James W. (James William) Buel.

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so debilitating that the superstitious crew concluded that
they were upon the confines of that world to which lost
souls are condemned, and Columbus was forced to exert all
his persuasive influence to prevent them from leaping into
the sea and thus concluding their insupportable misery.
But as the crews of former expeditions had been relieved
by changes which they had despaired of realizing, so at
len"-th they passed out of this intolerable condition and
beyond the meridian of heat, emerging at last into a cooler
atmosphere where a fresh breeze stimulated their hopes
anew, and they proceeded with great encouragement out of
their despondence. But the spoiling of the provisions ren-
dered it necessary that Columbus should reach land as soon
as possible, and accordingly he changed his course directly
westward, in the hope of gaining some of the Caribbee
Islands, where he might anchor and repair his vessels.

Their progress, however, was slow, and food so scarce
that serious alarm was renewed. But good fortune was to
attend them in the hour of greatest despair, for on the last
day of July a mariner of Huelva, named Alonzo Perez Niz-
zardo, acting as watch on board the Admiral's ship, gave
the signal of land ahead. Every eye was quickly strained
westward, and to their inexpressible delight they saw the


triple peaks of a mountain range rising from the ocean. By
one of those coincidences which Columbus was always quick
to discover and upon which his mind, still deeply immersed
in the bonds of superstition, rested with so much confidence,
these three mountain heights were imagined by him to
answer to a vow which he had made that he would name
the first new land discovered The Trinity. Accordingly he
gave the name La Trinidad to the new island — for such it
proved to be — and that name it has borne to the present
day. A short sail to the westward brought him along a
shore on which all the luxuriance of the tropical islands was
exhibited, but no natives were visible. Further inland,
however, villages were seen, but the people had taken flight
and concealed themselves in the forest coverts.

A voyage of several leagues was necessary before a safe
landing-place was found, but a favorable anchorage was at
length reached in a sheltered cove, on the banks of which
was a luxurious vegetation, and running down the hillside
was a brook of crystal water. Here the crews went on
shore and collected native foods and laid in a supply of
fresh water. But though many marks of human habitation
were visible on every hand, the inhabitants continued to keep
themselves so well hidden that not one was anywhere to be

A sufificient quantity of supplies having been obtained,
the voyage was renewed, and presently scanning the south-
ern horizon Columbus discovered the outline of a long, low
country rising but a few feet above the sea but extending
a distance which he estimated at twenty leagues. He did
not doubt but that it was another of the islands so plenti-
fully distributed in the western waters. It proved, in fact,
a tongue of land stretching out from the South American
continent, which for six years he had been half-consciously
approaching. Reaching the southwestern extremity of


Trinidad, another stretch of land was seen, the point of
which was marked by a lofty eminence resembling a tre-
mendous rock, separated from the mainland by a danger-
ous channel through which the water was rushing with an
ominous sound. Here the vessels were greeted by a boat-
load of natives who paddled out in their canoes from the
shore and hailed the ships, but in a tongue which the in-
terpreters could not understand. Every inducement was
offered the natives to approach, but they were extremely
M'ary, holding their paddles ready for instant flight in case
any movement was made to arrest them. The men were
armed with bows and arrows, and some of them also had
bucklers. Around their heads they wore rolls of cotton
cloth fashioned somewhat like a turban, while their persons
from the loins to the thighs were covered with colored
clothing, in which respect they bore some resemblance to
the fiercer natives that Columbus had met on the island of

In equipping the expedition Columbus had taken a band
of musicians, appreciating how great was the influence of
music upon the Indians with whom he had come in contact.
Being unable to induce the new people to approach his
vessel he now ordered his musicians on deck, and to the
lively music which they produced the Spaniards executed a
dance, but the significance of this action was radically mis-
taken by the Indians, who instead of responding with some
form of native music and jubilation, let fly a shower of ar-
rows at the performers, which belligerent action Columbus
met by ordering a discharge from his crossbowmen, where-
upon the barbarians fled with great precipitation. They
were afterwards induced to approach one of the smaller
ships, the captain of which made them some presents of
hawk-bells and looking glasses. But their confidence they
strangely withheld, and when a boat was lowered to follow


them to shore they took alarm, and gaining the beach ran
into the woods and were seen no more.

While lying at this point of land, which he called Cape
Arenal, Columbus watched with great interest the ocean
river which was seen to rush between the island and the op-
posite promontor}^ Acquainted though he was with ocean
currents he had never beheld before such a turbulent and
tossing rapid as was presented in this down-flowing channel.
The seething salt sea river looked to him like a vast serpent
rising and twisting between the two shores, on which ac-
count he called the pass into this roaring channel Boca del
Sierpe, meaning the Mouth of the Serpent. Notwith-
standing the dangers which seemed to threaten a passage of
this turbulent strait, Columbus was resolved upon gaining
the mainland, but as a precautionary measure he sent for-
ward one of the boats to make soundings, and was greatly
pleased to find that instead of a reef the depth was fully
ten fathoms, which fact served to prove that the disturbance
of the water was due to the meeting of incoming tides and
a counter current. Before entering upon the passage a
striking and frightful portent occurred, which the Admiral
thus describes : — " Late at night," says he, " being on board
my ship, I heard a terrible roaring, and as I tried to pierce
the darkness I beheld the sea to the south heaped up in a
great hill, the height of the ship, rolling slowly towards us.
The ships were lifted up and whirled along, so that I felt
that we should be engulfed in a commotion of waters; but
fortunately the mountainous surge passed on towards the
mouth of the strait and after a contest with the counter
current gradually subsided." Such tidal waves as Columbus
thus described are of frequent occurrence on the coast of
South America, to which they .seem to be peculiar, though
at rare intervals they have been seen along the shores of
other tropical countries and even in mid-ocean.


Fortunately he escaped injury by this awe-inspiring occur-
rence, and setting his sails moved into the broad and open
Gulf of Paria, or Gulf of Pearls, bounded on the east by the
curving coast of Trinidad and on the north by the long-
projecting peninsula of Carriaco. He had proceeded only
a few leagues into the gulf when his attention was called to
the appearance of the water through which he was sailing,
and on testing it, to his great surprise he found it fresh, yet
everywhere as far as his eye could discern was an open sea.
He was struck by the anomaly of a fresh-water sea which
was manifestly a part of the Atlantic, and he was therefore
deeply anxious to pursue his inquiry to a solution of this
singular mystery. He was not a long while, however, in
concluding that he must be near a great continent, from the
shores of which rushed down rivers in such great volumes
as to overreach the sea and make the surface fresh, as it
frequently is after a heavy rain. He sailed northward
across the gulf, discovering that the passage from it led
through another tempestuous outlet, even more threatening
in appearance than was that of Boca del Sierpe. Rocks
lined either shore, and the current was so swift that to this
exit he gave the name oi Boca del Dragon, signifying the
Mouth of the Dragon. He did not choose to enter this
passage at once, but continued westward on the side of the
peninsula until he came to a district some parts of which
appeared to be under cultivation. Before this alluring re-
gion a landing was made and Columbus with several of the
crew w^ent on shore, this being the first time he had put his
foot upon the soil of the great South American continent.
Several natives were observed along the coast, but in every
case they exhibited great timidity and took refuge in the
forests whenever effort was made to approach them.

As Columbus went further inland he found the country
in such a state of cultivation as to indicate the great industry


of the inhabitants. At length, by the offer of presents and
pacific assurances, some of the Indians wore induced to
enter a canoe to visit the ships, when some of the Spaniards
who were near by succeeded in capsizing the boat and cap-
turing half a dozen of the natives, upon whom they
showered every possible favor, and after loading them with
presents sent them off to their friends, trusting that the
result would be beneficial. And so it proved, for seeing
how well the captives had been treated, their friends became
more free in their intercourse, and at length a covenant of
friendship was established whereby some of the natives acted
as guides, and not only showed Columbus a considerable
district of the country, but supplied him with information
concerning its people and products.

After a stay of a few days at their first landing place the
vessels resumed their course until they came to another
beautiful country, in which the landscape, as presented from
the ship, was fascinating beyond anything the Spaniards had
ever before beheld. The natives were also found to be
friendly and very numerous, nor were they so timid as the
other Indians whom Columbus had seen, for they sought
intercourse with the Spaniards and presently came with a
message from their cacique inviting the strangers to go on
shore. The Admiral noted with delight that personal
adornments, particularly collars and wristlets of burnished
brass, were plentifully worn. But the natives insisted that
these precious things were obtained from afar off and were
the products of cannibal workmanship. Not so, however,
with the pearls, which were now for the first time found in
the hands of these Indians, for the natives assured him that
they might be obtained in the greatest profusion among the
oyster beds on the northern coast of their country, which
was the peninsula of Carriaco. Presently came the Indian
king himself, accompanied by his son, the prince, who


having heard of the arrival of the white people upon the
borders of his country, became anxious to see and welcome
them. His conduct was that of a dignified official, appre-
ciative of royal honors, and yet having a generous demeanor
which immediately excited the admiration of Columbus.
He extended an urgent invitation to the Spaniards to visit
his capital and enjoy the pleasures of his board, which was
accepted by a company of twelve ; but Columbus was at
this time suffering so severely from gout that he could not
accompany them. The Spaniards returned on the same
evening with enthusiastic reports of the richness of the
country and the abundance of the feast that had been set
before them, besides collections of pearls, many implements
of brass, also ornaments of the same, and not a few trinkets
of gold. The manner of their reception was more refined,
too, than any hitherto witnessed among the West Indian
people. Nor was their visit entirely without profit, for they
found the Indians glad to exchange their pearls and necklaces
for such gewgaws as the Spanish visitors chose to offer.
They also brought back to the Admiral, as presents, from
the cacique, many pearls of very great size and fine quality,
which Columbus treasured with sacred pride with the inten-
tion of presenting them to her Majesty the Queen.

The country was indeed so picturesque, productive and
healthful that Columbus was for a while persuaded that he had
discovered here the site of the terrestrial paradise, which
legend had described as being in some inaccessible part of the
earth, around which the air was freighted with most delicious
perfumes and out of which four great rivers that watered
the banks of Eden poured down their sweetened tribute to
the sea. Indeed, several subsequent letters written by
Columbus confirmed the impression which the rare sights
that he beheld in this favored region excited in him. He
could not but believe, up to the time of his death, that he


had been thus permitted to approach as near to the Eden
out of which sprang the mother and father of mankind as
Moses had gained in his march towards the land of promise.

Having sailed around the Gulf of Paria and finding him-
self hemmed in on the western circle, he made his way
northward through the Mouth of the Dragon, but not until
he had first explored it by a boat and determined the depth
of the channel. It was through this passage, as the reader
may well discover from its position, that the tremendous and
ever accumulating floods of the Gulf of Paria must find a
vent into the open sea. So from south to north through
the Boca del Dragon the water poured like the broken
rapids of a great river. Indeed it were not far from truth
to call the Gulf of Paria the bulb of that wonderful Gulf
Stream which sweeps up the eastern coast of North America,
spreads broadening across the Atlantic, and washes with its
potent volume of tropical waters not only the British Isles
but all the adjacent coasts of Europe. Threatening as this
outlet appeared to be Columbus was nevertheless resolved
to attempt its passage. His provisions were now almost
wasted, and there were other reasons prompting him to
return to San Domingo as soon as posssible. Trusting his
vessels, therefore, to the current, they were swept out in
safety, notwithstanding the fact that the wind was hushed
at the most critical moment, preventing the pilot from
giving the ships any direction. After gaining the open sea he
discovered two other islands, to which he gave the names of
Assumpcion and Concepcion, which are known in modern
geography as Tobago and Grenada.

Not being willing to abandon the country without in-
forming himself more fully as to its pearl productions, he
turned to the west and proceeded as far as the islands of
Marguerite and Cubaqua. Here, much to his gratification,
he discovered the pearl fisheries and saw a boat-load of


natives engaged in rifling the pearl oysters of their treasures.
Making a stop here he opened communication with the
Indians, and perceiving a woman around whose neck was a
chain of unusually large and lustrous pearls, he induced her
to come on board his ship and exchange her possessions for
pieces of a colored porcelain plate which he broke up and
distributed in barter for a large quantity of these precious
products of the oyster. Three pounds of pearls rewarded
him for this short stay among the natives, all of which he
treasured for the benefit of Queen Isabella, and he was
satisfied that had the time been at his disposal he might
have gathered here a rich cargo of pearls. Several circum-
stances, however, conspired to compel a resumption of the
voyage. His ships were again in need of repairs ; there
was danger that the remainder of the stock of provisions
intended for the colonists would become worthless if the
voyage were prolonged ; anxiety to learn the condition of
affairs in Hispaniola ; and above all the condition of his
health, demanded of Columbus that he should as soon as
possible reach the colony and recruit from his exhaustion.
His gout, too, was a constant torture, and he had suffered
for weeks from an inflammation of the eyes that had almost
destroyed his sight. In fact, so generally helpless had he
become through these afflictions that he was incapacitated
from duty, and turned over the charts, compass and sextant
to other observers into whose hands he had to intrust the
command of the vessels.

Columbus had intended to sail direct to Ozema, the point
where he had ordered a colony planted for the develop-
ment of the gold mines of Hayna. But after a five days'
sail he reached the southern shore of San Domingo at a
point one hundred and fifty miles west of his reckoning,
which was due to the westward sweep of the Gulf Stream,
which he had not noticed and therefore had not estimated


its influence. The point of San Domingo where the squad-
ron came to anchor was the Island of Beata, from which
point the Admiral sent a messenger on shore with a letter
for Don Bartholomew, whom he expected to find on the
west coast of the island. It was believed that the courier
could reach the mines of Hayna before a squadron could
make its way to that part of the island, an opinion which
proved to be correct ; for after struggling eastward for some
days along the shore a Spanish caravel came in sight
bearing Don Bartholomew and others, who on receipt of
the messagfe had sailed to meet Columbus. The ship of
the Adelantado returned with the Admiral's squadron to
Ozema, where they arrived on the 20th of August, 1498,
three months to a day from the time he set sail from San
Lucar. It was well for Columbus that the protracted voy-
age was at an end ; for the combined effects of old age (he
was now about sixty-five years old), severe maladies and
long exhaustion were upon him, and his condition was well
calculated to excite the commiseration even of his enemies.


During the two and a half years in which Columbus had
been absent from Hispaniola many startling incidents had
occurred on that island, in which the colonists had acted
both whimsical and tragic parts. A company combining so
many heterogeneous characters : the dissimilar qualities of
pietist and criminal, the warring instincts of the cavalier
and the peon, the adventuring sensualist and the avaricious
hireling of cowardly men, could hardly give other expecta-
tion than explosive and adventitious results in opposition
to the animating objects for which as a body they osten-
sibly contended. Some of these it is necessary should now
be briefly noticed in order that the reader may be familiar
with the new conditions with which Columbus had to con-
tend upon his return.

From Don Bartholomew the Admiral learned the course
of events which had transpired during his extended ab-
sence. Trouble, as might have been anticipated, had hov-
ered over the island like a cloud. Bartholomew had con-
formed in all good will to the wishes and directions of his
brother, but the work had been attended with turmoil and
distraction at every step. But in pursuance of his instruc-
tions, the Adelantado had set out with a considerable force
in the spring of 1496 to establish a fortress and colony at
the gold mines of Hayna, leaving Don Diego Columbus in
charge of the home government during his absence.

On reaching the gold region Bartholomew selected a suit-
able location and began the building of a fort, to which he



gave the name of San Christobel, which was presently re-
named by the Spaniards the Fortress of the Golden Tower.
For three months he prosecuted the work of establishing
this new settlement, though attended with many difficulties,
chief of which was the scarcity of supplies, which the Indians
no longer furnished with a liberal hand at the mere bid-
ding of the Spaniards. The hard lesson had been forced up-
on the natives that their visitors were controlled by avarice,
cupidity and cruelty, and they, therefore, became wary of
dealing and communicating with men whom they had come
to dread as evil spirits. The result was that provisions
were only obtainable by purchase or through the exertions
of foraging parties, and neither of these means could be
depended upon to furnish such supplies as were urgently
needed. The pressure of want, which at length approached
near to a famine, compelled the Adelantado to leave ten
men to hold the fortress of San Christobel while he de-
parted with the main body of his colonists (about four hun-
dred) to Vega Real, where he reckoned on procuring an
abundance of provisions from the well-supplied towns of

Don Bartholomew had another mission also in this part
of the country. One clause of the orders received from
the Admiral urged a prompt collection of the tribute which
had been imposed upon the natives. Three months had
now elapsed since the last payment was made, and another
was due. Cibao and the Vega Real were the best fields for
this harvest, and its exaction called for the presence of the
Adelantado. In this service Don Bartholomew continued
through the whole month of June, during which time he
succeeded in gathering a goodly quantity of food through
the assistance of Guarionex and his subordinate caciques.

In the following month (July) the three caravels which
had been dispatched from Spain under the command of


Niiio arrived, bringing a reinforcement of men and a large
supply of provisions. But a considerable part of the latter
had become spoiled during the voyage, a misfortune par-
ticularly serious in a community where the least pressure
of scarcity produced murmur and sedition. It was by this
ship that the Adelantado had received letters from the
Admiral, directing him to found a fortress at the mouth of
the Ozema River, and further requesting him to send to
Spain as slaves such caciques and their subjects as had
been concerned in the death of any of the colonists. On
the return of the caravels, the Adelantado dispatched three
hundred Indian prisoners and three caciques under these
instructions, which had formed the ill-starred cargoes about
which Nifio had made such absurd vaunting as though his
ships were laden with gold, and which had caused such
mortification, disappointment and delay to Columbus.

Having obtained a considerable supply of provisions Don
Bartholomew returned to the fortress of San Christobel,
and then to the Ozema to choose a site for the proposed
seaport. The mouth of the river afforded secure and ample
harborage, Avhile the river ran through a beautiful and fer-
tile country, where, it was said, fruits and flowers might be
plucked from overhanging trees, while sailing on the stream.
This vicinity was also the dwelling-place of the female
cacique Avho had conceived an affection for the young
Spaniard, Miguel Diaz, who had enticed his countrymen to
that part of the island.

At the mouth of the river and on a commanding bank
Don Bartholomew erected a fortress which was first called
Isabella, but the name was afterwards changed to San
Domingo, and was the origin of the city which still bears
that name. Having made his fortress secure, the Ade-
lantado left it in charge of twenty men, and with the rest

of his force set out on an expedition to the country of



Bclicclilo. who was one of the principle caciques of the
island. His prcn-incc, known as Xaragua, comprised a
greater part of the coast on the west end of the island, and
was the most populous as well as most fertile district, also
possessed of the most healthful climate in all Hispaniola,
The manners of the people were hospitable and graceful.
and being remote from all the fortresses the}' had had no
close communication with the Spaniards, and had conse-
quently remained free from the incursions of the white sub-
jugators. With this cacique resided his sister, Anacaona,
the widow of Caonabo, who, it will be remembered, so
miserably perished on the ship during the return voyage of
Columbus to Spain. She had taken refuge v.-ith her brother
after the capture of her husband, and was most affection-
ately regarded by him. Her name in the Indian language
signified " The Golden Flower," a title which well became.her,
since she is reputed to have been one of the most beautiful
of women and possessed of a genius far in advance of that
credited to her race. She was also of a poetic nature, and

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 37)