Gateway to the Classics: A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston
A First Book in American History by  Edward Eggleston

Columbus after the Discovery of America

Columbus was very kind to the natives. At one time a poor savage was captured by the sailors and brought to Columbus, who was standing on the high after-castle of the ship. The terrified Indian sought to gain his favor by presenting the great man with a ball of cotton yarn. Columbus refused the present, but he put upon the Indian's head a pretty colored cap; he hung bells in his ears, and tied strings of green beads about his arms. Then he sent the simple creature ashore, where his friends were afterward seen admiring his ornaments.

At another time the sailors picked up an Indian who was crossing in an open canoe a wide tract of water from one island to another. This man had a piece of cassava bread and a gourd of water for his sea stores. He also had a bit of red paint with which to decorate his face before appearing among strangers, and a string of beads procured from the white men. He was rowing to a neighboring island to carry the news of the coming of the Spaniards. His canoe was taken on board, he was fed with the best food of the ship, and put ashore at his destination.



Gourd Bottle

Having got one of his vessels ashore on the coast of Haiti [ha'-tee], which he called Hispaniola [his-pan-ee-o'-lah], Columbus built a fort of the timber from the wrecked vessel and left here a little colony.

But now he began to think of carrying home the good news of his great discovery. In January, 1493, he set sail for Spain. On the 12th of January, when all were looking forward to a joyful return, a terrific storm threatened to wreck the ship and to bury in the ocean all memory of the great discovery. Prayers were said and vows were made, for the safety of the ship.

To preserve the memory of his discovery if all else should be lost, Columbus wrote two accounts of it, which he inclosed [spelling: enclosed?] in cakes of wax and put into two barrels. One of these was thrown into the sea; the other was set upon the stern of the vessel, that it might float off if the ship should go down. He hoped that one of these barrels might drift to the coast of Europe and be found.


Columbus at length reached the islands called the Azores. Here, when the storm had abated, some of his men went ashore to perform their vows at a little chapel, and were made prisoners by the Portuguese governor. Having got out of this difficulty, Columbus put to sea and met another gale, which split his sails and threatened to wreck the vessel. He finally came to anchor in a Portuguese port, where he no doubt felt some exultation in showing what Portugal had lost by refusing his offers.

In April he reached Barcelona [bar-say-lo'-nah], a Spanish city, and made his entry in a triumphal procession. At the head marched the Indians whom he had brought back with him. These were well smeared with paint and decorated with the feathers of tropical birds and with golden ornaments. Then parrots and stuffed birds were borne in the procession with articles of gold. Columbus followed, escorted by Spanish knights proud to do him honor. Ferdinand and Isabella received him under a canopy of gold brocade. As a mark of special honor, they caused him to sit down while he related his discoveries.


Columbus Returns in Triumph

This was the happiest moment in the troubled life of Columbus. He who had been thought insane was now the most honored man in Spain.

The rest of his story is mostly a story of misfortunes. The people in his first colony on the island of Hispaniola quarreled among themselves and maltreated the Indians, until the latter fell on them and killed them all. The second colony was also unfortunate. Columbus was not a wise governor, and he had many troubles in trying to settle a new country with unruly and avaricious people.

An officer sent out to inquire into the disorders in the colony sent Columbus home in chains. The people were shocked at this treatment of the great navigator, and so were the king and queen, who ordered the chains removed. When Columbus appeared before Isabella and saw tears in her eyes, he threw himself on his knees, while his utterance was choked by his sobs.


Columbus in Chains

After this he was not permitted to return to his colony; but in 1502 he made his fourth voyage to America, trying to find a way to get through the mainland of South American in order to reach India, which he thought must lie just beyond. He was at length forced to run his worm-eaten vessel aground near the shore of the island of Jamaica [ja-may'-cah]. Thatched cabins were built on the deck of the stranded ship, and here Columbus, a bed-ridden invalid, lived miserably for a year.

One faithful follower, named Diaz [dee-ath'], traded a brass basin, a coat, and his two shirts, to an Indian chief for a canoe, in which after horrible suffering Diaz reach Hispaniola. Meantime the men on the wrecked ship got provisions from the Indians in exchange for trinkets. Some of the men ran away from Columbus and lived with the savages.

The Indians now got tired of providing food in exchange for toys, and Columbus and his men were at the point of starvation. Knowing that an eclipse of the moon was about to take place, he told the Indians that a certain god would punish them if they did not provide for him, and, as a sign, he said the moon would lose its light and change color that very night. No sooner did the eclipse appear, than the Indians brought him all the provisions at hand, and the Spaniards did not lack after that.

Help at length reached Columbus, and he returned to Spain broken in health and spirits. Queen Isabella, who had been his best friend, died soon after his return. Columbus died on the 20th of May, 1506. He believed to the last that he had discovered the eastern parts of Asia. He never knew that he had found a new continent.


Columbus before Isabella

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