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

. (page 22 of 51)
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 22 of 51)
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so that they were continually wet and could not get half an hours rest at
a time, always beating up to windward. In such terrible tempests they
dreaded the _fire_ in flashes of lightning, the _air_ for its fury, _the
water_ for its mountainous waves, and the _earth_ for hidden rocks and
sands; where they expected safety in a near haven, often encountering
danger, and therefore preferring to contend against all the other elements
to avoid the land. In the midst of all these terrors there occurred
another no less wonderful and dangerous, which was a water-spout rising
from the sea on Thursday the 13th of December; which, if they had not
dissolved by reciting the gospel of St John, had certainly sunk whatever
it had fallen upon. This phenomenon draws the water up to the clouds like
a pillar and thicker than a butt, twisting it about like a whirlwind.

That same night we lost sight of the ship called the Biscaina, but had the
good fortune to see it again after three or four dreadful dark days. It
had lost its boat and had been in great danger, being so near the land as
to be forced to come to anchor, which it likewise lost by being obliged to
cut the cable. It now appeared that the currents on this coast follow the
prevailing wind, running westwards with the east wind, and eastwards with
the west. The ships being now almost shattered to pieces by the tempest,
and the men quite spent with incessant labour, a calm for a day or two
gave them some relief, and brought such multitudes of sharks about the
ships as were dreadful to behold, especially to such as were superstitious.
Ravens are reported to smell out dead bodies from a great distance, and
some think that sharks have the same perceptive faculty. They have two
rows of sharp teeth in the nature of a saw, with which if they lay hold of
a mans leg or arm they cut it off as with a razor. Multitudes of these
sharks were caught by a hook and chain, but being able to destroy no more,
they continued in vast numbers swimming about. They are so greedy that
they not only bite at carrion, but may be taken by means of a red rag upon
the hook. I have seen a tortoise taken out of the stomach of one of these
sharks that lived for some time afterwards aboard the ship; and out of
another was taken the head of one of its own kind, which we had cut off
and thrown into the water as not fit to be eaten, and the shark had
swallowed it, which to us seemed strange and unnatural that one creature
should swallow the head of another as large as its own; this however is
owing to the vast size of their mouth which reaches almost to the belly,
and the head is shaped like an olive. Though some of the people considered
these creatures as foreboding misfortune, and others thought them bad fish,
yet we were all thankful for them on account of the want we were now in:
We had been eight months at sea, so that all the flesh and fish we had
brought from Spain was consumed, and owing to the heat and moisture of the
atmosphere, the biscuit was become so full of maggots that many of the
people waited till night before they could eat the pottage made of it,
that they might not see the maggots; but others were so used to eat them
that they were not curious to throw them away, lest they might lose their

Upon Saturday the 17th of December we put into a large bay or port three
leagues to the eastwards of _Pennon_ called _Huiva_ by the Indians, where
we remained three days. We there saw the Indians dwelling upon the tops
of trees, like birds, laying sticks across the boughs upon which they
build a kind of huts. We conceived this might have been for fear of the
_griffins_ which are in that country, or to be out of reach of their
enemies; for all along that coast the little tribes at every league
distant are great enemies to each other and perpetually at war. We sailed
from this port on the 20th with fair weather but not settled, for as soon
as we were got put to sea the tempest rose again and drove us into another
port, whence we departed the third day, the weather being somewhat mended,
but like an enemy that lies in wait for a man, it rushed out again and
drove us to Pennon, but when we hoped to get in there the wind came quite
contrary and drove us again towards Veragua. Being at an anchor in the
river the weather became again very stormy, so that we had reason to be
thankful for having got into that port, where we had been before on the
12th of the same month. We continued here from the 26th of December to the
3d of January 1508; when, having repaired the ship Gallega and taken on
board a good store of Indian wheat, water, and wood, we turned back to
Veragua with bad weather and contrary winds, which changed crossly just as
the admiral altered his course. This continual changing of the wind gave
us so much trouble between Veragua and Porto Bello that the admiral named
this _Costo de Contrasses_, or the Coast of Thwartings.

Upon Thursday, being the feast of the Epiphany, 6th January, we cast
anchor near a river called _Yebra_ by the Indians, but which the admiral
named Belem or Bethlem, because we came to it on the festival of the three
kings. He caused the mouth of that river and of another to the westwards
to be sounded; in the latter, called _Veragua_ by the Indians, the water
was shoal, but in the river Belem there were four fathoms at high water.
The boats went up this river to the town where we had been informed the
gold mines of Veragua were situated. At first the Indians were so far from
conversing that they assembled with their weapons to hinder the Christians
from landing; and the next day on going up the river of Veragua, the
Indians did the same, not only on shore, but stood upon their guard with
their canoes in the water. But an Indian of that coast who understood them
a little went on shore and persuaded them that we were good people, and
desired nothing from them but what we would pay for; by this they were
pacified and trucked twenty plates of gold, likewise some hollow pieces
like the joints of reeds, and some unmelted grains. On purpose to enhance
the value of their gold they said it was gathered a great way off among
uncouth mountains, and that when they gathered it they did not eat, nor
did they carry their women along with them, a story similar to which was
told by the people of Hispaniola when it was first discovered.

On Monday the 9th of January the admirals ship and that called Biscaina
went up the river, and the Indians came presently on board to barter away
such things as they had, especially fish, which at certain times of the
year come up these rivers from the sea in such quantities as would seem
incredible to those who had not seen it. They likewise exchanged some gold
for pins, and what they most valued they gave for beads, or hawks-bells.
Next day the other two ships came in, having to wait for the flood, which
does not rise above half a fathom in these parts. As Veragua was famed for
mines and extraordinary wealth, the admirals brother went up the river the
third day after our arrival to the town of _Quibio_, the king or cacique
of this province; who, hearing of the lieutenants coming, came down the
river in his canoes to meet him. Quibio behaved in a very friendly manner,
and interchanged several articles with the lieutenant, and after a long
discourse they parted in peace. Next day Quibio came on board to visit the
admiral, and having discoursed together about an hour, his men trucked
some gold for bells, and he returned to his own place.

While we lay here as we thought in perfect ease and security, the river of
Belem suddenly swelled on the 24th of January so high, that before we
could get a cable on shore the fury of the water came so impetuously on
the admirals ship that it broke one of her anchors, and drove her with
such force against the Galega as to bring the foremast by the board, and
both ships were carried away foul of each other in the utmost danger of
perishing. Some judged that this sudden and mighty flood had been
occasioned by the heavy rains, which still continued incessantly; but in
that case the river would have swelled gradually and not all of a sudden,
which made us suppose that some extraordinary rain had fallen in the
mountains about 20 leagues up the country, which the admiral called the
mountains of St Christopher. The highest of that range was above the
region of the air in which meteors are bred, as no cloud was ever seen to
rise above, but all floated below its summit; this mountain of St
Christopher looks like a hermitage[13], and lies in the midst of a range
of woody mountains whence we believed that flood came which was so
dangerous to our ships; for had they been carried out to sea they must
have been shattered to pieces, as the wind was then extremely boisterous.
This tempest lasted so long that we had time to refit and caulk the ships;
and the waves broke so furiously on the mouth of the river, that the boats
could not go out to discover along the coast, to learn where the mines lay,
and to seek out for a proper place in which to build a town; for the
admiral had resolved to leave his brother in this place with most of the
men, that they might settle and subdue the country, while he should return
into Spain to send out supplies of men and provisions. With this prospect,
he sent his brother on Monday the 6th of February with 68 men by sea to
the mouth of the Veragua river, a league to the westward of the Belem
river, who went a league and a half up the river to the caciques town,
where he staid a day inquiring the way to the mines. On Wednesday they
travelled four leagues and half, and rested for the night on the side of a
river which they had crossed 44 times in the course of that days march;
next day they travelled a league and a half towards the mines, being
directed in their journey by some Indian guides who were furnished by
Quibio. In about two hours time they came thither, and every man gathered
some gold from about the roots of the trees, which were there very thick
and of prodigious height. This sample was much valued, because none of
those who went upon this expedition had any tools for digging, or had ever
been accustomed to gather gold; and as the design of this expedition was
merely to get information of the situation of the mines, they returned
very much satisfied that same day to Veragua, and the next day to the
ships. It was afterwards learnt that these were not the mines of Veragua
which lay much nearer, but belonged to the town of _Urira_ the people of
which being enemies to those of Veragua, Quibio had ordered the Christians
to be conducted thither to do a displeasure to his foes, and that his own
mines might remain untouched.

On Thursday the 14th of February, the lieutenant went into the country
with 40 men, a boat following with 14 more. The next day they came to the
river _Urira_ seven leagues west from Belem. The cacique came a league out
of this town to meet him with 20 men, and presented him with such things
as they feed on, and some gold plates were exchanged here. This cacique
and his chief men never ceased putting a dry herb into their mouths, which
they chewed and sometimes they took a sort of powder which they carried
along with that herb, which singular custom astonished our people very
much[14]. Having rested here a while, the Christians and Indians went to
the town, where they were met by great numbers of people, had a large
house appointed for their habitation, and were supplied with plenty of
provisions. Soon after came the cacique of _Dururi_, a neighbouring town,
with a great many Indians, who brought some gold plates to exchange. All
these Indians said that there were caciques farther up the country who had
abundance of gold, and great numbers of men armed as ours were. Next day
the lieutenant ordered part of his men to return to the ships, and with 30
whom he retained, beheld on his journey to _Zobraba_, where the fields for
six leagues were all full of maize like corn fields. Thence he went to
_Cateba_ another town, and was well entertained at both places with
abundance of provisions, and some gold plates were bartered. These are
like, the pattern of a chalice, some bigger and some less, and weighed
about twelve ducats more or less, and the Indians wear them hanging from
their necks by a string as we do relics. Being now very far from the ships,
without having found any port along the coast, or any river larger than
that of Belem on which to settle his colony, the lieutenant came back on
the 24th of February, bringing with him a considerable value in gold which
he had acquired by barter during his journey.

Immediately on his return preparations were made for his stay, and eighty
men were appointed to remain with him. These were divided into gangs of
ten men each, and began to build houses on the bank of the Belem river on
the right hand going up, about a cannon-shot from its mouth, and the
infant colony was protected by surrounding it with a trench. The mouth of
this river is marked by a small hill. The houses were all built of timber
and covered with palm leaves, which grew abundantly along the banks of the
river; and besides the ordinary houses for the colony, a large house was
built to serve as a magazine and store-house, into which several pieces of
cannon, powder, provisions, and other necessaries for the use and support
of the planters were put. But the wine, biscuit, oil, vinegar, cheese, and
a considerable supply of grain were left in the ship Gallega as the safest
place; which was to be left with the lieutenant for the service of the
colony, with all its cordage, nets, hooks and other tackle; for, as has
been already said, there is vast abundance of fish in every river of that
coast, several sorts at certain seasons running along the coast in shoals,
on which the people of the country live more than upon flesh, for though
there are some beasts of different sorts, there are by no means enough to
maintain the inhabitants.

The customs of these Indians are for the most part much the same as those
of Hispaniola and the neighbouring islands; but those people of Veragua
and the country about it, when they talk to one another are constantly
turning their backs and always chewing an herb, which we believed to be
the reson that their teeth were rotten and decayed. Their food is mostly
fish, which they take with nets, and with hooks made of tortoiseshell,
which they cut with a thread as if they were sawing, in the same manner as
is done in the islands. They have another way of catching some very small
fishes, which are called _Titi_ in Hispaniola. At certain times these are
driven towards the shore by the rains, and are so persecuted by the larger
fish that they are forced up to the surface in shoal water, where the
Indians take as many of them as they have a mind by means of little matts
or small meshed nets. They wrap these up singly in certain leaves, and
having dried them in an oven they will keep a great while. They also catch
pilchards in the same manner; for at certain times these fly with such
violence from the pursuit of the large fish, that they will leap out of
the water two or three paces on the dry land, so that they have nothing to
do but take them as they do the _Titi_. These pilchards are taken after
another manner: They raise a partition of palm-tree leaves two yards high
in the middle of a canoe, fore and aft as the seamen call it, or from stem
to stern; then plying about the river they make a great noise, beating the
shores with their paddles, and then the pilchards, to fly from the other
fish, leap into the canoe, where hitting against the partition they fall
in, and by this means they often take vast numbers[15]. Several sorts of
fish pass along the coast in vast shoals, whereof immense quantities are
taken; and these will keep a long time after being roasted or dried in the
way already mentioned.

These Indians have also abundance of maize, a species of grain which grows
in an ear or hard head like millet, and from which they make a white and
red wine, as beer is made in England, mixing it with their spice as it
suits their palate, having a pleasant taste like sharp brisk wine. They
also make another sort of wine from certain trees like palms which have
prickly trunks like thorns: This wine is made from the pith of these palms,
which resemble squeezed palmitoes, and from which they extract the juice
and boil it up with water and spice. They make another wine from a fruit
which grows likewise in Guadaloup, resembling a large pine-apple. This is
planted in large fields, and the plant is a sprout growing from the top of
the fruit, like that which grows from a cabbage or lettuce. One plant
lasts in bearing for three or four years. They likewise make wines from
other sorts of fruit; particularly from one that grows upon very high
trees, which is as big as a large lemon, and has several stones like nuts,
from two to nine in each, not round but long like chesnuts. The rind of
this fruit is like a pomegranate, and when first taken from the tree it
resembles it exactly, save only that it wants the prickly circle at the
top. The taste of it is like a peach; and of them some are better than
others, as is usual in other fruits. There are some of these in the
islands, where they are named _Mamei_ by the Indians.

All things being settled for the Christian colony and ten or twelve houses
built and thatched, the admiral wished to have sailed for Spain; but he
was now threatened by even a greater danger from want of water in the
river, than that he had formerly experienced by the inundation. For the
great rains in January being now over, the mouth of the river was so
choked up with sand, that though there were ten feet of water on the bar
when we came in, which was scant enough, there were now only two feet when
we wished to have gone out. We were thus shut up without prospect of
relief, as it was impossible to get over the sand; and even if we had
possessed any engine calculated for this purpose, the sea was so
boisterous that the smallest of the waves which broke upon the shore was
enough to have beat the ships in pieces, more especially as ours were now
all eaten through and through by the worms like a honeycomb. We had
nothing left therefore, but to pray to God for rain, as we had before
prayed for fair weather; as we knew that rain would swell the river and
clear away the sand.

In the meantime it was discovered by means of our interpreter, an Indian
whom we had taken not far off above three months before, and who willingly
went along with us, that Quibio the cacique of Veragua, intended to set
fire to the houses and destroy the Christians, as all the Indians were
averse to the settlement of our people in their country. It was therefore
thought proper, as a punishment to this cacique and a terror and example
to the other Indians, to take him and all his chief men prisoners into
Spain, that his town and tribe might remain subjected to the Christians.
Accordingly, the lieutenant went with a party of seventy-six men towards
Veragua, on the 30th of March, to execute this project. This town or
village is not built close together, but all the houses are built at
considerable distances as in Biscay. When Quibio understood that the
lieutenant was come near, he sent word for him not to come up to his house;
but the lieutenant, that he might not seem any way afraid of these people,
went up notwithstanding this message, accompanied only by five men;
ordering all the rest to halt at the foot of the hill on which the
caciques house was situated, and desiring them to come after him, two and
two together, at some distance from each other; and that when they should
hear a musket fired, they should all run up, and beset the house that none
of them might escape.

When the lieutenant came to the house, Quibio sent another message to
desire that he might not come in, for though wounded by an arrow, he would
come out to receive him, and he acted in this manner to prevent his women
from being seen, these Indians being exceedingly jealous on that score. He
came out accordingly and sat down at the door, requesting that the
lieutenant alone might approach; who did so, ordering the rest to fall on
whenever they saw him seize hold of the cacique by the arm. He asked
Quibio some questions concerning his wound, and the affairs of the country,
by means of the before-mentioned interpreter, who was exceedingly fearful,
as he knew the intentions of the cacique to destroy the Christians, which
he thought might easily be done by the great numbers of people in that
province, as he had as yet no experience of the strength of our people or
the power of their weapons. Pretending to look where the cacique had been
wounded; the lieutenant took hold of his arm, and kept so firm a grasp,
though Quibio was a strong man, that he held him fast till the other five
Christians came up to his assistance, one of whom fired off his musket,
upon which all the rest ran out from their ambush and surrounded the house,
in which there were thirty people old and young; most of whom were taken,
and none wounded, for on seeing their king a prisoner they made no
resistance. Among the prisoners there were some wives and children of the
cacique, and some inferior chiefs, who said they had a great treasure
concealed in the adjoining wood, and offered to give the whole of it for
the ransom of their cacique and themselves. But the lieutenant would not
listen to their proposals, and ordered Quibio, with his wives and children,
and the principal people who had been made prisoners, to be immediately
carried on board, before the country took the alarm, and remained with
most of his men to go after the kindred and subjects of the captured
cacique, many of whom had fled. John Sanchez of Cadiz, one of our pilots,
and a man of good reputation, was appointed to take charge of the
prisoners, and more especially of Quibio, who was bound hand and foot, and
on being charged to take particular care that he might not escape, he said
he would give them leave to pull his beard off if he got away. Sanchez and
his prisoners embarked with an escort in the boats to go down the river of
Veragua to the ships; and when within half a league of its mouth, Quibio
complained that his hands were bound too tight, on which Sanchez
compassionately loosened him from the seat of the boat to which he was
tied, and held the rope in his hand. A little after this, observing that
he was not very narrowly watched, Quibio sprung into the water, and
Sanchez let go the rope that he might not be dragged in after him. Night
was coming on, and the people in the boat were in such confusion that they
could not see or hear where he got on shore, for they heard no more of him
than if a stone had fallen into the water and disappeared. That the rest
of the prisoners might not likewise escape, they held on their way to the
ships much ashamed of their carelessness.

Next day, perceiving that the country was very mountainous and woody, and
that there were no regular towns, the houses being scattered about at
irregular distances, and consequently that it would be very difficult to
pursue the Indians from place to place, the lieutenant returned to the
ships. He presented to the admiral the plunder of Quibios house, worth
about 300 ducats in gold plates, little eagles, small quills which they
string and wear about their arms and legs, and gold twists which they wear
about their heads in the nature of a coronet. After deducting the fifth
part for their Catholic majesties, he divided all the rest among the
people who had been employed in the expedition, giving one of those crowns
or coronets to the lieutenant in token of victory.

All things being provided for the maintenance of the colony, and the rules
and regulations by which it was to be governed being settled, it pleased
GOD to send so much rain that the river swelled and opened the mouth
sufficiently to float the ships over the bar. Wherefore the admiral
resolved to depart for Hispaniola without delay, that he might forward
supplies for this place. Taking advantage of a calm that the sea might not
beat upon the month of the river, we went out with three of the ships, the
boats towing a-head. Yet though they were lightened as much as possible,
every one of the keels rubbed on the sand which was fortunately loose and
moving; and we then took in with all expedition every thing that was
unloaded for making the ships draw less water. While we lay upon the open
coast, about a league from the mouth of the river, it pleased GOD

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 22 of 51)