John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

The life of Christopher Columbus online

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Christopher Columbus.



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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by

Ir *he Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

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A SERIES of volumes, upon the Pioneers and
Patriots of America, would certainly be defective if
they did not contain an account of the adventures
of Christopher Columbus, the most illustrious of
all the pioneers of the New World. Columbus had
his enemies. He has been vehemently assailed.
The writer has endeavored to give a perfectly correct
account of his character and career, and has been
careful to present to this ; reader; his -authority for
every important statement. M^ny': may think that
the assaults upon his character 'do not 'deserve so
much attention as is allotted ;tp tnern m these pages.
But when the reader has seen all that the most
determined enmity can bring against him, a more
correct judgment can probably be formed of his true
merits and defects.

John S. C. Abbott*






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• <


Struggles of his Early Life.


Parentage and early life — State of the times — Adventures of
the sailor boy — His studies — Personal appearance — Visit
to Lisbon — Result of his studies — Rumors of other lands
— His high ambition — Application to the Court of Naples —
Royal perfidy — His marriage — Departs for Spain — Scene
at Palos — Visits the military court of Ferdinand and Isa-
bella — Weariness of hope deferred — Conference of the
philosophers — The astonishing decision .... 9

First Voyage.

Columbus at Cordova — Power of the feudal nobility — New re-
jections — Return to La Rabida — Hopes revived — Journey
of the prior — Persistent demands of Columbus — Interview
with Isabella — The dismissal — The recall — The hour of
triumph — Exultant return to Palos — Fitting out the expe-
dition — Its character — Departure of the fleet . . .34

Land Discovered.

The mutinous crew — The gleam of the torch — The account
criticised — Landing at San Salvador — Doubts as to the
identity of the island — Enchanting scene — Two days on
the island — Story of the dead pilot — Traffic with the natives
— Their innocence and friendliness — Exploring the island —
Uncertainty of the language of signs . .... 57


A Tour among the Islands.


Numler ol islands — The wrong and the reparation — Kind-
ness oi Columbus — His description of the natives — The
discovery of Concepcion ; of Eernandina — Beauty of the
scenery — Landing at Exumata — Disappointment of Columbus
— Cuba discovered — Exploration of the islands — Manners
and customs of the inhabitants . . . . . -77

Romantic Adventures.

Religious views — The garden of the king — Desertion by Pinzon
— Beauty of the region — Immense canoes — Porto Rico, the
island of the Caribs — Hayti — Rich scenery — Terror of the
natives — The maiden captive — Communications opened |
Account of Peter Martyr — Visit of the chief — Guacanagari
— Punta Santa, or Grande Riviere — The shipwreck — Hospi-
tality of Guacanagari — Amusements of the natives — The
royal dinner party — Life in Hayti — The Caribs — Prepara-
tions for the return voyage — The fortress . . ioo

The Return Voyage.

The Nina meets the Pinta — Rio de Gracia — A fierce tribe en-
countered — The first conflict — Peace established — Life at
sea — Terrific storm — Vows of the admiral and crew — Dis-
tress of Columbus — The parchment and cask — They reach
the Azores — Troubles at St. Mary's — Continued storms —
Enters the Tagus — Honors at Lisbon — Court intrigues —
Reception at Palos — Excitement throughout Spain — Sad
fate of Pinzon — Columbus at the Spanish c "»ttrt . . . 130


The Second Voyage.

Excitement throughout Europe — The coat-of-arms— Pension ad-
judged to Columbus — Anecdote of the egg — The Papal



sanction — Religious zeal of Isabella — Designs of Portugal —
The new armament — General enthusiasm — Sailing of the
fleet — The pleasant voyage— Electric phenomenon — Cruise
through the Antilles — Lost in the woods — Conflict between
the boats — Porto Rico — The Caribbee Islands — The ap-
proach to Hayti — The Gulf of Samana — La Navidad reached
—Fate of the colony 1 59

Life at Hispaniola.

Statement of Guacanagari — The chief suspected — Escape of the
female captive — Gloom at Navidad — Exploring tours — The
fleet sail — The city of Isabella founded — Busy scene at the
landing — Disappointed expectations — Expeditions of Ojeda
— Traversing the plains — Suffering in the colony — Letter to
the sovereigns — The slavery question — Testimony of T. S.
Heneken — Insurrection of Bernal Dias — Tour to the moun-
tains — Vivid description ... .... 190

The Coast of Cuba Explored.

The fortress of St. Thomas — Extravagant expectations of the
Spaniards — The exploring expedition — The arrest of thieves
— Commencement of the maritime cruise — The harbor of
Guantanamo — Interesting scene with the Indians — Jamaica
— Its grandeur and beauty — Naval scene — Events at Santa
Gloria — Native canoes — Events of the voyage — Testimony
of Humboldt — The decision — The Island of Pines — Speech
of the chief — The return to Hispaniola — Incidents of the


The Return to Spain, and the Third Voyage,

Arrival of Bartholomew Columbus — Outrages of Margarite—
Conspiracy against Columbus — Friendship of Guacanagari —
Feat of Ojeda — Enslaving the natives — A bloody battle —




Despotism of Columbus — Mission of Juan Aguado — The
return to Spain — Weary months of disappointment — Unfor-
tunate ebullition of passion — The third voyage commenced
— Incidents of the voyage — The administration of Bartholo-
mew Columbus — Anarchy at Hispaniola . . . 2 50

The Return to Spain, and the Fourth Voyage.

The revolt of Roldan — Conciliatory proposals of Columbus —
Duplicity of Columbus — The expedition of Ojeda — Anarchy
at Hayti — The fortresses — Waning of popularity — Bobadilla
appointed commissioner — Measures of Bobadilla — Columbus
in chains — His reception by the King and Queen. Prepara-
tions for a fourth voyage — The outward voyage — Reception
of Columbus at San Domingo — The tornado — He reaches
Honduras — Cruise along the coast — Conduct of the Spanish
sailors — The settlement destroyed — Escape to Jamaica . 28 \

The Shipwreck at Jamaica.

Exploring the island — Heroic adventures of Mendez — Mental
sufferings of Columbus — The meeting of two brothers Porras
— Disasters of the mutineers — Piratic march through the-
island — Mr. Irving's testimony — Anecdote of the Eclipse —
Strange expedition of Escobar — Sufferings of the voyage —
The Island of Navasa — The narrative of Mendez — Base con-
duct of Ovando — Heroism of Mendez — End of the rebellion
—Their return 31'


The C losing Scenes of Life.

The crimes of Ovando — Depopulation of the island — Testimony
of Mr. Irving — The rescue — Reception at San Domingo —
The sympathy of Columbus for the natives — Sickness and
sufferings of Isabella — Death and burial — Letters of Colum-
bus — Visit to the court — Cold reception — His last will — The
dying scene — The burial — His character .... 333

Christopher Columbus.

Struggles of his Early Life.

Parentage and early life — State of the times — Adventures of the
Sailor Boy — His studies — Personal appearance — Visit to Lis-
bon — Result of his studies — Rumors of other lands — His high
ambition — Application to the Court of Naples — Royal Perfidy —
His marriage — Departs for Spain — Scene at Palos — Visits the
Military Court of Ferdinand and Isabella — Weariness of hope
deferred — Conference of the philosophers — The astonishing

In the magnificent maritime city called Genoa the
Superb, there was born, about the year 1435,* a child

* The date of his birth is a vexata qncestio. Washington Irving,
rleying upon the evidence given by Bernaldez, in the " Cura de los Pala-
cios," states it to be about 1435 or 1436. This inference he draws from
the remark of Bernaldez that he died " in the year one thousand five
hundred and six, at the age of seventy, a little more or less." Juan Bau-
tista Munoz, in his n Histoire del Nuevo Mundo, " concludes that he was
born in 1446. Don Ferdinand, the Admiral's son, relates, that in a
letter addressed by his father to the King and Queen, and dated 1501,
he states, that he had then been forty years at sea ; and in another letter
that he was fourteen years old when he went to sea ; so that, allowing
a year either way for probable inattention to minuteness in these state-
ments, we get the date of his birth, fixed by his own hand, at about 1447


now known throughout the whole civilized world as
Christopher Columbus. Even the precise year of his
birth is not known. He was the child of humble
parents ; and his father, a very worthy and industrious
man, who followed the employment of a wool comber,
labored hard for the support of his household.

The harbor of Genoa was filled with shipping
from all the commercial ports of the then known
world. The wharves were crowded with sailors,
speaking diverse languages and dressed in every
variety of costume. The boy had received from
nature a reflective mind, a poetic imagination, and a
strong love for adventure. As he strolled the streets,
and gazed upon the majestic ships, his childish spirit
was roused to visit distant lands.

There were four children in the family, three sons
and a daughter. The father must have been a wor-
thy and intelligent man, for he seems to have given
each of his children a good common school education.
Christopher was well instructed in writing, grammar,
and arithmetic. He also made some proficiency in
the Latin tongue, and in the arts of drawing and
design. He even entered the University of Pavia^
where he prosecuted, with great success, the studies
of geometry, geography, astronomy, and navigation.

When but fourteen years of age, the father of
Christopher inti astcd him to the care of a relative


by the name of Colombo, to make his first vc) age
This veteran seaman had already acquired much dis-
tinction for his nautical skill. He had attained the
rank of Admiral, in the Genoese navy, and had com-
manded a squadron.

The seas were then so infested with pirates that
every merchant vessel was compelled to go well
armed, ever ready for battle. We know not the in-
cidents of this voyage. But the first voyage of
Columbus, of which we have any account, was a
naval expedition. Colombo, in command of a squad-
ron, sailed from Genoa to aid King Rene in an
attempt to recover his kingdom. This was in the
year 1459. The conflict lasted for four years. The
squadron of Colombo gained much renown for its

Christopher Columbus subsequently, in a letter to
Ferdinand and Isabella, gave a brief account of an
expedition upon which he was detached to cut out a
galley from the harbor of Tunis. His crew chanced to
learn that the galley was protected by two other ships ;
they were so much alarmed as to refuse to proceed
on the expedition. Columbus apparently assented
to their wishes, and led them to think that he had
decided to go back to obtain the reinforcement of
another vessel. He altered the point of the compass
and spread all sail. Night soon came on. In the


morning the ship was entering the harbor where the
galley lay.

We are not informed of the result. But the
incident strikingly reminds us of the still more
important stratagem to which he subsequently
resorted to induce his disheartened crew to press
forward over the wild sea toward the New World.
The Atlantic Ocean was, at that time, quite un-
explored. A few enterprising seamen had coast-
ed along the shores of northern Europe, and had
cautiously sailed down the western coast of Africa.
But the commerce of the world was mainly confined
to the Mediterranean. These were days of violence,
lawlessness and crime.*

Every merchantman was compelled to go armed.
Pirates, often sailing in fleets, infested all seas. A
mariner was of necessity a soldier, ever ready to grasp
his arms to repel an assailing foe. It was through this
tutelage Columbus was reared. We have no record
of his early voyages. It is simply known that he
traversed much of the then known world. He vis-

* There is one story told of Columbus to which I ought to allude
though the most reliable authorities discard it. Ferdinand, his son,
first relates the incident. He says that he was engaged In a desperate
sea fight. The two vessels were lashed together by iron grapplings
Hand grenades were thrown, and both were wrapped in flames. Co-
lumbus leaped into the sea and was buoyed up by an oar to the shore,
a distance of six miles. See Letters of Columbus. Translated by H,
H. Major, Esq. of the British Museum. Introduction, p. 39.


Jted England. His adventurous keel ploughed the
waters of the North Sea till he reached the arctic
shores of Iceland. It is not improbable that he
might there have heard vague tales of the expedi-
tions, centuries before, of the Northmen to the ice-
bound coasts of Labrador and Greenland, and of the
limitless shores reaching thence down south, no one
could imagine how far. Subsequently, in one of his
letters, he writes :

" I have been seeking out the secrets of nature
for forty years. And wherever ship has sailed there
have I voyaged."

In the course of his wanderings he at length
found himself at Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, then
one of the most renowned seaports in the world. He
had attained the age of thirty-five years. No par-
ticular description of his personal appearance has de-
scended to us. We simply know that he was a tall
man, of sedate and dignified demeanor, and with no
convivial tastes. He was thoughtful, studious, pen-
sive ; of a deeply religious nature ; ever pondering the
mystery of this our sublime earthly being, emerging
from nothing, and, after a short voyage over life's
stormy sea, disappearing into the deep unknown.

He was a man of great simplicity of character,
with the organ of veneration strongly developed. He
was modest sensitive, and magnanimous. He was a


natural gentleman, exceedingly courteous in his beat
ing and without a shade of vanity. Intellectually, he
certainly stood in the highest rank, being quite in
atlvance of the philosophy of his times.

In the biography of Columbus, given by his son,
we are informed that he was an earnest student. He
read the works of Aristotle, Seneca, Strabo. Many
midnight hours were spent in reading the accounts
of the explorations of Marco Polo, and of Sir John
Maundeville. He deeply pondered the questions
which these discoveries suggested. But the volume
which interested him most and which most thor-
oughly aroused his mind, was the " Cosmographia "
of Cardinal Aliaco. It was a strange medley of folly
and wisdom, of true science and absurd fable.

Columbus found at Lisbon many manners —
intelligent, observing men — who had explored all
known seas. From them he heard of drift-wood
which had been found, different from any vegetable
growth known in Europe. Rude carvings had been
picked from the waves, evidently cut by some savage
implements. And, most strange of all, two corpses
had been washed upon the Azores, presenting an
appearance very unlike any of the known races of
Europe or Africa.

Gradually the idea seems to have dawned and
expanded in the mind of Columbus, that there must


be other and vast realms on this globe, not yet dis-
covered by Europeans. But a small portion of our
globe had then been visited by civilized men. The
mind of Columbus became greatly excited, as alone in
his room he examined the meagre maps of those days.
With pencil in hand he sketched the familiar shores
of the Mediterranean, and the less known coast of
Africa, from Cape Blanco to Cape Verde. He then,
in imagination, pushed out boldly into the Atlantic
Ocean, as for as the Azores. Here he had to stop.
All beyond was unknown and unexplored.

With flushed cheek he pondered the wonderful
theme, as thoughtful men now often find their souls
agitated, in contemplating the sublime and awful
mystery of infinite space. What is there, he asked,
in that vast ocean, extending, limitless, to the west?
Is the earth a plain ? If so* where is the end, and
what is there beyond ? Is it a globe ? If so, how
large is it ? In the boundless ocean are there other
lands ? Would it be possible for a bold adventurei
to sail around it ? It now seems marvellous that this
globe could have existed so many thousand years,
inhabited by thoughtful men, while questions of
such infinite moment as these should have slum-
bered in the mind.

The following interesting and apparently well
authenticated statements are given by Hon. William


Willis, in his very valuable Documentary History of
the State of Maine.

In the year 1477 Christopher Columbus went out
to explore and reconnoitre the old northern route,
by the way of Iceland, toward the west. It is prob-
able that he had heard of the discoveries of the
Northmen in that direction, and of the short distance
which was supposed to exist between the extreme
north of Europe and the shores of Asia.

He made several trips, preparatory to his grand
undertaking. On the south he visited Madeira, the
Canary Islands, and the coast of Guinea. He care-
fully studied all the routes of the Portuguese navi-
gators, and also made himself familiar with the
remotest of their discoveries toward the Azores, or
Western Islands. Humboldt thinks it probable that
he made an excursion to the extreme western outport
of Portuguese discovery.*

He also tried the northern route, sailing toward
Iceland, and some distance beyond it. It is probable
that he had read the Northmen's account of Green-
land, Markland, and Vineland. The last ship had
returned from Greenland to Iceland, only about one
hundred years before the visit of Columbus to that
island. Malte Brun supposes that Columbus, when

* Humboldt, " Kritische Untersuchungen," vol. I, p. 231 Ber-
lin, 1852.



in Italy, had heard of the exploits of these bold ad-
venturers beyond Iceland ; for Rome was then the
centre of the world, and all important intelligence
immediately flowed there.*

A Danish author suggests that Columbus, who
eagerly sought out all books and manuscripts con-
taining an account of voyages and discoveries, had
met with the writings of the well-known historian
Adam of Bremen, who very emphatically announces
the discovery of Vineland.f These suggestions prob-
ably induced him to make his trip to Iceland ; and,
according to the account of Fernando Colombo, his
son, he not only spent some time in Iceland, but sailed
three hundred miles beyond, which must have brought
him nearly within sight of Greenland.^

The renowned Danish historian, Finn Magnusen,
remarks : " If Columbus had been informed of the
most important discoveries of the Northmen, it is
much easier to understand his firm belief in the pos-
sibility of the rediscovery of a western country, and
his great zeal in carrying it out. And we may con-
ceive his subsequent discovery of America, partly as
a continuation and consequence of the transactions
and achievements of the old Scandinavians." *

* Make Brun, " Histoire de la Geographie, 2, pp. 395, 499.
f Finn Magnusen, 1. c. p. 165, note I.

% Vita dell' amiraglio ChriStophoro Colombo, ch. 4. Venetia, 1571,
% Om de Engelskes Handel pua Island in Noxdisk Tidsskrift
tot Oldkyndighed. 2 Bind. p. 116.


Columbus, a self-taught philosopher, ascertained
just how long it took the sun to traverse the two
thousand miles' length of the Mediterranean Sea.
From that, he inferred the distance of space over
which it would pass in twenty-four hours. This was
true Baconian philosophy. Such problems not only
expanded his mind, but disciplined his reasoning
powers, and removed him from the baleful influence
of visionary dreams.

The exciting study absorbed his whole intellectual
being. Pleasure was unthought of. The ordinary
pursuits of ambition were forgotten. He was ever
conversing upon the subject with all his friends and
acquaintances. This drew many mariners to his
studio, with narratives of what they had seen or

Gradually Columbus came to the conclusion that
the world must be a globe ; and that, by sailing
directly west, the shores of Asia would eventually be
reached. By his measurement of the sun's apparent
speed, he had formed a pretty accurate estimate of
the size of the globe. It was not his supposition that
there was any land between Europe and Asia on the
west, but he expected that one would reach the coast
of Asia about where he subsequently found the
shores of the New World.

Vague reports of the great island d£ Japan, sit-


uated just off the eastern coast of the Asiatic con-
tinent, had reached Europe. Columbus thought that
he should find it about where he afterward discovered
the island of Cuba. He was eminently a religious
man. Notwithstanding the fanaticism of those days
of darkness, it cannot be doubted that there were
many souls inspired with the most exalted principles
of religious enthusiasm.

"These vast realms," said Columbus, "are peo-
pled with immortal beings, for whose redemption
Christ, the Son of God, has made an atoning sacrifice.
It is the mission which God has assigned to me to
search them out, and to carry to them the Gospel of
Salvation. The wealth of the Indies is proverbial. I
shall find boundless riches there. With these treas-
ures, we can raise armies. With these armies, we
can rescue the sepulchre of the Saviour of the world
from the hands of infidels who dishonor it.'*

Columbus was poor. It was entirely out of his
power to fit out an expedition for so momentous a
tour of discovery. Most people deemed him a half-
crazed visionary. His plan was considered as at surd
as a proposition would now be regarded to visit the
moon. It was in vain to apply to wealthy individ-
uals. Still he found some men of intelligence who
examined his plans and pronounced them worthy of
serious consideration.


His hope was that, by the aid of such testimo
nials, he could secure the cooperation of some one
of the courts of Europe. A sovereign state could
easily supply the means, and could confer upon him
that dignity and that authority which he deemed
essential to the accomplishment of his plans. The
court, in return, would acquire great wealth and
power, with renown, which would cause it to be
envied by all Europe.*

He applied first to the Portuguese Government.
King John II. gave him a respectful audience, and
listened attentively and apparently with much in-
terest to his plans. Columbus by no means consid-
ered himself a humble suppliant at the foot of roy-
alty. He considered himself a man to whom God
had communicated thoughts which would aggrandize

the riches and fame of the loftiest monarch, and which

Im * -.-

* It is worthy of observation that while Mr. Goodrich, after a very
careful examination of the life of Columbus pronounces him to be
mean, selfish, perfidious, and cruel. Mr. Helps, after an equally close
scrutiny of his career, writes :

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottThe life of Christopher Columbus → online text (page 1 of 20)