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John S. C. Abbott

The New World

(From 1492 a.d. to 1493 a.d. )

Land discovered.—Scenery of the New World.—Sail from Island to Island.—Disappointment.—The return Voyage.—Landing at Portugal.—Arrival at Palos.—Reception by Ferdinand and Isabella.

The few remaining hours of night passed swiftly away. The day dawned, upon the entranced eye of Columbus, in brilliance paradise could hardly have rivaled. It was a morning of the tropics. The air breathing from the spicy shore made even existence a luxury. A beautiful island was spread out before their eyes green and luxuriant, with every variety of tropical vegetation. Weary of gazing for so many weeks only on the wide waste of waters, the scene opened before them with the enchantment of a fairy dream. The voyagers thought that they had really arrived at the realms of primal innocence and blessedness.

The boats were lowered and manned. The banner of Spain, emblazoned with the cross, floated from every prow. Columbus, richly attired in a scarlet dress, entered his boat, and the little squadron was rowed towards the shore. As they drew near, the scene grew more beautiful. The picturesque dwellings of the natives were scattered about among the groves. Trees of gigantic size and dense foliage embellished the hill-sides and the vales. Flowers of marvellous beauty bloomed abundantly. Fruits of every variety of form and color hung from the trees. Upon the beach and on the headlands multitudes of the natives were seen, remarkably graceful in figure, entirely naked, and gazing with astonishment upon the ships and the boats which had so mysteriously appeared in their silent waters. It seemed as though they had found another Eden, into which the serpent had not entered.


The Landing of Columbus.

Columbus leaped upon the shore, and, falling upon his knees, with clasped hands and uplifted eyes gave thanks to God. The excitement of his spirit was contagious, and pervaded the whole band. They gathered around their illustrious leader in this his hour of triumph. Many wept. Many implored his forgiveness for their murmurings and rebellion. Columbus, unmindful of all the sorrows of the past, found the woes of a lifetime obliterated by the rapture of a moment. With imposing ceremony the banner of Spain was planted upon the soil. The name of San Salvador was given to the island in devout recognition of the protection which Providence had vouchsafed to the enterprise. The oath of allegiance to Columbus as viceroy and admiral of all these realms was then administered to the whole company of the ships. It was the morning of the 12th of October, 1492.

During these ceremonies the natives gathered timidly around, gazing with amazement at the strange beings who had thus suddenly landed upon their shores. The complexion of the Spaniards, their long and flowing beards, their helmets and cuirasses of glittering steel, their polished armor, and their silken banners struck the natives with admiration. They had dim conceptions of a celestial world, and doubted not that the strangers were from the skies. The ships, whose sails had been so gracefully folded before them, they deemed birds who had borne the visitors, on gigantic wing, from their aerial home. The lofty stature of Columbus, his commanding air, and his gorgeous dress of scarlet, particularly arrested their attention.

The amazement and admiration were mutual. It was indeed a novel scene upon which the Spaniards gazed. The clime, in its genial yet not sultry warmth, was perfect. The landscape, novel in all its aspects, the birds of every variety of plumage and of note, the trees, the fruits, the flowers, differing from aught they had ever seen before, and, above all, the groups of men and women who surrounded them, of clear, golden complexion, whose limbs were rounded into symmetry which rivaled the statues of Venus and Apollo; all this impressed the Spaniards with as much wonder as they themselves excited in the bosoms of the islanders.

Columbus, supposing, as we have mentioned, that he was on the confines of India, called the inhabitants Indians. The natives were gentle, confiding, and affectionate. They lavished upon the strangers all kindness of smiles and hospitality. The Spaniards passed the whole day wandering beneath the charming groves, and eating the luscious fruits of San Salvador. The natives led them to their houses and to their favorite haunts, and the voyagers passed a day of excitement and bliss such as is rarely enjoyed on earth. The sun had gone down, the short twilight of the tropics had faded away, and the stars were again beaming in the sky ere they entered the boats to return to their ships.

Columbus, who was one of the most kind-hearted and benignant of men, had smiled upon the natives as a loving father smiles upon his children. He had completely won their confidence and their hearts by the trinkets, to them more estimable than gold or pearls, which he had freely distributed among them. A glass bead, a glittering, tinkling hawk's-bell, a sharp-pointed nail was to them a treasure of value quite inestimable. No language can express the delight with which these beautiful maidens, apparently perfectly modest, in the attire of Eve before the fall, would hang around the neck or the waist a few hawk's-bells, and then dance with delight as they listened to the tinkling music. Blissful indeed in those days did the sun rise and set upon San Salvador. Since then how sad, in these islands, has passed the tragedy of life. The landing of the Europeans upon those shores proved to the artless natives a calamity of awful magnitude.


Spanish Conquests in America.

As the sun rose next morning, the shore and the sea were covered with the natives, some running to and fro upon the beach with joyful exclamations, others paddling canoes, and others swimming around the ships almost with the agility of fishes. But the novelty was already gone, and civilized man began to inquire for the only object of his ceaseless worship, gold. The seamen wished for gold, that they might return to their native land with the wealth and the dignity of princes. Columbus wished for gold to enrich the sovereigns of Spain, to magnify the grandeur of his achievement, and to aid him in his majestic plans of regaining the Holy Sepulchre and of Christianizing the world.

He immediately embarked in the boats to explore the island. The day was, as yesterday, full of enjoyment, as beneath sunny skies and upon a mirrored ocean they glided along by headlands and vales, and entered the mouths of winding, forest-shaded rivulets. Occasionally they landed and walked through villages where thousands greeted them with smiles. They sauntered through groves where Nature seemed to have lavished her most luxurious embellishments. Finding the island to be of comparatively small extent, and as there were many other islands rearing their mountain-summits in the distant horizon, Columbus, in the evening, again weighed anchor and set sail. Seven of the natives willingly accompanied him. Columbus wished to teach them the Spanish language, and have them serve as interpreters. Seeing in the south, at the distance of about fifteen miles, apparently a large island, he turned his prows towards it. They reached the island early the next morning.

Here the same scenes were renewed which had transpired at San Salvador. The natives were the same simple, gentle people, equally compliant, affectionate, and unsuspecting, and equally destitute of gold. As there was nothing here to induce delay, Columbus turned to an island which he saw in the south-west, having first given to the island he was leaving the name it still retains, of Conception. He soon passed over the few intervening leagues, and before the dusk dropped anchor in waters of such crystalline transparency that every stone could be discerned at a depth of more than forty feet. An Indian whom they had picked up in a canoe by the way was sent on shore laden with presents, to prepare the natives for their landing the next morning.

In the earliest sunrise they rowed to the shore, where they witnessed the same scene of peace, simplicity, and beauty with which they now had become familiar. They spent a few hours upon the island, charmed with the artlessness of the natives, with the neatness and picturesque beauty of their pavilions of reeds and palm-leaves, and especially admiring the taste with which the natives selected for their dwellings situations of the most romantic beauty. Still, however, disappointed in finding no gold, Columbus in the evening again spread his sails, and leaving this island, to which he gave the name of Ferdinand, but which is now called Exuma, he continued his cruise towards the south-east.

They soon reached another still larger island, to which Columbus gave the name of Isabella, but which is now known as Yuma. This was by far the most important island they had yet seen. Columbus was quite entranced with the scenes of loveliness ever opening before him. Indeed it was a spectacle to exhilarate even the most phlegmatic temperament.

"I know not," writes the enthusiastic admiral in his journal to the king, "where first to go, nor are my eyes ever weary with gazing on the beautiful verdure. Here are large lakes, and the groves about them are marvellous, and every thing is green, and the herbage is as in April in Andalusia. The singing of the birds is such that it seems as if one could never be willing to depart hence. There are flocks of parrots which obscure the sun, and other birds, large and small, of so many kinds, and so different from ours, that it is wonderful. There are also trees of a thousand species, each having its particular fruit. As I approached this cape, there came off a fragrance so good and soft that it was the sweetest thing in the world."

Still Columbus and his men were disappointed. They had found apparently a fairy realm of contentment, abundance, and peace, but no gold. Gradually the admiral began to create a language of intercourse between himself and the natives. They informed him of an island many leagues to the south-west of great magnitude, abounding in gold and pearls and spices, where merchant-ships came and went, and where powerful nations dwelt. All this Columbus, who was excited by hope, understood their signs to signify. This island the natives called Cuba, a beautiful name which this gem of the ocean fortunately still retains.

Columbus concluded that this island must be Japan, which he had expected to find near that spot, and that a ten days' sail towards the west would bring him to the coast of India. Thus elated with hope, every sail was spread as the little squadron was pressed along, by a favorable breeze, towards the island of Cuba. Passing several small and beautiful islands on the way, at which he did not deign to touch, after a three days' sail the mountains of the Queen of the Antilles hove in sight. It was on the morning of the 28th of October. The magnitude of the island, the grandeur of its mountains, the wide sweep of its valleys, the stately forests, and the rivers, calm and deep, with banks of enchanting beauty, impressed every beholder with the highest feelings of wonder and admiration.

Anchoring at the mouth of a river, Columbus, with a small party, took the boats to explore the stream. The inhabitants, having observed the approach of the strange phenomenon of the ships, fled affrighted from the shore. As the voyagers ascended the river, vistas of beauty were ever opening before them. The banks were covered with trees and shrubs, whose branches were filled with birds of great brilliance of plumage—parrots, humming-birds, flamingoes of gorgeous colors, and innumerable others of the feathered tribe of almost every variety of size, form, and brilliance. Columbus was quite entranced.

"Cuba," he wrote, "it is the most beautiful island that eyes ever beheld. One would live there forever."

He approached several villages, but the terrified inhabitants had fled to the mountains. The houses were more substantial than any others he had yet seen. There were many indications that the inhabitants had attained a higher civilization than those upon the smaller islands. Returning to his ship, he again spread his sails and followed along the coast, hoping to approach some large Oriental city. But cape stretched beyond cape, and headlands melted away beyond headlands, and nothing met his eye but the luxuriance and the beauty of a fairy creation, thronged with an artless and a happy people. The weather was mild, and the most delightful serenity pervaded these peaceful scenes.

After coasting along the shore for three days, Columbus came to the conclusion that this could not be the island of Japan, but must be the mainland of India. Approaching a populous region, he sent his boats ashore, and, after much difficulty, succeeded in obtaining some intercourse with the natives. Misinterpreting their signs, he understood that at the distance of four days' journey into the interior they would find a great city and a powerful king. This confirmed Columbus in his conviction that he was upon the Asiatic continent. He dispatched two envoys, under native guides, to penetrate the interior in search of the fabulous metropolis. The envoys bore presents, and a very grandiloquent letter to the monarch, who was supposed to be enthroned in palaces of splendor.

While the deputation was absent, Columbus employed the time in repairing his ships, and in making an excursion into the surrounding country. He ascended one of the rivers in his boats for many leagues. The weather was beautiful. Morning after morning the sun rose in cloudless splendor. As he glided along over the stream, beneath the luxuriance of the tropics, meeting everywhere friendly greetings, feasting upon new and delicious fruits, seeing nothing but beauty, hearing nothing but melody, it is not strange that he should have felt that he had indeed entered a fairy realm.

In the journal which he carefully kept for the sovereigns of Spain he is continually giving utterance to exclamations of delight. During this short tour up one of the beautiful streams of Cuba he met with a bulbous root, about as large as an apple, which the natives used as food, roasting it in the ashes. The natives called it batatas. It has since become an indispensable article of food throughout the whole civilized world. Though Columbus attached no importance to the discovery of the potato, it has proved of more value to the human family than if he had discovered a mountain of solid gold.

The envoys soon returned. The great Oriental metropolis which they had sought consisted of fifty wigwams. The envoys were received with the greatest hospitality. One who had been selected for this important mission was a very learned man, familiar with the Hebrew, the Chaldaic, and the Arabic. He was selected for the mission in consequence of his acquaintance with these languages. He tried all his learned tongues in vain upon the Cuban chieftain. As he was returning from his fruitless expedition, he saw the natives with dried leaves of a peculiar plant in their hands, which they rolled up into small tubes about as long as one's finger. Lighting one end, they put the other into their mouths, and drawing in the smoke, puffed it out again. This little roll of dried leaf they called tobacco. This was the origin of the cigar.

Columbus decided to follow along the coast towards the south-east, hoping to find some spot where be could establish commercial relations with the natives. A few Indians, males and females, willingly accompanied him. He wished to take them to Spain, that they might be instructed in Christianity, so that, upon their return, they could be instrumental in the conversion of these heathen nations. Coasting along the shore, he soon reached the south-eastern extremity of Cuba, which he at first supposed to be one of the capes of the mainland. But far away through the transparent air he discerned the blue outline of mountains just rising above the level of the sea. A favorable breeze drove them rapidly through the water, and, as they drew near, the altitude of the mountains and the wide sweep of the plains indicated an island of extraordinary extent and beauty. Columns of smoke ascending through the foliage gave evidence that the region was populous.

It was on the evening of the 6th of December when Columbus entered a spacious and beautiful harbor on the western extremity of this island. The natives, seeing the approach of the ships, fled in terror to the woods. For six days Columbus skirted the shore, occasionally penetrating the rivers with his boats, without being able to obtain any intercourse with the inhabitants. He frequently landed with parties of the crew and entered their villages, but ever found them empty, the natives having escaped to the forest. On the 12th of December he landed in a pleasant harbor, which he called La Natividad—The Nativity. Here he took formal possession of the island in the name of the sovereigns of Spain, and with many imposing ceremonies erected the cross.

As the sailors were rambling about they fell upon a party of the islanders, who fled like deer. The sailors pursued, and seeing a beautiful young girl perfectly naked, and graceful as a fawn, who was unable to keep up with the more athletic runners, they succeeded in capturing her. They brought their fascinating prize triumphantly to the ships. Columbus received her with the utmost kindness, and loaded her with presents, particularly with the little tinkling hawks'-bells, which had for the natives an indescribable charm. She found sympathizing friends in the native women who were on board, and in an hour was so perfectly at home and so happy that she was quite indisposed to leave the ship to return to the shore.

This beautiful Indian girl wore a ring of gold, not through the ears, but more conspicuously suspended from the nose. The sight of the precious metal greatly excited the adventurers, for it proved that there was gold in the country. By the aid of this maiden they soon opened communication with the inhabitants. They were living in the same state of blissful simplicity with the inhabitants of Cuba. The natives called the island Hayti; Columbus named it Hispaniola; the French and English have since called it Saint Domingo. The island is still burdened with its triple appellation.


Erecting the cross.

If we are to credit the narrative of Columbus and his companions, the inhabitants were living in truly an enviable state, free from the wants, the diseases, and the crushing cares of civilized life. They had no party politics, no religious feuds. They needed no clothing, enjoying, like Adam and Eve in Eden, a genial climate of perpetual summer. They were neat in their persons and in their dwellings; graceful in form, and attractive in complexion and features. Their rivers were alive with fishes. Fruit of delicious flavor hung from almost every bough. Their food was thus always at hand, and life was to them apparently but a long and pleasant summer's day. It would appear, from the very unanimous and emphatic testimony of the voyagers, that there was no other known portion of the globe at that time where there was so little wickedness, so little sorrow, or where more true happiness was to be found.

Many of the sailors were so delighted with the warm-hearted friendliness of the natives, with the climate, the enchanting scenery, the fruits, the bird-songs, the apparent entire freedom from toil and care, that they could not endure the idea of returning again to the anxieties of life in Old Spain. They entreated Columbus to allow them to settle upon the island. It so happened that just at this time one of the vessels was wrecked upon the coast. One of the other boats, the Pinta, had parted company with the little squadron, the captain having mutinously separated from the admiral, in pursuit of adventures in his own name.

Columbus was now left with but one vessel, which was exposed to innumerable perils in navigating unknown seas. Should that vessel be wrecked, they could never return to Spain, and the knowledge of their discovery would be lost to the world. Under these circumstances Columbus decided that it was his first duty to retrace his steps to Europe as speedily as possible, to announce the success of his enterprise, and that he might then return with a more efficient fleet to prosecute further discoveries.

The wrecked caravel was broken up, the guns were taken to the shore, and a fortress was constructed, as the nucleus of a colony. A tribe of natives resided in the immediate vicinity of the fortress. They manifested the utmost kindness and sympathy, and rendered efficient aid in rearing the bastions and buttresses which were to prove in the end the destruction of their race. The chieftain of this artless people, Guacanagari, wept in unaffected grief in contemplating the calamity which had befallen Columbus. He ordered all the effects from the wreck to be placed near his own dwelling, guarded them with the utmost care, and had buildings reared to protect them from the weather. Treasures of inconceivable value, in the eyes of the natives, were strewed around, hawks'-bells, glittering beads, knives, gaudy ribbons, and yet there was not the least attempt made to pilfer. Though the natives aided in transporting these valuables from the wreck to the shore, not an article was found missing. What was the basis of this honesty? The solution of the problem will puzzle both the philosopher and the Christian.

"So loving," writes Columbus, "so tractable, so peaceable are these people, that I declare to your majesties that there is not in this world a better nation or a better land. They love their neighbors as themselves. Their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile. And though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy."

While here, considerable gold was brought in dust and small lumps, any amount of which almost, the natives would gladly exchange for a hawk's-bell. The eagerness of the Spaniards for gold induced the natives more eagerly to engage in its search; and they gave very glowing accounts of mountains of gold in the interior, and of rivers whose sands were but the glittering dust of this precious metal. The gentle and amiable cacique, Guacanagari, seeing that Columbus was much depressed by the loss of his vessel, manifested true refinement of sympathy in his attempts to cheer him and to divert his melancholy. He invited Columbus to dine with him, and prepared a very sumptuous entertainment, according to the custom, of fish, fruit, and roots. After the collation the polite chieftain conducted his guests to a grove whose overarching foliage shaded a smooth and verdant lawn. Here Guacanagari had collected a thousand natives to amuse the careworn admiral with an exhibition of their games and dances.

Columbus, to impress the natives with an idea of his power, ordered a military display of the Spaniards. As they wheeled to and fro in their martial manoeuvres, their burnished armor and their polished swords glittering in the rays of the sun, the Haytians gazed upon the spectacle in speechless admiration. But when one of the cannon was discharged, and they saw the flash and heard the peal and perceived the path of the invisible bolt through the forest, crashing and rending the trees, they fell to the ground in dismay.

In a few days the fortress was completed, the guns mounted, and the ammunition stored safely away. Columbus deemed the discipline of a garrison necessary to keep the Spaniards under subjection rather than as any protection against the natives. Having given the men very minute directions respecting their conduct during his absence, on the 4th of January, 1493, he spread his sails for his return to Spain. The hour of parting was one of much emotion. Those who were to be left behind found their hearts failing them. Should the one single shattered bark which bore Columbus and his band founder beneath the storms of the ocean, there would be buried with it all knowledge of the discovery of the New World, and the colony at The Nativity would be left to its fate.


The return voyage.

By a singular chance, when Columbus had advanced on his way along the coast but about fifty miles he met the Pinta, which had so shamefully abandoned him. He however deemed it prudent to overlook the crime, and to appear satisfied with the lame apologies offered by the captain. After a short delay to prepare the Pinta for the long voyage, the two vessels again spread their sails for their return.

The voyage was extremely tempestuous. The vessels were soon separated by darkness and the gale. Columbus, with intense anxiety, buffeted the waves, which often threatened to overwhelm him. A calm, bold man, he entirely forgot his own life in his solicitude that the important discovery which he had made should not be lost to Europe. After thirty-eight days of almost uninterrupted and terrific storms he reached the Azores. Here they encountered humiliating indications of the vices of civilized life. The King of Portugal, apprehensive that Columbus might make some important discovery which would redound to the glory of Spain, had sent orders to all of his colonies that Columbus, should he make his appearance, should be arrested and held as a prisoner. Consummate treachery was employed to ensnare the admiral at the Azores, but by his vigilance he escaped, and again spread his sails.

A week of pleasant weather and of favoring winds brought his storm-shattered vessel within about three hundred miles of Cape St. Vincent. Suddenly another fearful tempest arose, and for ten days they were at the mercy of the winds and the waves, in hourly peril of being engulfed. During the gloomy hours of this voyage, when it was often extremely doubtful whether Columbus would ever see Spain again, he wrote an account of his discovery upon parchment, wrapped it in a waxed cloth impervious to water, and inclosing the whole in a water-tight empty barrel, set it adrift. A copy similarly prepared was also kept on the poop of the ship, so that, should the vessel sink, the barrel might float away, and thus, by some fortunate chance, the knowledge of the great discovery might be preserved.

On the morning of the 4th of March Columbus found himself at the mouth of the Tagus. A tempest still swept the ocean, and his vessel was in such a leaky condition that he was compelled, at every hazard, to run into this Portuguese river. He dropped anchor about ten miles below Lisbon, and immediately sent a message to the king and queen informing them of his arrival, of the success of his expedition, and asking permission to go up to Lisbon to repair his sinking vessel.

No tongue can tell, no imagination can conceive the excitement which these tidings communicated. The king and queen had almost contemptuously dismissed Columbus as a hare-brained adventurer. And now he had returned in perfect triumph, with a new world, teeming with inexhaustible wealth and resources, to present to a rival nation. The chagrin of the Portuguese court was unutterable.

Should a balloon alight in the vicinity of New York, from an excursion to the planet Jupiter, bringing back several of the inhabitants and many of the treasures of that distant world, it could hardly create more excitement in the city than was then created in Lisbon by the return of Columbus to the mouth of the Tagus. The whole city was in commotion. Every thing that could float was brought into requisition to sail down the river to the ship. The road was thronged with vehicles filled with multitudes impelled by intense curiosity. Columbus, who had not forgotten the days of anguish when he was a rejected and despised adventurer at the Court of Lisbon, must have enjoyed his triumph. But he was not a man for ostentatious exultation.

The king, who was at Valparaiso, about thirty miles from Lisbon, immediately dispatched a messenger inviting Columbus to his court. The admiral was treated with great external deference, but encountered many annoyances. The Portuguese court endeavored to get from him all the information which could be obtained, that an expedition might be stealthily fitted out to take possession of the newly-discovered lands. The assassination of the heroic admiral was seriously deliberated.

At length Columbus again spread his tattered sails, and on the 15th of March, just seventy-one days from the time he left The Nativity at Hayti, he entered the harbor at Palos, having been absent not quite seven months and a half. The appearance of the storm-battered vessel sailing up the harbor was the first tidings the inhabitants had received of the adventurers since their departure. One ship only was seen returning. Two had disappeared. It was an hour of great suspense, for there was hardly a family in Palos who had not some friend or relative who had joined the expedition. As soon as the tidings reached the shore of the success of the enterprise the joy was indescribable. A scene of universal exultation ensued. Like a mighty billow, the tidings surged over Spain, accompanied with bonfires, hurrahs, pealing bells, and roaring cannon. We have not space to record these scenes of national rejoicing. The king and queen were at Barcelona, at the farther extremity of the peninsula.

The sovereigns immediately wrote to Columbus, in reply to the dispatch which he had sent to them, requesting him to repair to the court. Columbus probably could not regret that this involved the necessity of a triumphal route of seven hundred miles through the very heart of Spain. It was a delightful season of the year, and the jubilant welcome which Columbus met, every mile of the way, from Seville to Barcelona, the world has probably never seen paralleled.

The Indians whom Columbus had brought back with him were conspicuously exhibited, decorated with gold, and brilliant plumes from tropical birds. All the most showy products of the New World were presented to admiring eyes. A very imposing cavalcade surrounded the admiral, who sat on horseback, attracting universal admiration by his majestic form, his pale and pensive features, and his gray locks. About the middle of April he reached Barcelona. The cavaliers and nobles of Catalonia had assembled in large numbers, not only to gratify their curiosity, but also to pay their tribute of homage to the discoverer.


Columbus before Ferdinand and Isabella.

In a numerous cavalcade they met Columbus at the gate of the city, and escorted him to the presence of the king and queen. The royal pair, with their son, Prince John, were seated beneath a silken canopy, to receive the admiral with the most imposing ceremonies of state. As a remarkable act of condescension, both Ferdinand and Isabella rose upon the approach of Columbus and offered him their hands to kiss. This was indeed an hour of triumph, one of the proudest moments of his life, after years of neglect, reproach, contempt.

All being seated, Columbus gave a brief narrative of his adventures, dwelling particularly upon the field of missionary effort now open for extending the knowledge and the blessings of Christianity to the unenlightened heathen. It is said that this consideration affected the heart of the queen more deeply than all others,