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Sep 18, 2023
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Christopher Columbus, "The Letters of Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabel," 1493 While he may not have been the first European to explore the Atlantic, Christopher Columbus initiated a new era of European voyages to the Atlantic world as a result of his voyages. Columbus was an experienced map maker and navigator from the Italian port city of Genoa. Spanish rulers King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella commissioned his voyage in 1492 with the goal of seeking a new western route to Asia from Europe. Instead, Columbus landed on several islands in the Caribbean just off the Americas, including San Salvador in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola. Columbus called the natives he encountered "Indians," mistakenly believing that he was in the "Indies," off the coast of Asia. Columbus's voyages helped establish Spain as a leader in the early era of European exploration and settlement of the Americas. In this letter, addressed to Ferdinand, Columbus reports on his first voyage in 1492-93. has crowned my voyage, | write this to you, from which you will learn how in thirty- three days | passed from the Canary Islands to the Indies, with the fleet which the most illustrious King and Queen, our Sovereigns, gave to me. There | found very many islands, filled with innumerable people, and | have taken possession of them all for their Highnesses, done by proclamation and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposi- tion was offered to me. SIR: Since | know that you will be pleased at the great victory with which Our Lord To the first island which | found | gave the name "San Salvador," in remembrance of the Divine Majesty, Who had marvellously bestowed all this; the Indians call it "Guanahani." To the second, | gave the name the island of "Santa Maria de Concepcion," to the third, "Fernandina," to the fourth, "Isabella," to the fifth island, "Juana," and so each received from me a new name. . .. Espafiola [modern Hispaniola, divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic] is a marvel. The sierras and the mountains, the plains, the champaigns, are so lovely and so rich for planting and sowing, for breeding cattle of every kind, for building towns and villages. The harbours of the sea here are such as cannot be believed to exist unless they have been seen, and so with the rivers, many and great, and of good water, the majority of which contain gold. In the trees, fruits and plants, there is a great difference from those of Juana. In this island, there are many spices and great mines of gold and of other metals. The people of this island and of all the other islands which | have found and of which | have information, all go naked, men and women, as their mothers bore them, Columbus, Christopher. The Journal of Christopher Columbus, trans. Cecil Jane (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1960).
although some of the women cover a single place with the leaf of a plant or with a net of cotton which they make for the purpose. They have no iron or steel or weapons, nor are they fitted to use them. This is not because they are not well built and of hand- some stature, but because they are very marvellously timorous. They have no other arms than spears made of canes, cut in seeding time, to the ends of which they fix a small sharpened stick. Of these they do not dare to make use, for many times it has happened that | have sent ashore two or three men to some town to have speech with them, and countless people have come out to them, and as soon as they have seen my men approaching, they have fled, a father not even waiting for his son. This is not because ill has been done to any one of them; on the contrary, at every place where | have been and have been able to have speech with them, | have given to them of that which | had, such as cloth and many other things, receiving nothing in exchange. But so they are, incurably timid. It is true that, after they have been reassured and have lost this fear, they are so guileless and so generous with all that they possess, that no one would believe it who has not seen it. They refuse nothing that they possess, if it be asked of them; on the contrary, they invite any one to share it and display as much love as if they would give their hearts. They are content with whatever trifle of whatever kind that may be given to them, whether it be of value or valueless. | forbade that they should be given things so worthless as fragments of broken crockery, scraps of broken glass and lace tips, although when they were able to get them, they fancied that they possessed the best jewel in the world. So it was found that for a thong a sailor received gold to the weight of two and a half castellanos [a gold coin], and oth- ers received much more for other things which were worth less. As for new blancas [a coin of copper-silver alloy], for them they would give everything which they had, although it might be two or three castellanos' weight of gold or an arroba or two of spun cotton. They took even the pieces of the broken hoops of the wine barrels and, like savages, gave what they had, so that it seemed to me to be wrong and | forbade it. | gave them a thousand handsome good things, which | had brought, in order that they might conceive affection for us and, more than that, might become Christians and be inclined to the love and service of Your Highnesses and of the whole Castilian nation, and strive to collect and give us of the things which they have in abundance and which are necessary to us. They do not hold any creed nor are they idolaters; but they all believe that power and good are in the heavens and were very firmly convinced that |, with these ships and men, came from the heavens, and in this belief they everywhere received me after they had mastered their fear. This belief is not the result of ignorance, for they are, on the contrary, of a very acute intelligence and they are men who navigate all those seas, so that it is amazing how good an account they give of everything. It is because they have never seen people clothed or ships of such a kind.
As soon as | arrived in the Indies, in the first island which | found, | took some of the natives by force, in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts. And so it was that they soon understood us, and we them, either by speech or signs, and they have been very serviceable. At present, those | bring with me are still of the opinion that | come from Heaven, for all the intercourse which they have had with me. They were the first to announce this wherever | went, and the others went running from house to house, and to the neighbouring towns, with loud cries of, "Come! Come! See the men from Heaven!" So all came, men and women alike, when their minds were set at rest concerning us, not one, small or great, remaining behind, and they all brought something to eat and drink, which they gave with extraor- dinary affection. . .. In all these islands, | saw no great diversity in the appearance of the people or in their manners and language. On the contrary, they all understand one another, which is a very curious thing, on account of which | hope that their Highnesses will determine upon their conversion to our holy faith, towards which they are very inclined. | have already said how | went one hundred and seven leagues in a straight line from west to east along the seashore of the island of Juana, and as a result of this voyage | can say that this island is larger than England and Scotland together, for, beyond these one hundred and seven leagues, there remain to the westward two provinces to which | have not gone. One of these provinces they call "Avan," and there people are born with tails. These provinces cannot have a length of less than fifty or sixty leagues, as | could understand from those Indians whom | have and who know all the islands. The other island, Espaiiola, has a circumference greater than all Spain from Collioure by the seacoast to Fuenterabia in Vizcaya, for | voyaged along one side for one hundred and eighty-eight great leagues in a straight line from west to east. It is a land to be desired and, when seen, never to be left. | have taken possession of all for their Highnesses, and all are more richly endowed than | know how or am able to say, and | hold all for their Highnesses, so that they may dispose of them as they do of the kingdoms of Castile and as absolutely. But especially, in this Espafola, in the situation most convenient and in the best position for the mines of gold and for all trade as well with the mainland here as with that there, belonging to the Grand Khan, where will be great trade and profit, | have taken possession of a large town, to which | gave the name "Villa de Navidad," and in it | have made fortifications and a fort, which will now by this time be entirely completed. In it | have left enough men for such a purpose with arms and artillery and provisions for more than a year, and a fusta [a small boat with oars and a sail], and one [man], a master of all seacraft, to build others, and | have established great friendship with the king of that land, so much so, that he was proud to call me "brother" and to treat me as such. . ..
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