James W. (James William) Buel.

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to equip the expedition. Santangel, however, assured her
this would not be necessary, as he was prepared to advance
the money needed out of the revenues of which he had
charge, feeling certain that he could obtain the King's
authorization for the loan. Thus it was that the acceptance
of Columbus' proposals were brought about at a time when
he had abandoned all hope of aid from the Spanish crown.

The messenger overtook Columbus about six miles from
Granada, just as he had passed over the bridge of Pinos,
a place celebrated by more than one desperate and bloody
encounter between Christians and Moors, that served to
make it almost sacred in the annals of Spanish history. So
frequent had been his disappointments, and so distrustful
was he of the motives of sovereigns, of which he had been
many times the victim, that Columbus hesitated about
obeying the summons, until persuasion overcame his first
promptings and he returned, though not without misgiv-
ings. Scarcely had he gained the outskirts of Granada,
however, when his doubts were dispelled by the friends who
came out to receive him, and the magnificent reception
accorded him by the Queen, who was now anxious to make
some amends for the chilling conduct of the court towards
him during the seven painful years that he had been an
applicant for its helpful recognition.

Queen Isabella, holding in her exclusive right the crowns


of Leon and Castile, henceforth became the patron of that
great enterprise which gave to the world a new continent ;
and the measure of its magnitude now unfolding itself to
her mind, she accorded to Columbus that deference which
confident belief in his success appeared to her to warrant.
But Ferdinand, who held the crown of Aragon only, con-
tinued both doubtful and suspicious, and withheld his sanc-
tion, even exacting a return of any moneys advanced out of
the treasury of Aragon in aid of the scheme, and only gave
his signature to acts of the Queen through her intercession,
not as a voluntary performance signifying his approval.

The articles of agreement and letters-patent conferring
titles and privileges were signed on the 17th day of April,
1492, but it was not until a month later that Columbus took
leave of the Queen and started for Palos, which port had
been determined upon as the embarking place of the expe-
dition. In this interval there were daily conferences be-
tween Columbus and his royal patroness, arranging the pre-
liminaries and issuing orders, providing for the equipment
of the vessels. On the eighth of May, as a special mark
of her favor, the Queen appointed Diego, the eldest son of
Columbus, who had lived at the monastery of La Rabida for
seven years, to the position of page to the Prince Royal, with
a pension of what was equal to about $150 annually.

Columbus left Granada on the r2th of May and proceeded
to Cordova, where he took leave of his wife, and then posted
to Palos with all the necessary orders, among which was one
that required that municipality to furnish two caravels,
armed and equipped, and to place the same at the disposal
of Columbus within ten days. His arrival at that city was
greeted by Father Juan with great joy, who continued to
the end to encourage his enterprise and to promote his

When it was learned that the schemes and theories of


Columbus were about to be put into execution, and that
their demonstration was to be attempted by a voyage into
the vast unknown, the people of Palos were seized with a
panic of unconquerable fear. From this port not only were
the ships to sail, but it soon became known that there
would be an impressment of sailors to make up the comple-
ments of the vessels, for few would volunteer their services
for what was regarded as the most desperate enterprise ever
conceived by foolhardy man. We smile at the fear of these
simple people behind the setting sun of the nineteenth
century, but in the darkness of ignorance that shrouded the
Middle Ages we can find more than enough to excuse the
bravest hearts for quailing before the terrors with which
story, legend and imagination had invested the realm of
the boundless sea.

Science was but a puling infant, and the small knowled'xe
that the world possessed of physics and chemistry was born
of the alembic by accident, with the hated Arab as its pro-
creator. Thus science was regarded as the offspring of Satan,
a hellish thing to be abhorred by godly men ; a malevolent
product of fiend and erinnys, the development of which
was viewed with deadly alarm. The compass was scarcely
yet become a guide to mariners over the trackless seas, and
the horoscope was inore potential with superstitious minds
of the time than all the philosophy of cosmographer, sage
or scientist. In fact, cosmography helped to create and
spread belief in the existence of frightful things peopling
the Stygian world of the sea. Beyond the framing gates of
the west, where the sun sank down in his billowy bed,
there were whirlpools in which Leviathan sported, and
there stood as sentinels over the ocean's vast domain mon-
sters more hideous in aspect, more appalling in size, than the
dragon that guarded the marriage apples of Juno. On the
charts of some cosmographers there was a representation of


the sea. Marc Tenebrosuui, around which were reputed to
live, in a wanton exuberance of horrific terrorism, such con-
ceptions of a fearful imagination as grifTfins, hippocentaurs,
gorgons, goblins, hippogriffs, krakens, sea-serpents, unicorns,
sagittaries, minotaurs, chimeras, hydras, and other prodigies
of nature run riot with monstrosity.

But more direful, ghastly, terrifying than all these was
the Arabic conception of the fearful dangers that beset the
gloomy ocean. Before this tropical imagination arose the
gnarled, horrent, portentous hand of Satan, out of a tene-
brious waste of boundless waters, with hooked claws, blood-
thirsty maw, and purpose damning, to grasp any luckless
ship that might venture within his infernal dominion. And
this belief spread quickly among all maritime peoples, until
pagan and Christian alike possessed it. To these conceits
others were added, being importations from countries of the
farther east, brought back by such travelers as Mandeville
and Polo, and received with confidence to swell the fears of
humanity. These pictured the air filled with demons, clouds
charged with furies, and islands haunted with wraiths, who,
holding the elements within their control, could at will lash
the sea into madness, provoke the wind into hurricane,
arouse the lightnings of heaven into wrath, and launch
all these infuriate powers against vessel and crew, over-
whelming with a destruction dolorific, tragical and harrowing,
every venturer within these forbidding realms. From these
calamitous fears may not be omitted other beliefs no less
terrorizing. The sages of Salamanca voiced only the pre-
vailing opinion of all Christendom when, in opposing the
plans of Columbus, they contended that even if the earth
were round yet there could be no life at the antipodes ; that
along the equator was a wall of heat so fiery as to be all-
consuming, a very hell of flame as unquenchable as the
sun ; while beyond lay a sloping plain over which was


carried every movable thing towards changeless fields of
ice that gathered into mountain peak around the southern

Considering these general alarms, there is no surprise in
the" fact that when Columbus arrived at Palos, with orders
from Isabella to impress vessels and sailors for his expedition
into unknown seas, he found both ship-owners and seamen
seized with consternation, and not a single caravel in the har-
bor that was available for his service. They had attempted
to avoid the requisition by disappearing from the port.
This condition of affairs caused additional delay, and being
reported to the Queen she sent an officer of the royal guards
to exact a penalty of two hundred maravedis (nearly $3.00)
a day upon every ship-owner who should delay or refuse
to execute the orders of Columbus. At the same lime
she issued a permit authorizing him to seize any sailor who
might be found on the Spanish coast and compel his services.
But neither of these orders was effectual in facilitating prep-
arations for the voyage, nor was any substantial progress
made until extremity prompted the officer of the royal
guards to forcibly take possession of a caravel called the
Pinia, the property of two citizens of Palos, named Roscon
and Quinten. These two owners became violent in their
abuse of Columbus, and the entire town seemed to be upon
the point of an uprising. In this disturbed condition of the
populace, which threatened serious consequences. Father
Juan appeared and exerted his influence to change the crit-
ical situation into one favoring the schemes of Columbus.
A man universally loved for his amiability and charity, his
opinions were equally respected because of his learning and
piet}'. He strove to dispel the fears of the sailors by
decrying the baseless superstitions of the age, and by ap-
pealing to their courage in the name of the Church, which
now called for their services. He promised them God's


blessings in the great work which foreshadowed the exten-
sion of Christianity among heathen people, and declared that
they should account themselves as elected by God for the
enlargement of His kingdom. After prevailing with sailors,
the noble father sought ship-owners and used his persuasion
to induce them to fulfill the orders of the Queen. Among
these whom he best knew in Palos were three brothers
named Pinzon — Martin Alonzo, Francis Martin, and Vincent
Yanez, — and to these he applied his exhortations to lend
Columbus such vessels as would serve his need. The eldest
of these, Martin Alonzo, had, as many biographers agree,
been introduced to Columbus during his long stay at the
monastery of La Rabida, and manifested such interest in
his project as to acknowledge belief in his theory and to give
a conditional promise of assistance. Now, when Father
Juan brought the Columbian plans, so well formulated and
promoted by the Queen, before the elder Pinzon, that ex-
perienced navigator promptly offered his aid, not only as a
mariner, but in converting opinion from the prejudices that
seriously threatened, even at this juncture, the success of the
enterprise. Through Pinzon, the Pope (Innocent VHL)
was even brought to give his approbation to the scheme,
and thus the Church, that at first opposed the enterprise,
through the Spanish ecclesiastics, became a supporter of
Columbus, though only by friendly encouragement. Martin
next secured the co-operation of his two younger brothers,
and the three presently signed an agreement with Columbus
under which they were to provide another vessel, the Nina,
and to take service in the expedition, whilst the youngest
advanced one-eighth of the expenses, though under circum-
stances not exactly known.

The Pinzons were wealthy ship-chandlers in Palos, and
their position gave them great influence, especially among
seamen ; and through their exertions the city was at length


induced to appropriate a third vessel, which bore the name
of Gallega. She was classed as a carack, a large ship such
as the Portuguese afterwards used in their trade with India.
She was old, and otherwise unfit for the service, but in the
scarcity of ships, and the difficulties that had already long
delayed Columbus, he did not hesitate to accept her ; but
as a propitiation to God, and to place the vessel under His
special protection, he changed the name, in honor of the
Blessed Virgin, to Santa Maria {Saint Mary), and made her
the flagship of his little squadron.

The Pinzons gave their personal attention to the details
of the equipment, but it was not until the end oi July that
crews were obtained and the ships made ready for depart-
ure on the long and perilous cruise. Tiie expedition was
composed of two caravels, Pinta, commanded by Martin
Alonozo Pinzon ; the iVina, in charge of Vincent Yancz
Pinzon ; and the carack, Santa Maria, upon which Colum-
bus embarked as admiral. It has long been a general belief
that these were very small and unserviceable vessels hastily
put to sea and with imperfect equipment. So far from this
being true, the three vessels were among the largest that
sailed the Mediterranean or visited the Canaries; and while
no doubt ill-appointed when they came into the hands of
the Pinzons, these navigators were too prudent and experi-
enced to venture on so long a voyage without first putting
their ships in the most thorough condition. The vessels
were also well provisioned for a year's voyage and supplied
with the most effective fire-arms of that period, but the
working crews were composed of a riff-raff of criminals and
adventurers, anything but promising, though over these experienced and influential officers were appointed.

The records are sadly incomplete, but from what has been
preserved Ave are able to obtain a good idea of the composi-
tion of the fleet, though the exact number of men thn.t


completed the force is not known. On the Santa Maria
there sailed a nephew, by marriage, of Columbus, whose
name was Diego de Arana ; also Pedro Guttierrez, keeper
of the stores ; and Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovie, controller
of the armament ; Rodrigo de Escovedo, register of the
proceedings, or royal notary ; Bernardin de Tapia, historiog-
rapher ; Pedro Alonzo Niflo, first pilot ; Barthelemy Rol-
dan, Fernand Perez Matheos, and Sancho Ruiz, respectively
second pilot, mate and boatswain ; Ruy Fernandez and
Juan de la Cosa, sub-officers, filling various positions; Luiz
de Torrez, a Christianized Jew, held the post of interpreter,
for which his knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic,
Coptic and Armenian well qualified him. Juan Castillo, a
gold and silver smith, from Seville, was the official mineral-
ogist, but his appointment to that position was unfortunate,
because he knew little or nothing about metals except in
their refined state. There were also two surgeons, called
Alonzo and Juan, their surnames never having been re-
corded in the proceedings certified to by the royal notary.
Among the crew was an Englishman who passed under the
patronymic of Tallerte de Lajes, which is not translatable,
because it is a double family name, thus leaving the sus-
picion that he had adopted it to conceal his identity ; there
was also an Irishman, called Guillemia Ires, or in English,
Billy Rice ; two Portuguese, and one native of the Balearic
Islands — in all sixty-six persons, not a single one of whom,
however, was from Palos.

On the other hand, the crew of the Pinta, numbering
thirty men, were, with a single exception, viz., Juan Rodri-
quez Bermejo, all from Palos, those whose names have been
preserved being Francis Martin Pinzon, brother of Martin
Alonzo, the captain ; his cousin, Juan de Ungria, Cristobal
Garcia; Garcia Hernandez, the celebrated physician and
liis nephew, of the same name, who served him ?is secre-


tary. In addition to the crew there were several passengers,
who accompanied the expedition as adventurers, or as rep-
resentatives of commercial houses anxious to extend their
trade with the rich country of Cathay.

The Nina, being the smallest of the three vessels, had a
crew of twenty four men, besides as many more passengers,
who were willing to brave the dangers to earn the great
rewards which they thought would be reaped in case the
voyage proved successful. And it may be truthfully de-
clared that every one who accompanied the expedition confi-
dently believed he would find a country where gold abounded
in such quantities that ships might be loaded with the pre-
cious metal, and thus each would return enriched almost
beyond the power to compute. This idea was therefore
the dominant ambition among all who ventured upon the
voyage, save alone that Columbus expected to win honors
more durable than wealth, though his, too, was an inspira-
tion for the acquisition of great treasures as well.


From sorrowing friends on shore Columbus and his fol-
lowers took their departure amid bestowal of blessings
waving of adieus, and cries that proclaimed the fear they
would meet them nevermore, while Father Juan and Garcia
Hernandez watched from the convent window with anx-
ious solicitude and prayerful hearts the fading sails that
bore away their friends toward a new world.

And what a day on which to begin such a dangerous
voyage ! Among all peoples of Christendom, and partic-
ularly among sailors, Friday has always been regarded as
a day of evil, and for ages has the superstition survived
that nothing begun on that day can succeed, save it be the
hanging of a man ; and so murderer's day is hangman's day.
And yet Columbus chose it, believing that instead of the
day being accursed, it had been blessed by holy sacrifice ;
by the crucifixion that brought redemption ; by Godfrey
de Bouillon's victory, that delivered the Holy Sepulcher ;
by the recovery of Granada from Islamism, and the re-
demption of Spain from the profaners of Christianity. So,
at the early hour of three o'clock on the morning of August
3d, 1493, the Columbian fleet raised anchor, and under a
favoring breeze moved majestically out of the harbor,
through the mouth of the Odiel River, and soon the chim-
ing bells from Huelva's steeple, fainter and fainter growing,
were lost on the ears of the sailors.

A sailing chart for the expedition had been prepared by
the Admiral himself after Toscanelli's map, which repre-



sented the kingdom of Zipangu as occupying the position
of Florida. This error arose from the estimate of a degree
of longitude, which, as previously explained, made the
world of nearly all the cosmographers of the Middle Ages
about one-third less than its actual size.

The route, as marked out, lay by the way of the Canary
Islands, thence with a southwestward swoop directly west,
and over this way the fleet passed more than a thousand
miles further to find land, than if the voyage had been
made due west from Palos.

In the beginning the weather and wind were auspicious,
but these favoring conditions, instead of inducing encour-
agement, operated adversely upon the minds of the sailors,
whose uneasiness grew greater as the distance from their
country increased. Towards the end of the third day out
discovery was made that the steering gear of the Pinta was
disabled, and examination disclosed the fact that the owners
from whom the vessel had been impressed had maliciously
fixed the rudder so that it Avould break under force of the
waves. Fortunately the accident occurred when the wind
was fair, though the ocean was rough, and as Pinzon was a
resourceful commander, he soon had the damages repaired,
and the vessels proceeded.

On the morning of the sixth day the Canaries were in
sight and a landing was made at Gomera, where all the
vessels were overhauled, several defects having been de-
tected, so that it was not until the 9th of September fol-
lowing that the fleet got again under way.

Meanwhile, a serious danger had arisen from the hostil-
ity of Portugal. The news of the sailing of Columbus had
spread along the Spanish coast, and soon reached Lisbon.
The reader will remember how, through all his years of
waiting, Columbus had at intervals renewed with the Court
pf Portugal, as well as with the Court of England, an inter-


mittent correspondence. It was evidently his intent to
hold these powers in reserve against the ultimate defeat of
his proposals in Spain. As soon as King John heard how
at last the voyage of discovery had been actually under-
taken under the patronage of his rivals, his animosity was
so great that he resolved to resort to the most desperate
expedient to thwart the enterprise. In pursuance of this
despicable resolution, he hastily fitted and sent out an ar-
mament to arrest, and if necessary to destroy, the fleet of
Columbus. While his vessels were undergoing repairs at
the Canaries, the Admiral learned from a caravel just ar-
rived from Ferro, an island of the group, that the Portu-
guese fleet was making ready to put to sea in pursuit.
This news induced him to hasten his departure, but scarcely
had he got under sail wdien an eruption of the volcano of
Teneriffe threw the sailors into a panic of terror, who saw
in the shooting flames, and heard in the rumbling explo-
sions from the heart of the mountain, Tophet bursting
through the sea in awful portentive of a horrible fate to
which they were surely being drawn. Columbus was finally
able to assuage these fears of his crews by explaining to
them the frequent eruptions of Etna and Vesuvius, which
people had long ceased to dread. But for three days there
was a calm, during which they had not progressed more
than three leagues from their last anchorage, and all the
while expecting to see Portuguese ships heave in sight in
pursuit. Thiit they did not appear is presented as an evi-
dence in support of the assertion that Portugal did not
send a squadron to interfere with Columbus or his expedi-

When at length the good sea breeze swelled the sails
again and the voyage into the great unknown was renewed,
loud cries of complaining fear broke from the sailors, who
now felt themselves adrift on the boundless flood where


" All delicate days and pleasant, all spirits and sorrow were cast ;
Far out with the foam of the present, that sweeps to the surf of the past ;
Where beyond the extreme sea-wall, and between the remote sea-gates,
Waste water washes, and tall ships founder, and deep death waits."

Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, fortified by
sincerity, Columbus appealed alike to the courage and
avarice of his clamorous and intensely superstitious sailors.
He assured them constantly of God's blessings, for that
they had been called in a most righteous service which
must redound to the glory of themselves in that life ever-
lasting. But when their religious fervor languished,
Columbus told the men of the wealth they would acquire
in the land to which they were sailing, where gold and
precious stones so abounded that houses might be built
and streets paved with either. He undoubtedly believed
this to be true himself, and his own conviction was thus
the more effectively impressed upon those to whom he re-
cited these prophecies of incredible treasure in the land to
which they were bound.

Columbus, while chimerical in many things, was never-
theless subtle in contriving against the mutinous spirit of
his men, and his shrewdness is shown by many wise expe-
dients. He had delivered, with becoming gravity, an
opinion that the country of Zipangu would be gained by a
sail of something more than 700 leagues to the west, but
lest his belief prove ill-founded, and that the voyage
might, if necessary, be prosecuted much farther, he kept
two log-books, in one of which a false reckoning was kept,
representing the distance made each day as less than it
really was, while the other was prepared with great accu-
racy to serve as a guide for future voyages. The former
was daily exposed to all on board for inspection, while
the latter was carefully preserved under lock and key.
The sailors were thus deceived into the belief that their


progress was extremely slow, and that the slope of the earth
must accordingly be very small, if indeed it were percepti-
ble, and that a ship before the wind could in any event
overcome it and return to Spain.

On the 14th of September, while the vessels were sailing
in close company, a large mainmast was observed floating
on the water, evidently out of a ship considerably greater
in size than the Santa Maria. Columbus at once hailed
the relic as a favorable omen, but the effect on the sailors
was panicky. Here, indeed, was a part of a ship that had
preceded them, but to their timid minds it came as a warn-
ing of the doom that awaited them ; as a proof that no
vessel could survive the dreadful dangers which lurked in
cloud, wind and wave in the region where damnation held
dominion. About the same time Columbus discovered
that there was a variation of the magnetic needle, which
increased as he proceeded farther west, and while he tried
to keep the knowledge of this fact from his crew, the pilots
soon detected it and then consternation was a hundredfold
increased. What possessed the compass? Was it some

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 37)