Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

Heroic Adventures By Land And Sea
No man ever had a better excuse for his superstitions than the Admiral; no sooner had he
got done with his Vision than the wind dropped, the sun came out, the sea fell, and
communication with the land was restored. While he had been sick and dreaming one of
his crew, Diego Mendez, had been busy with practical efforts in preparation for this day
of fine weather; he had made a great raft out of Indian canoes lashed together, with
mighty sacks of sail cloth into which the provisions might be bundled; and as soon as the
sea had become calm enough he took this raft in over the bar to the settlement ashore, and
began the business of embarking the whole of the stores and ammunition of
Bartholomew's garrison. By this practical method the whole establishment was
transferred from the shore to the ships in the space of two days, and nothing was left but
the caravel, which it was found impossible to float again. It was heavy work towing the
raft constantly backwards and forwards from the ships to the shore, but Diego Mendez
had the satisfaction of being the last man to embark from the deserted settlement, and to
see that not an ounce of stores or ammunition had been lost.
Columbus, always quick to reward the services of a good man, kissed Diego Mendez
publicly—on both cheeks, and (what doubtless pleased him much better) gave him
command of the caravel of which poor Tristan had been the captain.
With a favourable wind they sailed from this accursed shore at the end of April 1503. It is
strange, as Winsor points out, that in the name of this coast should be preserved the only
territorial remembrance of Columbus, and that his descendant the Duke of Veragua
should in his title commemorate one of the most unfortunate of the Admiral's adventures.
And if any one should desire a proof of the utterly misleading nature of most of
Columbus's writings about himself, let him know that a few months later he solemnly
wrote to the Sovereigns concerning this very place that "there is not in the world a
country whose inhabitants are more timid; and the whole place is capable of being easily
put into a state of defence. Your people that may come here, if they should wish to
become masters of the products of other lands, will have to take them by force or retire
empty-handed. In this country they will simply have to trust their persons in the hands of
the savages." The facts being that the inhabitants were extremely fierce and warlike and
irreconcilably hostile; that the river was a trap out of which in the dry season there was
no escape, and the harbour outside a mere shelterless lee shore; that it would require an
army and an armada to hold the place against the natives, and that any one who trusted
himself in their hands would share the fate of the unhappy Diego Tristan. One may
choose between believing that the Admiral's memory had entirely failed him (although he
had not been backward in making a minute record, of all his sufferings) or that he was
craftily attempting to deceive the Sovereigns. My own belief is that he was neither trying
to deceive anybody nor that he had forgotten anything, but that he was simply incapable
of uttering the bare truth when he had a pen in his hand.