James W. (James William) Buel.

Library of American history (Volume 1) online

. (page 16 of 37)
Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

punishment for the Caribbeans, and that it would tend to


inspire confidence in the other islands, where the people
lived in dread of the cannibals. Of course the Admiral
laid much stress upon the religious feature of the sugges-
tion, insisting that the proposed subjection of the cannibal:>
was to their own interest as well as to the benefit of Spain
and the advantage of the whole colonial enterprise. But
to this recommendation there was entered on the margin a
guarded reply of the sovereigns, as follows:

"Their Majesties thinlc this very well, and so it must be done ; but let the
Admiral see whether it cannot be managed there that they (the Indians)
should be brought to our Holy Catholic faith, and the same thing be done
with the Indians of those islands where he now is."

Having thus opened the way, Columbus proceeds boldly
to the general suggestion of the enslavement of the natives
as the best means of making them Christians, and of gather-
ing profit by new commercial relations that might be estab-
lished on the foundation of a traffic in human beings. The
Admiral suggests that the ships in the Indies could be laden
with cargoes of natives, who might be exchanged in Spain
for live stock and other supplies requisite for the purposes
and development of the colony. The policy should be
adopted by the Indian Bureau of sending out a fleet each
year bearing all things demanded by the colonists, and
the vessels, as soon their cargoes could be discharged in the
Indies, might gather an equivalent cargo of Indian slaves.
It was necessary that this policy should be at once adopted
and that the answer of the sovereigns should be transmitted
by Antonio de Torres to the Admiral, so that the latter
might proceed to capture the requisite ship-loads of canni-
bals for the return voyage. The project was sufficiently
audacious and cold-blooded, being redeemed only from ab-
solute shame and contempt by the intermixture of religious
motives, real or fictitious, which the Admiral pleaded in
justification of his proposals. In v^iew of the situation the


reader at the close of the nineteenth century will notice the
reply of the Spanish sovereigns with peculiar interest :

" As regards this matter, it is suspended for the present until there come
some other way of doing it there, and let the Admiral write what he thinks
of this."

Certainly it was to the honor of Ferdinand and Isabella
that they refused to adopt the suggestions made by their
favorite, as to establishing a slave-trade in the West Indies.
Whether or not they were moved thereto by reasons of
justice and humanity, or whether they detected in the prop-
osition elements of trouble and inexpediency, it would be
difificult to say. A careful reading of their answer and
comment would indicate that while it was deemed inex-
pedient to begin the enslavement of the Indians, there
was nevertheless a reluctance on the part of the sovereigns
to pronounce the interdict. They put it from them with
such gentle kind of veto as Caesar employed in rejecting
the crown. The sarcastic comment of Casca might almost
be repeated and applied — at least to Ferdinand, whose
cold and subtle disposition we may discover in the language
of refusal : " He put it by ; but for all that to my thinking
he would fain have had it. . . . He put it by again ; but
to my thinking he was very loath to lay his fingers off it."

The proposal of Columbus was brought to the sovereigns
in a very practical and emphatic way. The Carib prisoners
were put on board the fleet and dispatched to Spain as the
earnest and first fruits of the enterprise. The monarchs
were told that a system of royal revenue might be estab-
lished by laying a duty on the slaves imported. In a word,
the thing proposed was to be profitable to everybody ;
profitable to the colonists, for by this means their energies
might be exerted in the excitement of slave-hunting, and
at the same time their resources augmented by the supplies
and merchandise to be brought from Spain in exchange for


the captives ; profitable to the people of the mother country,
for in this way they would obtain at cheap rates a full
retinue of servants forever ; profitable to the merchants,
for their cargoes would, under such a system, be expedi-
tiously provided on both sides of the Atlantic ; profitable
to the sovereigns, for hereby the royal revenue could be
steadily replenished ; profitable to the Caribs themselves,
for by the blessings of capture, deportation and sale, they
would be rapidly civilized, saved from their sins and through
all their sufferings be brought to Heaven. The inhuman
fallacy was complete in all its parts and needed only the as-
sent of the sovereigns to make it pass as the greatest civil-
Tzing argument of the age.

The returning squadron, under command of Antonio de
Torres, left San Domingo on the 2d of February, 1494.
Other communications from leading characters were added
to that of Columbus, generally corroborating his report and
repeating his rccommxCndations. Such was a letter from
the apostolic vicar De Buyl, and such were the reports
made by Ojeda and Gorvalan respecting their explorations
in the mines of Cibao. On the whole, the information which
the fleet was to bear back to Europe was of a kind to
make up in a large measure for the disappointment in
the matter of merchandise and gold. Thus, at the close
of the winter the home-bound armada dropped out of sight,
and the colonists of Isabella were left to resume and prose-
cute the necessary enterprises of the settlement.

By this time the Admiral had recovered somewhat his
wasted energies, and with returning strength he devoted
himself to the administration of affairs. Never was govern-
ment more difficult. The distraction of the colonists be-
came extreme. Sickness increased rather than abated. Pro-
visions began to fail, and the fare was as scant as the work-
was incessant. The Admiral established laws for the ijovcrn-


ment of the colony, but these could hardly be enforced, for
the character of perhaps a majority of them forbade the
operation of wholesome rules for all.

Many of the men were of high rank by both birth and
profession. There were young hidalgos who had never be-
fore been obliged to stoop to toil. There were courtiers
from Barcelona, and functionaries whose immemorial business
it was to live by the labor of others. The viceroy could
make no exceptions in the application of his laws, and sullen
rage and vindictiveness soon appeared among those who
were compelled, as they thought, like slaves, to toil in build-
ing houses and fortifying the town. Some began to com-
plain of the Admiral and his government. Discontent grew
rife, and conspiracy soon builded its nest and hatched its
dangerous brood.

Now it was that the celebrated Bernal Diaz, of Pisa, a
man of rank and influence, but of a low grade of moral
principle, appeared as the leader and mouthpiece of the
malcontents. In him all the Adullamites of the island dis-
covered a vent for their rage against the Admiral. He
held the appointment of comptroller of the colony, and in
this ofifice he soon showed his disagreeable and seditious
spirit. In the gloomy days which came down after the
departure of the squadron for Spain, Diaz conceived the
project of virtually destroying the enterprise by secret mu-
tiny. His scheme contemplated the seizure of the ships, or
at least most of them, and a departure from the island with
all on board who desired to return home. The leader had
persuaded himself that all this discovery of the Indies, and in
particular all the representations made by the Admiral re-
specting the resources of the islands and their commercial
importance to the Spanish government, were fallacious, mis-
leading, and in short without foundation in fact. It was
believed by the conspirators that on reaching Spain they


could appeal to the sovereigns, having Bernal Diaz — himself
a man of the court — for their spokesman, and easily per-
suade them that they had been duped, deceived and ca-
joled by the foreign Admiral, who had gained an unmerited
ascendency in their confidence.

While this perfidious business was still in the egg an-
other factor was added to the cabal. A certain Fermin
Cedo, who was the assayer of the colony and, as the sequel
showed, a charlatan, ignorant of the work he professed,
joined himself with Bernal Diaz, and encouraged the mutiny
with a false statement respecting the gold product of the
island. He declared that the reports relative to the mines
of Cibao were without foundation ; that nothing more than
a few scattering particles of the precious metal had been
found by the explorers ; that the better specimens — small
ingots and the like brought home by the exploring party,
or procured in trade with the natives — had been produced
by melting down a quantity of the gold-dust, and that such
specimens signified nothing in the general estimate. He
also alleged that much of the reputed gold was spurious, being
nothing more than macasite, or some such mineral. Since
the hopes of the colonists were centered on mining and the
gathering of precious stones, these declarations of the as-
sayer prevailed with many, even against the testimony of
their own senses.

The occasion seemed auspicious for the success of the
scheme. The Admiral was again confined to his couch by
sickness. The conspirators might avail themselves of this
fact and get away without discovery. Nevertheless the
thing was borne at length to the ears of Columbus, and he
was enabled to nip the project in the bud. Bernal Diaz,
Cedo and several other leaders of the mutiny were seized
and put under guard on the vessels. A search instituted
by the Admiral brought the whole thing to light. The plan


of the enterprise, including the report which the conspirators
were to make to the Queen and King, drawn up in the hand-
writing of Bernal Diaz, was discovered, and the whole sedi-
tion was thus suddenly delivered over to the master.

It was the first time in which anything had occurred of
such a character as to make punishment a necessity. Co-
lumbus deemed it prudent, however, not to proceed against
Diaz himself, but to remand him, with all the proofs, to the
Spanish authorities. The leading mutineer, with several
others, was accordingly confined on board one of the ships
until such time as they might be sent to Spain for trial.
Other precautionary measures were taken against the possible
revival of the sedition. All the guns, munitions and supplies
of the fleet were transferred to a single ship, and this was
put in command of officers known to be devoted to the in-
terests of the Admiral. The measures were salutary enough,
and the effect was marked by some immediate improvement
in the discipline and progress of the colony. But it was noted
by the Admiral himself that the wounds and alienations pro-
duced by the event could not be healed. Confidence was
never again fully restored among the colonists of Isabella,
and the cloud began to settle on the Admiral which was never
to be lifted.

With the recovery of his health Columbus deemed it
expedient to prosecute at least two of the general objects
for which the enterprise had been undertaken. The first of
these was to continue the work of exploration. In order to
understand the strong motive for the immediate enlargement
of the borders of discovery in the Indies (as they were sup-
posed to be), the reader must recur to the intense rivalry
existing between Spain and Portugal. The decision of the
Pope had been against the latter power; that is, the decision
had been in the nature of an interdict against Portuguese en-
terprise towards the west. But there was nothing to hinder


— indeed, much to encourage — the endeavor of the Portu-
guese mariners to reach the Indies by the eastern route.

This question had continued uppermost in Spain and
Portugal, leading at length to the discovery of a water route
by the east to India, which was found by De Gama four
years later, A knowledge of Portugal's activity and ambi-
tions was therefore a spur to Columbus to accomplish, as
quickly as possible, the full possession, by discovery and
occupation, of the rich Pagan countries of the east. But
\vhile thus eager to anticipate the Portuguese he entertained
a project having a local significance, though it was a prelim-
inary step towards the attainment of his larger ambitions.
Accordingly, Columbus acquainted Ferdinand and Isabella
with his proposal to enter the gold fields of Hispaniola, and
take permanent possession of them by the erection of a fort.
As his purpose was to thereby establish a local government
at Isabella, thus enabling him to proceed to the accom-
plishment of his other mission, their Majesties promptly
approved his plans.

As soon, therefore, as he had succeeded in suppressing
the sedition of Diaz, the Admiral issued an edict commit-
ting the government of Isabella, as well as the command of
the ships in the harbor, to his brother, Don Diego, and a
council of municipal officers by whom he was to be advised
and assisted.

Having made these preparations at Isabella, the Admiral
proceeded at once to organize his expedition for the gold
region. To this end he selected about four hundred of the
well and able-bodied colonists, preferring the young and ad-
venturous. The movement involved the arming of the
whole band ; for, in the existing state of things, the loyalty
of the natives, how much soever manifested, could not be
depended on under trial. In fact, the object of the expedi-
tion was as much military as it was industrial.


It was on the 12th of March that the equipment of the
cavalcade was complete, and the march began. To such
men as those composing the regiment action was every-
thing. They rejoiced to be once more freed from the ser-
vility and lethargy of the settlement. It was like going
again on a campaign in the Moorish war. The start was ac-
companied by all the demonstrations and spectacular scenes
peculiar to the age and the race. The greater number were
organized as a cavalry brigade. They wxre armed, and for
the most part armored, cap-a-pie, and rode out with their
lances and shining helmets, and clumsy but formidable
arquebuses, which at intervals they discharged, making the
green woods ring with the unfamiliar music of musketry.
Meanwhile many natives, drawn after the cavalcade, like
curious boys following in the wake of a menagerie, hung
around the expedition, joining in the advance as much as
they were permitted to do, and seemingly well content at
the strange invasion of their country.

For the first day or two of the advance, the route lay
through a somewhat broken and difificult country, rising
from the sea-level, but still bearing the matted thickets and
heavy forest of the coast. At length the way became dif-
ficult, and it was necessary to widen the path for the in-
vaders. A company of advanced guards and pioneers was
accordingly organized, and for this service the young no-
blemen, now aroused from their apathy and discontent,
gladly volunteered. In honor of their endeavor, the Ad-
miral gave to their new military road- — the first high-
way opened by European hands in the New World — the
name of El Puerto los Hidalgos, that is, the Pass of the

After this preparation the expedition, following the route
already explored by Ojeda, reached the crest of the ridge
dividing the province of Caonabo from the territory of the


coast-people. It was the first of many such situations
which we shall see repeated in the adventures and campaigns
of Europeans in the New World to the time when, in the
summer of 1847, ^^^ invading army of the United States
looked down from the rocky heights of the Cordilleras upon
the valley of Mexico. Before the Spaniards stretched the
beautiful plain of Cibao. According to the estimate of Las
Casas it was two hundred and forty miles from east to west,
and as much as thirty miles in breadth, a region capable under
such culture as that of the Netherlands of supporting several
millions of inhabitants. At the time of the invasion, how-
ever, only Lidian villages, scattered sparsely over the land-
scape, were seen.

This vision of a beautiful and marvelously fertile valley
might, in other more refined and appreciative minds, have
suggested vast cities, peaceful populations and blessings of
a splendid civilization, but the Spaniards were so besotted
with vice and avarice that they could consider it only for
its possible mineral productions ; for the gold that might lie
hidden in the river sands and in the mountains that reared
their heads high into the region of cloudland. They ac-
cordingly descended into this delightful valley, called by
Columbus rV^^ Real, the Royal Plain, and set their way
across it towards the gold-bearing mountains.

In traversing this beautiful district orders were given, on
approaching the first village, to enter after the manner of a
cavalry charge. So the trumpets were sounded, the banners
shaken out, and the Hidalgo horsemen rode forward, their
armor flashing in the sun. The people of the plain had
never before seen horses, and to their astonished and credu-
lous gaze the oncoming of the cavalry seemed as a charge of
armored centaurs might have appeared to the early in-
habitants of the Grecian archipelago.

In the face of such an apparition, there was of course no


show of fight. Columbus failed to discover in the towns
of Vega Real those bands of fierce warriors whom, accord-
ing to report, Caonabo had led in the preceding year against
Guacanagari and Fort Natividad. On the contrary, the
Indians of this region seemed almost as timid as their fellows
of the coast. They fled before the Spaniards, some escap-
ing into the woods and others taking refuge in their houses.
It was a matter of amusement to the Spanish soldiers to
see the simple natives building flimsy barricades of cane-
reeds across the doors of their huts. The obstructions were
not such as to have impeded the charge of a ram, and yet the
Indians seemed to think themselves safe from assault be-
hind their wicker defences. The Admiral gave orders to
humor the natives in all particulars ; and it was not long
before their confiding disposition showed itself in familiar-
ity and free intercourse. As the expedition advanced, the
natives of the town thronged around the army, and the
usual trafific was begun. The Indians had a keen percep-
tion in discovering the thing most desired, and before reach-
ing their destination the Spaniards were able to procure
considerable quantities of gold-dust.

On the second day Columbus discovered a river which
proved to be the headwaters of the Rio del Oro, but here
the country became so rough that farther progress had to
be made on foot, up the sides of lofty foot-hills, which had
now been reached. In small streams falling down the
mountain-sides glittering particles of gold were found, and
this discovery determined Columbus to build here a fort,
the point being sixty miles from Isabella. A suitable loca-
tion was quickly found on a fine plateau around which two
small streams uniting formed almost a circle. No sooner
had the expedition halted than jasper, lapis lazuli, amber
and other valuable products were found, and a profitable
trade was opened with the Indians, who freely exchanged


ingots of gold, weighing as much as an ounce, for any bril-
Hant gewgaw that was offered them.

After great labor a fort of considerable strength was
built and named St. Thomas, the ruins of which are still to
be seen. Being now placed in a good state of defense,
Columbus sent out an exploring party under Juan de
Luxen to traverse the surrounding country. He was
accompanied by Indian guides who showed him where gold
Avas said to abound, but though signs of the precious metal
were often seen in the beds of small streams, it was not dis-
covered in any place in considerable quantities.

After a stay of two weeks at St. Thomas, Columbus
returned to Isabella, leaving a company of fifty-six men to
serve as a garrison, but stopped on the way at the village of
Vega Real to purchase from the Indians a fresh supply of
food. He was here enabled to make a study of the social
condition of the natives and to note the character of their
agriculture, and marveled at the fecundity of the soil, which
seemed to produce as if by magic. But on reaching Isabella
his wonder in this sameparticular was increased by what had
developed during his absence. He found the plantation,
which had been laid out scarcely more than one month
before, already yielding ripe melons, pumpkins, cucumbers
and fruits in extraordinary abundance.

Drought and barrenness were unknown. Moisture per-
vaded the teeming surface of the earth, and the genial
sunshine caused it to produce in abundance. The addition
of new fruits planted by themselves gave delight to the
colonists, and the first bunch of Spanish grapes, blushing to
purple in the caresses of the tropical air, was a prevision of
the coming day of wine and plenty. The Admiral could
but be delighted with the outlook, and for a few days he
was again happy and exuberant in hopes.

But it was not long until misfortune returned. A

Etching by RuBsell.


The most tragic incident connected with the conquest oi Mexico by
Cortez is here pictured. During the siege of the Mexican Capital. Guate-
mozin, the Emperor, perpetrated a strategy whereby a number of Spaniards
were taken prisoners, and these he determined to sacrifice on the temple
pyramid. This remarkable structure was of stone rising out of a plain, and
the summit was reached by a flight of steps ascending the four sides. At
each of the corners were altars, upon which burned the sacred fire,
while in the centre were colossal idols. It was upon the summit of this
pyramid, large enough to accommodate one thousand men, the sacrificial
stone was placed, and upon this bloody stone forty Spaniards were bound
and their hearts cut out for ofiferings to the sun-god.


messenger arrived from Fort St. Thomas with bad tidings of
the new settlement. The Indians had become first suspi-
cious and then hostile. They had withdrawn altogether
from the vicinity of the Spanish settlement, and receded
from sight in the mountains and forests. It was evident
that a conspiracy of some kind was ripening. Pedro Mar-
garite, the commandant, had become alarmed, and requested
the Admiral to send him reinforcements and supplies. On
inquiring into the circumstances the latter soon perceived
the cause of the trouble. It was the old story of Arana and
La Natividad. No sooner had Columbus retired, leaving
another in charge of his outpost, than disorder appeared,
following as a quick result of unbridled license. The soldiers
began to wander about and inflict injuries and outrages on
the natives. Wherever they could find gold they took it.
The old savage nature of the man-beast, recovering its
freedom, ran hither and yon, devouring like a tiger from
the jungle. Lust was added to robbery. The Spaniards
demanded and took the Indian women without waiting to
inquire whether they were wives, widows or virgins.

Meanwhile Caonabo, who had held aloof with his war-
riors, leaving the village folk to get on with the Spaniards
as best they might, rallied with the evident purpose and
will of vengeance. It was not likely, however, that these
manifestations could lead to serious results. No catastrophe
might be feared in a battle between the natives and the Span-
ish soldiers, provided always that the latter were under dis-
cipline. The Admiral sent back to Fort St. Thomas a
company of twenty men as reinforcements, and also a new
stock of provisions. Meanwhile he dispatched another
company to improve and perfect the road between his two
principal stations in the island.

At Isabella, though nature seemed to smile, and show-
ered from her cornucopia all manner of gifts upon the


colonists, yet on the human side of the problem there
were sufficient grounds for apprehensiveness and foreboding.
The sickness prevailing, instead of growing less with the
advancement of the season, seemed to be aggravated. The
Spaniards appeared unwilling or unable to adapt themselves
to the climatic condition. Their excesses told fearfully

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 37)