James W. (James William) Buel.

Library of American history (Volume 1) online

. (page 15 of 37)
Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

misconduct, brought the fatal visitation on themselves.
With the progress of the investigation, the disconnected
facts were slowly and imperfectly put together until a fairly
reasonable story of the destruction of Arana and his com-
pany was produced ; and the conclusion was of a kind to
brand with shame and infamy the first settlement of white
men ever planted in the New World.

It appeared in the sequel that as soon as the colony was
established and the Admiral had sailed away, the true char-
acter of the colonists came out with dreadful realism. The
men \vhom Columbus had brought with him on his first
voyage to the West Indies were, as we have said, for the
most part, of the lowest order. They had been roustabouts
and criminals in the Spanish seaport towns, and, as the
reader knows, had in many instances escaped impending
penalties by embarkation through impressment. Such char-
acters could but await the removal of authority to seize the
combined freedom of barbarism and the viciousness of civ-

It was in vain that De Arana had sought to curb and
restrain the will and passions of his colonists. Finding that
they could not be subjected to discipline by any force
which the captain could exert, they at once abandoned
themselves to the license of outrage and excess. Every
evil impulse which for generations, although restrained
under the compressive tyranny of despotic government,
had been transmitted with accumulating vehemence from
father to son, now burst forth in the depraved descendants.
They turned upon the mild-mannered Indians who had
befriended and assisted them in every way to gain a foot-
ing and maintenance in the island, and began to treat them


as though they were the mere instruments of their avarice
and lust. They sallied forth from the fort against the ex-
press commands of the Admiral, and contracted licentious
alliances with the native women, whom they refused to
leave even when ordered by Arana, and indulged in a riot
of debauchery horrible in its details.

Guacanagari had sought to appease the fury of Spanish
passion by granting to each sailor two or three wives. But
even this was not enough. The wretches, glorying in their
license, became like wild beasts, assaulting and seducing
the wives and daughters of the head men of the tribe, and
as if their crimes inspired greater lawlessness, they began
to despoil the villages, carrying home therefrom great loads
of merchandise and provisions. In a few days the fort was
converted into a robbers' camp, and presently the men fell
to quarreling, bravviing and fighting over the spoils, some-
times to the death. Others remained abroad, preferring
the company of the native women. But a few, deprived of
what they considered their share, began to form conspir-
acies. Pedro Gutierrez became the head of one band and
Rodrigo de Escobedo of another. These two, being sub-
ordinate officers in the fortress, mutinied against the com-
mander, and in a fight which took place on that account
another Spaniard lost his life.

The party of Arana had been victorious, and Gutierrez
and Escobedo left Natividad for another part of the island.
The remainder, composing a company of eleven, besides
some native women whom they had taken as wives, set out
for Cibao, to gather gold. In a short time they passed the
boundaries of the district ruled by Guacanagari and entered
the territory of Caonabo, the great cacique of Maguana, to
whom the Spaniards had given the name of Prince of the
Golden House. Subsequent investigations showed that
this warlike chieftain was a native Carib, who had come as


an invader into Hispaniola and there established himself
with his headquarters in the gold regions.

The invasion of his territories by a mere handful of
Spaniards could have but one result with the cacique.
When the band of Gutierrez and Escobedo approached
Cibao and began to ply their trade of getting gold, Caonabo
sent out his warriors, who surrounded them and killed the
last man of the company. The cacique then made a league
with the neighboring chieftain of the province of Marien, and
the combined forces of the two tribes were sent into the
province of Guacanagari, to besiege the Spanish fortress and
sweep it, with its garrison, from the face of the earth. The
invasion was carried on with secrecy. The course pursued
by Guacanagari is not certainly known ; but it appears that
he tried, at least formally, to defend the Spaniards from the
enemy, for it can hardly be doubted that the village of the
friendly cacique was burned, and that some of the Span-
iards who were there at the time were killed in the attack.
The hostile barbarians then crept upon the fort, where all
precaution had been abandoned, and rushed in at a time
when the garrison numbered only ten men. Two of these
were killed, and the other eight fleeing from their pursuers
plunged into the sea and were drowned. Not a man was
left alive to tell the story. The fortress was sacked and
bnrned, and the hostile warriors, after thus glutting their
vengeance, returned to their own district.

It seems that after the withdrawal of the enemy, Gua-
canagari knew not what to do. Perhaps he doubted his
ability to make things clear on the return of the Admiral.
Perhaps he feared that when the great fleet came, he and
his people would be overwhelmed in a common ruin by the
vengeful foreigners. Possibly at heart he had felt some
emotions of sympathy with the work of extermination
which had been accomplished by the men of Cibao. In


any event the situation was trying in the extreme. It
would seem that the cacique had not the confidence to
commit himself without reserve to the good faith of the
Admiral, and in his embarrassment, doubtless to save him-
self and his subjects, he adopted that subterfuge to which
half-barbarous minds naturally resort in times of danger.

One circumstance tended strongly to convince even the
Admiral that Guacanagari had been guilty of duplicity. It
was claimed by the Indians who came as ambassadors from
their cacique that he was prevented from visiting the Ad-
miral by the injuries which he had received while defending
his village against the attack of Caonabo. Columbus pres-
ently set out and found his friend at a new village which had
been extemporized for him not far away. The cacique,
sure enough, lay in his hammock, surrounded by his wives,
and unable to rise, on account, he said, of his wounded leg,
which he claimed had been struck with a stone and so in-
jured that he could not stand. The limb was bandaged to
a great extent, and Columbus ordered his own surgeon,
who was present, to examine the injury and see what could
be done to relieve the chief. The bandages were accord-
ingly taken off, and though the cacique made grimaces and
complained of pain when the limb was handled, no trace of
the alleged injury could be found, and this fact produced
the natural suspicion that the wound and his story of it
were a sham invented for effect.

Other warriors of the tribe, however, were found to have
been really wounded, presumably by the arrows of the
enemy ; and of a certainty the cacique's village had been
burned. All things considered, Columbus decided to give
Guacanagari the benefit of every doubt, and so, exhibiting
no signs of distrust, he bestowed on the chieftain the usual
gifts and went away. At this De Buyl was again greatly
offended, for to him the evidence of guilt was so clear that


he urged the Admiral to take a summary vengeance on the
cacique, making him an example to all other offenders.
But this counsel was rejected, and for the time amicable
relations were maintained between the Spaniards and the

The difference of opinion and policy between Columbus
and the vicar was the commencement of a difficulty destined
to become important. Buyl had in him the very soul of a
persecutor, and nothing could have pleased him better than
to see the head men of the Indians burned at the stake, as
his favorite method of introducing the new religion which
he came to represent. It is an interesting historical study
to see the contest between the vindictive spirit of this man
and the humane disposition of the commander. But pass-
ing from this, we note the conduct of the latter in inviting
Guacanagari, in spite of the suspicions against him, to visit
the Maria Galante and share the hospitalities of his board.
The act was one of kindness and policy also ; kindness, for
by this means he sought in a generous way to restore the
confidence of the chief ; policy, for he desired him to look
upon the Carib prisoners whom the Spaniards had on board
as warnings of what might be expected by all who durst
attack or oppose the whites. The whole cargo of wonders,
including the horses, swine and goats, was also shown to
the cacique, to accomplish a similar purpose.

But human nature is always human nature. The barba-
rian, or half-barbarian, is ever of his own kind. Among the
other subjects which the cacique found on the Admiral's
ship was a company of captives from Porto Rico ; that is,
they were liberated captives, whom the Caribs had taken
and the Admiral recovered. With these Guacanagari began
to converse by means of an interpreter. Among the rest
was a queenly native woman called Catalina, with whom,
as the sequel showed, the cacique fell violently in love.


He conversed with her as much as possible in the lover's
manner, and would fain have taken her on shore, but the
opportunity was not presented until the following night,
when the queen escaped by swimming ashore, and the next
da)'^ Guacanagari disappeared, having eloped with the wo-
man, so that neither was again seen by the Spaniards.


If Columbus had been affected by such adversities as
crush the hopes of other men ; if his enthusiastic and won-
drously imaginative nature had not sustained him in every
ordeal that wrings the heart with despair ; if the sun of
hope and confidence had not remained always visible above
the horizon of his life, the world would have preserved no
remembrance of his living. A nature that would have
halted at obstacles would have bowed with despondency
before such persecution as he received at the hands of Por-
tugal's ruler ; but enduring these, the rejections of his pro-
posals by Genoa, Venice, and by two learned Juntas, as well
as the derision of ecclesiastics, would surely have driven any
less persistent man to accept the hopelessness of his ambi-
tions. But bearing up against all these opposing influences,
like a vessel whose engines have suf^cient power to hold her
against the current, he bravely held on, continued on, until,
behold, the reward of his unyielding activity is a glory that
kings might crave.

The man who bared a resolute front to all the oppositions
that obscurity, poverty, antagonisms and ridicule could offer
was not to be daunted even by the discouraging aspect which
a murdered colony presented. Hopeful as he was persistent,
Columbus was not awakened from his dreams of conquest
by the dreadful fate of those whom he had established as
the nucleus of a vast commercial power, which he believed
would expand in influence until it accomplished the Chris-
tianizing of the world of his discovery. The first seed had


perished even as it lay m the ground, but he would now sow
again and trust for a more favorable season. The first colony
had wrought its own destruction, perhaps a second would be
successful, and with this sanguine, trustful feeling he set
about the planting of a settlement either above the graves
of those who had fallen victims to their lustful, seditious
and avaricious appetites, or to establish a colony near by,
where there might be constant reminder of the fate of those
who had subordinated virtue and honest duty to selfish greed
and the basest desires of human nature.

After the first excitement of the landing, despondency
ensued, and the men began to realize something of the pro-
saic character of the enterprise in which they were engaged.
Worst of all, they found that labor was a necessity of their
situation. Houses Avould not build themselves. The fort-
ress would not grow without human effort. Nothing could
be accomplished on this virgin shore, any more than else-
where, without strenuous exertion of mind and body. Here
it was not merely a question of exciting adventure incident
to the gathering of golden sands from the banks and beds
of impossible rivers. Toil, toil, was the order, and all alike,
cavaliers and soldiers though they were, must bend to the
appointed task.

Again the situation can but impress the mind of the reader
by its likeness to the founding of Jamestown by the English
a hundred and fourteen years afterwards. Thus came disap-
pointment and gloom instead of the exhilaration of ideal
enterprises, and this fact tended to aggravate the diseases of
the colonists.

Columbus, as we have said, felt his strength ebb away.
He may have perceived— for the greatest minds are given to
such intuition — that the golden but visionary schemes which
had passed before his imagination, and which he had im-
parted to the King and Queen, lay farther away in their


realization, and were to be reached by a rougher road than
any which his feet had ever yet traveled. Moreover, the
sorrows and weaknesses of old age were now coming upon
him, and he could hold up no longer. No sooner had the
preliminaries of the settlement been determined upon than
his faculties of body and mind succumbed to the sore pres-
sure, and for several weeks he was confined to his couch.
During part of the time he was able to give directions for
the prosecution of the work of laying out, building, fortify-
ing and planting ; but for the rest, the enterprise must be
remanded to the hands of his subordinates. Whenever this
was done, confusion began to reign as the result of cross
purposes and lack of talent. It was thus under dismal aus-
pices that the eventful year 1493 ended with small prospect
that the Admiral would be able, in his first report to his
sovereigns, to meet the glowing expectations which his own
over-sanguine temperament had given rise to at the court.

By the opening of the following year, all the materials of
the fleet had been transferred to the shore, and there was no
further need of the squadron. It had been predetermined
that after the planting of the colony the greater number of
the vessels should be sent back to Spain. It had also been
intended by Columbus that these returning ships should be
laden with the merchandise and treasures which he expected
his colony of Natividad to gather during his absence. The
disappointment in this respect was overwhelming. De
Arana and his garrison had not only gathered nothing, but
had lost all, including themselves — a melancholy awakening
from delightful dreams.

The second voyage had thus far been an expedition of
discovering and mere planting. No commercial intercourse
had been opened or renewed with the native islanders.
Indeed such a condition of unfriendliness and distrust now
prevailed that it was doubtful whether any profitable trade


could again be established with the Indians. But it was
necessary to freight the ships with something, if only with
an additional cargo of golden dreams. To this end the
Admiral was constrained to rouse himself from his enfeebled
condition and to prepare his report to his sovereigns. As
in the case of all men of genius, his active mind foreran the
event, and he sought to find in the surroundings such ele-
ments of success as might be truthfully wrought into a suit-
able report to gratify their Majesties.

To this end the Admiral deemed it expedient to send out
exploring parties, two of which were organized and dis-
patched into the gold country. The first of these was put
under the command of Alonzo de Ojeda, To him nothing
could have been more agreeable than the responsibility of
an expedition into the mountains of Cibao, or, missing that,
into the mountains of the moon. The other company was
placed under a Captain Gorvalan, a cavalier of like disposi-
tion with Ojeda, but less adventurous. Both parties went
out full-armed into the country of Caonabo, expecting to
fight their way to the mines, which they were directed to
examine and explore, to the end that Columbus might faith-
fully inform their Majesties as to the probable gold yield of
the island.

It required but two days to reach the hill country. On
the third morning the gold fields were approached, and to
the astonishment of the Spaniards the Indians of the district
were not only friendly but familiar. They welcomed the
strangers as brethren, fed them, lodged them, aided them
in every way to carry out their purpose. The formation
of the island in this part w^as as peculiar as it was beautiful.
The gold mountains constituted a range of moderate height,
beyond which lay a plain traversed by many streams and
occupied with numerous villages and a large population.
Crossing this plain, the adventurers came to a second ridge,


out of which the rivers gathered their waters. This was the
mining district ; but there were no mines. Nevertheless the
signs of gold were sufficiently abundant, for the sands of the
running streams glittered here and there with particles of the
precious metal. Specimens of these sands were taken up
and the gold gathered out with little difficulty, while some of
the Spaniards were so fortunate as to pick up pieces of con-
siderable weight.

Here, then, the secret was out. It was clear that the
specimens of gold dust which the Spaniards had procured in
other parts of the island, and farther north, had been derived
from these mines of Cibao. But everything was in the
native condition. Ojeda very properly concluded that the
yield of the precious metal, as shown in the river sands, was
but a hint of the rich, perhaps limitless, treasures of the
mountains. He accordingly surveyed the landscape and
carried back to the Admiral a glowing report. The expedi-
tion of Gorvalan had a similar result. That captain had also
discovered the gold country, and had gathered specimens
from the sands and returned with a cheering account for the
Admiral, Thus, while Columbus was not able to send home
a cargo of treasure, he would fain transmit a glamour of
visions and hopes.

It was under these conditions that the discoverer now
prepared his report for the King and Queen. He determined
to retain five ships from the squadron for his own use in the
service of the colonists, and in prosecuting the work of
discovery. The remaining twelve were put under command
of Antonio de Torres for the return voyage. As for treasure,
he was able to send nothing except the specimens of gold-
bearing sand which his lieutenants had gathered about
Cibao, and to add some additional samples of the animal
and vegetable products of the island. His report was of
course the principal thing, and this, while it contained an


account of the disaster which had befallen the garrison of La
Natividad, of the sickness to which he and the colony had
been recently subjected, and some complaints, well founded,
of frauds and blunders committed by the home bureau in
the preparation of the cargo and provision of the squadron,
nevertheless glowed with the usual enthusiasm and promise
of great things to come.

The document was prepared with his accustomed elabora-
tion, embracing a report proper and many recommendations
which the Admiral took the responsibility of making to the
sovereigns. Some of these suggestions were of a kind to
show forth in full sight not only the sentiments and opinions
of the discoverer and his sovereigns, but also the general
civilization in that age. Fortunately the document has been
preserved to our own time, and the curious inquirer may still
read not only the words of the Admiral, but the marginal
comments which the sovereigns appended to each clause of
the report. In the first place the Admiral opens with those
formal and complimentary addresses which were the style
in the fifteenth century, and even at a much later date, in all
documents directed to royal personages. To these the King
and Queen made on the margin this remark :

" Their Highnesses hold it for good service."

In the next place the Admiral gives an enumeration of the
circumstances of the second voyage up to date, including
an account of the various islands which he had discovered
and visited, and finally of the planting and establishment of
the colony of Isabella. To this the sovereigns affixed the
co-marginal comment :

"Their Highnesses give much thanks to God, and hold as very honored
service all that the Admiral has done."

In the third paragraph he tells of the ill fortunes that had


come, explaining how his men had fallen sick, how the new

plantation had been delayed, how it had become necessary

to detail a considerable number of soldiers to guard the

settlement from possible attacks by the natives, and how,

for these reasons, he had been unable to gather and send

home with the cargo any products or treasures worthy of

the work. To this clause the sovereigns wrote in the margin

the simple words :

" lie has done well."

In the fourth place the Admiral went on to suggest the
best means of gaining possession of the gold mines of Cibao.
To this end he recommended that a fortress be built in the
gold-producing regions, and that it should be garrisoned and
held that the mines might be systematically worked. To
this proposition the sovereigns also gave their approval as
follows :

" This is well and so it must be done."

The Admiral next proceeded to discuss the question of
provisions for the new settlement, until such time as the
products of the island, including new crops to be raised
and gathered by the colonists, should be suf^cicnt to render
unnecessary all further draft on the mother country. This,
too, received the approval of royalty with the marginal com-
ment, thus :

" Juan de Fonseca is to provide for this matter."

In the next place Columbus proceeded to touch the deli-
cate subject of the frauds and blunders that had been com-
mitted in the purchase and preparation of supplies for the
squadron and the colony. This part related most of all to
the wine which the bureau had supplied for the expedition.
Very soon after the sailing of the fleet it was discovered
that the wine-casks were old and leaky, and before the end
of the voyage much of the supply had been wasted. Con-


cerning this complaint the marginal comment of the sov-
ereigns was as follows :

" Juan de Fonseca shall find out the persons who played this cheat with the
wine-casks, that they may make good from their own pockets the loss, and
also see that the sugar-canes (for the colony) are good, and that all that is
here asked for be provided immediately."

We have already remarked above how greatly Columbus
was distressed — how sensitive he was — relative to the failure
of the expedition thus far to yield any profitable returns.
He knew well enough that profit was expected. Indeed, that
had been with the sovereigns the prevailing motive, and it
is likely that glimpses of a probability had now reached the
Admiral's judgment that the treasures of gold he had been
seeking were still far remote. It was, therefore, expedient
that he should, if practicable, divert the minds of their
Majesties to some other enterprise, promising great and
immediate advantages.

It is possible, therefore, or probable, that the next sug-
gestions of his report were in part, at least, the result of a
wish to point the royal mind to a new method of commer-
cial gain. Or it may be that he conscientiously believed
the recommendations made to be philanthropic and humane.
The thing which he suggested in the next paragraph was
based on a policy which he had on his own responsibility
adopted with respect to the Caribs. The reader will recall
the fact that while cruising among the cannibal islands
Columbus seized a number of the natives and retained them
as prisoners. These he now sent to Europe with the return-
ing squadron, recommending to the sovereigns that the
islanders should be taught Spanish, be baptized into the
Church, and that they be retained as slaves to serve as in-
terpreters, or be made useful in other ways. He called
attention to the fact that such a measure would be a just

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 37)