuous, and seldom in repose. I know not who there is would
adventure upon so extreme a peril.'"

Columbus made no reply, but from his looks and the nature of his silence,
Mendez plainly perceived himself to be the person whom the admiral had in
view; "Whereupon," continues he, "I added: 'Senor, I have many times put
my life in peril of death to save you and all those who are here, and God
has hitherto preserved me in a miraculous manner. There are, nevertheless,
murmurers, who say that your Excellency intrusts to me all affairs wherein
honor is to be gained, while there are others in your company who would
execute them as well as I do. Therefore I beg that you would summon all
the people, and propose this enterprise to them, to see if among them
there is any one who will undertake it, which I doubt. If all decline it,
I will then come forward and risk my life in your service, as I many times
have done.'" [180]

The admiral gladly humored the wishes of the worthy Mendez, for never was
simple egotism accompanied by more generous and devoted loyalty. On the
following morning, the crew was assembled, and the proposition publicly
made. Every one drew back at the thoughts of it, pronouncing it the height
of rashness. Upon this, Diego Mendez stepped forward. "Senor," said he, "I
have but one life to lose, yet I am willing to venture it for your service
and for the good of all here present, and I trust in the protection of
God, which I have experienced on so many other occasions."

Columbus embraced this zealous follower, who immediately set about
preparing for his expedition. Drawing his canoe on shore, he put on a
false keel, nailed weather-boards along the bow and stern, to prevent the
sea from breaking over it; payed it with a coat of tar; furnished it with
a mast and sail; and put in provisions for himself, a Spanish comrade, and
six Indians.

In the meantime, Columbus wrote letters to Ovando, requesting that a ship
might be immediately sent to bring him and his men to Hispaniola. He wrote
a letter likewise to the sovereigns; for, after fulfilling his mission at
San Domingo, Diego Mendez was to proceed to Spain on the admiral's
affairs. In the letter to the sovereigns, Columbus depicted his deplorable
situation, and entreated that a vessel might be dispatched to Hispaniola,
to convey himself and his crew to Spain. He gave a comprehensive account
of his voyage, most particulars of which have already been incorporated in
this history, and he insisted greatly on the importance of the discovery
of Veragua. He gave it as his opinion, that here were the mines of the
Aurea Chersonesus, whence Solomon had derived such wealth for the building
of the Temple. He entreated that this golden coast might not, like other
places which he had discovered, be abandoned to adventurers, or placed
under the government of men who felt no interest in the cause. "This is
not a child," he adds, "to be abandoned to a step-mother. I never think of
Hispaniola and Paria without weeping. Their case is desperate and past
cure; I hope their example may cause this region to be treated in a
different manner." His imagination becomes heated. He magnifies the
supposed importance of Veragua, as transcending all his former
discoveries; and he alludes to his favorite project for the deliverance of
the Holy Sepulchre: "Jerusalem," he says, "and Mount Sion, are to be
rebuilt by the hand of a Christian. Who is he to be? God, by the mouth of
the Prophet, in the fourteenth Psalm, declares it. The abbot Joachim
[181] says that he is to come out of Spain." His thoughts then revert to
the ancient story of the Grand Khan, who had requested that sages might
be sent to instruct him in the Christian faith. Columbus, thinking that
he had been in the very vicinity of Cathay, exclaims with sudden zeal,
"Who will offer himself for this task? If our Lord permit me to return to
Spain, I engage to take him there, God helping, in safety."

Nothing is more characteristic of Columbus than his earnest, artless, at
times eloquent, and at times almost incoherent letters. What an instance
of soaring enthusiasm and irrepressible enterprise is here exhibited! At
the time that he was indulging in these visions, and proposing new and
romantic enterprises, he was broken down by age and infirmities, racked by
pain, confined to his bed, and shut up in a wreck on the coast of a remote
and savage island. No stronger picture can be given of his situation, than
that which shortly follows this transient glow of excitement; when, with
one of his sudden transitions of thought, he awakens, as it were, to his
actual condition.

"Hitherto," says he, "I have wept for others; but now, have pity upon me,
heaven, and weep for me, O earth! In niy temporal concerns, without a
farthing to offer for a mass; cast away here in the Indies; surrounded by
cruel and hostile savages; isolated, infirm, expecting each day will be my
last: in spiritual concerns, separated from the holy sacraments of the
church, so that my soul, if parted here from my body, must be for ever
lost! Weep for me, whoever has charity, truth, and justice! I came not on
this voyage to gain honor or estate, that is most certain, for all hope of
the kind was already dead within me. I came to serve your majesties with a
sound intention and an honest zeal, and I speak no falsehood. If it should
please God to deliver me hence, I humbly supplicate your majesties to
permit me to repair to Rome, and perform other pilgrimages."

The dispatches being ready, and the preparations of the canoe completed,
Diego Mendez embarked, with his Spanish comrade and his six Indians, and
departed along the coast to the eastward. The voyage was toilsome and
perilous. They had to make their way against strong currents. Once they
were taken by roving canoes of Indians, but made their escape, and at
length arrived at the end of the island; a distance of thirty-four leagues
from the harbor. Here they remained, waiting for calm weather to venture
upon the broad gulf, when they were suddenly surrounded and taken
prisoners by a number of hostile Indians, who carried them off a distance
of three leagues, where they determined to kill them. Some dispute arose
about the division of the spoils taken from the Spaniards, whereupon the
savages agreed to settle it by a game of chance. While they were thus
engaged, Diego Mendez escaped, found his way to his canoe, embarked in it,
and returned alone to the harbor after fifteen days' absence. What became
of his companions he does not mention, being seldom apt to speak of any
person but himself. This account is taken from the narrative inserted in
his last will and testament.

Columbus, though grieved at the failure of his message, was rejoiced at
the escape of the faithful Mendez. The latter, nothing daunted by the
perils and hardships he had undergone, offered to depart immediately on a
second attempt, provided he could have persons to accompany him to the end
of the island, and protect him from the natives. This the Adelantado
offered to undertake, with a large party well armed. Bartholomew Fiesco, a
Genoese, who had been captain of one of the caravels, was associated with
Mendez in this second expedition. He was a man of great worth, strongly
attached to the admiral, and much esteemed by him. Each had a large canoe
under his command, in which were six Spaniards and ten Indians--the latter
were to serve as oarsmen. The canoes were to keep in company. On reaching
Hispaniola, Fiesco was to return immediately to Jamaica, to relieve the
anxiety of the admiral and his crew, by tidings of the safe arrival of
their messenger. In the meantime, Diego Mendez was to proceed to San
Domingo, deliver his letter to Ovando, procure and dispatch a ship, and
then depart for Spain with a letter to the sovereigns.

All arrangements being made, the Indians placed in the canoes their frugal
provision of cassava bread, and each his calabash of water. The Spaniards,
beside their bread, had a supply of the flesh of utias, and each his sword
and target. In this way they launched forth upon their long and perilous
voyage, followed by the prayers of their countrymen.

The Adelantado, with his armed band, kept pace with them along the coast.
There was no attempt of the natives to molest them, and they arrived in
safety at the end of the island. Here they remained three days before the
sea was sufficiently calm for them to venture forth in their feeble barks.
At length, the weather being quite serene, they bade farewell to their
comrades, and committed themselves to the broad sea. The Adelantado
remained watching them, until they became mere specks on the ocean, and
the evening hid them from his view. The next day he set out on his return
to the harbor, stopping at various villages on the way, and endeavoring to
confirm the good-will of the natives. [182]

Chapter II.

Mutiny of Porras.


It might have been thought that the adverse fortune which had so long
persecuted Columbus was now exhausted. The envy which had once sickened at
his glory and prosperity could scarcely have devised for him a more
forlorn heritage in the world he had discovered. The tenant of a wreck on
a savage coast, in an untraversed ocean, at the mercy of barbarous hordes,
who, in a moment, from precarious friends, might be transformed into
ferocious enemies; afflicted, too, by excruciating maladies which confined
him to his bed, and by the pains and infirmities which hardship and
anxiety had heaped upon his advancing age. But he had not yet exhausted
his cup of bitterness. He had yet to experience an evil worse than storm,
or shipwreck, or bodily anguish, or the violence of savage hordes,--the
perfidy of those in whom he confided.

Mendez and Fiesco had not long departed when the Spaniards in the wreck
began to grow sickly, partly from the toils and exposures of the recent
voyage, partly from being crowded in narrow quarters in a moist and sultry
climate, and partly from want of their accustomed food, for they could not
habituate themselves to the vegetable diet of the Indians. Their maladies
were rendered more insupportable by mental suffering, by that suspense
which frets the spirit, and that hope deferred which corrodes the heart.
Accustomed to a life of bustle and variety, they had now nothing to do but
loiter about the dreary hulk, look out upon the sea, watch for the canoe
of Fiesco, wonder at its protracted absence, and doubt its return. A long
time elapsed, much more than sufficient for the voyage, but nothing was
seen or heard of the canoe. Fears were entertained that their messenger
had perished. If so, how long were they to remain here, vainly looking for
relief which was never to arrive? Some sank into deep despondency, others
became peevish and impatient. Murmurs broke forth, and, as usual with men
in distress, murmurs of the most unreasonable kind. Instead of
sympathizing with their aged and infirm commander, who was involved in the
same calamity, who in suffering transcended them all, and yet who was
incessantly studious of their welfare, they began to rail against him as
the cause of all their misfortunes.

The factious feeling of an unreasonable multitude would be of little
importance if left to itself, and might end in idle clamor; it is the
industry of one or two evil spirits which generally directs it to an
object, and makes it mischievous. Among the officers of Columbus were two
brothers, Francisco and Diego de Porras. They were related to the royal
treasurer Morales, who had married their sister, and had made interest
with the admiral to give them some employment in the expedition.
[183] To gratify the treasurer, he had appointed Francisco de Porras
captain of one of the caravels, and had obtained for his brother Diego
the situation of notary and accountant-general of the squadron. He had
treated them, as he declares, with the kindness of relatives, though
both proved incompetent to their situations. They were vain and insolent
men, and, like many others whom Columbus had benefited, requited his
kindness with black ingratitude. [184]

These men, finding the common people in a highly impatient and
discontented state, wrought upon them with seditious insinuations,
assuring them that all hope of relief through the agency of Mendez was
idle; it being a mere delusion of the admiral to keep them quiet, and
render them subservient to his purposes. He had no desire nor intention to
return to Spain; and in fact was banished thence. Hispaniola was equally
closed to him, as had been proved by the exclusion of his ships from its
harbor in a time of peril. To him, at present, all places were alike, and
he was content to remain in Jamaica until his friends could make interest
at court, and procure his recall from banishment. As to Mendez and Fiesco,
they had been sent to Spain by Columbus on his own private affairs, not to
procure a ship for the relief of his followers. If this were not the case,
why did not the ships arrive, or why did not Fiesco return, as had been
promised? Or if the canoes had really been sent for succor, the long time
that had elapsed without tidings of them, gave reason to believe they had
perished by the way. In such case, their only alternative would be, to
take the canoes of the Indians and endeavor to reach Hispaniola. There was
no hope, however, of persuading the admiral to such an undertaking; he was
too old, and too helpless from the gout, to expose himself to the
hardships of such a voyage. What then? were they to be sacrificed to his
interests or his infirmities?--to give up their only chance for escape,
and linger and perish with him in this desolate wreck? If they succeeded
in reaching Hispaniola, they would be the better received for having left
the admiral behind. Ovando was secretly hostile to him, fearing that he
would regain the government of the island; on their arrival in Spain, the
bishop Fonseca, from his enmity to Columbus, would be sure to take their
part; the brothers Porras had powerful friends and relatives at court, to
counteract any representations that might be made by the admiral; and they
cited the case of Roldan's rebellion, to show that the prejudices of the
public, and of men in power, would always be against him. Nay, they
insinuated that the sovereigns, who, on that occasion, had deprived him of
part of his dignities and privileges, would rejoice at a pretext for
stripping him of the remainder. [185]

Columbus was aware that the minds of his people were imbittered against
him. He had repeatedly been treated with insolent impatience, and
reproached with being the cause of their disasters. Accustomed, however,
to the unreasonableness of men in adversity, and exercised, by many
trials, in the mastery of his passions, he bore with their petulance,
soothed their irritation, and endeavored to cheer their spirits by the
hopes of speedy succor. A little while longer, and he trusted that Fiesco
would arrive with good tidings, when the certainty of relief would put an
end to all these clamors. The mischief, however, was deeper than he
apprehended: a complete mutiny had been organized.

On the 2d of January, 1504, he was in his small cabin, on the stern of his
vessel, being confined to his bed by the gout, which had now rendered him
a complete cripple. While ruminating on his disastrous situation,
Francisco de Porras suddenly entered. His abrupt and agitated manner
betrayed the evil nature of his visit. He had the flurried impudence of a
man about to perpetrate an open crime. Breaking forth into bitter
complaints, at their being kept, week after week, and month after month,
to perish piecemeal in that desolate place, he accused the admiral of
having no intention to return to Spain. Columbus suspected something
sinister from this unusual arrogance; he maintained, however, his
calmness, and, raising himself in his bed, endeavored to reason with
Porras. He pointed out the impossibility of departing until those who had
gone to Hispaniola should send them vessels. He represented how much more
urgent must be his desire to depart, since he had not merely his own
safety to provide for, but was accountable to God and his sovereigns for
the welfare of all who had been committed to his charge. He reminded
Porras that he had always consulted with them all, as to the measures to
be taken for the common safety, and that what he had done, had been with
the general approbation; still, if any other measure appeared advisable,
he recommended that they should assemble together, and consult upon it,
and adopt whatever course appeared most judicious.

The measures of Porras and his comrades, however, were already concerted,
and when men are determined on mutiny, they are deaf to reason. He bluntly
replied, that there was no time for further consultations. "Embark
immediately or remain in God's name, were the only alternatives." "For my
part," said he, turning his back upon the admiral, and elevating his voice
so that it resounded all over the vessel, "I am for Castile! those who
choose may follow me!" shouts arose immediately from all sides, "I will
follow you! and I! and I!" Numbers of the crew sprang upon the most
conspicuous parts of the ship, brandishing weapons, and uttering mingled
threats and cries of rebellion. Some called upon Porras for orders what to
do; others shouted "To Castile! to Castile!" while, amidst the general
uproar, the voices of some desperadoes were heard menacing the life of the

Columbus, hearing the tumult, leaped from his bed, ill and infirm as he
was, and tottered out of the cabin, stumbling and falling in the exertion,
hoping by his presence to pacify the mutineers. Three or four of his
faithful adherents, however, fearing some violence might he offered him,
threw themselves between him and the throng, and taking him in their arms,
compelled him to return to his cabin.

The Adelantado likewise sallied forth, but in a different mood. He planted
himself, with lance in hand, in a situation to take the whole brunt of the
assault. It was with the greatest difficulty that several of the loyal
part of the crew could appease his fury, and prevail upon him to
relinquish his weapon, and retire to the cabin of his brother. They now
entreated Porras and his companions to depart peaceably, since no one
sought to oppose them. No advantage could be gained by violence; but
should they cause the death of the admiral, they would draw upon
themselves the severest punishment from the sovereigns. [186]

These representations moderated the turbulence of the mutineers, and they
now proceeded to carry their plans into execution. Taking ten canoes which
the admiral had purchased of the Indians, they embarked in them with as
much exultation as if certain of immediately landing on the shores of
Spain. Others, who had not been concerned in the mutiny, seeing so large a
force departing, and fearing to remain behind, when so reduced in number,
hastily collected their effects, and entered likewise into the canoes. It
this way forty-eight abandoned the admiral. Many of those who remained
were only detained by sickness, for, had they been well, most of them
would have accompanied the deserters. [187] The few who remained faithful
to the admiral, and the sick, who crawled forth from their cabins, saw the
departure of the mutineers with tears and lamentations, giving themselves
up for lost. Notwithstanding his malady, Columbus left his bed, mingling
among those who were loyal, and visiting those who were ill, endeavoring
in every way to cheer and comfort them. He entreated them to put their
trust in God, who would yet relieve them; and he promised, on his return
to Spain, to throw himself at the feet of the queen, represent their
loyalty and constancy, and obtain for them rewards that should compensate
for all their sufferings. [188]

In the meantime, Francisco de Porras and his followers, in their squadron
of canoes, coasted the island to the eastward, following the route taken
by Mendez and Fiesco. Wherever they landed, they committed outrages upon
the Indians, robbing them of their provisions, and of whatever they
coveted of their effects. They endeavored to make their own crimes redound
to the prejudice of Columbus, pretending to act under his authority, and
affirming that he would pay for every thing they took. If he refused, they
told the natives to kill him. They represented him as an implacable foe to
the Indians; as one who had tyrannized over other islands, causing the
misery and death of the natives, and who only sought to gain a sway here
for the purpose of inflicting like calamities.

Having reached the eastern extremity of the island, they waited until the
weather should be perfectly calm, before they ventured to cross the gulf.
Being unskilled in the management of canoes, they procured several Indians
to accompany them. The sea being at length quite smooth, they set forth
upon their voyage. Scarcely had they proceeded four leagues from land when
a contrary wind arose, and the waves began to swell. They turned
immediately for shore. The canoes, from their light structure, and being
nearly round and without keels, were easily overturned, and required to be
carefully balanced. They were now deeply freighted by men unaccustomed to
them, and as the sea rose, they frequently let in the water. The Spaniards
were alarmed, and endeavored to lighten them, by throwing overboard every
thing that could be spared; retaining only their arms, and a part of their
provisions. The danger augmented with the wind. They now compelled the
Indians to leap into the sea, excepting such as were absolutely necessary
to navigate the canoes. If they hesitated, they drove them overboard with
the edge of the sword. The Indians were skillful swimmers, but the
distance to land was too great for their strength. They kept about the
canoes, therefore, taking hold of them occasionally to rest themselves and
recover breath. As their weight disturbed the balance of the canoes, and
endangered their overturning, the Spaniards cut off their hands, and
stabbed them with their swords. Some died by the weapons of these cruel
men, others were exhausted and sank beneath the waves; thus eighteen
perished miserably, and none survived but such as had been retained to
manage the canoes.

When the Spaniards got back to land, different opinions arose as to what
course they should next pursue. Some were for crossing to Cuba, for which
island the wind was favorable. It was thought they might easily cross
thence to the end of Hispaniola. Others advised that they should return
and make their peace with the admiral, or take from him what remained of
arms and stores, having thrown almost every thing overboard during their
late danger. Others counseled another attempt to cross over to Hispaniola,
as soon as the sea should become tranquil.

This last advice was adopted. They remained for a month at an Indian
village near the eastern point of the island, living on the substance of
the natives, and treating them in the most arbitrary and capricious
manner. When at length the weather became serene, they made a second
attempt, but were again driven back by adverse winds. Losing all patience,
therefore, and despairing of the enterprise, they abandoned their canoes,
and returned westward; wandering from village to village, a dissolute and
lawless gang, supporting themselves by fair means or foul, according as
they met with kindness or hostility, and passing like a pestilence through
the island. [189]

Chapter III.

Scarcity of Provisions.--Strategem of Columbus to Obtain Supplies from the


While Porras and his crew were raging about with that desperate and
joyless licentiousness which attends the abandonment of principle,
Columbus presented the opposite picture of a man true to others and to
himself, and supported, amidst hardships and difficulties, by conscious
rectitude. Deserted by the healthful and vigorous portion of his garrison,
he exerted himself to soothe and encourage the infirm and desponding
remnant which remained. Regardless of his own painful maladies, he was
only attentive to relieve their sufferings. The few who were fit for
service were required to mount guard on the wreck, or attend upon the
sick; there were none to forage for provisions. The scrupulous good faith
and amicable conduct maintained by Columbus towards the natives had now
their effect. Considerable supplies of provisions were brought by them
from time to time, which he purchased at a reasonable rate. The most
palatable and nourishing of these, together with the small stock of
European biscuit that remained, he ordered to be appropriated to the
sustenance of the infirm. Knowing how much the body is affected by the
operations of the mind, he endeavored to rouse the spirits, and animate
the hopes, of the drooping sufferers. Concealing his own anxiety, he
maintained a serene and even cheerful countenance, encouraging his men by
kind words, and holding forth confident anticipations of speedy relief. By
his friendly and careful treatment, he soon recruited both the health and
spirits of his people, and brought them into a condition to contribute to
the common safety. Judicious regulations, calmly but firmly enforced,
maintained every thing in order. The men became sensible of the advantages
of wholesome discipline, and perceived that the restraints imposed upon
them by their commander were for their own good, and ultimately productive
of their own comfort.

Columbus had thus succeeded in guarding against internal ills, when
alarming evils began to menace from without. The Indians, unused to lay up
any stock of provisions, and unwilling to subject themselves to extra
labor, found it difficult to furnish the quantity of food daily required
for so many hungry men. The European trinkets, once so precious, lost
their value, in proportion as they became common. The importance of the
admiral had been greatly diminished by the desertion of so many of his
followers; and the malignant instigations of the rebels had awakened
jealousy and enmity in several of the villages which had been accustomed
to furnish provisions.

By degrees, therefore, the supplies fell off. The arrangements for the
daily delivery of certain quantities, made by Diego Mendez, were
irregularly attended to, and at length ceased entirely. The Indians no
longer thronged to the harbor with provisions, and often refused them when
applied for. The Spaniards were obliged to forage about the neighborhood
for their daily food; but found more and more difficulty in procuring it;
thus, in addition to their other causes for despondency, they began to
entertain horrible apprehensions of famine.

The admiral heard their melancholy forebodings, and beheld the growing
evil, but was at a loss for a remedy. To resort to force was an
alternative full of danger, and of but temporary efficacy. It would
require all those who were well enough to bear arms to sally forth, while
he and the rest of the infirm would be left defenceless on board of the
wreck, exposed to the vengeance of the natives.

In the meantime, the scarcity daily increased. The Indians perceived the
wants of the white men, and had learnt from them the art of making
bargains. They asked ten times the former quantity of European articles
for any amount of provisions, and brought their supplies in scanty
quantities, to enhance the eagerness of the hungry Spaniards. At length,
even this relief ceased, and there was an absolute distress for food. The
jealousy of the natives had been universally roused by Porras and his
followers, and they withheld all provisions, in hopes either of starving
the admiral and his people, or of driving them from the island. In this
extremity, a fortunate idea presented itself to Columbus. From his
knowledge of astronomy, he ascertained that, within three days, there
would be a total eclipse of the moon in the early part of the night. He
sent, therefore, an Indian of Hispaniola, who served as his interpreter,
to summon the principal caciques to a grand conference, appointing for it
the day of the eclipse. When all were assembled, he told them by his
interpreter, that he and his followers were worshipers of a Deity who
dwelt in the skies; who favored such as did well, but punished all
transgressors. That, as they must all have noticed, he had protected Diego
Mendez and his companions in their voyage, because they went in obedience
to the orders of their commander; but had visited Porras and his
companions with all kinds of afflictions, in consequence of their
rebellion. This great Deity, he added, was incensed against the Indians
who refused to furnish his faithful worshipers with provisions, and
intended to chastise them with famine and pestilence. Lest they should
disbelieve this warning, a signal would be given that night. They would
behold the moon change its color, and gradually lose its light; a token of
the fearful punishment which awaited them.

Many of the Indians were alarmed at the prediction, others treated it with
derision,--all, however, awaited with solicitude the coming of the night.
When they beheld a dark shadow stealing over the moon, they began to
tremble; with the progress of the eclipse their fears increased, and when
they saw a mysterious darkness covering the whole face of nature, there
were no bounds to their terror. Seizing upon whatever provisions were at
hand, they hurried to the ships, threw themselves at the feet of Columbus,
and implored him to intercede, with his God to withhold the threatened
calamities, assuring him they would thenceforth bring him whatever he
required. Columbus shut himself up in his cabin, as if to commune with the
Deity, and remained there during the increase of the eclipse, the forests
and shores all the while resounding with the bowlings and supplications of
the savages. When the eclipse was about to diminish, he came forth and
informed the natives that his God had deigned to pardon them, on condition
of their fulfilling their promises; in sign of which he would withdraw the
darkness from the moon.

When the Indians saw that planet restored to its brightness, and rolling
in all its beauty through the firmament, they overwhelmed the admiral with
thanks for his intercession, and repaired to their homes, joyful at having
escaped such great disasters. Regarding Columbus with awe and reverence,
as a man in the peculiar favor and confidence of the Deity, since he knew
upon earth what was passing in the heavens, they hastened to propitiate
him with gifts; supplies again arrived daily at the harbor, and from that
time forward, there was no want of provisions. [190]

Chapter IV.

Mission of Diego de Escobar to the Admiral.


Eight months had now elapsed since the departure of Mendez and Fiesco,
without any tidings of their fate. For a long time the Spaniards had kept
a wistful look-out upon the ocean, flattering themselves that every Indian
canoe, gliding at a distance, might be the harbinger of deliverance. The
hopes of the most sanguine were now fast sinking into despondency. What
thousand perils awaited such frail barks, and so weak a party, on an
expedition of the kind! Either the canoes had been swallowed up by
boisterous waves and adverse currents, or their crews had perished among
the rugged mountains and savage tribes of Hispaniola. To increase their
despondency, they were informed that a vessel had been seen, bottom
upwards, drifting with the currents along the coasts of Jamaica. This
might be the vessel sent to their relief; and if so, all their hopes were
shipwrecked with it. This rumor, it is affirmed, was invented and
circulated in the island by the rebels, that it might reach the ears of
those who remained faithful to the admiral, and reduce them to despair.
[191] It no doubt had its effect. Losing all hope of aid from a distance,
and considering themselves abandoned and forgotten by the world, many
grew wild and desperate in their plans. Another conspiracy was formed by
one Bernardo, an apothecary of Valencia, with two confederates, Alonzo
de Zamora and Pedro de Villatoro. They designed to seize upon the
remaining canoes, and seek their way to Hispaniola. [192]

The mutiny was on the very point of breaking out, when one evening,
towards dusk, a sail was seen standing towards the harbor. The transports
of the poor Spaniards may be more easily conceived than described. The
vessel was of small size; it kept out to sea, but sent its boat to visit
the ships. Every eye was eagerly bent to hail the countenances of
Christians and deliverers. As the boat approached, they descried in it
Diego de Escobar, a man who had been one of the most active confederates
of Roldan in his rebellion, who had been condemned to death under the
administration of Columbus, and pardoned by his successor Bobadilla. There
was bad omen in such a messenger.

Coming alongside of the ships, Escobar put a letter on board from Ovando,
governor of Hispaniola, together with a barrel of wine and a side of
bacon, sent as presents to the admiral. He then drew off, and talked with
Columbus from a distance. He told him that he was sent by the governor to
express his great concern at his misfortunes, and his regret at not having
in port a vessel of sufficient size to bring off himself and his people,
but that he would send one as soon as possible. Escobar gave the admiral
assurances likewise, that his concerns in Hispaniola had been faithfully
attended to. He requested him, if he had any letter to write to the
governor in reply, to give it to him as soon as possible, as he wished to
return immediately.

There was something extremely singular in this mission, but there was no
time for comments; Escobar was urgent to depart. Columbus hastened,
therefore, to write a reply to Ovando, depicting the dangers and
distresses of his situation, increased as they were by the rebellion of
Porras, but expressing his reliance on his promise to send him relief,
confiding in which he should remain patiently on board of his wreck. He
recommended Diego Mendez and Bartholomew Fiesco to his favor, assuring him
that they were not sent to San Domingo with any artful design, but simply
to represent his perilous situation, and to apply for succor. When
Escobar received this letter, he returned immediately on board of his
vessel, which made all sail, and soon disappeared in the gathering gloom
of the night.

If the Spaniards had hailed the arrival of this vessel with transport, its
sudden departure and the mysterious conduct of Escobar inspired no less
wonder and consternation. He had kept aloof from all communication with
them, as if he felt no interest in their welfare, or sympathy in their
misfortunes. Columbus saw the gloom that had gathered in their
countenances, and feared the consequences. He eagerly sought, therefore,
to dispel their suspicions, professing himself satisfied with the
communications received from Ovando, and assuring them that vessels would
soon arrive to take them all away. In confidence of this, he said, he had
declined to depart with Escobar, because his vessel was too small to take
the whole, preferring to remain with them and share their lot, and had
dispatched the caravel in such haste that no time might be lost in
expediting the necessary ships. These assurances, and the certainty that
their situation was known in San Domingo, cheered the hearts of the
people. Their hopes again revived, and the conspiracy, which had been on
the point of breaking forth, was completely disconcerted.

In secret, however, Columbus was exceedingly indignant at the conduct of
Ovando. He had left him for many months in a state of the utmost danger,
and most distressing uncertainty, exposed to the hostilities of the
natives, the seditions of his men, and the suggestions of his own despair.
He had, at length, sent a mere tantalizing message, by a man known to be
one of his bitterest enemies, with a present of food, which, from its
scantiness, seemed intended to mock their necessities.

Columbus believed that Ovando had purposely neglected him, hoping that he
might perish on the island, being apprehensive that, should he return in
safety, he would be reinstated in the government of Hispaniola; and he
considered Escobar merely as a spy sent to ascertain the state of himself
and his crew, and whether they were yet in existence. Las Casas, who was
then at San Domingo, expresses similar suspicions. He says that Escobar
was chosen because Ovando was certain that, from ancient enmity, he would
have no sympathy for the admiral. That he was ordered not to go on board
of the vessels, nor to land, neither was he to hold conversation with any
of the crew, nor to receive any letters, except those of the admiral. In a
word, that he was a mere scout to collect information. [193]

Others have ascribed the long neglect of Ovando to extreme caution. There
was a rumor prevalent that Columbus, irritated at the suspension of his
dignities by the court of Spain, intended to transfer his newly-discovered
countries into the hands of his native republic Genoa, or of some other
power. Such rumors had long been current, and to their recent circulation
Columbus himself alludes in his letter sent to the sovereigns by Diego
Mendez. The most plausible apology given, is, that Ovando was absent for
several months in the interior, occupied in wars with the natives, and
that there were no ships at San Domingo of sufficient burden to take
Columbus and his crew to Spain. He may have feared that, should they come
to reside for any length of time on the island, either the admiral would
interfere in public affairs, or endeavor to make a party in his favor; or
that, in consequence of the number of his old enemies still resident
there, former scenes of faction and turbulence might be revived.
[194] In the meantime the situation of Columbus in Jamaica, while it
disposed of him quietly until vessels should arrive from Spain, could
not, he may have thought, be hazardous. He had sufficient force and arms
for defence, and he had made amicable arrangements with the natives for
the supply of provisions, as Diego Mendez, who had made those
arrangements, had no doubt informed him. Such may have been the
reasoning by which Ovando, under the real influence of his interest, may
have reconciled his conscience to a measure which excited the strong
reprobation of his contemporaries, and has continued to draw upon him
the suspicions of mankind.

Chapter V.

Voyage of Diego Mendez and Bartholomew Fiesco in a Canoe to Hispaniola.


It is proper to give here some account of the mission of Diego Mendez and
Bartholomew Fiesco, and of the circumstances which prevented the latter
from returning to Jamaica. Having taken leave of the Adelantado at the
east end of the island, they continued all day in a direct course,
animating the Indians who navigated their canoes, and who frequently
paused at their labor. There was no wind, the sky was without a cloud, and
the sea perfectly calm; the heat was intolerable, and the rays of the sun,
reflected from the surface of the ocean, seemed to scorch their very eyes.
The Indians, exhausted by heat and toil, would often leap into the water
to cool and refresh themselves, and, after remaining there a short time,
would return with new vigor to their labors. At the going down of the sun
they lost sight of land. During the night the Indians took turns, one half
to row while the others slept. The Spaniards, in like manner, divided
their forces: while one half took repose, the others kept guard with their
weapons in hand, ready to defend themselves in case of any perfidy on the
part of their savage companions.

Watching and toiling in this way through the night, they were exceedingly
fatigued at the return of day. Nothing was to be seen but sea and sky.
Their frail canoes, heaving up and down with the swelling and sinking of
the ocean, seemed scarcely capable of sustaining the broad undulations of
a calm; how would they be able to live amid waves and surges, should the
wind arise? The commanders did all they could to keep up the flagging
spirits of the men. Sometimes they permitted them a respite; at other
times they took the paddles and shared their toils. But labor and fatigue
were soon forgotten in a new source of suffering. During the preceding
sultry day and night, the Indians, parched and fatigued, had drunk up all
the water. They now began to experience the torments of thirst. In
proportion as the day advanced, their thirst increased; the calm, which
favored the navigation of the canoes, rendered this misery the more
intense. There was not a breeze to fan the air, nor counteract the ardent
rays of a tropical sun. Their sufferings were irritated by the prospect
around them--nothing but water, while they were perishing with thirst. At
mid-day their strength failed them, and they could work no longer.
Fortunately, at this time the commanders of the canoes found, or pretended
to find, two small kegs of water, which they had perhaps secretly reserved
for such an extremity. Administering the precious contents from time to
time, in sparing mouthfuls, to their companions, and particularly to the
laboring Indians, they enabled them to resume their toils. They cheered
them with the hopes of soon arriving at a small island called Navasa,
which lay directly in their way, and was only eight leagues from
Hispaniola. Here they would be able to procure water, and might take

For the rest of the day they continued faintly and wearily laboring
forward, and keeping an anxious look-out for the island. The day passed
away, the sun went down, yet there was no sign of land, not even a cloud
on the horizon that might deceive them into a hope. According to their
calculations, they had certainly come the distance from Jamaica at which
Navasa lay. They began to fear that they had deviated from their course.
If so, they should miss the island entirely, and perish with thirst before
they could reach Hispaniola.

The night closed upon them without any sight of the island. They now
despaired of touching at it, for it was so small and low that, even if
they were to pass near, they would scarcely be able to perceive it in the
dark. One of the Indians sank and died, under the accumulated sufferings
of labor, heat, and raging thirst. His body was thrown into the sea.
Others lay panting and gasping at the bottom of the canoes. Their
companions, troubled in spirit, and exhausted in strength, feebly
continued their toils. Sometimes they endeavored to cool their parched
palates by taking sea-water in their mouths, but its briny acrimony rather
increased their thirst. Now and then, but very sparingly, they were
allowed a drop of water from the kegs; but this was only in cases of the
utmost extremity, and principally to those who were employed in rowing.
The night had far advanced, but those whose turn it was to take repose
were unable to sleep, from the intensity of their thirst; or if they
slept, it was but to be tantalized with dreams of cool fountains and
running brooks, and to awaken in redoubled torment. The last drop of water
had been dealt out to the Indian rowers, but it only served to irritate
their sufferings. They scarce could move their paddles; one after another
gave up, and it seemed impossible they should live to reach Hispaniola.

The commanders, by admirable management, had hitherto kept up this weary
struggle with suffering and despair: they now, too, began to despond.
Diego Mendez sat watching the horizon, which was gradually lighting up
with those faint rays which precede the rising of the moon. As that planet
rose, he perceived it to emerge from behind some dark mass elevated above
the level of the ocean. He immediately gave the animating cry of "land!"
His almost expiring companions were roused by it to new life. It proved to
be the island of Navasa, but so small, and low, and distant, that had it
not been thus revealed by the rising of the moon, they would never have
discovered it. The error in their reckoning with respect to the island had
arisen from miscalculating the rate of sailing of the canoes, and from not
making sufficient allowance for the fatigue of the rowers and the
opposition of the current.

New vigor was now diffused throughout the crews. They exerted themselves
with feverish impatience; by the dawn of day they reached the land, and,
springing on shore, returned thanks to God for such signal deliverance.
The island was a mere mass of rocks half a league in circuit. There was
neither tree, nor shrub, nor herbage, nor stream, nor fountain. Hurrying
about, however, with anxious search, they found to their joy abundance of
rain-water in the hollows of the rocks. Eagerly scooping it up with their
calabashes, they quenched their burning thirst by immoderate draughts. In
vain the more prudent warned the others of their danger. The Spaniards
were in some degree restrained; but the poor Indians, whose toils had
increased the fever of their thirst, gave way to a kind of frantic
indulgence. Several died upon the spot, and others fell dangerously ill.

Having allayed their thirst, they now looked about in search of food. A
few shell-fish were found along the shore, and Diego Mendez, striking a
light, and gathering drift-wood, they were enabled to boil them, and to
make a delicious banquet. All day they remained reposing in the shade of
the rocks, refreshing themselves after their intolerable sufferings, and
gazing upon Hispaniola, whose mountains rose above the horizon, at eight
leagues distance.

In the cool of the evening they once more embarked, invigorated by repose,
and arrived safely at Cape Tiburon on the following day, the fourth since
their departure from Jamaica. Here they landed on the banks of a beautiful
river, where they were kindly received and treated by the natives. Such
are the particulars, collected from different sources, of this adventurous
and interesting voyage, on the precarious success of which depended the
deliverance of Columbus and his crews. [196] The voyagers remained for two
days among the hospitable natives on the banks of the river to refresh
themselves. Fiesco would have returned to Jamaica, according to promise,
to give assurance to the Admiral and his companions of the safe arrival of
their messenger; but both Spaniards and Indians had suffered so much
during the voyage, that nothing could induce them to encounter the perils
of a return in the canoes.

Parting with his companions, Diego Mendez took six Indians of the island,
and set off resolutely to coast in his canoe one hundred and thirty
leagues to San Domingo. After proceeding for eighty leagues, with infinite
toil, always against the currents, and subject to perils from the native
tribes, he was informed that the governor had departed for Xaragua, fifty
leagues distant. Still undaunted by fatigues and difficulties, he
abandoned his canoe, and proceeded alone and on foot through forests and
over mountains, until he arrived at Xaragua, achieving one of the most
perilous expeditions ever undertaken by a devoted follower for the safety
of his commander.

Ovando received him with great kindness, expressing the utmost concern at
the unfortunate situation of Columbus. He made many promises of sending
immediate relief, but suffered day after day, week after week, and even
month after month to elapse, without carrying his promises into effect. He
was at that time completely engrossed by wars with the natives, and had a
ready plea that there were no ships of sufficient burden at San Domingo.
Had he felt a proper zeal, however, for the safety of a man like Columbus,
it would have been easy, within eight months, to have devised some means,
if not of delivering him from his situation, at least of conveying to him
ample reinforcements and supplies.

The faithful Mendez remained for seven months in Xaragua, detained there
under various pretexts by Ovando, who was unwilling that he should proceed
to San Domingo; partly, as is intimated, from his having some jealousy of
his being employed in secret agency for the admiral, and partly from a
desire to throw impediments in the way of his obtaining the required
relief. At length, by daily importunity, he obtained permission to go to
San Domingo, and await the arrival of certain ships which were expected,
of which he proposed to purchase one on account of the admiral. He
immediately set out on foot a distance of seventy leagues, part of his
toilsome journey lying through forests and among mountains infested by
hostile and exasperated Indians. It was after his departure that Ovando
dispatched the caravel commanded by the pardoned rebel Escobar, on that
singular and equivocal visit, which, in the eyes of Columbus, had the air
of a mere scouting expedition to spy into the camp of an enemy.

Chapter VI.

Overtures of Columbus to the Mutineers.--Battle of the Adelantado with
Porras and His Followers.


When Columbus had soothed the disappointment of his men at the brief and
unsatisfactory visit and sudden departure of Escobar he endeavored to turn
the event to some advantage with the rebels. He knew them to be
disheartened by the inevitable miseries attending a lawless and dissolute
life; that many longed to return to the safe and quiet path of duty; and
that the most malignant, seeing how he had foiled all their intrigues
among the natives to produce a famine, began to fear his ultimate triumph
and consequent vengeance. A favorable opportunity, he thought, now
presented to take advantage of these feelings, and by gentle means to
bring them back to their allegiance. He sent two of his people, therefore,
who were most intimate with the rebels, to inform them of the recent
arrival of Escobar with letters from the Governor of Hispaniola, promising
him a speedy deliverance from the island. He now offered a free pardon,
kind treatment, and a passage with him in the expected ships, on condition
of their immediate return to obedience. To convince them of the arrival of
the vessel, he sent them a part of the bacon which had been brought by

On the approach of these ambassadors, Francisco de Porras came forth to
meet them, accompanied solely by a few of the ringleaders of his party. He
imagined that there might be some propositions from the admiral, and he
was fearful of their being heard by the mass of his people, who, in their
dissatisfied and repentant mood, would be likely to desert him on the
least prospect of pardon. Having listened to the tidings and overtures
brought by the messengers, he and his confidential confederates consulted
for some time together. Perfidious in their own nature, thev suspected the
sincerity of the admiral; and conscious of the extent of their offences,
doubted his having the magnanimity to pardon them. Determined, therefore,
not to confide in his proffered amnesty, they replied to the messengers,
that they had no wish to return to the ships, but preferred living at
large about the island. They offered to engage, however, to conduct
themselves peaceably and amicably, on receiving a solemn promise from the
admiral, that should two vessels arrive, they should have one to depart
in: should but one arrive, that half of it should be granted to them; and
that, moreover, the admiral should share with them the stores and articles
of Indian traffic remaining in the ships, having lost all that they had,
in the sea. These demands were pronounced extravagant and inadmissible,
upon which they replied insolently that, if they were not peaceably
conceded, they would take them by force; and with this menace they
dismissed the ambassadors. [197]

This conference was not conducted so privately, but that the rest of the
rebels learnt the purport of the mission; and the offer of pardon and
deliverance occasioned great tumult and agitation. Porras, fearful of
their desertion, assured them that these offers of the admiral were all
deceitful; that he was naturally cruel and vindictive, and only sought to
get them into his power to wreak on them his vengeance. He exhorted them
to persist in their opposition to his tyranny; reminding them, that those
who had formerly done so in Hispaniola, had eventually triumphed, and sent
him home in irons; he assured them that they might do the same; and again
made vaunting promises of protection in Spain, through the influence of
his relatives. But the boldest of his assertions was with respect to the
caravel of Escobar. It shows the ignorance of the age, and the
superstitious awe which the common people entertained with respect to
Columbus and his astronomical knowledge. Porras assured them that no real
caravel had arrived, but a mere phantasm conjured up by the admiral, who
was deeply versed in necromancy. In proof of this, he adverted to its
arriving in the dusk of the evening; its holding communication 'with no
one but the admiral, and its sudden disappearance in the night. Had it
been a real caravel, the crew would have sought to talk with their
countrymen; the admiral, his son and brother, would have eagerly embarked
on board, and it would at any rate have remained a little while in port,
and not have vanished so suddenly and mysteriously. [198]

By these, and similar delusions, Porras succeeded in working upon the
feelings and credulity of his followers. Fearful, however, that they might
yield to after reflection, and to further offers from the admiral, he
determined to involve them in some act of violence which would commit them
beyond all hopes of forgiveness. He marched them, therefore, to an Indian
village called Maima, [199] about a quarter of a league from the ships,
intending to plunder the stores remaining on board the wreck, and to take
the admiral prisoner. [200]

Columbus had notice of the designs of the rebels, and of their approach.
Being confined by his infirmities, he sent his brother to endeavor with
mild words to persuade them from their purpose, and win them to obedience;
but with sufficient force to resist any violence. The Adelantado, who was
a man rather of deeds than of words, took with him fifty followers, men of
tried resolution, and ready to fight in any cause. They were well armed
and full of courage, though many were pale and debilitated from recent
sickness, and from long confinement to the ships. Arriving on the side of
a hill, within a bow-shot of the village, the Adelantado discovered the
rebels, and dispatched the same two messengers to treat with them, who had
already carried them the offer of pardon. Porras and his fellow-leaders,
however, would not permit them to approach. They confided in the
superiority of their numbers, and in their men being, for the most part,
hardy sailors, rendered robust and vigorous by the roving life they had
been leading in the forests and the open air. They knew that many of those
who were with the Adelantado were men brought up in a softer mode of life.
They pointed to their pale countenances, and persuaded their followers
that they were mere household men, fair-weather troops, who could never
stand before them. They did not reflect that, with such men, pride and
lofty spirit often more than supply the place of bodily force, and they
forgot that their adversaries had the incalculable advantage of justice
and law upon their side. Deluded by their words, their followers were
excited to a transient glow of courage, and, brandishing their weapons,
refused to listen to the messengers.

Six of the stoutest rebels made a league to stand by one another and
attack the Adelantado; for, he being killed, the rest would be easily
defeated. The main body formed themselves into a squadron, drawing their
swords and shaking their lances. They did not wait to be assailed, but,
uttering shouts and menaces, rushed upon the enemy. They were so well
received, however, that at the first shock four or five were killed, most
of them the confederates who had leagued to attack the Adelantado. The
latter, with his own hand, killed Juan Sanchez, the same powerful mariner
who had carried off the cacique Quibian; and Juan Barber also, who had
first drawn a sword against the admiral in this rebellion. The Adelantado
with his usual vigor and courage was dealing his blows about him in the
thickest of the affray, where several lay killed and wounded, when he was
assailed by Francisco de Porras. The rebel with a blow of his sword cleft
the buckler of Don Bartholomew, and wounded the hand which grasped it. The
sword remained wedged in the shield, and before Porras could withdraw it,
the Adelantado closed upon him, grappled him, and, being assisted by
others, after a severe struggle, took him prisoner. [201]

When the rebels beheld their leader a captive, their transient courage was
at an end, and they fled in confusion. The Adelantado would have pursued
them, but was persuaded to let them escape with the punishment they had
received; especially as it was necessary to guard against the possibility
of an attack from the Indians.

The latter had taken arms and drawn up in battle array, gazing with
astonishment at this fight between white men, but without taking part on
either side. When the battle was over, they approached the field, gazing
upon the dead bodies of the beings they had once fancied immortal. They
were curious in examining the wounds made by the Christian weapons. Among
the wounded insurgents was Pedro Ledesma, the same pilot who so bravely
swam ashore at Veragua, to procure tidings of the colony. He was a man of
prodigious muscular force and a hoarse deep voice. As the Indians, who
thought him dead, were inspecting the wounds with which he was literally
covered, he suddenly uttered an ejaculation in his tremendous voice, at
the sound of which the savages fled in dismay. This man, having fallen
into a cleft or ravine, was not discovered by the white men until the
dawning of the following day, having remained all that time without a drop
of water. The number and severity of the wounds he is said to have
received would seem incredible, but they are mentioned by Fernando
Columbus, who was an eye-witness, and by Las Casas, who had the account
from Ledesma himself. For want of proper remedies, his wounds were treated
in the roughest manner, yet, through the aid of a vigorous constitution,
he completely recovered. Las Casas conversed with him several years
afterwards at Seville, when he obtained from him various particulars
concerning this voyage of Columbus. Some few days after this conversation,
however, he heard that Ledesma had fallen under the knife of an assassin.

The Adelantado returned in triumph to the ships, where he was received by
the admiral in the most affectionate manner; thanking him as his
deliverer. He brought Porras and several of his followers prisoners. Of
his own party only two had been wounded; himself in the hand, and the
admiral's steward, who had received an apparently slight wound with a
lance, equal to one of the most insignificant of those with which Ledesma
was covered; yet, in spite of careful treatment, he died.

On the next day, the 20th of May, the fugitives sent a petition to the
admiral, signed with all their names, in which, says Las Casas, they
confessed all their misdeeds, and cruelties, and evil intentions,
supplicating the admiral to have pity on them and pardon them for their
rebellion, for which God had already punished them. They offered to return
to their obedience and to serve him faithfully in future, making an oath
to that effect upon a cross and a missal, accompanied by an imprecation
worthy of being recorded: "They hoped, should they break their oath, that
no priest nor other Christian might ever confess them; that repentance
might be of no avail; that they might be deprived of the holy sacraments
of the church; that at their death they might receive no benefit from
bulls nor indulgences; that their bodies might be cast out into the fields
like those of heretics and renegadoes, instead of being buried in holy
ground; and that they might not receive absolution from the pope, nor from
cardinals, nor archbishops, nor bishops, nor any other Christian priests."
[203] Such were the awful imprecations by which these men endeavored to
add validity to an oath. The worthlessness of a man's word may always be
known by the extravagant means he uses to enforce it.

The admiral saw, by the abject nature of this petition, how completely the
spirit of these misguided men was broken; with his wonted magnanimity, he
readily granted their prayer, and pardoned their offences; but on one
condition, that their ringleader, Francisco Porras, should remain a

As it was difficult to maintain so many persons on board of the ships, and
as quarrels might take place between persons who had so recently been at
blows, Columbus put the late followers of Porras under the command of a
discreet and faithful man; and giving in his charge a quantity of European
articles for the purpose of purchasing food of the natives, directed him
to forage about the island until the expected vessels should arrive.

At length, after a long year of alternate hope and despondency, the doubts
of the Spaniards were joyfully dispelled by the sight of two vessels
standing into the harbor. One proved to be a ship hired and well
victualed, at the expense of the admiral, by the faithful and
indefatigable Diego Mendez; the other had been subsequently fitted out by
Ovando, and put under the command of Diego de Salcedo, the admiral's agent
employed to collect his rents in San Domingo.

The long neglect of Ovando to attend to the relief of Columbus had, it
seems, roused the public indignation, insomuch that animadversions had
been made upon his conduct even in the pulpits. This is affirmed by Las
Casas, who was at San Domingo at the time. If the governor had really
entertained hopes that, during the delay of relief, Columbus might perish
in the island, the report brought back by Escobar must have completely
disappointed him. No time was to be lost if he wished to claim any merit
in his deliverance, or to avoid the disgrace of having totally neglected
him. He exerted himself, therefore, at the eleventh hour, and dispatched a
caravel at the same time with the ship sent by Diego Mendez. The latter,
having faithfully discharged this part of his mission, and seen the ships
depart, proceeded to Spain on the further concerns of the admiral. [204]

Book XVII.

Chapter I.

Administration of Ovando in Hispaniola.--Oppression of the Natives.


Before relating the return of Columbus to Hispaniola, it is proper to
notice some of the principal occurrences which took place in that island
under the government of Ovando. A great crowd of adventurers of various
ranks had thronged his fleet--eager speculators, credulous dreamers, and
broken-down gentlemen of desperate fortunes; all expecting to enrich
themselves suddenly in an island where gold was to be picked up from the
surface of the soil, or gathered from the mountain-brooks. They had
scarcely landed, says Las Casas, who accompanied the expedition, when they
all hurried off to the mines, about eight leagues distant. The roads
swarmed like ant-hills, with adventurers of all classes. Every one had his
knapsack stored with biscuit or flour, and his mining implements on his
shoulders. Those hidalgos, or gentlemen, who had no servants to carry
their burdens, bore them on their own backs, and lucky was he who had a
horse for the journey; he would be able to bring back the greater load of
treasure. They all set out in high spirits, eager who should first reach
the golden land; thinking they had but to arrive at the mines, and collect
riches; "for they fancied," says Las Casas, "that gold was to be gathered
as easily and readily as fruit from the trees." When they arrived,
however, they discovered, to their dismay, that it was necessary to dig
painfully into the bowels of the earth--a labor to which most of them had
never been accustomed; that it required experience and sagacity to detect
the veins of ore; that, in fact, the whole process of mining was
exceedingly toilsome, demanded vast patience and much experience, and,
after all, was full of uncertainty. They digged eagerly for a time, but
found no ore. They grew hungry, threw by their implements, sat down to
eat, and then returned to work. It was all in vain. "Their labor," says
Las Casas, "gave them a keen appetite and quick digestion, but no gold."
They soon consumed their provisions, exhausted their patience, cursed
their infatuation, and in eight days set off drearily on their return
along the roads they had lately trod so exultingly. They arrived at San
Domingo without an ounce of gold, half-famished, downcast, and despairing.
[205] Such is too often the case of those who ignorantly engage in
mining--of all speculations the most brilliant, promising, and fallacious.

Poverty soon fell upon these misguided men. They exhausted the little
property brought from Spain. Many suffered extremely from hunger, and were
obliged to exchange even their apparel for bread. Some formed connections
with the old settlers of the island; but the greater part were like men
lost and bewildered, and just awakened from a dream. The miseries of the
mind, as usual, heightened the sufferings of the body. Some wasted away
and died broken-hearted; others were hurried off by raging fevers, so that
there soon perished upwards of a thousand men.

Ovando was reputed a man of great prudence and sagacity, and he certainly
took several judicious measures for the regulation of the island, and the
relief of the colonists. He made arrangements for distributing the married
persons and the families which had come out in his fleet, in four towns in
the interior, granting them important privileges. He revived the drooping
zeal for mining, by reducing the royal share of the product from one-half
to a third, and shortly after to a fifth; but he empowered the Spaniards
to avail themselves, in the most oppressive manner, of the labor of the
unhappy natives in working the mines. The charge of treating the natives
with severity had been one of those chiefly urged against Columbus. It is
proper, therefore, to notice, in this respect, the conduct of his
successor, a man chosen for his prudence, and his supposed capacity to

It will be recollected, that when Columbus was in a manner compelled to
assign lands to the rebellious followers of Francisco Roldan, in 1499, he
had made an arrangement that the caciques in their vicinity should, in
lieu of tribute, furnish a number of their subjects to assist them in
cultivating their estates. This, as has been observed, was the
commencement of the disastrous system of repartimientos, or distributions
of Indians. When Bobadilla administered the government, he constrained the
caciques to furnish a certain number of Indians to each Spaniard, for the
purpose of working the mines; where they were employed like beasts of
burden. He made an enumeration of the natives, to prevent evasion; reduced
them into classes, and distributed them among the Spanish inhabitants. The
enormous oppressions which ensued have been noticed. They roused the
indignation of Isabella; and when Ovando was sent out to supersede
Bobadilla, in 1502, the natives were pronounced free; they immediately
refused to labor in the mines.

Ovando represented to the Spanish sovereigns, in 1503, that ruinous
consequences resulted to the colony from this entire liberty granted to
the Indians. He stated that the tribute could not be collected, for the
Indians were lazy and improvident; that they could only be kept from vices
and irregularities by occupation; that they now kept aloof from the
Spaniards, and from all instruction in the Christian faith.

The last representation had an influence with Isabella, and drew a letter
from the sovereigns to Ovando, in 1503, in which he was ordered to spare
no pains to attach the natives to the Spanish nation and the Catholic
religion. To make them labor moderately, if absolutely essential to their
own good; but to temper authority with persuasion and kindness. To pay
them regularly and fairly for their labor, and to have them instructed in
religion on certain days.

Ovando availed himself of the powers given him by this letter, to their
fullest extent. He assigned to each Castilian a certain number of Indians,
according to the quality of the applicant, the nature of the application,
or his own pleasure. It was arranged in the form of an order on a cacique
for a certain number of Indians, who were to be paid by their employer,
and instructed in the Catholic faith. The pay was so small as to be little
better than nominal; the instruction was little more than the mere
ceremony of baptism; and the term of labor was at first six months, and
then eight months in the year. Under cover of this hired labor, intended
for the good both of their bodies and their souls, more intolerable toil
was exacted from them, and more horrible cruelties were inflicted, than in
the worst days of Bobadilla. They were separated often the distance of
several days' journey from their wives and children, and doomed to
intolerable labor of all kinds, extorted by the cruel infliction of the
lash. For food they had the cassava bread, an unsubstantial support for
men obliged to labor; sometimes a scanty portion of pork was distributed
among a great number of them, scarce a mouthful to each. When the
Spaniards who superintended the mines were at their repast, says Las
Casas, the famished Indians scrambled under the table, like dogs, for any
bone thrown to them. After they had gnawed and sucked it, they pounded it
between stones and mixed it with their cassava bread, that nothing of so
precious a morsel might be lost. As to those who labored in the fields,
they never tasted either flesh or fish; a little cassava bread and a few
roots were their support. While the Spaniards thus withheld the
nourishment necessary to sustain their health and strength, they exacted a
degree of labor sufficient to break down the most vigorous man. If the
Indians fled from this incessant toil and barbarous coercion, and took
refuge in the mountains, they were hunted out like wild beasts, scourged
in the most inhuman manner, and laden with chains to prevent a second
escape. Many perished long before their term of labor had expired. Those
who survived their term of six or eight months, were permitted to return
to their homes, until the next term commenced. But their homes were often
forty, sixty, and eighty leagues distant. They had nothing to sustain them
through the journey but a few roots or agi peppers, or a little cassava
bread. Worn down by long toil and cruel hardships, which their feeble
constitutions were incapable of sustaining, many had not strength to
perform the journey, but sank down and died by the way; some by the side
of a brook, others under the shade of a tree, where they had crawled for
shelter from the sun. "I have found many dead in the road," says Las
Casas, "others gasping under the trees, and others in the pangs of death,
faintly crying, Hunger! hunger!" [206] Those who reached their homes most
commonly found them desolate. During the eight months they had been
absent, their wives and children had either perished or wandered away;
the fields on which they depended for food were overrun with weeds, and
nothing was left them but to lie down, exhausted and despairing, and die
at the threshold of their habitations. [207]

It is impossible to pursue any further the picture drawn by the venerable
Las Casas, not of what he had heard, but of what he had seen; nature and
humanity revolt at the details. Suffice it to say that, so intolerable
were the toils and sufferings inflicted upon this weak and unoffending
race, that they sank under them, dissolving, as it were, from the face of
the earth. Many killed themselves in despair, and even mothers overcame
the powerful instinct of nature, and destroyed the infants at their
breasts, to spare them a life of wretchedness. Twelve years had not
elapsed since the discovery of the island, and several hundred thousand of
its native inhabitants had perished, miserable victims to the grasping
avarice of the white men.

Chapter II.

Massacre at Xaragua.--Fate of Anacaona.


The sufferings of the natives under the civil policy of Ovando have been
briefly shown; it remains to give a concise view of the military
operations of this commander, so lauded by certain of the early historians
for his prudence. By this notice a portion of the eventful history of this
island will be recounted which is connected with the fortunes of Columbus,
and which comprises the thorough subjugation, and, it may also be said,
extermination of the native inhabitants. And first, we must treat of the
disasters of the beautiful province of Xaragua, the seat of hospitality,
the refuge of the suffering Spaniards; and of the fate of the female
cacique, Anacaona, once the pride of the island, and the generous friend
of white men.

Behechio, the ancient cacique of this province, being dead, Anacaona, his
sister, had succeeded to the government. The marked partiality which she
once manifested for the Spaniards had been greatly weakened by the general
misery they had produced in her country; and by the brutal profligacy
exhibited in her immediate dominions by the followers of Roldan. The
unhappy story of the loves of her beautiful daughter Higuenamota, with the
young Spaniard Hernando de Guevara, had also caused her great affliction;
and, finally, the various and enduring hardships inflicted on her once
happy subjects by the grinding systems of labor enforced by Bobadilla and
Ovando, had at length, it is said, converted her friendship into absolute

This disgust was kept alive and aggravated by the Spaniards who lived in
her immediate neighborhood, and had obtained grants of land there; a
remnant of the rebel faction of Roldan, who retained the gross
licentiousness and open profligacy in which they had been indulged under
the loose misrule of that commander, and who made themselves odious to the
inferior caciques, by exacting services tyrannically and capriciously
under the baneful system of repartimientos.

The Indians of this province were uniformly represented as a more
intelligent, polite, and generous-spirited race than any others of the
islands. They were the more prone to feel and resent the overbearing
treatment to which they were subjected. Quarrels sometimes took place
between the caciques and their oppressors. These were immediately reported
to the governor as dangerous mutinies; and a resistance to any capricious
and extortionate exaction was magnified into a rebellious resistance to
the authority of government. Complaints of this kind were continually
pouring in upon Ovando, until he was persuaded by some alarmist, or some
designing mischief-maker, that there was a deep-laid conspiracy among the
Indians of this province to rise upon the Spaniards.

Ovando immediately set out for Xaragua at the head of three hundred
foot-soldiers, armed with swords, arquebuses, and cross-bows, and seventy
horsemen, with cuirasses, bucklers, and lances. He pretended that he was
going on a mere visit of friendship to Anacaona, and to make arrangements
about the payment of tribute.

When Anacaona heard of the intended visit, she summoned all her tributary
caciques, and principal subjects, to assemble at her chief town, that they
might receive the commander of the Spaniards with becoming homage and
distinction. As Ovando, at the head of his little army, approached, she
went forth to meet him, according to the custom of her nation, attended by
a great train of her most distinguished subjects, male and female; who, as
has been before observed, were noted for superior grace and beauty. They
received the Spaniards with their popular areytos, their national songs;
the young women waving palm branches and dancing before them, in the way
that had so much charmed the followers of the Adelantado, on his first
visit to the province.

Anacaona treated the governor with that natural graciousness and dignity
for which she was celebrated. She gave him the largest house in the place
for his residence, and his people were quartered in the houses adjoining.
For several days the Spaniards were entertained with all the natural
luxuries that the province aiforded. National songs and dances and games
were performed for their amusement, and there was every outward
demonstration of the same hospitality, the same amity, that Anacaona had
uniformly shown to white men.

Notwithstanding all this kindness, and notwithstanding her uniform
integrity of conduct, and open generosity of character, Ovando was
persuaded that Anacaoua was secretly meditating a massacre of himself and
his followers. Historians tell us nothing of the grounds for such a
belief. It was too probably produced by the misrepresentations of the
unprincipled adventurers who infested the province. Ovando should have
paused and reflected before he acted upon it. He should have considered
the improbability of such an attempt by naked Indians against so large a
force of steel-clad troops, armed with European weapons: and he should
have reflected upon the general character and conduct of Anacaona. At any
rate, the example set repeatedly by Columbus and his brother the
Adelantado, should have convinced him that it was a sufficient safeguard
against the machinations of the natives, to seize upon their caciques and
detain them as hostages. The policy of Ovando, however, was of a more rash
and sanguinary nature; he acted upon suspicion as upon conviction. He
determined to anticipate the alleged plot by a counter-artifice, and to
overwhelm this defenceless people in an indiscriminate and bloody

As the Indians had entertained their guests with various national games,
Ovando invited them in return to witness certain games of his country.
Among these was a tilting match or joust with reeds; a chivalrous game
which the Spaniards had learnt from the Moors of Granada. The Spanish
cavalry, in those days, were as remarkable for the skillful management, as
for the ostentatious caparison of their horses. Among the troops brought
out from Spain by Ovando, one horseman had disciplined his horse to prance
and curvet in time to the music of a viol. [208] The joust was appointed
to take place of a Sunday after dinner, in the public square, before the
house where Ovando was quartered. The cavalry and foot-soldiers had their
secret instructions. The former were to parade, not merely with reeds or
blunted tilting lances, but with weapons of a more deadly character. The
foot-soldiers were to come apparently as mere spectators, but likewise
armed and ready for action at a concerted signal.

At the appointed time the square was crowded with the Indians, waiting to
see this military spectacle. The caciques were assembled in the house of
Ovando, which looked upon the square. None were armed; an unreserved
confidence prevailed among them, totally incompatible with the dark
treachery of which they were accused. To prevent all suspicion, and take
off all appearance of sinister design, Ovando, after dinner, was playing
at quoits with some of his principal officers, when the cavalry having
arrived in the square, the caciques begged the governor to order the joust
to commence. [209] Anacaona, and her beautiful daughter Higuenamota, with
several of her female attendants, were present and joined in the request.

Ovando left his game and came forward to a conspicuous place. When he saw
that every thing was disposed according to his orders, he gave the fatal
signal. Some say it was by taking hold of a piece of gold which was
suspended about his neck; [210] others by laying his hand on the cross of
Alcantara, which was embroidered on his habit. [211] A trumpet was
immediately sounded. The house in which Anacaona and all the principal
caciques were assembled was surrounded by soldiery, commanded by Diego
Velasquez and Rodrigo Mexiatrillo, and no one was permitted to escape.
They entered, and seizing upon the caciques, bound them to the posts which
supported the roof. Anacaona was led forth a prisoner. The unhappy
caciques were then put to horrible tortures, until some of them, in the
extremity of anguish, were made to accuse their queen and themselves of
the plot with which they were charged. When this cruel mockery of
judicial form had been executed, instead of preserving them for
after-examination, fire was set to the house, and all the caciques
perished miserably in the flames.

While these barbarities were practised upon the chieftains, a horrible
massacre took place among the populace. At the signal of Ovando, the
horsemen rushed into the midst of the naked and defenceless throng,
trampling them under the hoofs of their steeds, cutting them down with
their swords, and transfixing them with their spears. No mercy was shown
to age or sex; it was a savage and indiscriminate butchery. Now and then a
Spanish horseman, either through an emotion of pity, or an impulse of
avarice, caught up a child, to bear it off in safety; but it was
barbarously pierced by the lances of his companions. Humanity turns with
horror from such atrocities, and would fain discredit them; but they are
circumstantially and still more minutely recorded by the venerable bishop
Las Casas, who was resident in the island at the time, and conversant with
the principal actors in this tragedy. He may have colored the picture
strongly, in his usual indignation when the wrongs of the Indians are in
question; yet, from all concurring accounts, and from many precise facts
which speak for themselves, the scene must have been most sanguinary and
atrocious. Oviedo, who is loud in extolling the justice, and devotion, and
charity, and meekness of Ovando, and his kind treatment of the Indians;
and who visited the province of Xaragua a few years afterwards, records
several of the preceding circumstances; especially the cold-blooded game
of quoits played by the governor on the verge of such a horrible scene,
and the burning of the caciques, to the number, he says, of more than
forty. Diego Mendez, who was at Xaragua at the time, and doubtless present
on such an important occasion, says incidentally, in his last will and
testament, that there were eighty-four caciques either burnt or hanged.
[212] Las Casas says, that there were eighty who entered the house with
Anacaona. The slaughter of the multitude must have been great; and this
was inflicted on an unarmed and unresisting throng. Several who escaped
from the massacre fled in their canoes to an island about eight leagues
distant, called Guanabo. They were pursued and taken, and condemned to

As to the princess Anacaona, she was carried in chains to San Domingo. The
mockery of a trial was given her, in which she was found guilty on the
confessions wrung by tortures from her subjects, and on the testimony of
their butchers; and she was ignominiously hanged in the presence of the
people whom she had so long and so signally befriended. [213] Oviedo has
sought to throw a stigma on the character of this unfortunate princess,
accusing her of great licentiousness; but he was prone to criminate the
character of the native princes, who fell victims to the ingratitude and
injustice of his countrymen. Contemporary writers of greater authority
have concurred in representing Anacaona as remarkable for her native
propriety and dignity. She was adored by her subjects, so as to hold a
kind of dominion over them even during the lifetime of her brother; she
is said to have been skilled in composing the areytos, or legendary
ballads of her nation, and may have conduced much towards producing that
superior degree of refinement remarked among her people. Her grace and
beauty had made her renowned throughout the island, and had excited the
admiration both of the savage and the Spaniard. Her magnanimous spirit
was evinced in her amicable treatment of the white men, although her
husband, the brave Caonabo, had perished a prisoner in their hands; and
defenceless parties of them had been repeatedly in her power, and lived
at large in her dominions. After having, for several years, neglected
all safe opportunities of vengeance, she fell a victim to the absurd
charge of having conspired against an armed body of nearly four hundred
men, seventy of them horsemen; a force sufficient to have subjugated
large armies of naked Indians.

After the massacre of Xaragua, the destruction of its inhabitants still
continued. The favorite nephew of Anacaona, the cacique Guaora, who had
fled to the mountains, was hunted like a wild beast, until he was taken,
and likewise hanged. For six months the Spaniards continued ravaging the
country with horse and foot, under pretext of quelling insurrections; for,
wherever the affrighted natives took refuge in their despair, herding in
dismal caverns and in the fastnesses of the mountains, they were
represented as assembling in arms to make a head of rebellion. Having at
length hunted them out of their retreats, destroyed many, and reduced the
survivors to the most deplorable misery and abject submission, the whole
of that part of the island was considered as restored to good order; and
in commemoration of this great triumph, Ovando founded a town near to the
lake, which he called Santa Maria de la Verdadera Paz (St. Mary of the
True Peace). [214]

Such is the tragical history of the delightful region of Xaragua, and of
its amiable and hospitable people. A place which the Europeans, by their
own account, found a perfect paradise, but which, by their vile passions,
they filled with horror and desolation.

Chapter III.

War with the Natives of Higuey.


The subjugation of four of the Indian sovereignties of Hispaniola, and the
disastrous fate of their caciques, have been already related. Under the
administration of Ovando, was also accomplished the downfall of Higuey,
the last of those independent districts; a fertile province which
comprised the eastern extremity of the island.

The people of Higuey were of a more warlike spirit than those of the other
provinces, having learned the effectual use of their weapons, from
frequent contests with their Carib invaders. They were governed by a
cacique named Cotabanama. Las Casas describes this chieftain from actual
observation, and draws the picture of a native hero. He was, he says, the
strongest of his tribe, and more perfectly formed than one man in a
thousand of any nation whatever. He was taller in stature than the tallest
of his countrymen, a yard in breadth from shoulder to shoulder, and the
rest of his body in admirable proportion. His aspect was not handsome, but
grave and courageous. His bow was not easily bent by a common man; his
arrows were three-pronged, tipped with the bones of fishes, and his
weapons appeared to be intended for a giant. In a word, he was so nobly
proportioned, as to be the admiration even of the Spaniards.

While Cloumbus was engaged in his fourth voyage, and shortly after the
accession of Ovando to office, there was an insurrection of this cacique
and his people. A shallop, with eight Spaniards, was surprised at the
small island of Saona, adjacent to Higuey, and all the crew slaughtered.
This was in revenge for the death of a cacique, torn to pieces by a dog
wantonly set upon him by a Spaniard, and for which the natives had in vain
sued for redress.

Ovando immediately dispatched Juan de Esquibel, a courageous officer, at
the head of four hundred men, to quell the insurrection, and punish the
massacre. Cotabanama assembled his warriors, and prepared for vigorous
resistance. Distrustful of the mercy of the Spaniards, the chieftain
rejected all overtures of peace, and the war was prosecuted with some
advantage to the natives. The Indians had now overcome their superstitious
awe of the white men as supernatural beings, and though they could ill
withstand the superiority of European arms, they manifested a courage and
dexterity that rendered them enemies not to be despised. Las Casas and
other historians relate a bold and romantic encounter between a single
Indian and two mounted cavaliers named Valtenebro and Portevedra, in which
the Indian, though pierced through the body by the lances and swords of
both his assailants, retained his fierceness, and continued the combat,
until he fell dead in the possession of all their weapons. [215] This
gallant action, says Las Casas, was public and notorious.

The Indians were soon defeated and driven to their mountain retreats. The
Spaniards pursued them into their recesses, discovered their wives and
children, wreaked on them the most indiscriminate slaughter, and committed
their chieftains to the flames. An aged female cacique of great
distinction, named Higuanama, being taken prisoner, was hanged.

A detachment was sent in a caravel to the island of Saona, to take
particular vengeance for the destruction of the shallop and its crew. The
natives made a desperate defence and fled. The island was mountainous, and
full of caverns, in which the Indians vainly sought for refuge. Six or
seven hundred were imprisoned in a dwelling, and all put to the sword or
poniarded. Those of the inhabitants who were spared were carried off as
slaves; and the island was left desolate and deserted.

The natives of Higuey were driven to despair, seeing that there was no
escape for them even in the bowels of the earth: [216] they sued for
peace, which was granted them, and protection promised on condition of
their cultivating a large tract of land, and paying a great quantity of
bread in tribute. The peace being concluded, Cotabanama visited the
Spanish camp, where his gigantic proportions and martial demeanor made
him an object of curiosity and admiration. He was received with great
distinction by Esquibel, and they exchanged names; an Indian league of
fraternity and perpetual friendship. The natives thenceforward called the
cacique Juan de Esquibel, and the Spanish commander Cotabanama. Esquibel
then built a wooden fortress in an Indian village near the sea, and left
in it nine men, with a captain named Martin de Villaman. After this, the
troops dispersed, every man returning home, with his proportion of slaves
gained in this expedition.

The pacification was not of long continuance, About the time that succors
were sent to Columbus, to rescue him from the wrecks of his vessels at
Jamaica, a new revolt broke out in Higuey, in consequence of the
oppressions of the Spaniards, and a violation of the treaty made by
Esquibel. Martin de Villaman demanded that the natives should not only
raise the grain stipulated for by the treaty, but convey it to San
Domingo, and he treated them with the greatest severity on their refusal.
He connived also at the licentious conduct of his men towards the Indian
women; the Spaniards often taking from the natives their daughters and
sisters, and even their wives. [217] The Indians, roused at last to fury,
rose on their tyrants, slaughtered them, and burnt their wooden fortress
to the ground. Only one of the Spaniards escaped, and bore the tidings
of this catastrophe to the city of San Domingo.

Ovando gave immediate orders to carry fire and sword into the province of
Higuey. The Spanish troops mustered from various quarters on the confines
of that province, when Juan de Esquibel took the command, and had a great
number of Indians with him as allies. The towns of Higuey were generally
built among the mountains. Those mountains rose in terraces, from ten to
fifteeen leagues in length and breadth; rough and rocky, interspersed with
glens of a red soil, remarkably fertile, where they raised their cassava
bread. The ascent from terrace to terrace was about fifty feet; steep and
precipitous, formed of the living rock, and resembling a wall wrought with
tools into rough diamond points. Each village had four wide streets, a
stone's throw in length, forming a cross, the trees being cleared away
from them, and from a public square in the centre.

When the Spanish troops arrived on the frontiers, alarm-fires along the
mountains and columns of smoke spread the intelligence by night and day.
The old men, the women, and children, were sent off to the forests and
caverns, and the warriors prepared for battle. The Castilians paused in
one of the plains clear of forests, where their horses could be of use.
They made prisoners of several of the natives, and tried to learn from
them the plans and forces of the enemy. They applied tortures for the
purpose, but in vain, so devoted was the loyalty of these people to their
caciques. The Spaniards penetrated into the interior. They found the
warriors of several towns assembled in one, and drawn up in the streets
with their bows and arrows, but perfectly naked, and without defensive
armor. They uttered tremendous yells, and discharged a shower of arrows;
but from such a distance, that they fell short of their foe. The Spaniards
replied with their cross-bows, and with two or three arquebuses, for at
this time they had but few firearms. When the Indians saw several of their
comrades fall dead, they took to flight, rarely waiting for the attack
with swords: some of the wounded, in whose bodies the arrows from the
cross-bows had penetrated to the very feather, drew them out with their
hands, broke them with their teeth, and hurling them at the Spaniards with
impotent fury, fell dead upon the spot.

The whole force of the Indians was routed and dispersed, each family, or
band of neighbors, fled in its own direction, and concealed itself in the
fastness of the mountains. The Spaniards pursued them, but found the chase
difficult amidst the close forests, and the broken and stony heights. They
took several prisoners as guides, and inflicted incredible torments on
them, to compel them to betray their countrymen. They drove them before
them, secured by cords fastened round their necks; and some of them, as
they passed along the brinks of precipices, suddenly threw themselves
headlong down, in hopes of dragging after them the Spaniards. When at
length the pursuers came upon the unhappy Indians in their concealments,
they spared neither age nor sex; even pregnant women, and mothers with
infants in their arms, fell beneath their merciless swords. The
cold-blooded acts of cruelty which followed this first slaughter would be
shocking to relate.

Hence Esquibel marched to attack the town where Cotabanama resided, and
where that cacique had collected a great force to resist him. He proceeded
direct for the place along the sea-coast, and came to where two roads led
up the mountain to the town. One of the roads was open and inviting; the
branches of the trees being lopped, and all the underwood cleared away.
Here the Indians had stationed an ambuscade to take the Spaniards in the
rear. The other road was almost closed up by trees and bushes cut down and
thrown across each other. Esquibel was wary and distrustful; he suspected
the stratagem, and chose the encumbered road. The town was about a league
and a half from the sea. The Spaniards made their way with great
difficulty for the first half league. The rest of the road was free from
all embarrassment, which confirmed their suspicion of a stratagem. They
now advanced with great rapidity, and, having arrived near the village,
suddenly turned into the other road, took the party in ambush by surprise,
and made great havoc among them with their cross-bows.

The warriors now sallied from their concealment, others rushed out of the
houses into the streets, and discharged flights of arrows, but from such a
distance as generally to fall harmless. They then approached nearer, and
hurled stones with their hands, being unacquainted with the use of slings.
Instead of being dismayed at seeing their companions fall, it rather
increased their fury. An irregular battle, probably little else than wild
skirmishing and bush-fighting, was kept up from two o'clock in the
afternoon until night. Las Casas was present on the occasion, and, from
his account, the Indians must have shown instances of great personal
bravery, though the inferiority of their weapons, and the want of all
defensive armor, rendered their valor totally ineffectual. As the evening
shut in, their hostilities gradually ceased, and they disappeared in the
profound gloom and close thickets of the surrounding forest. A deep
silence succeeded to their yells and war-whoops, and throughout the night
the Spaniards remained in undisturbed possession of the village.

Chapter IV.

Close of the War with Higuey.--Fate of Cotabanama.


On the morning after the battle, not an Indian was to be seen. Finding
that even their great chief, Cotabanama, was incapable of vying with the
prowess of the white men, they had given up the contest in despair, and
fled to the mountains. The Spaniards, separating into small parties,
hunted them with the utmost diligence; their object was to seize the
caciques, and, above all, Cotabanama. They explored all the glens and
concealed paths leading into the wild recesses where the fugitives had
taken refuge. The Indians were cautious and stealthy in their mode of
retreating, treading in each other's foot-prints, so that twenty would
make no more track than one, and stepping so lightly as scarce to disturb
the herbage; yet there were Spaniards so skilled in hunting Indians, that
they could trace them even by the turn of a withered leaf, and among the
confused tracks of a thousand animals.

They could scent afar off, also, the smoke of the fires which the Indians
made whenever they halted, and thus they would come upon them in their
most secret haunts. Sometimes they would hunt down a straggling Indian,
and compel him, by torments, to betray the hiding-place of his companions,
binding him and driving him before them as a guide. Wherever they
discovered one of these places of refuge, filled with the aged and the
infirm, with feeble women and helpless children, they massacred them
without mercy. They wished to inspire terror throughout the land, and to
frighten the whole tribe into submission. They cut off the hands of those
whom they took roving at large, and sent them, as they said, to deliver
them as letters to their friends, demanding their surrender. Numberless
were those, says Las Casas, whose hands were amputated in this manner, and
many of them sank down and died by the way, through anguish and loss of

The conquerors delighted in exercising strange and ingenious cruelties.
They mingled horrible levity with their blood-thirstiness. They erected
gibbets long and low, so that the feet of the sufferers might reach the
ground, and their death be lingering. They hanged thirteen together, in
reverence, says the indignant Las Casas, of our blessed Saviour and the
twelve apostles. While their victims were suspended, and still living,
they hacked them with their swords, to prove the strength of their arms
and the edge of their weapons. They wrapped them in dry straw, and setting
fire to it, terminated their existence by the fiercest agony.

These are horrible details, yet a veil is drawn over others still more
detestable. They are related circumstantially by Las Casas, who was an
eye-witness. He was young at the time, but records them in his advanced
years. "All these things," says the venerable Bishop, "and others
revolting to human nature, did my own eyes behold; and now I almost fear
to repeat them, scarce believing myself, or whether I have not dreamt
them." [218]

These details would have been withheld from the present work as
disgraceful to human nature, and from an unwillingness to advance any
thing which might convey a stigma upon a brave and generous nation. But it
would be a departure from historical veracity, having the documents before
my eyes, to pass silently over transactions so atrocious, and vouched for
by witnesses beyond all suspicion of falsehood. Such occurrences show the
extremity to which human cruelty may extend, when stimulated by avidity of
gain; by a thirst of vengeance; or even by a perverted zeal in the holy
cause of religion. Every nation has in turn furnished proofs of this
disgraceful truth. As in the present instance, they are commonly the
crimes of individuals rather than of the nation. Yet it behooves
governments to keep a vigilant eye upon those to whom they delegate power
in remote and helpless colonies. It is the imperious duty of the historian
to place these matters upon record, that they may serve as warning beacons
to future generations.

Juan de Esquibel found that, with all his severities, it would be
impossible to subjugate the tribe of Higuey, as long as the cacique
Cotabanama was at large. That chieftain had retired to the little island
of Saona, about two leagues from the coast of Higuey, in the centre of
which, amidst a labyrinth of rocks and forests, he had taken shelter with
his wife and children in a vast cavern.

A caravel, recently arrived from the city of San Domingo with supplies for
the camp, was employed by Esquibel to entrap the cacique. He knew that the
latter kept a vigilant look-out, stationing scouts upon the lofty rocks of

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