James W. (James William) Buel.

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for Columbus to satisfy the prevailing passion of the Spanish
sovereigns as well as his own, or to acknowledge the failure
of his enterprise, which had already been strongly denounced
by his enemies, Margarite and De Buyl, who had gone be-
fore to make evil report of the results of his discoveries in
the New World. It was in the light of these circumstances
that he must now proceed to organize wealth, in the form
of gold if possible, in the form of slaves if he must ; for
such was the only argument with which the flood of de-
traction and calumny could be effectually checked at its

For a considerable while Columbus revolved in his mind
the most effective means for procuring such supplies of gold
as might satisfy the avarice of Ferdinand and Isabella, as
well as his own ambition. The resolution at length came of
subordinating the natives of the island to the work of col-
lecting and delivering the precious metal. The measure
adopted by Columbus was sweeping, universal and severe.
It contemplated no less than a tribute laid upon all the
youth and adult natives of the island, the limit of age being
fixed at fourteen years. Under this edict every native was
required, under heavy penalty, to deliver to the Admiral,
at the expiration of every three months, a quantity of gold-
dust sufficient to fill a hawk's bell, in value about $25.
This was the requirement of the people at large, while the
head men and caciques were taxed more heavily according to
their rank. The amount assessed against the kings who
had headed the recent confederacy was half agourdful each,
about $150.


In his rapacity Columbus failed to regard the fact that
gold was not universally distributed, and that the difficulty
of collecting it was ten times greater in some parts of the
island than in others. His proclamation was nevertheless
universal, and explicit compliance therewith was severely
demanded. It was only a short w'hile before the islanders
bowed to the exactions thus imposed and entered upon
their slavish task. But the impossibility of universal com-
pliance directly became apparent. Guarionex was the first
to appear before the Admiral with his complaint and to
assure him that his people could not possibly meet the
exaction, and in a spirit of humility suggested a com-
mutation of service. As an evidence that he was not a
petitioner for the removal of the burdens that had been
imposed, he accordingly offered to substitute agricultural
products of more than the equivalent value, on condition
that his people be relieved from the exaction of gathering
gold. He also told the Admiral that under such terms his
people would devote themselves to planting and cultivat-
ing the territory of the island, reaching from sea to sea,
which might be rendered sufificiently productive to pro-
vide for the wants of all Spain, and the value of which
would be greatly in excess of all the gold that might be
gathered from the island.

At the time this proposition was made the colony was well
provided with provisions, and Columbus had no mind to
listen to the petitions of the chief. But perceiving di-
rectly the impossibility of securing the amount of gold
which he had imposed as a tribute, under sheer necessity he
finally agreed to reduce the amount to one-half of that first
named per capita.

Under these pitiless exactions the Indian population of
Hispaniola was virtually reduced to servitude. The op-
pression of this despotic law was ten-fold greater by reason


of the fact that the natives had always enjoyed a perfect
freedom, the natural productions of the soil relieving them
from all necessity of manual labor. Even their allegiance
to their caciques was so loose as to leave them in a state of
semi-license, nature having confederated with the simple
laws of barbaric life,which forbade servitude and encouraged
freedom. Their diet being almost exclusively vegetable,
they possessed little strength, and engagement in severe
labor quickly exhausted their energies. The greater part
of their time had, therefore, been spent in sleep, plays
or dances. They were a people, too, not without other
amusements, for they had their wandering poets and story-
tellers who rendered in simple lays adventures of the Caribs
and the histories of sorcerers. They had also their poems,
called areytos, which were translated into several idioms
of the island and chiefly celebrated Anacaona, a wife of one
of the chiefs, whose name signified " golden flower." Under
the circumstances the edict of the Admiral fell upon them
like a pall. The inhabitants had intelligence enough to un-
derstand the alteration in their condition and the hopeless-
ness of the future. Gloom came like the shadow of an
ominous cloud and settled upon the Indians, transforming
them from a cheerful and careless race into a people whose
characteristics now became sullen repugnance and despair.
Complaints which he knew to be well founded had no other
effect upon Columbus than to increase his activities in ex-
tending his power against the day when he perceived it
would be necessary to meet an uprising of the oppressed
people. To this end he adopted the plan of multiplying the
fortifications which he had established in the island, locat-
ing them in such situations as to give a military advantage
to the government.

Early in the spring of 1495 complications thickened
around Columbus until the threads of sequence may with


difficulty be traced through the tangled web of the gen-
eral event. Complex forces began to work on both sides
of the Atlantic and to combine in unexpected proportions
in the issue and course of current history. In due course
of time Margarite and the treacherous prelate, Buyl, arrived
in Spain fully charged with the falsehoods which they were
anxious to deliver to their Majesties. In the reports which
they proceeded to make and authenticate by means of
others as treacherous as themselves were blended all the
elements of prejudice, misrepresentation and malice. Hav-
ing broken completely with the Admiral, the conspirators
were now under the necessity of utterly destroying his
fame or being themselves driven in disgrace from the royal
presence. Having a temporary advantage they employed
it to the fullest extent, and going directly to the King and
Queen, delivered such mendacious assaults against the
methods and personal character of Columbus that even
the Queen herself was affected by the serious charges that
were made. At all events the effect on the court was suf-
ficient to procure an order for the sending out of a royal
delegation to the West Indies to thoroughly consider the
condition of affairs and prepare a complete report respect-
ing the administration of Columbus and his subordinates.
At the same time the exclusive license which had been
granted to Columbus was revoked and general permission
was given to all native Spaniards to sail on voyages of
discovery or to establish themselves as landholders in His-
paniola and other parts of the New World. This measure,
by which the well-established prerogatives of the viceroy
were to be put aside and the countries which he had discov-
ered thrown open to miscellaneous adventurers, was pro-
moted by Vincente Yanez Pinzon, who after the death of
Alonzo became the representative of that powerful family
at Palos. He being a man of wealth and rank proposed to


the Spanish sovereigns to fit out a squadron and prosecute
the work of West Atlantic discovery at his own expense,
which was considered with such favor that his requests
were promptly granted, thus sweeping away all the grants,
privileges and honors which had been reserved by solemn
compact for Columbus.

In anticipation of the assaults that would be made by
Margarita and De Buyl against his character, Columbus
had wisely dispatched Antonio de Torres to carry home to
Spain the antidote for the poison which was to be adminis-
tered by the mutineers. Just at the time when Margarita
and the vicar had secured the order from the sovereigns for
an examination of the Admiral's administration, the fleet
of De Torres arrived at Cadiz, and the captain proceeded
to report to the sovereigns the actual condition of affairs in
the island. He was also able to verify his declarations by
a display of products, including much gold and the five
hundred Indian slaves that had been sent, as already
narrated. His statements and the material proofs produced
the happiest effects upon Ferdinand and Isabella, who
could not fail to perceive the manifest, tangible, indubitable
evidence of the conspiracy of Margarite and De Buyl and
the falseness of the greater part of their narration. Some-
thing of a reaction immediately followed, and a new order
was issued which, while it did not completely rescind the
former, was nevertheless much more favorable to Columbus
and his party. It was now directed that instead of sending
to the Indies a person to be nominated by De Fonseca,
whose enmity towards Columbus he had never sought to
disguise, the appointment should be given to Juan Aguado,
a Spaniard of high standing whom Columbus considered his
friend and whom he had on an occasion recommended to
the favor of the King and Queen.

But while commending Columbus in some particulars,


their Majesties disclaimed his method of disciphnc, and
even condemned some of his harsh measures, the salutary
efTects of which they had not been able to appreciate. In
addition the Queen specially reprehended the enslavement
of the natives, and instead of putting them on the market
in Seville for sale, as Columbus had suggested, she deter-
mined that they should be returned to their native land,
and not only given their freedom, but that proper apology
should be rendered for the outrage that had been com-
mitted by this attempt to force them into bondage. How-
ever, this decision was not immediately reached, as the
Queen had a mind to first defer to a conference of theolo-
gians with a view to obtaining their opinions as to the justice
of converting any of the Indian subjects, pagans though
they were, into slaves. A majority of the prelates having
debated the question among themselves, decided in the af-
firmative, to which decision a small minority objected.

It would appear from the results that the Queen deferred
to the conference of prelates through courtesy, as slavery
was a recognized institution in Spain at the time, and there
was a general approval of it among what were called true
Christians. But her humane instincts prompted her to take
the question out of the hands of the referees, and with a
sense of right which must ever hold her name among the
justice-loving rulers of all the ages she liberated the cap-
tives and thereby established a precedent and rule which
reflect the brightest luster upon her reign.

Among other instructions which she gave Aguado was
one to limit the colony at Isabella to five hundred souls,
that the expenditure for provisions and supplies might be
kept within the smallest limit ; and she especially charged
him to sec that the rights of the islanders were justly ob-
served, to the end that peace might reign and the Church
be established among them.


Meanwhile affairs in San Domingo had been tending in
such a direction that another crisis was about to arise in an
unexpected manner. An officer named Miguel Diaz fell
into a quarrel with another officer, and in the duel which
followed he wounded his antagonist, as he supposed fatally.
Some witnesses of the affair claimed that advantage had
been taken by Diaz, so that the circumstance had the com-
plexion of murder; and to escape a punishment which he
thought might be inflicted he fled from the settlement and
took refuge in an Indian town on the extreme southern
border of the island, where he was well received and safe
from pursuit. It chanced that the tribe on this coast was
governed by a princess, who became infatuated with the
white refugee, and whether this feeling was reciprocated or
not, Diaz was married to her in some informal manner and
continued to reside in the village for some time. At length,
however, he wearied somewhat of his Indian bride, which
she perceiving, employed all her instincts and talents to
devise some plan by which to hold the affections of her
white husband. She had learned through her intercourse
with Diaz that the prevailing passion with the Spaniards
was a desire for gold. She therefore conceived that by
revealing the fortunate resources of the territory over which
she ruled she might bring hither a colony of Spaniards with
whom her husband could affiliate and be at peace. As a
matter of fact, the province which the princess governed
was the richest in gold-dust of all the districts of the island.
Indeed, as the sequence shows, an ancient race, long before
the incoming of the present islanders, had discovered the
riches of this shore, and gathering much of its treasure had
left behind their mining pits as the unmistakable evidences
of their work to after times. This fact the Indian princess
revealed to Diaz, whom she begged to bring his countrymen
and abide with her forever.



To verify Iiis wife's assertions Diaz paid a visit under the
direction of guides to the district which she had described.
There, to liis amazement, he found gold scattered every-
where, and that the particles were much larger than any
that had been found in the mines of Cibao. The Spaniard
at a glance perceiv^ed that the discovery, if once known at
Isabella, would produce the greatest excitement and perhaps
lead to a transfer of a large part of the colony. To this
tremendous motive there was also added another considera-
tion, and that was the unhealthfulness of the northern coast
where the colony was established, while here, on the River
Ozema, the breezes were healthful and every prospect
pleasant. All this did Diaz consider as an argument which,
he was confident, would secure his pardon for the crime
with which he was charged at Isabella.

Before Diaz could put his plans into execution Aguado
arrived on the coast of Hispaniola, Avhose presence for the
time being repressed the desire which Diaz had to com-
municate his fortunate discovery to the colonists. At the
time of Aguado's arrival Columbus was conducting an ex-
pedition into the interior of the island, leaving Bartholo-
mew, his brother, exercising the ofifice of Adelantado in his

Aguado, instead of coming as the friend of Columbus,
was so exalted by the authority which had been placed in
his hands that he assumed the bearing of a dictator, and
presenting his credentials from the King and Queen to
Bartholomew Columbus, he claimed the authority that had
been delegated to the viceroy. The colonists at once per-
ceived that so far as Columbus -was concerned and his gov-
ernment of the island, this assumption of power was the
practical overthrow of his rule. No sooner was this dis-
covery made than all the pessimistic diabolism of the colony
came to the surface. Order was at an end and all author-


ity set at naught. A state of circumstances immediately
supervened on which Aguado might well have based a
truthful report of anarchy. Placing liimself under the in-
fluence of malcontents and criminals, this royal agent went
about to organize a constitution embodying all the vicious
principles of the malevolent band who from the beginning
had used their efforts to overthrow Columbus. He began
also to gather materials for a tremendous incriminating report,
which he expected to make to their Majesties against the
man who had recommended him to them for promotion.

Of all this Columbus for the time knew nothing. But it
was spread abroad that he had heard of the coming of
Aguado and, knowing himself superseded, had personally
absented himself from the colony to avoid arrest. Instead
of this being true, however, as soon as the Admiral learned
of the high-handed business that had occurred at Isabella,
he at once proceeded to that place and presented himself
before Aguado. There was much expectation of a square
issue, perhaps of violence, between the two men. But the
Admiral forestalled such a sensation by asking in a mild
and complacent manner to hear the reading of Aguado's
commission, and when this request was granted he declared
his perfect deference and respect to the will and purpose
of their Majesties. While this conduct in a measure dis-
armed the malice of Aguado, the Spaniards looked upon
Columbus as a fallen man, for they had no doubts that the
reports which had been carried to Ferdinand and Isabella
by Margarite and Buyl had sufficed to work his ruin.

The effect upon the natives was even more disastrous.
The caciques and head men began at once to take counsel
how they might throw off the Spanish yoke and regain their
independence. All these discontents, thrcatcnings, mut-
tcrings and rising troubles were so much pabulum to Aguado,
who soon gathered all the desired materials and informa-


tion and reckoned himself ready to return to Spain. He
accordingly prepared his ships and was about to sail when,
without warning, the sky grew black on the side of the east,
the sea and the heavens began to commingle and roar, while
the lightnings blazed and a terrific hurricane such as not
even tradition had ever before recorded burst along the
coast. The havoc was astounding. The ocean rolled in
landward, deluging the lowlands for miles from the shore.
The forests were torn and twisted out of the semblance of
nature by the irresistible winds ; dwellings were blown
away like bunches of straw ; and worst of all, the ships in
the harbor, with the solitary exception of the little Nina of
blessed memory, were dashed to pieces. After some hours
of this terrible work the tempest went on its way to Cuba,
and Aguado and his proposed report were indefinitely

It now remained for the Admiral to reorganize the re-
sources of the colony, and even to provide for the home
voyage of his adversary. To this end he ordered that the
Nina should be repaired, and that the timbers of the
wrecked vessels should be collected for the construction of
another ship, which he named the Santa Cruz (Holy Cross).
At length, the work having been completed, preparations
were made to sail. But it was the purpose of Columbus
to take one of the ships for himself, leaving the other to
Aguado, the Admiral having made up his mind that the
royal emissary should not return to Spain alone. He also
would go thither and confront Aguado in the very court
and before their Majesties. In the meantime, however,
destiny had prepared for him an argument of more solid
structure than any which his sanguine nature had been able
to devise. Now it was that young Miguel Diaz, having
heard of the disaster and discontent at the colony, had
arrived at Isabella from the new gold fields of the River


Ozema, thinking that the time Avas most propitious for the
])lans which he had conceived. As fortune would have it,
the soldier whom he had wounded as he supposed to death
had recovered, so that to his surprise Diaz could return to
the colony without being under the reproach of a serious
crime. He at once communicated to the Admiral and his
brother Bartholomew the tidings about the new discovery
of gold. This intelligence was accompanied by the presenta-
tion of many fine specimens of the precious metal, so that
nothing was left for skepticism. So often had he been
deceived, however, that Columbus deemed it expedient to
dispatch Bartholomew and a company of experts to make a
thorough examination of the new mines, to the end that his
information might be definite and exact.

The explorers crossed the island without accident and
arrived at their destination on the southern coast about two
hundred and forty miles distant from Isabella, where they
found everything as Diaz had represented. Not only were
evidences of gold to be found in great abundance, but
particles were picked up without difficulty and in a fair
measure of abundance. This distribution of gold was found
to be uniform over a district or territory about six miles
square, where Bartholomew discovered many old mining
pits in which the workmen of a vanished race had toiled and
gathered the precious metal ages before the coming of
Columbus. The company of explorers were able to gather
and take away such considerable quantities of gold as to
furnish the Admiral with a visible proof of the value and
promise of the new discovery. With these valuable speci-
mens, which were to prove a blessing to Columbus in the
hour when he should meet the Spanish sovereigns to give
account of his stewardship, he prepared his ships, also taking
onboard a cargo of trophies, including Caonabo, his brother
and nephew, and Carib Indians to the number of thirty.


There had been so much sickness and melancholy in the
colony that when the ships were ready to sail a majority
entreated Columbus for permission to return home, and not
being willing to oppose these requests in the presence of
Aguado, who might construe the act as cruel, Columbus
granted the privilege to nearly all those who asked. For
this reason the ships were crowded with passengers whose
disappointment and grief might well have darkened any

On the lOth of March, 1496, the two vessels departed from
Isabella and set out to sea, bearing towards the south.
Had the Admiral veered toward the north he might have
escaped the adverse trade winds and found free sailing
towards the European coast. Taking the other route,
however, the eastern winds struck his vessels and constantly
pressed him back among the Caribbean Islands, so that, all of
March and the first week of April, the vessels made scarcely
any progress whatever. In fact, on the 9th of April the
Admiral found himself on the coast of Maria Galante, which
he had named in the early part of his second voyage. On
the next day he was at Guadaloupe, where the ships were
anchored and exploring parties sent on shore. Their recep-
tion by the islanders was as hostile as it had been two years
previously, and descending to attack, the Spaniards opened
fire upon the savages, who fled into the interior and took
refuge in their village, which stood nearly a league from the

The Spaniards, making an incursion some miles from the
beach, discovered honey in considerable quantities, and at
one of the villages they found implements apparently of
iron (probably iron-wood), and the limbs of human beings
roasting on spits before the fire, where they had been
abandoned by the Indians at the approach of the white


Several wild exploits characterized this visit of the Span-
iards, who, not being able to come in contact with the In-
dian men, succeeded in capturing a band of native women
and boys. Among the former was one who had the appear-
ance of a savage princess. At all events she was an abo-
riginal Bellona, whom the whites had great difficulty in
capturing. Outstripping all her pursuers except one fleet-
footed Spaniard, she suddenly turned round, and seizing him
with the clutch of a tiger was about to strangle him to
death, and would no doubt have succeeded but for the timely
arrival of his companions, who relieved him from his danger-
ous situation. This company of women and boys was taken
on board the Admiral's ships, but he immediately set them
all at liberty in obedience to the orders which he had
received from the Queen. The Amazonian princess, how-
ever, became acquainted with the captives on the vessel, in
particular with King Caonabo, with whom she fell wildly in
love and refused to return on shore, thus casting in her lot
with the other captives. On the 20th of April the squad-
ron finally cleared the islands and stood off for Europe, but
a more tedious voyage or one ultimately attended with
greater hardships has rarely been known. Progress was
particularly slow and the voyage was so long protracted
that both crews and passengers were reduced to a short
allowance through the failure of provisions. Week after
week passed, and when the first of June came the condition
of the crews and passengers was horrible in the extreme.
A rage of hunger began to prevail over reason, until at last
came the suggestion of that very cannibalism which the
Spaniards had observed among the Caribbean islanders.
Some of the sailors began to look askance at the Indian

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 37)