Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

The Earthly Paradise
When Columbus weighed anchor on the 12th of November he took with him six captive
Indians. It was his intention to go in search of the island of Babeque, which the Indians
alleged lay about thirty leagues to the east-south-east, and where, they said, the people
gathered gold out of the sand with candles at night, and afterwards made bars of it with a
hammer. They told him this by signs; and we have only one more instance of the
Admiral's facility in interpreting signs in favour of his own beliefs. It is only a few days
later that in the same Journal he says, "The people of these lands do not understand me,
nor do I nor any other person I have with me understand them; and these Indians I am
taking with me, many times understand things contrary to what they are." It was a fault at
any rate not exclusively possessed by the Indians, who were doubtless made the subject
of many philological experiments on the part of the interpreter; all that they seemed to
have learned at this time were certain religious gestures, such as making the Sign of the
Cross, which they did continually, greatly to the edification of the crew.
In order to keep these six natives in a good temper Columbus kidnapped "seven women,
large and small, and three children," in order, he alleged, that the men might conduct
themselves better in Spain because of having their "wives" with them; although whether
these assorted women were indeed the wives of the kidnapped natives must at the best be
a doubtful matter. The three children, fortunately, had their father and mother with them;
but that was only because the father, having seen his wife and children kidnapped, came
and offered to go with them of his own accord. This taking of the women raises a
question which must be in the mind of any one who studies this extraordinary voyage—
the question of the treatment of native women by the Spaniards. Columbus is entirely
silent on the subject; but taking into account the nature of the Spanish rabble that formed
his company, and his own views as to the right which he had to possess the persons and
goods of the native inhabitants, I am afraid that there can be very little doubt that in this
matter there is a good reason, for his silence. So far as Columbus himself was concerned,
it is probable that he was innocent enough; he was not a sensualist by nature, and he was
far too much interested and absorbed in the principal objects of his expedition, and had
too great a sense of his own personal dignity, to have indulged in excesses that would,
thus sanctioned by him, have produced a very disastrous effect on the somewhat rickety
discipline of his crew. He was too wise a master, however, to forbid anything that it was
not in his power to prevent; and it is probable that he shut his eyes to much that, if he did
not tolerate it, he at any rate regarded as a matter of no very great importance. His crew
had by this time learned to know their commander well enough not to commit under his
eyes offences for which he would have been sure to punish them.
For two days they ran along the coast with a fair wind; but on the 14th a head wind and
heavy sea drove them into the shelter of a deep harbour called by Columbus Puerto del
Principe, which is the modern Tanamo. The number of islands off this part of the coast of
Cuba confirmed Columbus in his profound geographical error; he took them to be "those
innumerable islands which in the maps of the world are placed at the end of the east." He