James W. (James William) Buel.

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ning to drift by on the stream, objects of contention among


a thousand carrion birds. The men therefore surrounded
Ledesma and in frantic terms pleaded with him to urge the
Admiral to save them from the certain destruction which
awaited them if they continued in that deadly place. Al-
ready they had been preparing to debark in canoes and
gain the ships, a desperate undertaking only delayed by
the high rolling surf and tempestuous weather. Further
they declared that if the Admiral abandoned them they
would embark in the caravel that was left as soon as it
could be floated over the bar.

Having received these gloomy and desperate reports from
the beleaguered garrison, Ledesma set out on his return
and succeeded again in passing the mad breakers in which
it appeared that no human being could sustain himself a
moment, and gained the ships, where he communicated the
ominous tidings to Columbus. Li such a situation some
action was imperative, for to leave the men on shore would
expose Don Bartholomew to the fury of a mutiny and end
in a destruction of the settlement. There was no other
alternative presented, therefore, than to embark the people,
a thing which was impossible in the present turbulent state
of the sea. The position of the ships was also perilous,
subjected as they were to the hard-beating waves which
threatened their annihilation, crazy, worm-eaten, rotten, as
they were.

Anguished in mind, debilitated by age and wrecked with
physical suffering, Columbus became affected by a diseased
imagination, and in this disturbed condition he beheld a
vision, which he described in a letter to his sovereigns as an
angelic admonition and encouragement conveyed in the
similitude of a dream. This he regarded as a direct revela-
tion, and it gave him strength to bear the misfortune which
had wasted his energies and hopes almost to the limit of
despair. Under this inspiration, as soon as the gale sub-


sided he set about the extrication of his people. The
caravel within the river's mouth was abandoned through
inability to bring her over the bar, but by lashing canoes
together a raft was made on which was conveyed the
munitions, stores and men of the fortress to the two ships in
waiting, after which the imprisoned caravel was dismantled
and such of her equipment as was useful was towed out and
put on board the vessels. When the men found themselves
freed from their perilous position and safe on the ships with
their comrades they manifested the wildest joy, giving them-
selves up to the most exuberant transports, embracing each
other in a very delirium of ecstasy and offering up prayers
of gratitude and thanksgiving. Diego Mendez had superin-
tended the embarkation and had otherwise rendered such
efificient service that Columbus appointed him to the com-
mand of one of the caravels in place of Diego Tristan, who
had perished at the hands of the Indians, as described.


After incredible sufferings and unexampled perils, costing
the lives of a dozen brave Spaniards, it was with unspeak-
able joy that towards the end of September, Columbus took
his departure from the accursed coast of Veragua and pro-
ceeded on his course for Hispaniola, which it was necessary
he should reach as quickly as possible to repair the ships
and procure provisions. Bad weather continued, however,
and the extraordinary number of tempests that they had en-
countered terrified the imaginations of the crews, who be-
came persuaded in their minds that the Indians possessed
some wondrous power of magic, and by a practice of their
black arts had raised the storms and in the end would ac-
complish their destruction. Finally, after thirty leagues had
been accomplished, one of the caravels was found to be
leaking so badly that it was necessary to abandon her, some
time being lost in transferring her equipment to the two
remaining ships.

But even in this sorry condition the Admiral still had a
yearning to prosecute his search for the strait which he be-
lieved would surely lead him to the opulent country of
Cathay. To pursue this desire, however, it was necessary
for him to practice some deception, as his crews would have
objected and possibly mutinied had they known of his per-
sistence in seeking for that which they were now confident
did not exist. But Columbus himself, overmastered by the
situation which confronted him, presently abandoned his
purpose, apprecijitive of the dejected state of his sailors, en-



feebled as they were by their privations and fatigue. Thus
steering north they proceeded until near the vicinity of the
Queen's Gardens, when they were assailed by another tem-
pest and in a few hours had lost successively three anchors
and sustained a collision between the two vessels, in which
both were greatly injured, and it was almost a miracle that
they were not destroyed. At length they contrived to reach
the coast of Cuba, at Macaco, where they rested a while and
succeeded in procuring a few provisions, when they set sail
again, endeavoring to beat up to Hispaniola against the
force of contrary winds. T\\q St. James, one of the caravels,
was compelled to run into a port, while the Capitana, the
other vessel, unable to gain the shore, was so buffeted that
she was upon the point of foundering. Notwithstanding
the fact that the pumps were worked with all the energy
that the crew could command, the water had risen to the
deck, and in another twenty-four hours the vessel would have
undoubtedly sunk had she not, by what Columbus always
declared was a miracle, reached the land in a sheltered cove.
At this point necessary repairs were made, and on the 23d
of June the two vessels pushed on to the northern coast of
Jamaica, along which they sailed a considerable distance until
they reached a beautiful harbor which he had discovered on
a previous voyage, and to which he had given the appropri-
ate name of Santa Gloria (Holy Glory). Here the two car
avels, which had been reduced almost to wrecks and were
upon the point of sinking, were fastened together and run

As the indications now pointed to a considerable stay at this
place, some thatched cabins were erected on the forecastles
and sterns of the two vessels in which the crews managed to
make themselves comfortable, while Diego Mendez went on
shore to obtain a supply of provisions from the caciques.
But Columbus knew the fickle and untrustworthy character


of the natives nith whom he had now to deal. While they
apparently cheerfully furnished a supply of provisions their
sinister conduct was such as to give him much uneasiness ;
for he appreciated the defenseless position in which he had
thus been unhappily placed. The natives were exceedingly
numerous and were provided with many large war canoes,
which plainly indicated that they were a people little disposed
to peace and were most probably in open hostility the greater
part of the time with their neighbors.

The caravels could not be put to sea again, and as all the
master carpenters had perished in the disaster of the 6th of
April no hope of other ships being built could be enter-
tained. Not only Avas the Admiral thus greatly concerned
for his safety, but he knew not how to procure aid or any
means of making known to the Queen his discovery of the
gold mines of Veragua, or of the countries which he had
taken possession of in the name of their Catholic Majesties.
Notwithstanding the fact that there seemed no possible
means of transmitting a message, should he take the pains
to prepare one, Columbus nevertheless concerned himself
with the making of an elaborate report, probably trusting to
some miracle for the means of its delivery. In this letter
he detailed at great length not only the discoveries he had
made, but all the incidents which had befallen him from the
time of his departure from Spain until his arrival in wrecked
vessels at the harbor of Santa Gloria. The utter despair
which he felt at this time is indicated by the closing words
of his letter, which are as follows : " I have hitherto wept
for others, but now have pity on me, and, O earth, weep for
me ! Weep for me whoever has charity, truth and justice."

Ten days passed after the penning of this communication,
and nothing occurring to relieve the anxiety of his situation,
Columbus called to a private conference Diego Mendez, in
whonri his chief confidence was now reposed, At this inter


view (as reported by De Lorgues) he affectionately addressed
that daring sailor as follows : " My son, none of those who
are here but you and I know the danger in which we are
placed. We are few in number, while these savage Indians
are many and of irritable and fickle natures. On the slight-
est provocation they could easily from the land set fire to
our straw-thatched cabins and burn us all. The arrange-
ment we have made with them for supplying us with pro-
visions, and which they now fulfill with so much cheerfulness,
may not continue acceptable to them, and it would not be
surprising if to-morrow they brought us nothing ; nor have
we the means of compelling them by force to supply us, but
are left entirely at their pleasure. I have thought of a
means of rescuing us if it meets with your views; in the
canoe you purchased some one may venture to pass over to
Hispaniola and there procure a ship by which we all may be
delivered from the perilous situation in which we are placed.
Tell me your opinion of the matter."

Mendez replied : " Senor, the danger that threatens us is,
I well know, far greater than is imagined. As to the project
of passing from this island to Hispaniola in so small a vessel
as a canoe, I hold it not only extremely difificult, but even
impossible ; and I know not Avho there is would venture to
run the extreme risk of traversing a gulf of forty leagues
between islands where the sea is so extremely impetuous."

Notwithstanding the declaration of Mendez as to the impos-
sibility of performing such a hazardous passage, the silence
which now ensued and the dejected and hopeless appearance
of Columbus on receiving this opinion prompted the brave
sailor to offer himself as a sacrifice if need be to any of the de-
signs which the Admiral might entertain. He thereupon ad-
vised Columbus to assemble all his men on deck the following
day and call for some volunteers who M^ould undertake the
perilous enterprise, Adopting this advice, Columbus did as


Mendez had recommended, but the men regarded his pro-
posal with astonishment, declaring it the height of rashness,
whereupon the intrepid Mendez stepped forward and said :
*' Sefior, I have but one life, yet I am willing to hazard it
for the service of your Excellency and the good of all here
present, because I hope that God, seeing the intention that
governs me, will preserve me, as He has already done so
many times."

No man could appreciate a sacrifice like this more keenly
than Columbus, and taking the noble Mendez to his bosom
he embraced him fervently, and then looking upward, he
said : " I have a firm confidence that our Lord God will en-
able you to overcome all the dangers that threaten." The
courage of Mendez excited others of the Spaniards with a
noble emulation, and several now came forward and signified
their desire to accompany him. Through this means thir-
teen other Spaniards volunteered their services, and in two
canoes, and with six Indians in each as oarsmen, they set
out on their perilous voyage.

Fortunately the sky was clear and the surface of the sea
was unruffled, giving propitious commencement to a voyage
more hazardous than perhaps was ever before or since un-
dertaken by any man. Their progress, however, was very
slow and the Indians presently began to suffer exceedingly
from thirst as well as from exhaustion. They had hoped to
reach a small island called Navassa, which lay in their route,
where they might obtain water and find refreshment and a
short repose. But the third night passed without any sight
of the expected land, while their privations had so increased
that one of the Indians died and the others were so com-
pletely prostrated that the Spaniards had themselves to take
the oars. They had almost abandoned hope in their ex-
tremity of suffering when Mendez discovered at break of
day a dark line on the horizon, which, through God's provi-.


dence, proved to be the island of Navassa. Here an abun-
dance of water was obtained, but some of the Indians, who
could not be restrained, drank so immoderately that they
died on the spot, while half the Spaniards gorged themselves
to the point of serious illness.

Having reposed for several hours on the shores of Navassa,
the voyagers re-entered their canoes, and by rowing hard
during the night they reached a point called Cape St.
Michael, on the shore of Hispaniola, where they were hos-
pitably received by the natives, who supplied them abun-
dantly with provisions and administered to all their comforts.
The exhaustion of the Spaniards, however, was so great
when they had reached this point that Mendez rested for
two days before beginning his journey to San Domingo.
During this stay he fortunately learned that Ovando, who
was now governor-general of Hispaniola, was in Xaragua,
and accordingly he proceeded to that place to make his re-
ports and to request the assistance of which Columbus stood
distressingly in need.

Though it had required only three days for these intrepid
voyagers to make the passage to Hispaniola, so imminent
had been the peril that Captain Fiesco, who had accom-
panied Mendez as commander of one of the crews, could not
induce any of his comrades to return with him to Santa
Gloria and report to Columbus the success of their under-
taking, considering that they had accomplished it through
the interposition of Providence and that to attempt a return
would be like challenging fate. Accordingly they accom-
panied Mendez to Xaragua and thence to San Domingo.

A secret presentiment seemed to assure Columbus that
Diego Mendez had arrived safely in Hispaniola, and though
his return was not so soon as had been expected he made
his submission to the Divine will and used all his arts to
soothe the secret irritations that agitated the minds of his


sailors. But privations and sickness, as well as unheard of
fatigues, created dissensions among the crews, who were
confined to limited quarters and compelled to support life
on a meager subsistence. They accordingly began to as-
cribe all their sufferings to faults committed by Columbus,
and to these disaffections serious accusations were soon
added by those who constituted themselves the ringleaders
of the disloyalty which was now to flagrantly manifest it-

вАҐColumbus, while apprised of these mutterings and mutin-
ous spirit, nevertheless diligently employed himself look-
ing after the welfare of the men and administering to the
sufferings of those who were prostrated. But the mildness
of his manner, the assurance of his speech, and the kindly
disposition with which he treated those who were sharing
with him the unfortunate situation did not serve to restrain
the guilty disposition of those who had conceived a violent
enmity for the commander. Finally, on the 2d of January,
1504, a seaman named De Porras placed himself at the head
of forty-eight adherents and arose in open revolt. Their
first purpose was to kill Columbus, and they were only
restrained from this wicked act by the fear that the crime
would be severely punished by the sovereigns and by the
courageous front which Don Bartholomew opposed to the
mutineers; but taking six canoes which the Admiral had
purchased from the Indians, and storing these with arms
and provisions, they abandoned the Admiral and the few
sick and infirm who were unable to accompany them.

The departure of these mutineers was not made with signs
of regret or the bidding of farewells, but with shouts of de-
fiance and revilings, and not before they had incensed the
Indians by violent appropriation of much of theirproperty.
Thus Columbus became exposed to the anger of the natives
who he believed would hold him accountable for the out-


rages of the disloyal men who had abandoned him. But
he bravely bore up against these added wrongs, and though
scarcely able to support his own physical infirmities he ex-
erted his efforts to relieve the pains and illness of those
more helpless than himself, for whom he felt the tenderest

De Porras, at the head of his followers, set out in ten
canoes and proceeded along the coast until they gained the
eastern extremity of the island, when, unwilling to trust
their own skill in the management of the canoes, the rebels
prevailed upon several Indians, by liberal gifts and many
promises, to accompany them, and when at length the
weather was favorable they set out for Hispaniola.

Scarcely had the canoe squadron gained a league seaward
when a contrary wind arose, followed by rapid swelling of
the sea, which became so threatening that they turned to-
wards the shore. But now a fresh trouble confronted them.
The canoes being without keels and heavily loaded it was
impossible to so manage them as to prevent the waves from
dashing over, nor could vigorous baling long keep them
afloat unless some remedy were applied. The cause for
alarm growing with the increasing wind, the mutineers
threw overboard everything that could be spared. But this
sacrifice of stores being insufficient to prevent the continued
shipping of water they compelled all the Indians to fling
themselves into the sea, except a few who were needed to
paddle the canoes. If any refused to obey this order they
were thrust out by the sword or lance, and being too far
from shore to risk an attempt to gain it by swimming, the
poor Indians kept by the canoes, grasping at the sides when
their strength was spent. The Spaniards, fearing that
these efforts at self-preservation would result in overturning
the canoes, savagely cut off the hands of the swimmers, or
more humanely stabbed them to death with their swords;


so that in this way eighteen of the Indians miserably
perished, none surviving save those who had been retained
to do the work of paddling.

By sacrificing their stores and murdering nearly all the
natives who served them in the desperate undertaking to
reach Hispaniola, the wretched band regained the coast of
Jamaica, enraged at the miscarriage of their own crimes.
Dissatisfaction now began to show itself, and some of the
mutineers were in favor of returning to Columbus and,
confessing the evil of their conduct, implore his forgiveness ;
but a majority resented this proposal, preferring to lead a
life of lawlessness and the indulgence of a riotous license
which opportunity now offered, since they could force sub-
sistence from the Indians and compel them to minister to
their licentious passions. Thus they went from village to
village despoiling the natives and committing all manner of
excesses, exciting in their victims not only a hatred of them-
selves but of all Spaniards.

It was not long before Columbus began to experience
the effects of the marauding incursions of the mutineers.
The Indians, considering him as in sympathy with the free-
booters, through being of the same race, exhibited a wan-
ing confidence and gradually reduced the ofiferings of pro-
visions, until presently they broke off all intercourse, leav-
ing Columbus and his feeble followers to face a threatened
famine. To add to the dangers of his situation there was
the fear of an uprising of the natives, who were beginning
to manifest a disposition to hostility. In this emergency,
calculated to quicken the wits of a resourceful man, Colum-
bus conceived a happy expedient for restraining not only
any evil designs which the Indians might have, but also for
rccrainine: their confidence and assistance. Bv some means
unreported, Columbus had knowledge of a total eclipse of
the moon about to occur, and he concluded to utilize this


event to impress the natives with the belief that it was a
mysterious portent of the sky sent as a forewarning of the
Great Spirit's intent to punish them for having withdrawn
their hospitality from the white or celestial strangers Avho
had visited their shores.

To carry his scheme into effect he sent his interpreters to
the neighboring caciques to reveal to them the calamity of
famine and pestilence which would be swiftly sent upon
them as a visitation of Divine anger. As an evidence of
the truth of this prophecy he declared that at a certain hour
on the second night following the moon would gradually
pale and then fade entirely away in the heavens.

The natives at first treated this direful prediction with
disregard. But at the time appointed the most dreadful
fear fell upon them, as looking towards the star-spangled
vault of a clear sky they perceived a shadow deep and awful
spreadiug across the moon, and before the obscuration was
complete the villages and forests were resonant with wail-
ings and cries to the Great Spirit for mercy. In response
to their appeals Columbus offered to lift his voice in prayer-
ful petition to the world's Master to grant deliverance to
the natives on condition that they would supply him and
his people generously with food and continue faithful in
their friendship as long as he remained among them. To
this condition there was a universal assent and with a thank-
fulness which showed the depth of their sincerity. There-
upon Columbus retired to his cabin and remained until the
moon emerged brightly from the earth's penumbra, and
when he ventured forth it was to be hailed by the grateful
Indians as one who possessed the special favor of the Deity,
and their promises they according faithfully fulfilled.

But though their immediate wants were supplied, the
followers of Columbus still had much to complain of, for
their quarters were both small and insecure, while sickness


became so general among them that they grew first despond-
ent and then irritable. So long a time had elapsed since
IVIendez and Fiesco had departed on their hazardous journey
to obtain relief that the impression prevailed they had
perished, nor could the kindness and assurances of Colum-
bus dispel the gloomy, despairing thoughts of his restless
men. Out of this irritation soon sprang another mutinous
spirit, under the incitements of two leaders named respect-
ively De Zamora and De Villatoro, who decided to seize the
remaining canoes and in them endeavor to make a passage
to Hispaniola. But almost at the moment when their plan
was to be executed the white sails of a vessel were seen in
the offing, and a few moments later it was discovered to be
bearing towards the harbor of Santa Gloria. At this gra-
cious sight the voice of murmuring became hushed and
joyful anticipations replaced the despondency which had
harassed the stranded explorers so many weeks.

Nearer came the vessel ; but when it reached the harbor
entrance anchor was cast and a boat lowered in which an
oflficer with half a dozen seamen came ashore. The ship
proved to be one sent by Ovando in command of Diego de
Escobar, a renegade who had been a follower of Roldan and
once condemned to death by Columbus. The boat came
close to the stranded ship, but without debarking Escobar
delivered his message from Ovando and waited until Co-
lumbus could write a reply. He then deposited in a boat a
cask of wine and a side of bacon as presents from Ovando,
after which he took his departure without even so much as
giving a promise to relieve the suffering men at any future

The circumstance of a ship being sent by Ovando to the
stranded explorers was proof that Mendez had successfully
performed his mission, but in Escobar's refusal to extend
relief or transport them to San Domingo the men affected

THE NE:VV world. 371

to discover more evil designs. Columbus, while sharing the
despondency of his followers, sought to revive them by as-
surances that his letter from Ovando contained a promise
that a large ship would be sent to their aid as soon as it
could be made ready, and excused his neglect to rescue them
immediately by the statement that he had no suitable vessel
at hand for the purpose.

Feeling the need of increasing his force, and appreciating
the importance of conciliating the friendship of the natives,
harassed as they were by the outrages of the mutineers,

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 27 of 37)