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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Spain in America

by
Edward Gaylord Bourne

in the
Barnes & Noble edition,
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 7

p67 Chapter VI

Development of the Coast-Line
(1499‑1506)

While Columbus was contending with rebellious Spaniards and revolting caciques in Española, others were exploring the confines of the "earthly paradise." The glowing account of this region and the map sent to the monarchs were shown by Bishop Fonseca,1 who had charge of Indian affairs in Spain, to the adventurous Hojeda, who had so brilliantly distinguished himself by his resource and daring in the conflicts with the natives in Española. Hojeda, although no sailor, shrank from nothing; and, attracted more by the pearls than by the "earthly paradise," promptly got up an expedition through the assistance of the Seville merchants.

Upon this expedition he was accompanied by two very remarkable men, Juan de la Cosa, the famous pilot and map-maker, who had been with Columbus on his second voyage (and probably also on his first voyage),2 and Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine p68business-man of scientific tastes and some literary gifts, who was destined to have his name attached to the New World, through the impression conveyed by his descriptions that he was the first to discover a continental region south of the equator unknown to the ancients. The little fleet of four vessels set sail in May, 1499, following the route of Columbus in his third voyage.

Hojeda reached the continent of South America somewhere near Paramaribo, in Surinam, and then coasted northward and westward the whole breadth of British Guiana and of Venezuela (Little Venice), whose name dates from Hojeda's finding a village built on piles in the Gulf of Maracaibo which reminded him — somewhat remotely, it must be supposed — of the Queen of the Adriatic.3 The new ground covered in this voyage was the coast-line first southeast and then west of the strip seen by Columbus. Its geographical results are depicted on Juan de la Cosa's map of 1500. Hojeda then turned north and spent some two months in Española. Sailing thence for Spain, he raided two of the lesser Antilles, capturing some two hundred and twenty natives to be sold as slaves. These with the pearls and gold from the coast of terra firma formed the returns for the venturers. For Vespucci the voyage yielded the principal materials for his descriptions of his first voyage, p69which he boldly antedated as having taken place in 1497.

Not long after Hojeda left Cadiz, Alonso Niño, of Moguer, an expert pilot who had accompanied Columbus in his second and third voyages, set sail from Palos with one caravel of fifty tons burden and thirty-three men for the pearl coast, which he reached a few days before Hojeda.4 This voyage was the most profitable made up to this time, and its success greatly promoted the exploration of northern South America.5

The first approach to that part of the continent south of the equator which was later to fall to Portugal in accordance with the demarcation line established by the treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, was made almost simultaneously by the Spaniards and Portuguese. In November, 1499, while Columbus was still in Española, his old companion of the first voyage, Vicente Yañez Pinzon, equipped four vessels and secured a permit from the sovereigns to make discoveries in the Indies.6 Leaving Palos on November 18, Pinzon boldly struck out a new route, first going south to the Cape Verd Islands and then bearing off to the southwest. A violent storm drove him farther south than he intended to go, and he lost sight of the north star. January 20 he sighted land on the eastern shore of Brazil. p70No inhabitants were found at first, but later they appeared, and the Spaniards were astonished at their size. After futile attempts at peaceful trade they turned northward and followed the coast about two thousand miles, discovering on the way the mouth of the Amazon. Sharing the view of Columbus, they believed this region to be an extension of the India of the Ganges.7 Of the three vessels, only that of the leader weathered the storm encountered on the return, and it reached Palos September 30, 1500. Unfortunately for his later fame, Pinzon was not a writer, and our knowledge is mainly derived from Peter Martyr's interviews with those who went on the voyage.8 Yet Pinzon's title to be the first who explored South America below the equator is at present unchallenged, and was explicitly recorded by Juan de la Cosa on his map.

Pinzon's course was closely followed a few weeks later by Diego de Lepe, who also started from Palos and whose distinctive achievement was attaining a more southern point below Cape St. Augustine, on the Brazilian coast, before he returned north.9 He reported his discoveries earlier than Pinzon, having reached home in June, 1500. These parallel voyages p71of Pinzon and Lepe in all probability afforded Amerigo Vespucci the materials for the narrative of his second voyage. That he went on one of them is the conclusion of most investigators, and it is the general trend of opinion that he accompanied Lepe.10

The next Spanish voyage was made by Rodrigo de Bastidas, a notary of Seville, with the co‑operation of Juan de la Cosa. They set sail in October, 1500, from Cadiz, and devoted themselves to the exploration of the northern coast of South America west of Cape de la Vela (where Cosa and Hojeda turned homeward), which they completed as far as the later Nombre de Dios on the isthmus. After a variety of fortunes they reached Cadiz in September, 1502.11

Thus, between the arrival in Spain of Columbus's letter announcing the discovery of the main-land and pearl region in 1498 and his departure on his fourth voyage, the coast of South America from Cape St. Augustine, eight degrees south latitude, to the Isthmus of Panama had been explored, a distance of three thousand miles. In the mean time, the activity and success of the Spaniards in exploring the western Indies now led King Emmanuel, who succeeded to the throne of Portugal in 1495, to p72take up again with energy the pursuit of the long-sought goal of an ocean route to the eastern Indies, which had been intermitted after Diaz had rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1486, owing in part to the ill health of King John II. In midsummer, 1497, Vasco da Gama, a young man of unwavering courage and iron resolution, sailed from Lisbon with a small fleet of four ships. From the Cape Verd Islands he struck off boldly through the mid-south Atlantic, the first to venture in that vast waste of waters, until he reached the parallel of thirty degrees south; when, availing himself of the western trades, he turned towards Africa, where he made the first landing in St. Helena Bay, about one hundred miles north of the cape. For ninety-three days he had been out of sight of land, as compared with Columbus's thirty-five days on his first voyage.12 Thus before his work was half done Da Gama made the longest unbroken sea-voyage up to this time.

The details of the remainder of the expedition around the Cape of Good Hope and then to India lie outside the scope of this work, for it is with its bearing on American history only that we are concerned. The first news of his success reached Lisbon July 10, 1499, through the arrival of his associate Coelho, almost exactly two years after their departure. Da Gama's return, a few weeks later, was followed early in September by a triumphal entry into Lisbon.

p73 Six years earlier Columbus had proudly announced to King John that he had discovered the Indies by sailing west; but every year had piled up perplexities and doubts, and even the intense convictions of the admiral were sometimes shaken. Now, while his fortunes were sinking because Spanish expectations were not realized, King Emmanuel was able with a courteously veiled exultation to report to Ferdinand and Isabella that the real Indies had been reached by "Vasco da Gama, a nobleman of our household, and his brother Paulo da Gama"; that they found "large cities, large edifices, and rivers, and great populations, among whom is carried on all the trade in spices and precious stones. . . . Of spices they have brought a quantity, including cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper, . . . also many fine stones of all sorts, such as rubies and others." The great trade which now enriches the Moors in those parts he hopes will be diverted "to the natives and ships of our own kingdom, so that henceforth all Christendom in this part of Europe shall be able, in a large measure, to provide itself with these spices and precious stones."13 Every detail of contrast between the real Indies and the West Indies appears upon the comparison of this letter of July, 1499, with the descriptions of the voyages of Columbus.

Early in the following year a large fleet of twelve big ships and one caravel, under the command of p74Pedralvarez Cabral, sailed from Lisbon for India. After leaving the Cape Verd Islands Cabral followed Vasco da Gama's course, and probably advice,14 in striking out into the Atlantic in a southwesterly direction. In so doing he was perhaps carried farther by the westerly equatorial current15 than he planned, for on April 21 land was sighted. It was the eastern coast of Brazil, near the modern Porto Seguro, in about eighteen degrees south latitude. Cabral named the country Santa Cruz ("Holy Cross"), despatched a ship to report his discovery, and resumed his way to India. Even since the time of the Portuguese historian Osorio it has commonly been stated that Cabral was blown out of his course by a storm.16 There is no mention of this storm in the contemporary accounts,17 and Osorio evidently misplaced the violent storm which befell Cabral after he left Brazil, and sank four of his ships with all on board before his eyes.18

That Cabral was not consciously much out of his way is clear from King Emmanuel's announcement to Ferdinand and Isabella after his return that the newly discovered land "was very convenient and necessary for the voyage to India."19 That the p75Portuguese should have lighted on Brazil in their second expedition sent out to the East Indies as a consequence of natural conditions is one of the most singular incidents of history, for its shows with almost complete certainty that if Christopher Columbus had never lived, the New World would have been discovered within a few years of the time of its actual discovery, as an inevitable sequel of the activities of Prince Henry the Navigator in promoting geographical exploration.

This fact, of course, does not detract from the genius and courage of Columbus or diminish the immense impetus which he gave to Spanish exploration and colonization; yet it is true, and as strange as true, that one of the most universally celebrated men in all history could have been spared without affecting materially the occurrence of the great event inseparably associated with his career. The loss would have been spiritual rather than material. The western hemisphere would have been found and reported in the natural colors of its virgin life, not clothed in the raiment of the gorgeous East. Such is the potency of the genius of man in its sway over us that the illusions of the great Genoese are so in‑wrought into the very texture of early American history that one feels it impossible to reconstruct it as it would have unfolded without his touch.

Just what impression the voyages of Vasco da Gama made upon the mind of Columbus is not recorded in any of his writings, but that it reawakened p76within him the desire to demonstrate that the real Indies could be reached by going west is clear from the preparations for his fourth and last voyage. Yet, on the other hand, while King Emmanuel and Vasco da Gama were ushering in the modern era of world-ocean commerce, Columbus, still feeling the appeal of mediaeval ideals, had day-dreams of the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. He faces both ways, now to the future with its enormous development of scientific knowledge of the world, now to the past with its mysticism. He is at once ahead of and behind his age. In the months that followed his return from his third voyage he devoted much time to the compilation of his Book of Prophecies, one of the most curious of his literary remains. It is a medley of Scripture passages supposed to foretell the recovery of the Holy City and Mount Zion and "the discovery and conversion of the islands of India and of all peoples and nations."20

In February, 1502, Columbus wrote Pope Alexander VI a short account of his voyages, in which he identifies Española with the Tarshish and Ophir of the Bible and with Cipango, and concludes with his hopes for his next voyage, the fourth. "This undertaking is made with a view to expend what is derived from it in guarding the Holy Sepulchre for Holy Church. After I was there and had seen the p77land I wrote the king and queen my lords that in seven years I would pay for fifty thousand foot and five thousand horse for the conquest of it, and in five more years fifty thousand more foot and five thousand horse, making ten thousand horse and one hundred thousand foot — Satan has disturbed all this."21

The more immediate purpose, however, of Columbus in his fourth and last voyage was to find a strait that would take him beyond the terra firma revealed by the voyages of Hojeda, Pinzon and Bastidas into the Indian Ocean.22 The sovereigns readily gave him the permission, and by the spring of 1502 he had four ships ready. Besides his brother Bartholomew and his younger son Ferdinand he requested the privilege to take two or three men familiar with Arabic to serve as interpreters in case the strait was found.23

On May 9, 1502, he set sail and was so favored by the weather that he made the run from the Grand Canary to Martinique in twenty-one days, arriving there June 15. The sovereigns, for fear of trouble,24 had given Columbus permission to land in Española only on the return voyage; yet one of his ships was in such bad condition that he went thither to despatch letters to Spain requesting another ship. p78The governor, Ovando, however, was firm in abiding by the letter of his instructions, and the former viceroy of the Indies was denied access to his recent dominion.

This humiliation occurred when there was assembled in the harbor of Santo Domingo a great fleet of twenty-eight ships, in which were embarked for Spain his relentless judge, Bobadilla, his rebellious protégé, Roldan, and the captive cacique, Guarionex, and some two hundred thousand castellanos of gold, half for the king and half belonging to the passengers, including a famous nugget weighing six hundred ounces, worth to‑day about $11,000. According to Ferdinand Columbus and Las Casas, Columbus urged Ovando to delay their sailing for a week because he foresaw a storm, but he was not heeded and must needs himself seek shelter elsewhere. The great fleet started, but only to have swoop down upon it a West-Indian hurricane which overwhelmed twenty of the ships, not a soul escaping, and on land swept clean all the houses in the older part of Santo Domingo.25 Columbus escaped without loss. No wonder such a visitation seemed to the filial Ferdinand a signal instance of divine retribution.26

For Columbus, however, it was the beginning of a series of gales which made this his last voyage the p79most arduous of his life. Of these terrors he gives a vivid picture in his letter to the sovereigns. For eighty-eight days was he buffeted by one continuous storm without sight of sun or stars. At length towards the middle of September land was descried, and gratefully named "Thanks be to God" (Gracia á Dios).27 In this neighborhood, off the coast of Honduras, he met a large canoe with an awning over it, loaded with men, women, and children and various articles of merchandise. The people were partly clothed and their fabrics showed fine workmanship. Here was something different from the naked simplicity of Española. These Indians had attained a relatively high stage of culture. But Columbus had his mind too firmly fixed upon the strait to follow up such indications with unbiassed eyes, and from these natives and others to the south he got only confirmations of his own illusions.

Nothing can so well illustrate the spell which this man's imagination and his prepossessions cast over his eyes and ears than to read what he believed he learned from the aborigines of Honduras and Costa Rica — although neither he nor any of his followers knew a word of their various languages28 — in regard to the up‑country inhabitants of those regions. "They are all likewise acquainted with the pepper-plant; according to the account of these people the inhabitants of Ciguare are accustomed to hold fairs and markets for carrying on their commerce; . . . p80others assert that their ships carry guns, and that the men go clothed and use bows and arrows, swords and cuirasses, and that on shore they have horses which they use in battle, and that they wear rich clothes and have most excellent houses. The say also that the sea surrounds Ciguare, and that at ten days' journey from thence is the river Ganges."29 That he had at last found the Malay Peninsula, the Golden Chersonese of the ancients, he had no doubt. From Honduras he followed the coast till he reached the narrowest part of the Isthmus of Panama, continually reinforced in these convictions. What he had really done was to complete the proof that from sixteen degrees north to eight degrees south latitude there was an unbroken coast-line. Henceforth the search for the strait must be made in higher latitudes.

This fourth voyage was filled with many romantic episodes, such as the canoe voyage of Diego Mendez to Española for help, when the ships, riddled with borers, had to be beached on the Jamaica shore;30 and the intimidation of the Indians be foretelling the darkening of the moon as evidence that God was angry with them for their hostility to His servants the Spaniards, a stroke that has more than once served to thrill the readers of the fiction of modern adventure.31 Yet these incidents belong more properly p81to the biography of Columbus. After waiting nearly a year in Jamaica, amid perils from treacherous followers and hostile natives, he was rescued by the caravels despatched by Mendez.

It was November, 1504, when he arrived in Seville, a broken man, something over twelve years from the time he first set sail from Palos. Each successive voyage since his first had left him at a lower point. On his return from his second he was on the defensive; after his third he was deprived of his viceroyalty; on his fourth he was shipwrecked, in addition to his previous misfortunes. The last blow, the death of his patron Isabella, soon followed. It was months before he was able to attend court. His strength gradually failed, he sank from the public view, and on the eve of Ascension Day, May 20, 1506, he passed away in obscurity in the city of Valladolid.32

The busy correspondent, Peter Martyr, was in Valladolid that spring from February 10 to April 26, and then again from June 30, and wrote several letters from there in June and July; but the death of the "certain Ligurian" whose strange voyage he had reported thirteen years before found no p82mention in them.33 The first historian to moralize upon the career of Columbus was Oviedo, who, a generation later, wrote: "Besides his services to the sovereigns of Castile, all Spaniards owe him much, for although many of them suffered and died in the conquest of these Indies, many others became rich and otherwise advantaged. Yet what is greater is that in lands so remote from Europe, and where the devil was served and worshipped, he has been driven out by the Christians, and our holy Catholic faith and the church of God established and carried on in this far country, where there are such great kingdoms and dominions by the means and efforts of Christoval Colom. And more than this, such great treasures of gold, silver, and pearls, and many other riches and merchandise, have been brought and will be brought hence to Spain that no virtuous Spaniard will forget the benefits bestowed upon his country with God's help by this first admiral of the Indies."34

Upon Columbus the man the most diverse judgments have been pronounced. His great contemporaries whose achievements challenge comparison with his own, Vasco da Gama and Magellan, are silent figures, iron rulers of men, whom we see through the eyes of those whom they dominated. Columbus, on the other hand, has revealed himself in his writings as few men of action have been revealed. His hopes, his illusions, his vanity and love p83of money, his devotion to by-gone ideals, his keen and sensitive observation of the natural world, his credulity and utter lack of critical power in dealing with literary evidence, his practical abilities as a navigator, his tenacity of purpose and boldness of execution, his lack of fidelity as a husband and a lover, his family pride, all stand out in clear relief.

Columbus is a living personality with all its baffling mystery. No one of the many portraits that have come down to us is surely authentic, and they differ from one another as widely as the characterizations of the historians. The attempt to portray him either in words or colors has resulted quite as much in the self-revelation of artist or historian as in the restoration of this vanished personality.

In the career of its discoverer there is the prophetic intimation that America would mean opportunity. Of all the self-made men that America has produced, none has had a more dazzling success, a more pathetic sinking to obscurity, or achieved a more universal celebrity. Born a plebeian, his descendants are hereditary nobles; the son of a woollen-weaver of Genoa, he becomes the viceroy of the Indies; "loosing the barriers of the Ocean Sea which had been closed with such strong chains,"35 "he gave to Castile and Leon a new world," and then, after all, he left the stage almost unnoticed.


The Author's Notes:

1 Las Casas, Historia, II, 269, 389; Navarrete, Viages, III, 539; Markham, Letters of Amerigo Vespucci, 70.

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2 Markham, Columbus, index art. "Cosa," and list of sailors, 69.

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3 Markham, Vespucci, x. Markham gives translations of Las Casas's accounts of Hojeda's voyage, 68.

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4 Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 251, n.

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5 Ibid., 254; Navarrete, Viages, III, 540.

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6 Navarrete, Viages, III, 82.

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7 Peter Martyr, De Rebus Oceanicis, 99, 101.

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8 Ibid., 95; Hakluyt, Voyages, V, 206; Thacher, Columbus, II, 510 (a translation of Martyr's account as it first appeared in the Libretto de tutta la Navigazione, etc., 1504).

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9 Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 258; Las Casas, Historia, II, 453, 454.

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10 Hugues, Cronologia, 7; Günther, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 93.

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11 Navarrete, Viages, III, 545. On these minor voyages, see also Irving, Companions of Columbus, chaps. I‑V.

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12 Ravenstein, Vasco da Gama's First Voyage, xviii, 186‑190.

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13 Ravenstein, Vasco da Gama's First Voyage, xviii, 113, 114.

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14 Ravenstein, Vasco da Gama's First Voyage, xviii, 190.

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15 Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 263.

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16 Osorio, De Rebus Emmanuelis, etc. pub. 1571 (ed. of 1791), I, 177.

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17 Alguns Documentos, 108. Barros describes the storm that fell upon them before reaching the Cape Verd Islands, Da Asia, dec. I, liv. V, chap. II.

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18 Navarrete, Viages, III, 95.

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19 Ibid.

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20 See the extracts in Navarrete, Viages, II, 260; in English in Thacher, Columbus, III, 660‑664. The whole is reproduced in the Raccolta Colombiana.

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21 Navarrete, Viages, II, 280‑282; Raccolta Colombiana, pt. I, II, 164.

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22 Las Casas, Historia, III, 22; Ferdinand Columbus, Historie, 293; Navarrete, Viages, III, 556.

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23 Las Casas, Historia, III, 25.

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24 Ibid., 29.

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25 Santo Domingo was rebuilt on the other side of the river on a less exposed site.

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26 Ferdinand Columbus, Historie, 286; Las Casas, Historia, III, 31, says there were thirty or thirty-one ships.

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27 Major, Select Letters of Columbus, 178.

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28 Ibid., 201.

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29 Major, Select Letters of Columbus, 181, 182.

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30 His narrative is in Major, Select Letters of Columbus, 212‑243.

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31 Ferdinand Columbus, Historie, 346.

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32 The date of Columbus's death was settled by Duro, who found this entry in the MS. chronicle of José de Vargas Ponce: "El Almirante Colon, que descubrió las Indias y otras muchas tierras, Morio en esta Villa [Valladolid] Miercoles vispera de la Ascension, 20 de Mayo de 506." Ruge, Columbus, 205. The first printed notice of his death appeared ten years later, in the first chapter of the second decade of Peter Martyr (Alcala, 1516); Thacher, Columbus, III, 506.

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33 Thacher, Columbus, III, 504, 505.

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34 Oviedo, Historia General, I, 81.

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35 Major, Select Letters of Columbus, 191. The words Columbus heard in a trance on his fourth voyage.


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