Romance of Spanish History - John S. C. Abbott

Subsequent Voyages of Columbus

(From 1493 A.D. to 1506 A.D.)

Columbus and the Egg.—The Destruction of La Navidad.—Exploring Tours.—The third Voyage.—Columbus superseded by Bobadilla.—Columbus in Chains.—The fourth Voyage.—Wrecked upon the Island of Jamaica.—The Eclipse of the Moon.—The Rescue.—Return to Spain.—Death and Burial.

Before Columbus left Barcelona to enter upon his second voyage he experienced many annoyances. Distinction ever excites envy. Enemies to Columbus, bitter and unrelenting, sprang up around him. He was an Italian, a foreigner. The Spanish nobles were not well pleased with his elevation, and were very restive when, under any circumstances, they were compelled to yield to his authority. It was during his sojourn at Barcelona that the incident occurred which gave rise to the universally known anecdote of the egg. The Grand Cardinal of Spain had invited Columbus to dine with him. An envious guest inquired of Columbus if he thought that there was no man in Spain capable of discovering the Indies if he had not made the discovery. Columbus, without replying to the question, took an egg from the table and asked if there was any one who could make it stand on one end. They all tried, but in vain. Columbus then, by a slight blow, crushed the end of the egg, and left it standing before them, thus teaching that it is easy to do a thing after some one has shown how.

We must briefly narrate the subsequent career of this illustrious man. It is but a melancholy recital of toils, disappointments, and sorrows. As we have mentioned, Columbus sailed from Cadiz, upon his second voyage, on the 25th of September, 1493. After a prosperous sail of thirty-eight days, in the early dawn of the morning of the 2nd of November the lofty mountains of an unknown but majestic island appeared in the distance. It was the morning of the Sabbath. The crews of all the vessels were assembled upon their decks, and prayers and anthems of thanksgiving floated over the peaceful solitudes of the ocean. Columbus, as the island was discovered upon the Sabbath, gave it the name of Dominica. He was now in the beautiful cluster called The Antilles. During the day he passed six of these gems of the ocean, appearing on those smooth waters beneath the bright sun of the tropics, like fairy islands in a fairy sea.

Columbus and the egg.


As he cruised along, he gave to the more important islands he met the names of Marigalanti, Guadaloupe, St. Juan Bantistu, since called Porto Rico. On these islands he found a fierce and warlike race, who were the terror of the more peaceful inhabitants of the other islands. The evidence seemed indubitable that they were cannibals, devouring the victims of war. It now became manifest that the New World was by no means an Eden of primal innocence, but that it was inhabited by the fallen race of Adam, who groaned beneath the burden of life.

On the 29th of November Columbus again cast anchor in the harbor of La Navidad. He expected to find a happy colony, and that by trading with the natives they would have obtained by this time a ton of gold for him to transfer immediately to his ships. Instead of this, to his great disappointment he found but desolation and ruin. The Spaniards had quarrelled and fought among themselves. They had abandoned the fortress, that they might live among the natives, where they soon excited intense disgust and hatred by their brutal licentiousness, and their haughty disregard of all the feelings of the Indians. A warlike tribe from the interior fell upon them, as they were scattered about, and every man perished. The natives also, who were friendly to Columbus, were overwhelmed by the assault of the fierce tribe, and nothing remained of the colony but desolation and mouldering bones.

The sanguine adventurers who had accompanied Columbus, lured by the account he had given of this golden realm, were bitterly disappointed. Sickness broke out. Murmurs loud and deep rose on every side. Columbus was denounced as a deceiver, and hardly an individual could be found to lend him any cordial co-operation. Many of the haughty young nobles of Spain had accompanied him. They openly insulted the admiral, refusing obedience to his commands. Columbus was not sufficiently strong to enforce authority.

The colony destroyed.


Harassed and perplexed in every conceivable way, he organized an expedition to explore the interior for gold, and commenced the establishment of another colonial city, which he called Isabella. Twelve of the ships were sent back to Spain to obtain supplies. Columbus was mortified that he could send so little gold. He however wrote a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella full of brilliant anticipations, with which his sanguine temperament ever inspired him. Crushed by care and anxiety, he was prostrated upon a sick bed, which he could not leave for several weeks. During his sickness his mind retained all its vigor, and he gave his commands as usual. His enemies, taking advantage of his apparently helpless condition, formed a conspiracy to seize the five remaining ships and return to Spain, where they would defend themselves for this mutinous act by a combined assault upon the character of Columbus. With great energy and sagacity the admiral frustrated their plans. In the endeavor, in some degree, to divert the general discontent, he arranged an expedition, of which he himself took the command, to explore the coast of Cuba. The vessels were soon ready, and some degree of enthusiasm animated the crews as they weighed their anchors and spread their sails.

After following along the southern coast some sixty or seventy miles, meeting with many pleasing incidents of the same general character which we have previously related, he turned to the south, and sailed but a few leagues when the blue mountains of another majestic island seemed to emerge from the sea. This was his first sight of Jamaica. Fortunately the island has retained its original name. The natives, a bold and warlike race, opposed the landing. The Spaniards, with cross-bow and bloodhound, put them all to flight. This was probably the first time in which this animal, of execrable notoriety, was employed in such services. But Columbus could find here no gold. He returned to Cuba and sailed along its southern coast many days, and for so many leagues as to satisfy every one on board the ships that Cuba could not be an island, but that it was the mainland. After continuing his tour for nearly five months, and having discovered many new islands, Columbus returned to his colony at Isabella. Here he again found that the arrogance and oppression of those he had left behind had so exasperated the natives that a coalition was formed, of all the tribes, for the extermination of the Spaniards.

The wildest adventures of Indian warfare now ensued, a faithful narrative of which would fill volumes. The flames of war swept over doomed Hayti, and the island at length being entirely subjugated, the wretched inhabitants were enslaved. But the victors were compelled to drink deeply of the cup of misery which they had mingled for others. The most envenomed complaints were preferred against Columbus before the Spanish sovereigns. A commission was sent out to investigate his conduct. These commissioners treated the admiral with such contumely and insult that his situation became absolutely unendurable, and on the 10th of March, 1496, he again set sail for Spain to seek the redress of his wrongs. After a long and stormy passage of three months, he landed at Cadiz.

Ferdinand and Isabella received him with kindness. But all the plans and wishes of Columbus were thwarted by a series of incessant and mortifying annoyances. He found his popularity greatly on the wane. Many of the nobles, indulging in unworthy jealousy of him as a foreigner, did every thing in their power to embarrass his movements. More than two years passed away before Columbus could obtain another squadron. But on the 30th of May, 1498, he again sailed, on his third voyage, with six vessels.

Pursuing a more southerly course, the first land he made was a large island on the coast of South America, which he named La Trinidad—The Trinity—from three lofty peaks, united at their bases, which first hove in sight.

He coasted for many leagues along the shore of South America, supposing it to be an island. The natives he found to be almost white. They were bold, but friendly. At length, turning his prows towards the north, he made sail for Hayti, where he arrived on the 30th of August. Though his mind remained vigorous as ever, his physical system was shattered by care, toil, and suffering. Beautiful Hayti, which he had originally found so populous, peaceful, and happy, was now war-scathed and desolate. The Spaniards had converted a blooming Eden into a dreary wilderness. Sickness and famine brooded over the island, and the conquered and the conquerors were alike wretched. The colony was in a state of anarchy, and the Spaniards were intensely exasperated against each other.

South American Coast.


It was long before Columbus could restore even the semblance of order. In the mean time the disappointed and angry colonists were more bitter than ever in their denunciations of the admiral, and the court was flooded with complaints against him. Columbus had left two of his sons as pages in the household of the queen. These lads could not appear in public without being followed and insulted by a crowd of vagabonds assailing them in the coarsest language "as the sons of the adventurer who had led so many brave Spanish hidalgos to seek their graves in the land of vanity and delusion which he had found out."

It was perhaps the general sentiment of the corrupt Christianity of those days that the heathen were the inheritance of the Christian. This sentiment controlled the conduct of the Spanish and Portuguese navigators. Columbus, a devout and humane man, deeply anxious for the spiritual welfare of the poor pagans, was apparently sincere in his conviction that to sell the natives as slaves in exchange for European commodities would be the most effectual way of securing their conversion, and of thus conferring upon them the blessings of an eternal home in heaven.

But Isabella, more enlightened, whose comprehensive and well-balanced mind had no superior at that time, recoiled from such views. When a number of slaves were offered for sale in the markets of Spain, she ordered the sale to be suspended until she could obtain the opinion of a council of ecclesiastics upon the matter. Additional missionaries were sent out, some of whom were truly good men. But their efforts were greatly paralyzed by the conduct of the vagabond Spaniards who disgraced the Christian name. It was not found difficult to convert the simple-minded natives to Roman Catholic Christianity. The pageants of the Church, its music, robes, censers, processions, and tinkling bells, delighted them. The attractions of the new worship were far superior to their ancient pagan rites. It was only necessary to be baptized to become Christians, with the assurance of salvation.

Among the records of those days we read that "the Indians were so obedient, from their fear of the admiral, and at the same tithe so desirous to oblige him, that they voluntarily became Christians!" And again, "Among other things that the holy fathers carried out was a little organ and several bells, which greatly delighted the simple people, so that from one to two thousand persons were baptized every day."

In the summer of 1500 two vessels arrived in Spain from the West Indies with three hundred natives on board, to be sold as slaves, whom the admiral had granted to the mutineers. The queen was quite displeased, and exclaimed, "By what authority does Columbus venture thus to dispose of my subjects?"

She immediately issued a decree that all the native Indians who had been enslaved in her provinces should be without delay restored to their own country.

The complaints against Columbus had now become so loud and bitter that another commission was sent out to Hayti, with authority to supersede him in command should he be found guilty. An officer of the royal household, named Bobadilla, was intrusted with this important commission. This man proved totally unfit for the delicate duty intrusted to him. Immediately upon his arrival he assumed the supreme command, and the venerable admiral, to his utter amazement, was summoned to his presence as a criminal. Bobadilla had the brutality to order Columbus to be seized, aged and infirm as he was, and to be manacled with chains. The heroic admiral, too proud to make unavailing remonstrances, submitted to his fate in dignified silence. The iron had entered his soul.

He was plunged into a prison until a ship could be got ready to transport him across the ocean. He was then placed on shipboard while still in chains and sent to Spain. The commander of the ship, moved with grief and indignation in view of such indignities heaped upon so noble a man, wished during the voyage to strike off his chains.

Columbus in chains.


"No," exclaimed Columbus; "their majesties commanded me by letter to submit to whatever Bobadilla should order in their name. By their authority he has put these chains upon me. I will wear them till he shall order them to be taken off. And I will preserve them ever after, as relics and memorials of the rewards of my services."

These outrages inflicted upon a man so illustrious roused a general voice of indignation throughout Christendom. Ferdinand and Isabella were not only shocked, but alarmed. They feared that the voice of Christendom would attribute the crime to them. Immediately upon learning that Columbus had arrived at Cadiz in irons, they dispatched a messenger in the greatest haste, to release him from his fetters, to express to him their sympathy and regret for the indignities to which he had been exposed, and to invite him to repair immediately to the court, which was then assembled at Granada. An imposing escort was sent to accompany him on the journey, and an ample sum of money to defray his expenses.

Upon his arrival at Granada he was at once favored with an audience by the king and queen. Tears filled the eyes of Isabella as she greeted him with the warmest expressions of sympathy and regret in view of the treatment he had received.

These words of kindness so touched the heart of the noble old man that his emotions entirely overcame him. Throwing himself upon his knees, he wept and sobbed like a heart-broken child. Both the king and queen did every thing in their power to soothe him, assuring him that his injuries should be redressed, and that he should be reinstated in all those dignities which were so justly his due.

An expedition was immediately fitted out to overawe the factions in the colony, and to prepare the way for the return of Columbus. A fleet of thirty-two vessels, abundantly equipped, conveying twenty-five hundred persons, many of them the most illustrious Spanish families, set sail in September,1501. Don Nicholas de Ovando, a man in many respects well qualified for the position, was intrusted with the command. He was commissioned with a decree declaring that the poor natives, who were rapidly dwindling away, should no longer be enslaved; he was also directed to secure full indemnification to Columbus and his brothers for all their losses, and to send Bobadilla home for trial.

Some months after the sailing of this expedition Columbus was fitted out with a small squadron for his fourth and last voyage. Supposing the lands he had discovered to be a portion of the continent of Asia, he hoped to find some passage through the Isthmus of Darien to the East Indies. His little fleet of four small vessels, the largest of which was of but seventy tons' burden, sailed on the 9th of March, 1502. Columbus was now far advanced in years, infirm, and weary of the toil and strife of life. It appears that it was with some hesitancy that he undertook the command of this expedition.

"I have established," he wrote, "all that I proposed—the existence of land in the west. I have opened the gate, and others may enter at their pleasure; as indeed they do, arrogating to themselves the title of discoverers, to which they can have little claim, following, as they do, in my track."

The leaky condition of his ships rendered it necessary for Columbus to touch at Hayti on his outward passage, contrary to his intentions. The fleet which was to convey Bobadilla to Spain was just about to weigh anchor. The experienced eye of Columbus foresaw a violent approaching hurricane. He advised that the departure should be delayed. His counsel was disregarded. The fleet sailed. The hurricane came. Only one ship survived its fury. The rest foundered. Bobadilla and his companions sank to a fathomless grave. Columbus, riding safely through many tempests, at length reached the continent at what is now called Central America, near Yucatan. Sailing by a conspicuous headland, which he named Cape Gracias a Dios, he cruised southerly along the coast for many leagues, hoping to find a passage through the Isthmus. Not succeeding, he attempted to establish a colony at the mouth of a river called Belem. But the natives were aroused by the licentiousness and oppression of his men, and the whole country was soon in arms against the Spaniards. The colonists were attacked in such force that they were driven to their ships.

This voyage was but a series of disappointments. "My people," writes Columbus, "are dismayed and down-hearted. Almost all my anchors are lost, and my vessels are bored by worms as full of holes as a honeycomb." One of his ships was left a wreck upon the Isthmus. The other ships being in a sinking condition, he was compelled to run ashore upon the island of Jamaica. He converted the wrecks into a fortress to protect himself from the natives, who seem now to have become everywhere hostile.

Columbus found himself in as deplorable a situation as can well be imagined. He was, as it were, imprisoned in his two wrecked vessels, which he had drawn side by side and fortified. Severe sickness confined him to his bed, and he was suffering excruciating pangs from gout. The natives were manifesting hostility. He was on a distant and unfrequented island one hundred and twenty miles from Hayti, with apparently no possibility of sending there intelligence of his condition. The position of affairs was so alarming that a bold mariner undertook the desperate enterprise of crossing the ocean in a canoe to Hayti. Month after month lingered away, and there were no signs of relief. Columbus, tortured with bodily pain, remained confined to his berth. His men, despairing of ever again seeing their homes, broke away from all restraints, bade defiance to the authority of the admiral, and in armed bands ranged the island, visiting upon the poor natives every species of lawless violence.

The natives, exasperated beyond endurance, secretly united in a plan for the destruction of the Spaniards. Columbus saw indications of the rising storm. But in this dark hour the character of this marked man shone illustrious.

By his knowledge of astronomy he ascertained that a total eclipse of the moon was to occur in a few days. He summoned the principal caciques, informed them that the Deity he worshipped was in the skies; that this Deity was offended with the Indians for their unfriendly feelings, and for withholding supplies; and that in token of the fearful punishment which awaited them, they would soon see the moon fade away. Some scoffed, some were frightened, and all felt secret solicitude.

The night came, brilliant in tropical splendor. The moon rose effulgent over the waves. All eyes were fixed upon it. Soon some dark destruction seemed to be consuming it. The beautiful luminary was rapidly wasting away. The terror of the natives became intense; and when at last the whole moon had disappeared, and portentous gloom shrouded the face of nature, the natives actually shrieked in their dismay. They ran to and fro, and implored Columbus to intercede in their behalf. Columbus said he would retire and commune with the Deity. When the eclipse was about to cease, he informed them that God would pardon them upon condition that they would fulfill their promises and furnish supplies. The shadow passed away, and the moon, with apparently renovated brilliance, shone forth in the serene sky. The natives were completely vanquished. They regarded Columbus with unspeakable awe, and were henceforth ready to do his bidding.

The eclipse


In this imprisonment, with but little hope of ever being rescued, Columbus, with a few men who were still faithful to him, remained in the wrecked and shattered ships. Day after day they scanned the horizon till their straining eyes ached, but no sail appeared. There was hardly a possibility that the frail canoe could have reached its destined port; and as the months wearily passed, bringing no relief, despair, to which the seamen had long since resigned themselves, began to settle gloomily over the mind of Columbus. In one of those dismal hours he wrote in his journal,

"Hitherto I have wept for others; but now have pity upon me, Heaven, and weep for me, O Earth! In my 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, weep for me whoever has charity, truth, and justice!"

At length, after a year had passed, two vessels were seen approaching the island. Despair was succeeded by delirium of joy. The mutineers, weary of license and crime, hastened from their dispersion, and implored the forgiveness of the kind-hearted admiral. He pardoned the wretches; and all who survived the dissipation and the hardships of the year were transferred to Hayti.

Here an appalling spectacle of oppression and of wretchedness met the eye of Columbus. New rulers were in command. The off-scouring of Spain had flocked as adventurers to the doomed island. The natives, who had received Columbus with almost celestial kindness, were converted into slaves, and were driven by the lash to the fields and the mines. If, in irrepressible yearnings for liberty, they attempted to escape and fled to the mountains, their brutal taskmasters, with guns and bloodhounds, pursued them and hunted them down as if they were beasts of prey. Las Casas describes these outrages in terms which excite in every humane heart emotions of grief and indignation. Many of the natives in despair killed themselves; mothers destroyed their own children to save them from the doom of slavery. In less than twelve years, under these atrocities, several hundred thousand of the natives had perished, and before one short half century had passed the whole native population had sunk in misery to the grave.

The rescue.


Columbus was by nature eminently a humane man. These awful calamities, which he had been instrumental in bringing upon the island, lacerated his soul. His whole life had been a sublime tragedy, with but here and there a gleam of joy. Again he embarked for Spain. Disasters seemed to pursue him every step of his way. Storm after storm beat fiercely upon his crazy bark. When he arrived, he was so exhausted by pain and mental suffering that he could not sit upon a horse. He was removed to Seville, where he hoped to find a little repose. Poverty now stared him in the face. Isabella was upon her death-bed, and soon breathed her last. Ferdinand was heartless, and incapable of generous impulses. In a letter to his son, Columbus sadly writes:

"I live by borrowing. Little have I profited by twenty years of service with such toils and perils, since at present I do not own a roof in Spain. If I desire to eat or sleep, I have no resort but an inn, and for the most times have not wherewithal to pay my bill."

Still the fires of heroic enterprise glowed in the veins of this strange and indomitable man. While helpless on his bed at Seville, and having already passed his three-score years and ten, with undying enthusiasm he was still planning new and gigantic enterprises, when death came with that summons which all must heed.

It was the 20th of May, 1506. With pious resignation he surrendered himself to the king of terrors. He was perfectly willing to depart "beyond the cares of this rough and weary world." Uttering devoutly the words, "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit," he breathed his last. His remains were deposited in the Convent of St. Francisco at Seville. Thirty years afterwards they were removed to St. Domingo, on the island of Hayti. Upon the cession of the island to the French, in 1795, they were transferred by the Spanish authorities to the Cathedral of Havana in Cuba.

In this brief sketch of the career of Columbus, a career more full of wonderful adventure than that of almost any other man, we have of course been compelled to omit many occurrences of great interest. But we could not say less than we have done, consistently with our plan of giving a faithful narrative of the Romance of Spanish History.