Copyright
James W. (James William) Buel.

Library of American history (Volume 1) online

. (page 29 of 37)
Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 29 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


march into the Indian country, put down opposition and
administer exemplary punishment for the crime.

The story of this expedition is but a repetition of others
which have already been described. The Spaniards being
in irresistible force marched through the Indian villages



THE NEW WORLD.



005



slaughtering without regard to age or sex and perpetrating
cruelties which fairly shame the race. In many instances
not only men but women were hung and quartered, and
other inconceivable cruelties, such as the lopping off of hands
and feet of natives who had fallen into the power of the
remorseless Spaniards, were practiced under the name of
exemplary punishments. This riot of murder continued until
it is estimated by Columbus himself, as well as by LasCasas,
who was an eye-witness of many of these atrocities, that
six-sevenths of the entire native population were destroyed.
Human depravity could go no further, and we recoil with
horror at the mention of such crimes, especially under
banners which bore the sign of the Cross and in a country
which had been consecrated to the propagation of the
Holy Faith. Cotabanama was hunted like a lion, and
refusing all overtures for peace with such human blood-
hounds, he fought to the last extremity, but was finally
seized in a cave in which he had taken refuge with his wife
and children. Being first overpowered by a great force he
was bound in chains and carried back to San Domingo,
where he was publicly executed on the gibbet as another
example of the unmercifulness and rapacious cruelty of the
Spaniards.

W^e have seen in a former chapter in what manner Co-
lumbus was received in San Domingo after his escape from
the perils which for nearly a year beset him in Jamaica.
We have also mentioned the beginning of the difificulty and
misunderstanding between him and the governor in the
matter of De Porras and his fellow-prisoners. As to his
local affairs, the Admiral found them, as already stated, in
an extremely unsatisfactory condition. Alonzo de Cavajal
informed him on his arrival that the revenue had been held
back in many instances and that his attempts to collect the
same had been impeded by the covert or open opposition
25



3S6 COLUMBUS.

of the governor. Other causes for complaint existed,
and the Admiral may well be excused for finding fault with
Ovando's policy towards the Indians, which had almost
totally obliterated the native population. But Columbus
was also dissatisfied with the whole condition of his en-
vironment. The two years which had been named by the
King and Queen as the limit of his suspension from office
had about expired. The sensation and reaction in his favor
produced by his late arrival in the colony began to wane,
and he decided to return to the mother country at the
earliest possible date. There before the King and Queen
he would renew his plea, and he hoped to be heard by their
considerate Majesties in his own cause, to the end that they
might bestow upon him justice with honor as a reward for
his great toils and sacrifices. The Admiral knew not that
at this very date Isabella had taken to her couch with that
lingering malady strangely mingled of mental and bodily
eriefs from which she was never to recover.

It was not long after his arrival at San Domingo, there-
fore, that Columbus with the consent of the governor began
to prepare for his departure for Spain. Two ships were
fitted out for this purpose, the command of one being given
to Don Bartholomew, while the Admiral had charge of the
other in person. On the 12th of September the vessels
left the harbor of San Domingo, but were not far at sea
when the weather became stormy and the masts of Colum-
bus' ship were broken and carried away, rendering her unfit
for the voyage. Being in haste to reach the mother coun-
try, the Admiral sent back the disabled ship and transferred
himself and companions to the vessel commanded by Don
Bartholomew. Still the weather continued severe and the
masts of the remaining vessel were likewise seriously in-
jured, so that progress was extremely slow. Nor was this
condition of affairs improved at any time during the voyage ;



THE NEW WORLD. 387

for the weather continued at all times so extremely rough
that it was not until the end of the fifty-eighth day after
leaving San Domingo that the caravel carrying Columbus
and his brother reached the port of San Lucar. Thus con-
cluded the ill-starred fourth expedition of discovery on the
7th of November, 1504.

The afflicted Admiral was so exhausted by his physical
sufferings that he was unable to support his own weight,
and had, therefore, to be borne on shore in a litter con-
structed for the purpose. He was then taken at the earliest
practicable moment to the city of Seville, where among his
friends, attended by faithful kinsmen and loyal companions^
he hoped in a short time to revive from the fatigues of his
long voyage. Realizing, as he must, his failure to accom-
plish the glorious things which he had promised for the
crowns of Castile and Aragon, harassed by enemies who
had the ears of the court, it is and will ever be a matter of
surprise and admiration to note the enthusiastic faith by
which the veteran explorer, tottering under the accumulated
griefs of years, was still borne on buoyant wings in the
direction of those dreams and visions that had haunted
him since the days of his youth.



CHAPTER XXI.

Great men as a rule are the victims of great embarrass-
ments, and usually through the world's inappreciation.
Those who have accomplished the most beneficent things,
who have placed the greenest laurels on the brow of civili-
zation, who have won the eternal applause of mankind and
gained a place in the affections of humanity because of
what they did in life, have most frequently been targets for
the world's abuse. It is a proverb as lamentable as it is true
that no man is fully appreciated until after he is dead.
Wealth receives its honors in the flesh, while genius finds
its reward only beyond the grave, because prejudice and
envy cannot cast their poisonous darts across the valley of
death. When a nation discovers a redeemer it is to perse-
cute him first and worship him afterwards ; hence, were it
not for monuments and the slower justice of biography,
humanity would be without emulous examples, and philo-
sophic ambition would not attain to even the shadow of a
dream.

The truth of these observations is scarcely more conspic-
uously attested in the life of Jesus than it is in the career
of Columbus, since both fell victims to the hostility of a
depraved human nature in its envy of the truly good and
beneficent.

While intending or implying no comparison, we may be

pardoned for the sake of illustration in saying that what

Jesus was in the Divine essence Columbus was in his secular

character ; the one perfect and, therefore, worthy of wor-

388



THE NEW WORLD. 389

shipful reverence as God ; the other, with the imperfections
of the human, entitled to the highest laudations as a man.

With the great measure of his deserving, who had prac-
tically enlarged the world by half and set in the crown of
Spain a jewel so lustrous that all the gems of earth grow
pale in its light, Columbus was in his latter days not only
neglected, but his distinguished services, instead of aggran-
dizing, rendered him the victim of every wrong that mad
envy and avarice could inflict. And these marplots under
the wings of royalty pursued him even to the grave, while
anger and hate would fain have disturbed him there, so
implacable were these foes of justice.

Though robbed most shamefully by Bobadilla and Ovando
and brought, through their conniving, to the verge of pen-
ury, yet so buoyant was the nature of Columbus that he
hoped for a correction of his wrongs when he should lay his
complaints before Ferdinand and Isabella. Poor and deeply
afflicted though he was, and confined to his bed in Seville,
he trusted to the influence of those few friends who still
remained faithful to him. Among these was Diego his son,
who was now of age but still in the service of the Queen as
page ; also his brother Don Bartholomew, Diego Mendez,
Alonzo de Cavaial, a nobleman named Geronimo, and
Diego de Deza, the latter an old friend who had been elevat-
ed to the bishopric of Palencia. Through the aid of these
and his own efforts, and by letters and proofs which he
would lay before his sovereigns, Columbus did not doubt
that he would recover the dignities and property to which
he was so clearly entitled.

The complaints which Columbus had to make were set
forth in a lengthy communication which he addressed to
their Majesties very soon after his return to Seville, and
contained two specifications : 1st, That he had been de-
prived of his revenues, and that the rentals due from his



390



COLUMBUS.



estates in San Domingo and his percentage from the mines
were withheld by officers of the crown, thus virtually re-
ducing him to poverty ; 2d, That his honors, titles and
rank which had been conferred and confirmed by royal
guarantees in the form of patents and charters were jeopar-
dized, if not nullified, by his suspension from office.

The enormity of withholding from Columbus his per-
centage of one-eighth, but afterwards one-tenth, of the gold
Gathered in Hispaniola, and his consequent reduction almost
to mendicancy in his old age, may be estimated when we
reflect upon the aggregate yield of the Indian mines during
the administration of Ovando. The question has been
carefully considered by Robertson for the year 1506. Ac-
cording to his estimates the yield of the mines for that
and several preceding years amounted annually to a sum
equal to about $500,000. Considering the gre^jter pur-
chasing power of gold and silver in the sixteenth century,
it would hardly be an exaggeration to say tliat his annual
revenues from this source, had they been justly paid him,
would have been equivalent in value to more than a million
of dollars of our present currency. This would have given
to Columbus a revenue which, apart from all other resources,
would have lifted him from beggary to wealth and enabled
him to prosecute his one supreme ambition of recovering
the Holy Sepulcher from the possession of the Moham-
medans.

In the letters which he transmitted to his sovereigns he
justly complained of the withholding of his dues, saying
that he was compelled to live by borrowing ; that he was
unable to own in Spain a roof to shield him from the
elements, and that he had no place of resort but the com-
mon inn, and that even the small charges for attention
there he was unable to pay. But besides these he had other
complaints to make. He reminded the sovereigns that the



THE NEW WORLD. 391

men who had accompanied him on his last perilous voyage
had received no pay since the time of their departure, in
consequence of which their families had suffered greatly for
the necessaries of life. Not only did he urge the King to
an immediate payment of the rewards to which the sailors
were entitled, but he wrote a special letter to his son Diego
urging him to remind the King of the infinite toils and perils
which the sailors had endured, and that they had brought
home to Spain and to all the world invaluable tidings for
which their Majesties ought to thank God and rejoice.

Before sufficient time had elapsed for a reply to his com-
munication Columbus transmitted another letter to the
King, urging upon him the justice as well as the necessity of
a restoration of the honors and titles of which he was vir-
tually deprived. At the conclusion of this second letter he
appended a note animadverting upon the government of
Ovando, citing many facts in the provisional governor's
administration about which the sovereigns ought to be
greatly solicitous.

To these communications, however, the answers of the
court were complimentary but non-committal, since Fer-
dinand, anxious to annul the charters under which grants
had been bestowed upon Columbus, adopted the policy of
temporizing with the situation until the beneficiary should
die, an event which he had every reason to expect would
not be long deferred. He argued within himself, *' If we
can but placate this aged and importunate Admiral for a
little longer his voice and pen will both be still in the in-
curable paralysis of death ; after that we shall deal as we
may with his son and kinsmen, taking pains always to in-
terpose between them and their rights such excuses and
obstacles as shall make their letters patent and the charters
granted to the father of no effect."

His inability to obtain any decisive answer from the King



392 COLUMBUS.

gave Columbus great worriment of mind, intensified by the
physical sufferings which confined him for weeks to a bed
in the little inn where he had found refuge after his arrival
in Spain. Preparations were being made to bring De
Porras to trial under the charges which had been preferred
by Columbus, and it was very necessary that he should at-
tend at the court to give his testimony. His anxiety, there-
fore, was so great that he twice ordered a litter to be pre-
pared on which he might be carried to Granada. But on
both occasions the project had to be abandoned through
the intensity of his sufferings and the inclemency of the
weather. His friends in the meantime were exerting them-
selves in his behalf. But his enemies at court were more
numerous and influential, and succeeded in overcoming
whatever small inclination the King might have had to
accord him justice. And thus, week after week and month
after month was spent by Columbus in the deepest anxiety
of mind, without the least indication of obtaining that
which had been solemnly guaranteed by royal compact,
and which he had earned through eight years of toilsome
and unremitting service to the Spanish sovereigns.

It at last became clear to the apprehension of the suffer-
ing and despairing veteran that the King was against him and
his cause. As for the Queen, who had so long been his
friend and benefactress, her last days had come. Clouds
and shadows darkened around her halls and chamber. Her
son, the Prince Juan, was dead, Avhile Juana, married to the
Arcliduke Philip, had contracted an unfortunate alliance
with a man whose sympathies and devotion were all abroad.
The Princess herself was already, in the first years of her
married life, beclouded by a mental malady through which
her faculties were jangled out of tune and her mind finally
brought to chaos. These troubles fell so heavily upon
the Queen that she became the victim of melancholy.



THE NEW WORLD. 393

Disease preyed upon her and she sank under the accu-
mulated griefs of broken womanhood. She had been the
best sovereign of her age. Her abilities were great and her
beauty was praised by all her contemporaries. Her appli-
cation to the duties of the crown was assiduous and success-
ful, and according to the measure of her powers and the
limitations of her education she exerted herself to benefit her
subjects and diffuse a generous friendship among the nations.
Her true greatness and sympathy for the oppressed are
evidenced by her interposition between the humble natives
of the West Indies and the cruelty of her Spanish subjects.
There can be no doubt that she faithfully sought to protect
them from the wrongs and rapacity of her people and bring
them to the standard of such poor civilization and religion
as the fifteenth century could supply. How great must
have been her grief when in her last days reports reached
her ears of the horrible abuses practiced upon the Indians
by Ovando and his colleagues ! One of her last rational
acts was to order his recall, and she exacted of the King a
pledge that this deed of justice should be at once fulfilled,
a request, however, which was wholly disregarded until
circumstances five years afterwards rendered that cruel
ofificer's dismissal a necessity.

Isabella fully appreciated that the day of her departure
was near at hand. She had not yet reached the end of her
fifty-fourth year, but her bodily powers were completely
shattered and her deeply religious mind now turned almost
with aversion from the noise and splendor of the world to a
contemplation of the future. She accordingly prepared
her will, giving particular directions not only respecting
the disposition of her worldly estates, but also how she
should be buried, asking that her body might be committed
to a low sepulcher in the Alhambra of Granada and that
no other monument than a plain stone properly inscribed be



394 COLUMBUS.

set to mark her last resting-place. But in her dying moments
she did not forget her loyalty and devotion to the King,
and among her last requests was one that she might at last
be laid beside him when all the things of this earth had
faded from his Majesty's view. Thus prepared for the great
event, she sank away, and on the 26th of November, 1504,
expired at the town of Medina del Campo. Her body was
conveyed with great pomp and interred according to her
directions, but was afterwards transferred to a tomb in the
royal chapel of the Cathedral at Granada, where the King,
at his death on January 23d, 1516, was buried beside her.

The news of the death of his friend and patroness was all
that Columbus could bear. To that true friend of discovery
for many years he had turned, like the crusader gazing on
his crucifix, and now in his old age was he indeed left naked
to his enemies. But deep as was his dejection over the
death of his greatest friend, and supreme as were the suf-
ferings which confined him constantly for a long while to
his bed, his mind was to revive to a contemplation of
glorious accomplishments of ambitions conceived even in
the depth of his extremity. Continuing to petition the
King for a restitution of his honors and emoluments, and
receiving in reply letters that constantly flattered but
gave no substantial promises, Columbus at length finding
himself somewhat improved decided to proceed to Segovia,
to which place Ferdinand had now transferred his court, and
there renew in person the importunities which had thus far
proved wholly unavailing. At this time there was a gov-
ernment edict forbidding people to ride on mules, as it was
reckoned that the introduction of these cheap and easy-
going animals as a means of conveyance had distracted at-
tention from the production of horses, in consequence of
which the breeds of the latter had become deteriorated.
Columbus, therefore, desiring to make his journey on this



THE NEW WORLD. 395

safer conveyance, asked permission of the proper authorities
at Seville to make the trip on mule-back. This being
granted, in May, 1505, he set out, accompanied by a few
faithful attendants, for the Spanish Court.

The arrival of the Admiral at Segovia was attended with
no excitement. The people gazed on him merely as an
old, broken-down, sorrowful and disappointed man, whose
deeds were already forgotten in the public mind, and who
from an object of great pomp and circumstance had fallen
to a condition so lowly as no longer to attract the atten-
tion of any of the populace. The King, however, granted
him an audience and even made a pretense of receiving
him with accustomed cordiality. He condescended also to
hear from the discoverer an account of the fourth expedi-
tion and its results. Columbus accordingly narrated the
whole, emphasizing in particular the value of the gold mines
of Veragua and indicating the benefits which might accrue
from the establishment of colonies on that coast. While
the King affected interest in the narrative, at the conclusion
of the interview he dismissed the Admiral with no substan-
tial evidence of a purpose to restore him to the honors of
which he had been so unjustly deprived. But Columbus
continued to persist in his demands until the King, as a
means of freeing himself from the annoyance of importunity,
proposed to refer his claims to arbitration. To this Colum-
bus consented, until he discovered in the papers an agree-
ment to likewise refer his rights to the viceroyalty and
governor-generalship of the Indies. As an agreement to
such arbitration would have put in debate his titles for
which he held the royal patents, Columbus could not, while
in the possession of his senses, consent to the opening of a
question so fatal to all his rights. He accordingly declined
to submit his major claim to arbitration, since about that
there was under his charter no possible doubt. The whole



396 COLUMBUS.

matter was accordingly put aside and the conference of
arbitration was never held.

After this miscarriage of his claims Columbus renewed
his persistence with the sovereign for a restitution of his
honors and for such a decree as would compel the officers
of Hispaniola to pay him his dues. He appealed to the
conscience and justice of the King to save him in his old
age from the hardships of poverty and the shame of dis-
honor. But month after month continued to roll by, and
though Ferdinand treated him with marks of suitable
regard, and continued to be effusive with his deceptive as-
surances, all favorable action was postponed or evaded.

The last formal effort made by Columbus with King Fer-
dinand related to the young man Diego. To him the fond
father looked as his successor and defender of his fame.
The jeopardy in which his titles stood admonished the
Admiral that the time had arrived when it was advisable
for him to abdicate all his claims in favor of his son. In
pursuance of this design he sent a last petition to his sov-
ereign, in which he solemnly proposed to waive his own
rights and honors in favor of Diego. He besought the
King to confirm the youth under the charters granted to
himself in the government of the Indies and in the preroga-
tives and benefits of which he had been unwarrantably de-
prived so long. But this petition, as had been the former,
was evaded by Ferdinand, and it became evident, even to
the persistent spirit of the discoverer of the New World,
that he had nothing further to expect from his Catholic
Majesty of Spain. Sorrowfully he says in a letter to the
Archbishop of Seville: "It appears that his Majesty does
not see fit to fulfill that which he and the Queen (who is now
in glory) promised me by word and seal. For me to contend
with the contrary would be to contend with the wind."

The end of 1505 was now near at hand, having been spent



THE NEW WORLD. 397

in a fruitless effort to vindicate his rights and to persuade
the King to do a simple act of justice as some recompense
for the imperishable glory which Columbus had reflected
upon his crown. Confined to his bed at a tavern in Segovia,
Columbus was now as hopeless in mind as he was infirm in
body. Yet out of this suffering condition he was aroused
in the following year by a ru-mor, soon confirmed, that the
Princess Juana and the Archduke Philip, her husband, were
on their way from Seville to Valladolid, to which place the
King had removed his court from Segovia. A brief hope
seems to have been inspired in him by this incident, and
though in the tortures of old age and infirmity, he deter-
mined to seek an audience with their Highnesses. After
proceeding a short way, however, his extreme sufferings
admonished him of the impossibility of carrying out his
intentions, and he was reduced to the necessity of prepar-
ing a communication to their Highnesses which he trans-
mitted through his brother Don Bartholomew. In this
letter he made profession of his profound loyalty and devo-
tion to the Spanish crown, and described the severe afflic-
tions and numberless misfortunes by which he was detained
from going to them in person. In the most touching
language he reminded them of the great things which he
had accomplished for the glory of Castile first and the
honor of mankind afterwards, and followed this with a
touching tribute to the virtues of her mother, the Queen.

In penning his letter, which evidently aroused in him
ambitions as intense as those which prompted him to his
first voyage, he described with glowing enthusiasm the
vision which now arose in dazzling splendor before him.
Long cherished hopes and aspirations revived like a dying
flame, and the aged breast, storm-beaten and exhausted,
throbbed and heaved with the fires of an expiring enthu-
siasm. Old, infirm, tottering on the very brink of the grave



398 COLUMBUS.

as he was, lie yet told the Prhicess that still greater things
remained for him to accomplish. It was of course the
rescue of the Holy Sepulcher from the infidel Islamites.



Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 29 of 37)