James W. (James William) Buel.

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The one thorn of his misgivings was the contemplation of
the results of Alonzo Pinzon's desertion. Twice had reports
been brought to him while on Hispaniola that the Pinta
had been sighted hovering near that land. As often did he
send a boat in anxious search of the missing vessel, but all
efforts to find her had been vain. Two months had now
elapsed since the separation, and there was justification for
the alarm that Columbus felt. The Pinta may have been
lost on some dangerous reef ; the crew may have perished
or been cast upon some desolate shore. But there was yet
a graver fear. Pinzon had furnished a vessel from his own
means ; he was a skillful navigator, and withal an ambitious
man. Chafing under subordination to a foreigner, he may
have had a cunning purpose in abandoning the expedition.
His ship was the fastest sailer and the most seaworthy;


might he not have designed a scheme to rob Columbus of
the honors of discovery and appropriate them to himself ;
may he not have sailed away for Spain bearing the first news
of a world beyond the sea, and conceived some specious
story to magnify his deeds and disparage the Admiral, whose
reputation a thousand enemies had been vainly trying to

But in the midst of these gloomy reflections Columbus
was suddenly aroused by a glad cry set up at once by many
sailors : " A ship ! A ship ! " Looking towards the north,
there, sure enough, he saw the white sails of a vessel head-
ing towards the shore of Hayti, and a few moments later
discovered to him that the ship was none other than the
Pinta, so long missing. Turning about, Columbus pointed
the NtTla towards a small bay, in which both vessels soon
cast their anchors, and an eager scramble quickly followed,
to exchange welcomes and congratulations. Pinzon paid
his respects to Columbus as soon as he could reach the
Nina and excused his desertion by a story such as might
have been anticipated, though manifestly lacking the prime
element of veracity. He claimed that violent weather on
November 20th had driven him far out of his course, de-
spite all his efforts, and losing sight of the other ships he had
spent the time, up to this meeting, in a vain attempt to
join them. For prudential seasons Columbus suppressed
his feelings and appeared to hear with satisfaction the ex-
planations and apologies of his subordinate, whose desertion
he knew was inspired by selfishness and avarice, as already
explained. Besides this, it was presently learned that Pin-
zon had put in at one of the bays of San Domingo, where
he had opened a traffic with the natives, from whom he had
obtained a considerable quantity of gold, the half of which
he gave his crew as a bribe for their silence.

But even Avith this evidence of his perfidy, Columbus


wisely chose to receive Pinzon with appearances of gratifi-
cation and pardon, since he was a man of wealth and influ-
ence in Palos, to whom a majority of the sailors, being his
countrymen, were devotedly attached and would not have
brooked a deprivation of his command or his treatment as a

During a stay of three days in the bay where the ships
met, preparations were completed for a return trip to Spain,
but just before departure, many glittering particles of- mica
were discovered in the mouth of the river Yaqui, near by
which were believed to be gold, and a considerable collection
of the worthless metal was made and carried on board the
vessels for transportation to Spain. In honor of the sup-
posed fabulous find, Columbus named the river Rio del Oro.

On the 9th of January, departure was made from the
anchorage where the vessels had met, but owing to contrary
winds on the following day, the ships put into a harbor where
Martin Alonzo Pinzon had lain some time before traf^ficking
with the natives. Here it was learned that Pinzon had
seized six islanders, among the number being two beautiful
girls, whom he designed to carry back to Spain and sell as
slaves. But whether prompted by jealousy or humanity,
Columbus ordered them released and conciliated the out-
raged natives by liberal donations of hawk's bells, beads,
mirrors, and cloths.

Proceeding again from the place of this last detention,
the ships rounded a promontory and on the second day
came to land where a new and more warlike tribe of abo-
rigines was discovered, which Las Casas describes as wear-
ing long hair and decorating their bodies with paint and
feathers. They were well armed with war clubs, swords of
hardened palm-wood, and bows and arrows of formidable
size, so that in many respects they resembled the North
American Indians.


Efforts to establish intercourse with these fierce islanders
were not at first successful, and some curious beliefs directly
obtained among the Spaniards respecting their cannibal
propensities. At length, however, a party of sailors suc-
ceeded in bartering several trinkets for a few specimens of
the native weapons, but when they attempted to return with
their prizes the sailors were fiercely attacked in an effort
made by the islanders to recover the articles which they had
exchanged. In defending themselves the Spaniards wounded
two of the natives, who retired sullenly, but with an exhibi-
tion of surprise rather than of fear. This rupture in what, for
a while, bid fair for the establishment of amicable relations,
was repaired on the following day by peaceful overtures
made by Columbus, who, distributing a quantity of presents
among the islanders, at length induced the cacique of these
people to visit him on board the Nina where he was most
generously entertained, and requited this kind treatment by
sending to the ships a large supply of fruits and vegetables.

Spreading his sails again, Columbus went in quest of the
country of the Caribs and Amazons, and being variously
directed by all the natives with whom he came in contact,
his course was in as many directions, until the sailors became
bitter in their objections to further explorations which pro-
longed their absence from home without bringing any sub-
stantial benefits. In deference to their wishes, therefore,
Columbus turned the prow of his vessel eastward for the
shores of Spain.

Up to this time, for a period of six months, the weather
had been propitious, nor did it yet become heavy, but the
vessels now encountered trade winds blowing from the east,
which compelled them to tack and beat about until the
sailors became confused as to the point of their course. It
Avas also directly discovered that the Pinta, was falling be-
hind by reason of the neglect of her commander to repair


her foremast, which had been broken during his independent
cruise about Hayti. This caused Columbus great delay, as
he had to proceed under half sail in order to keep company
with the laboring consort. At the slow pace the vessels
were now making the sailors were able to amuse themselves
by leaping overboard, swimming around the ships, and in
taking great numbers of fish, which constantly played about
the caravels in immense shoals. A large shark was also
captured, which lent excitement to the other pleasures of the
sailors, who fared sumptuously on fresh fish, and the flesh
of the shark, which they declared was most palatable.

The last days of January slipped by with no more im-
portant incidents, and in the doubtfulness of their course
and position, Columbus and his officers began to debate as
to what part of the coast of Europe they were likely to
strike, a subject rendered particularly confusing to the sailing
officers by reason of the false reckonings made by him on his
outward voyage. But every prospect continued auspicious,
with no dissatisfaction save in the slowness at which the
vessels were moving, until the afternoon of Febuary i2th,
when a howling wind, swelling sea, and lowering clouds be-
came nature's precursor of an approaching storm.

Before night set in a roaring tempest came swooping out
of the northeast and struck the little vessels with a fury that
threatened their destruction ; but Columbus had prepared
them for the battle by taking in all sail, thus leaving them
to run before the blast with bare poles.

The first onslaught of the wind was followed by a lull,
in which the storm gathered up all its reserved forces and
then repeated the charge with greatly increased rage, heel-
ing the ships and hurling mad billows in tumultuous im-
petuosity against their frail sides. As darkness curtained
the lashing waves the roar of the bounding sea was drowned
by a terrific bombardment from heaven's artillery, and con-


tinuous flashes of lightning sent terror to the souls of the
poor encompassed ones. The anger of nature seemed turned
against the ships that were bearing home with them report
of a new world beyond the evening gates of the sun, as if
jealous of a discovery destined to turn the chivalry of Europe
from contemplating a rescue of the Holy Land, to the re-
clamation of another continent, where commerce and Chris-
tianity would march together to higher attainments than
they had ever before reached. Down in the cavernous
depths, or on the spray-capped crest of the billows, the cry
of despair was mingled with the voice of prayer, but there
came no other answer than wild dash of surge, deafening peal
of thunder, or blinding flashes riving the Cimmerian vault of
rolling clouds where all the fiends of fury appeared to be
holding carnival.

And thus the dreadful night wore away in tumultuary
distress, and morning broke with no pity for the horrified
sailors. In the riot of wind and wave the two vessels were
separated, and the crews of each now contemplated the
destruction of the other. When light of day came stealing
down the east it was only to expose a sea lashing in
impetuous anger, and a sky black and ominous of death,
with never a rift anywhere in the dreadfulness of an awful
surrounding. The little ship, poorly equipped and sorely out
of repair, had not borne these buffetings without serious
impairment, and before she had weathered this first night
of storm her seams began to open, thus multiplying the
chances of her foundering and carrying all on board into
graves where winding-sheets are not necessary to corses nor
the service of sexton essential in the obsequies.

All prayer being unavailing, Columbus, still strong in his
religious faith, had recourse to penance, feeling that his own
and the sins of those who composed his crew must have
brought upon them God's wrath in the form of storm


visitation. First repeating his vows before the image of
the Holy Virgin, he prepared lots by selecting dried beans
equal to the number of those on board, upon one of which
a cross was made ; then exacting an agreement that he who
should draw the marked bean would, if his life were spared,
make a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadaloupe
and bear thither a wax taper of five pounds' weight, placed
the beans in a cap and the lottery began. Each one was to
draw in the order of his rank, and it happened that Columbus,
being first, drew the marked bean. A second vow was then
taken, that he upon whom the lot should next fall would
make a holy pilgrimage to the Chapel of Our Lady of
Loretto. At this second drawing the obligation fell on
Pedro de Villa, who, being too poor to bear the expenses
of such a journey, Columbus generously offered to discharge
them himself. A third time lots were drawn, he upon whom
the sign should fall vowing to repair to the Church of Santa
Clara, at Moguer, where he was to participate in High Mass,
and spend the entire night in prayer before the altar. This
lot also devolved upon Columbus by his drawing the marked
bean. But the obligations thus self-imposed were not yet
completed, for the storm continuing, without any signs of
abatement, the entire crew registered a vow that if all were
spared, they would, at the first place of landing, proceed
in procession, with no other garment upon their bodies than
a shirt, to the nearest shrine, and there offer up thanks-
givings for their deliverance. We cannot frame a reasonable
excuse for such a vow, beyond the supposition that it
involved mortification, and was imposed as a sign of extreme
humility; but whatever the reason, certainly the feelings of
those whom the half-naked sailors might meet at the shrine
were not considered, and without irreverence we may pause
to wonder if such a display would have been pleasing to
the sight of the Blessed Virgin.


But all this manifestation of deep piety failed to lull the
storm beatings, or bring peace to the angry waters, which
continued to surge with a fury appalling in its intensity.
The fears that had beset the sailors now thoroughly possessed
their Admiral, who, considering his destruction as inevitable,
began, as best he could, to concert means for preserving
the results of his discoveries. It is pathetic to follow the
workings of his sublime intelligence in this hour of supreme
peril and resignation to fate. The concerns of his own life
were of less moment to him now than were those of his
children and patrons. The somewhat consoling reflection
came to him that if by any means a knowledge of his deeds
could be communicated to their majesties of Spain, then his
two sons, Diego and Fernando, would receive from these
sovereigns all the emoluments and honors stipulated in the
contracts under which he had sailed. To conceive the idea
was to execute apian, in pursuance of which he hurriedly
composed a sketch of his voyage and the great discoveries
which he had made, and wrapping the precious parchment
in a waxed cloth, which in turn was incased in wax, com-
mitted it to a water-tight cask, and cast it into the sea,
hoping that favoring currents might carry it to some friendly
shore. To insure the delivery of the packet, in case of its
recovery from the waves, he directed it to the Queen of
Castile, and appended a promissory obligation of a thousand
ducats (equal to as many dollars of Americanmoney) to any
one who should restore it unopened to her Majesty.

But not yet content with the chance which he thus
provided, Columbus made a copy of the sketch, which he
likewise inclosed in a barrel, but instead of intrusting it
directly to the sea, fastened it securely to the poop of his
ship, so that in case of wreck it might be borne upon the
bosom of the sea until found by some passing vessel in the


What a secret for the ocean to so long possess ; what a
precious thing for historians to acquire. To this day has
hope continued in its ultimate recovery, and since its precious-
ness cannot be computed, enthusiasts still picture the results
of its restoration from the sea. To find this parchment now
would be like the recovery of a letter written by Richard
the Lion Heart in the German prison ; or the restoration of
the original manuscripts of the Pandects of Justinian ; or
the notes of Demosthenes for his great oration on the
crown ; or the Hebrew Ark of the Covenant.

So valuable would be such a possession that reports of the
finding of the cask have been published more than once to
excite the credulous and to amuse the wise. As late as
1852, directly after that unvcracious but universal historian
— the newspaper correspondent — had been born into the
world, one of that inventive craft, whose business it is to
create what may not be discovered, contributed to an
English paper an elaborate story describing the details
of the recovery of the barrel by the captain of a Boston
ship named the Chieftain, who, it was declared, found it
embedded deeply in the sand on the coast of Africa, For a
while the fiction was accepted as true, and even Lamartine
adopted it as a verity, only to repudiate it later, however,
when the hoax was exploded.

The prayers, vows and precautions which so long seemed
unavailing were followed by relief towards evening of the
third day, when, with the declining sun, there appeared
promising streaks of light cleaving retiring clouds, and
when night came on the merry stars were revealed as if
laughing with joy for the danger passed. But though the
sky was now serene, deep heavings of the sea continued,
rendering progress slow and painful, while anxiety for the
safety of the Piuta still deeply concerned Columbus, whose
dreadful anticipations were reflected by all of his crew.


On the morning following the subsidence of the storm,
February 15th, Rui Garcia perceived by the faint light of
breaking day the darlc outline of an island towards the
northeast, and all on board the Nina were quickly apprised
of the discovery. Many different opinions were hazarded
as to the land thus seen, but the claim of Columbus, that it
was one of the Azores, was presently confirmed by a close
approach to shore, when the characteristic peaks of Santa
Maria became unmistakable. But the sea was still so tur-
bulent that anchorage could not be attempted, and for two
days the vessel beat about, but stood off the shore, and when
the anchor was at last cast on the evening of the 17th, the
cable parted, compelling the Nina to lie to until morning.

It was a singular fact that landing was at length accom-
plished at the same islands from which departure was made
in the preceding autumn, and that it was the frailest of the
three vessels which succeeded in returning to these Portu-
guese possessions, out of the very throat of the most
violent storm that had been known in the memory of man.

No sooner had the Nina effected an anchorage in the
mouth of an inviting bay, than many of the inhabitants
came out to welcome the voyagers, bringing such provisions
as the island produced, and were regaled in turn with
astounding stories of discovery and adventure in the New

In fulfillment of the vow which the crew had solemnly
recorded in an hour of imminent peril, Columbus, who was
suffering severely from an attack of gout, besides exhaustion
from exposure of a three days' unbroken watch, sent half of
all his sailors to a hermitage not far from the anchorage to
perform penance, while he sought a needed rest until their
return. True to their holy obligation, the Spaniards went
ashore, barefoot and with no more clothing than a short
skirt, insufficient to hide their nakedness. Then, forming in


procession, they marched towards the chapel, where a priest
was engaged to perform mass. On the way, however, they
were intercepted by a squad of soldiers, sent by Juan de Cas-
taneda, governor of the island, to apprehend them for out-
raging the proprieties of all civilization by thus exposing
their nakedness to the rabble of villagers who followed
close at their heels with hootings and objurgations. The
arrest, as some authorities maintain, was not made until the
Spaniards gained the chapel, and were in the act of per-
forming their vows before the altar, when the governor him-
self appeared and urged the soldiers to obey his orders, who
then conducted the sailors to the garrison prison.

The long absence of those of his crew who had gone on
shore gave Columbus such uneasiness that he moved his
ship to a position commanding a view of the hermitage,
hoping thereby to ascertain the cause, and to be in a
position to afford his men protection in case it was neces-
sary. Scarcely had he dropped anchor again when the
governor was seen riding down the hill at the head of a
troop of horsemen, who were able to approach sufficiently
near the Niua to give a hail, and directly a boat was pushed
out which conveyed the governor on board the vessel.
An interview then followed in which Castaneda informed
Columbus of the arrest of his sailors, and that he had acted
under commands of the King of Portugal. This developed
a serious condition of affairs, which Columbus could not
help regarding as a hostile act, and he accordingly adopted
vigorous measures to resist arrest, believing either that
Spain and Portugal were at war, or that jealousy had
prompted King John to concert means for his destruction.
The defiant air of Castaneda gave color of reason to either
assumption, and prevented an understanding of the real
situation. The wind now increasing strongly off shore,
Columbus was compelled to hoist his anchor and move out



to sea again, where for two days he was buffeted about in
great danger and with only half a crew to manage the ship.
On the 22d the weather moderated sufificientl}' to permit
a return to his first anchorage, where he was visited by a
Portuguese notary and ten priests. The interview which
followed was of a more conciliatory character, the officer
explaining that the governor had taken the Spaniards for
pirates, which at that time infested every sea, but told
Columbus if his commission and ship's papers were regular,
the sailors would be promptly liberated and proper apol-
ogies made. The misapprehensions and suspicions of both
parties were thus relieved by an exhibition of the letters
patent ; those under arrest were set at liberty, and upon
their return to the Nina Columbus and the others of his
crew proceeded to fulfill their vows, according to the con-
ditions of their self-imposed obligation.

On the 24th of February, the Admiral, having replenished
his stores, and made some necessary repairs to the ship,
started again on his homeward voyage. For three days
after leaving Santa Maria the weather was fair, and such
speed was made that he reckoned the distance to Cape St.
Vincent was not more than a thousand miles. Whoever
studies carefully the movements of great enterprises, and
discovering often at the very crisis of the thing about to be
accomplished the opposition of adverse forces, marshaled as
if in a battalion, and bearing down vehemently to prevent
by sheer hostility and elemental war the completion of the
work in hand, may almost become superstitious lest nature
herself have confederated with diabolical agencies to thwart
and ruin the hopes of men. It seemed in the present case
that sky and sea and tempest, over and above the enmity
of the human race, had conspired in the last hour to prevent
the success of the great enterprise, to hurl back and send to
the oblivion of ocean caverns the glorious discoveries which


Columbus had made in the Occident. On the night of
February 27th, the storm god swooped out of the west
again with fell fury in his breath, and struck the little vesssl
with such terrific force that every timber in her groaned with
the impact. Yet she rode before the blast without material
injury until the night of March 2d, when the gale increased
to such violence that in a trice the little sails still spread
were burst and blown into tatters, while the vessel was
plunged so deeply into the sea that it appeared she could
never rise again. Great guns from the heavenly ramparts
boomed their responses to the hissing of fier}- dragons vault-
ing across the skies. Clouds boiled like thick vapors from
witches' caldrons until they seemed to take on shapes of
demons, wraiths, monsters of hellish mien and Satanic hate,
while dashing billows leaped up and shook their white locks
defiant of the powers of air. So intense were the paroxysms
of infuriate nature that all the world appeared to be torn
asunder and chaos had grasped the sea in its withering
hand. In the darkness that came as a mantle to hide the
destruction of the elements, hope nearly perished, and but
for the sustaining strength of pious faith Columbus would
have abandoned himself to the fate which appeared inevi-
table. In this hour of dreadful peril he liad recourse to the
means which seemed to avail him in an extremity scarcely
more hopeless. Yielding to his soul's impulses, he mentally
resolved to perform new penances, and assembling the
crew, as best he could despite the plunging of the ship, he
produced the cap of beans and bade each to draw one there-
from. Most strange coincidence, when the drawing was com-
pleted he found the marked bean in his own hand again :
whereupon he took a vow that, if spared to gain the shore,
he would make a pilgrimage in bare feet to the shrine of
Santa Maria de la Cueva (or Cinta), in Huelva.

Whatever the cause, though devout persons will always


consider it as a mark of propitiated deity, when the morn-
ing of March 3d broke, there was visible along the horizon
of a leaden sky the shore of Portugal, against which break-
ers were dashing mountain high. A cheer went up at this

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 37)