Robert Kerr.

A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels — Volume 03 Arranged in Systematic Order: Forming a Complete History of the Origin and Progress of Navigation, Discovery, and Commerce, by Sea a online

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pigeons and other birds were seen; and the next day such immense swarms of
butterflies, as even to darken the air, which lasted till night, when a
heavy rain carried them all away.

Perceiving that the coast of Cuba ran far west, and that it was extremely,
difficult to sail in that direction, on account of the infinite multitude
of islands and shoals, and because provisions were very scanty, the
admiral resolved on the 13th of June to return to Isabella. He anchored
therefore at an island which he named _Evangelista_ which is thirty
leagues in circuit, and lies 700 leagues west from Dominica, to take in
wood and water; and thence directed his course southwards, hoping to get
better out in that direction from among the labyrinth of islands in which
he had been so long bewildered. After sailing in the channel which seemed
the clearest for a few leagues, he found it entirely shut up, which
dismayed the people extremely, at seeing themselves apparently hemmed in
on all sides, and destitute of provisions and all hopes of comfort. But
he, who was always wise and courageous, cheered their faint-heartedness,
by saying he was thankful for being forced back so soon, as if they had
been able to continue their voyage in that direction, they might possibly
have got into a situation whence they could hardly have extricated
themselves, when they had neither ships nor provisions to carry them back,
but which was now easily in their power. He therefore returned to
Evangelista, and sailed thence on the 25th of June to the N.W. towards
some small islands about five leagues off. Going on still a little farther,
they found the sea so patched with green and white that it seemed one
entire sand, though there was two fathoms water. Along this singular
looking sea they sailed seven leagues, and then came to another sea as
white as milk and very thick; this was much wondered at, and dazzled the
eyes of all the beholders, who could not conceive that there was water
enough for the ships, and yet it was about three fathoms deep. After
sailing about four leagues on this white sea, they came to another which
was as black as ink, and five fathoms deep[15]. Through this black sea he
held on his course to Cuba, and thence stood to the eastwards[16] with
scanty winds, and through narrow channels among continual shoals.

While writing his journal on the 30th of June, his ship ran so fast
aground, that neither by means of anchors or any ether invention could she
be got off; but it pleased GOD that she was at length drawn over the shoal
a-head, though with some damage from beating on the sand. He thence
sailed on as the wind and shoal water would permit, always through a white
sea of two fathoms regular depth, unless when he approached a shoal when
the water became shallower. Besides all this anxious fatigue, occasioned
by these perpetual shoals, they were distressed every evening about
sun-set by prodigious rains, which arose from the mountains and marshes of
Cuba, and continued till he came off Cuba towards the east, the way he had
come at first. Thence as he had found before, came off a most refreshing
scent as of fragrant flowers. On the 7th of July, the admiral landed to
hear mass, when there came to him an old cacique, who was very attentive
to the service. When it was ended, by signs, and the best methods which he
could find to express himself, he said it was good to give thanks to GOD,
because the souls of the good would go to Heaven, while the body remained
on earth, whereas wicked souls would go to hell. Among other things, this
cacique said that he had been to Hispaniola, where he knew some of the
chief men; that he had been to Jamaica, and a great way west in the island
of Cuba, and that the cacique of that part was clothed like a priest[17].

Sailing thence on the 16th of July, and still attended by terrible rains
and winds, he at length drew near to Cape Santa Cruz in Cuba, where he was
suddenly assailed by so violent a squall of wind and furious rain, which
laid his ship on her broad-side; but it pleased GOD that they immediately
lowered all their sails and dropt their anchors, and the ship soon righted;
yet the ship took in so much water at the deck that the people were not
able to keep the hold clear, they were so much spent for want of
provisions. For some time they had been reduced to a pound of rotten
biscuit daily with half a pint of wine, unless when they happened to catch
fish, which could not be kept from day to day on account of the climate.
This want and short allowance was common to all, and the admiral speaks
thus of it in his journal addressed to their Catholic majesties. "I am
myself at the same allowance, and I pray to GOD that it may be for his
honour and the service of your highnesses, for I shall never again expose
myself to such sufferings and dangers for my own benefit; and there never
passes a day but we are all on the very brink of death."

In this state of distress and danger, the admiral arrived at Cape Santa
Cruz on the 18th of July, where he was entertained in a very friendly
manner by the Indians, who brought him abundance of their bread made from
grated roots, which they name _cazabi_[18]. They brought likewise a great
deal of fish, and abundance of fruit, and other articles of their ordinary
provisions, which proved a great relief to the exhausted mariners. The
wind being contrary for going to Hispaniola, the admiral stood over to
Jamaica on the 22d of July, and sailed along to the westwards close under
the shore, the country being all along most delightful, and very fruitful,
with excellent harbours at every league distance. All the coast was full
of towns, whence the natives followed the ships in their canoes, bringing
such provisions as they used, which were much better liked by our people
than what they found in any of the other islands. The climate, air, and
weather, was the same as in the other islands, for in this western part of
Jamaica, there gathered every evening a storm of rain which lasted
generally about an hour. This the admiral attributed to the great woods
in these countries, as he knew that this was usual at first in the
Canaries, Azores, and Madeira islands, whereas now that the woods in these
islands are mostly cut down, there are not such great and frequent storms
and heavy rains as formerly[19]. The admiral sailed along the coast of
Jamaica, but was obliged by contrary winds to take shelter every night
under the land, which appeared green, pleasant, fruitful, abounding in
provisions, and so populous that he thought nothing could excel it,
especially near a bay which he named _De las Vacas_, on account of nine
islands close to the land. At this place the land was as high as any he
had ever seen, insomuch that he believed it to reach above the regions in
which the storms are bred. He estimated Jamaica to be 800 miles in
compass; and when it was fully discovered, he computed it to be fifty
leagues long by twenty leagues broad. Being much taken with the beauty of
this island, he was much inclined to have made a longer stay to be fully
informed of its nature; but the great want of provisions under which he
laboured, and the crazy state of his vessels would not permit. Wherefore,
as soon as the weather became a little fair, he sailed away to the
westwards, and on Tuesday the 19th of August, he lost sight of that island,
standing directly for Hispaniola and named the most easterly cape of
Jamaica on the south coast _Cabo del Farol_.

On Wednesday the 20th of August, the admiral got sight of the south side
of Hispaniola, and called the first point Cape St Michael, which is thirty
leagues distant from the most easterly point of Jamaica; but through the
ignorance of the sailors that Cape is now called _Tiberoun_. From this
cape, on the 23d of August, a cacique came on board, who called the
admiral by his name, and had some other Spanish words, from which
circumstance he was convinced that this was the same land with Hispaniola.
At the end of August, he anchored at an island called _Alto Velo_, and
having lost sight of the other two ships, he caused some men to go on
shore in that little island which was very high, but they were unable to
see either of their consorts. When about to return on board, they killed
eight sea wolves that lay asleep on the sand, and took abundance of
pigeons and other birds; for that island being uninhabited, these animals
were unaccustomed to the sight of men, and allowed themselves to be
knocked down with sticks. They did the same on the two following days
waiting for the ships, which had been missing ever since the 22d of August.
At the end of six days they made their appearance, and all three proceeded
to the island _Beata_, twelve leagues from Alto Velo. Hence they continued
to coast along Hispaniola, in sight of a delightful country, which was a
plain of about a mile broad, before the hills began to ascend, and so
populous, that in one place there seemed to be a continued town for the
length of a league; and in that plain there appeared a lake five leagues
long from east to west. The people of the country having some knowledge of
the Christians, came on board in their canoes, and said that some
Spaniards from Isabella had been among them, and that they were all well,
which news gave the admiral great satisfaction; and to the end that they
too might receive intelligence of his return to the island, he ordered
nine men to cross the island by way of the forts St Thomas and the
Magdalen to Isabella.

Continuing his voyage eastwards, he sent the boats on shore for water, to
a place where a great town appeared, when the Indians came out with bows
and poisoned arrows, and with ropes in their hands, making signs to the
Spaniards that they would bind them if they came on shore. But as soon as
the boats came close to the beach they laid down their weapons, and
offered to bring bread and water, and every thing they had, asking in
their language for the admiral. Going from hence, they saw a strange fish
in the sea as big as a whale, having a great shell on its neck like a
tortoise, and bearing its head, as big as a hogshead, above the water, the
tail was very long like a tunny fish, and it had two large fins on the
sides. From the appearance of this fish and other signs, the admiral
foresaw an approaching change of weather, and sought for some harbour to
secure himself; and it pleased GOD that on the 15th of September, he
discovered an island near the east part of Hispaniola named _Adamanoi_ by
the Indians, and the weather being very stormy, dropt anchor in the
channel between it and Hispaniola, close to a small island which lies
between both. That night he saw an eclipse of the moon, which he said
varied five hours and twenty-three minutes from its time at Cadiz[20], to
the place where he then was. The bad weather, probably owing to the
eclipse, lasted so long, that he was forced to remain at that anchorage
till the 20th of the month, all the time under great anxiety for the other
ships which were not able to get into the same place of security, but it
pleased GOD to save them. Having rejoined the other caravels, they all
sailed over to the eastern part of Hispaniola, and thence to a little
island called _Mona_ by the Indians, which lies between Hispaniola and St
John de Boriquen.

The journal of the admiral breaks off at this island, and he does not
inform us of his course from thence to Isabella; but only, that while
going from Mona to St John, the great fatigues he had undergone, together
with his own weakness and the want of proper food, brought on a violent
malady, between a pestilential fever and a lethargy, which presently
deprived him of his senses and memory; whereupon, all the people in the
three caravels resolved to desist from the design he had then in hand of
discovering all the islands in the Caribbean sea, and returned to Isabella,
where they arrived on the 29th of September, five days afterwards[21].
This heavy sickness lasted during five months, but it pleased GOD to
restore him afterwards to health. His illness was occasioned by the great
sufferings he had gone through in this voyage, during which he had often
not been able to sleep three hours in eight days, owing to the perilous
nature of the navigation among innumerable islands and shoals; a degree
of privation that seems almost impossible, were it not authenticated by
himself and those who accompanied him.

On his return to Hispaniola, the admiral found there his brother
Bartholomew Columbus whom he had sent, as formerly related, to treat with
the king of England about the discovery of the Indies. On his return to
Spain with the grant of all his demands, he learned at Paris from Charles
king of France, that his brother the admiral had already made the
discovery, and the king supplied him with an hundred crowns to enable him
to prosecute his journey into Spain. He thereupon made all the haste he
could to overtake the admiral in Spain; but on his arrival at Seville, he
found that the admiral had gone out upon his second voyage with seventeen
sail, as already related. Wherefore, to fulfil the orders which his
brother had left for him at the beginning of 1494, he went to the court of
their Catholic majesties at Valadolid, carrying my brother Don James
Columbus and me along with him, as we had been appointed to serve as pages
to Prince John. Immediately upon our arrival, their majesties sent for Don
Bartholomew, and dispatched him with three ships to Hispaniola, where he
served several years, as appears from the following memorandum which I
found among his papers: "I served as captain from the 14th April 1494,
till the 12th of March 1498, when the admiral set out for Spain, and then
I began to act as governor till the 24th of August 1498, when the admiral
returned from the discovery of Paria; after which, I again served as
captain till the 11th of December 1500, when I returned to Spain." On his
return from Cuba, the admiral appointed his brother governor of the
Indies; though controversies afterwards arose on this subject, as their
majesties alleged that they had not given authority to the admiral to
make any such appointment. But to end this difference, their highnesses
granted it a-new, under the title of adelantado, or lieutenant of the
Indies, to my uncle Don Bartholomew.

Having now the assistance and advice of his brother, the admiral took some
rest, and lived in quiet, although he met with sufficient troubles, both
on account of his sickness, and because he found that almost all the
Indians had revolted through the fault of Don Pedro Marguerite. He, though
obliged to respect and honour the admiral, who had left him the command of
360 foot and 14 horse, with orders to travel all over the island, and to
reduce it to the obedience of their Catholic Majesties and the Christians,
particularly the province of Cibao, whence the chief profit was expected;
yet acted in every thing contrary to his orders and instructions, insomuch,
that when the admiral was gone, he went with all his men to the great
plain called _Vega Real_, or the Royal Plain, ten leagues from Isabella,
where he remained without ever endeavouring to traverse and reduce the
island. Hence there ensued discords and factions at Isabella, as Don Pedro
endeavoured to make the council which the admiral had instituted in that
place, subservient to his own authority, sending them very insolent
letters; and perceiving that he could not succeed in getting the whole
power and authority into his hands, he was afraid to wait the return of
the admiral who would have called him to a severe account for his conduct,
and went therefore on board the first ships that returned to Spain,
without giving any account of himself or any way disposing of the men who
had been left under his command.

Upon this desertion of Don Pedro, every one went among the Indians as they
thought fit, taking away their women and goods, and committing everywhere
such outrages, that the Indians resolved to revenge themselves on all whom
they should find straggling about the country. The cacique of the Magdalen,
Guatiguana, had killed ten, and had privately caused a house to be fired
in which there were eleven sick Spaniards. But he was severely punished by
the admiral after his return; for though the cacique himself could not
then be taken, yet some of his subjects were sent prisoners into Spain in
four ships that sailed in February 1495 under Antonio de Torres. Six or
seven other Indians who had injured the Christians in other parts of the
island suffered for their conduct. The cacique had killed many, and would
certainly have destroyed many more, if the admiral had not fortunately
come in time to restore order among the Christians, and to curb the
refractory spirit of the Indians. On his arrival from his late voyage to
Cuba and Jamaica, he found that most of the Christians had committed a
thousand insolencies, for which they were mortally hated by the Indians,
who refused to submit to their authority. It was no difficult matter for
them all to agree in casting off the Spanish yoke, as the whole island was
subject to the authority of four principal caciques. These were Caunabo,
Guacanagari, Behechico, and Gaurionex; each of whom commanded over seventy
or eighty inferior lords or caciques. These paid no tribute to the
superior caciques, but were obliged to till the ground when called upon,
and to assist them in their wars; but of these four, Guacanagari, who was
superior lord of that part of the island in which the town of Navidad had
been built, continued always friendly to the Christians. As soon therefore
as he heard of the admirals return to Isabella, he went to wait upon him,
and represented that he had not been any way aiding or advising with the
others, as might appear from the great civility the Christians had always
received in his country, where 100 men had always been well used and
furnished with every thing of which they stood in need. For which reason
the other caciques had become his enemies, as Behechico had killed one of
his women, and Caunabo had taken away another; wherefore he entreated the
admiral to cause her to be restored, and to assist him in revenging his
wrongs. The admiral was disposed to believe that Guacanagari spoke truth,
as he always wept whenever the discourse turned upon the slaughter of the
Christians at the Nativity; and the admiral was the more inclined to take
part with this cacique, as he considered that the discord among the Indian
chiefs, would make it the more easy for him to reduce the country to
subjection, and to punish the other Indians for their revolt, and for
having killed so many of the Christians.

Having resolved to make war upon the refractory natives, he set out from
Isabella on the 24th of March 1495, taking Guacanagari along with him; yet
the enterprize seemed difficult, as the malcontent Indians had collected
a force of above 100,000 men, whereas the admiral had only about 200
infantry, 20 horsemen, and about the same number of dogs [22]. Being well
acquainted with the nature and qualities of the Indians, when he was two
days march from Isabella, the admiral divided his small force, giving
half to his brother the lieutenant, that he might attack the multitude
which was scattered over the plain in two places at once, believing that
the terror of the noise in two places would throw them into disorder, and
put them to flight the sooner, as it actually proved in the event. The
battalions of foot fell upon the disordered multitude of the Indians, and
broke them with the first discharge of their cross-bows and muskets; the
cavalry and the dogs next fell upon them in the most furious manner that
they might have no time to rally, and the faint-hearted natives fled on
every side. Our men pursued them, and made such havock, that in a short
time, through GOD'S assistance, many of the enemies were slain, and others
taken prisoners, among whom was Caunabo the principal cacique of the whole,
with his wives and children, and one of his brothers. Caunabo afterwards
confessed that he had killed twenty of the Spaniards who had been left
with Arana at the town of the Nativity on the first voyage, when the
Indies were discovered; and that he had afterwards gone under colour of
friendship to Isabella, that he might observe how best to attack it and do
as he had formerly done at Navidad. The admiral had been fully informed
of all these things by others, and therefore to punish him for that
offence and for this revolt, he sent the whole family prisoners into Spain,
not being inclined to execute so considerable a person without the
knowledge of their Catholic majesties; but he capitally punished several
others of the ringleaders in the revolt. The consequences of this great
victory, and the capture of Caunabo put the affairs of the Christians into
such good order, that although there were then only 630 Spaniards in the
island, many of whom were sick, and others women and children; yet in the
space of a year, which the admiral employed in traversing the island
without being again constrained to use the sword, he reduced it to entire
obedience, and brought the people to engage for the payment of a tribute
every three months to their Catholic majesties. All the inhabitants of
the province of Cibao, in which the gold mines are situated, from fourteen
years of age and upwards; were to pay a large horse bell full of gold dust;
while those in the other districts of the island were rated at twenty-five
pounds of cotton each person[23]. That it might be known who had paid
their quotas of this tribute, a sort of coin made of brass and tin was
stamped, one of which was given to each person that paid, which he was
directed to wear hanging from his neck, that whoever was found without
this token might be known as not having paid, and be punished accordingly.
Doubtless this arrangement would have proved effectual to ensure a
respectable revenue, as after the capture of Caunabo, the country became
so peaceable, that for the future a single Christian went safely all over
the island, and the Indians would even carry the Spaniards about on their
shoulders. But the troubles which happened afterwards among the Christians,
which will be related in the sequel, overturned all this fair fabric of

The admiral attributed the ease with which he had discomfited so vast a
multitude, with only 200 ill armed and half-sick men, to the interposition
of Providence and the good fortune of their Catholic majesties. And it
pleased the Divine Majesty, not only to enable him to reduce the whole
country under authority, but to end such a scarcity of provisions, and
such violent diseases among the natives, that they were reduced to a third
of the number which they had been when first discovered: Thus making it
evident that such miraculous victories, and the subduing of nations, are
the gift of Providence, and not the effect of our power or good conduct,
or of the want of courage in the natives; for though our men were superior
to them, yet their numbers might have compensated for any advantage we had
over them in arms and discipline [24].

The people of the island being reduced to subjection, and conversing more
freely with our men, many particulars and secrets respecting their
religion were discovered, and many circumstances of the nature of the
country: Particularly that it contained mines of copper, azure, and amber,
and that it produced ebony, cedar, frankincense, and other rich gums, and
spice of several kinds, but wild, and which might be brought to perfection
by cultivation; as cinnamon of a good colour but bitter, ginger, long
pepper, abundance of mulberry trees for making silk which bear leaves all
the year, and many other useful trees and plants not known in our parts. I
shall here insert an account of the religion of these people as written by
the admiral, which is followed by a more particular memorial on the same
subject, written at his desire by an Anchorite who understood the language
of the natives.

"I could discover neither idolatry among those people nor any other sect,
though every one of their kings, who are very numerous both in Hispaniola
and the other islands and continent, has a house apart from the town, in
which there are nothing but some carved wooden images which they call
_cemis_[25], and every thing that is done in these houses is expressly for
the service of these images, the people repairing to these houses to pray
and to perform certain ceremonies, as we do to our churches. In these
houses they have a handsome round table made like a dish, on which there

Online LibraryRobert KerrA General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels — Volume 03 Arranged in Systematic Order: Forming a Complete History of the Origin and Progress of Navigation, Discovery, and Commerce, by Sea a → online text (page 13 of 51)