American History

Document Assignments
Issues and Controversies in U.S. History

This semester you will read three articles from the “Issues and Controversies in American History” database, one for each unit.

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American History
For each you are required to write a paper that consists of five components:
1. Background information- Summarize the issue
2. Case for the issue- Summarize the case for the issue using examples from the reading. Identify specific individuals for the issue.
3. Case against the issue- Summarize the case against the issue using examples from the reading. Identify specific individuals against the issue.
4. Your opinion/conclusion- Establish a conclusion grounded in historical reasoning. Support your position with specific information from the reading.
5. Analysis of a primary document- Select one primary source (click on “Primary Sources” in the top/middle of the screen). Describe the source and state which side of the argument this document supports. Does it support your opinion/conclusion? Explain

Paper Requirements:
*Each component must be at least one paragraph long.
*All papers must be double-spaced and use appropriate margins/font.
*All papers must have a title page and/or student’s name, course, and date at the
top of the paper.

* Use Chicago Manual format footnote citations when needed.
**When viewing the article, click on “Citation” in the right column menu and it
will take you to the correct citation. You will have to select Chicago Manual.

*Write in your own words, do not simply paraphrase or quote the article (do not try to pass the article’s wording off as your own).

SafeAssign: Students will submit assignments on Blackboard where they will be checked for plagiarism. These are individual assignments. Team or group work is not accepted. Any violations will result in a zero on the assignment.

Unit One This is the story.
“Columbus’s Voyages to the Americas”
Read the article “Columbus’s Voyages to the America

civilizations of Western Europe and the AmericasDuring the Middle Ages, which began with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, civilizations of the Near and Far East were generally more wealthy and scientifically advanced than the civilizations of Western Europe. However, by the 15th century, with the advent of the Renaissance and Age of Discovery—a period of overseas exploration—Western civilization was becoming the dominant force in world events. 1)The background
1)The background

When Christopher Columbus sailed west from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, he had no idea that the continents of North America and South America existed. His arrival in the Caribbean marked a turning point in world history, beginning a long period of colonization that inextricably linked the civilizations of Western Europe and the Americas.

During the Middle Ages, which began with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, civilizations of the Near and Far East were generally more wealthy and scientifically advanced than the civilizations of Western Europe. However, by the 15th century, with the advent of the Renaissance and Age of Discovery—a period of overseas exploration—Western civilization was becoming the dominant force in world events.

Trade with the economic powers of the Far East, particularly China, was vital to European monarchs and merchants of the late Middle Ages. In the 1300s, overland trade between the two regions thrived under the auspices of the Mongol Empire, which dominated most of Asia and kept the various Arab kingdoms at bay. By the 15th century, however, the Mongol Empire had collapsed, and the ascendant Arab rulers prevented European caravans from traveling through their territory, thus hindering European access to the Far East. (Islamic Arabs and Christian Europeans had a long history of animosity and competition, notably during the Crusades [1095-1270], when Christian armies tried to conquer the holy lands of Jerusalem and Palestine, which Muslims ruled.)

With no overland access to the lucrative markets of the Far East, Europeans turned to the ocean. Leading the way was Portugal, a tiny kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula that had a long history of trade on the Mediterranean Sea. Portuguese sailors initially focused on establishing an eastern route to the Far East, colonizing Africa in the process. Portugal’s neighbor and Roman Catholic rival, Spain, was slow to catch up, and instead focused on establishing a western route across the Atlantic Ocean. The first person to discover such a route for Spain was Columbus, an Italian navigator. Columbus had struggled for years to fund his risky and ambitious scheme of sailing west to Asia, finally securing the patronage of the Spanish monarchy in early 1492.

Sailing westward, Columbus grossly misjudged the distance to Asia, not realizing that the world’s largest body of water—the Pacific Ocean—had to be crossed as well. He might have perished at sea had he not run into two unknown continents: North America and South America. Specifically, Columbus and his crew ran into the islands of the north Caribbean, where he first encountered the Amerindians who had populated both continents for millennia. During that first voyage and the three other voyages he made before his death in 1506, Columbus and his fellow Spaniards, in their quest for gold and slaves to bring back to Europe, frequently clashed with the local population. In the process, countless natives were killed, either directly from the superior weaponry of the Europeans or indirectly from the diseases they introduced to the Western Hemisphere.

Columbus’s voyages to the Americas began a long period of economic and religious expansion that brought unprecedented wealth to the monarchs of Europe and introduced the scientific and political concepts of Western civilization to the Americas. In the process, however, Columbus and his successors also brought mass pestilence, wars of conquest, and institutionalized slavery that decimated the indigenous peoples. Was Columbus’s conquest of the Americas painful but necessary for human progress? Or was it unjustifiable mass murder?

Critics of Columbus maintained that he was nothing more than a greedy tyrant who stumbled upon the Americas by accident. Not only did his men kill and enslave thousands of Amerindians in their search for gold and a western passage to Asia, they argued, but he paved the way for other Europeans to destroy the major civilizations of the Americas. Europeans had no right to wage war against the indigenous peoples, even if they considered their civilizations less advanced and some of their customs strange and immoral. The primary purpose of Europeans in the Americas, critics of conquest asserted, was to bring the divine truth of Jesus Christ to the natives and peacefully convert them to Christianity. The only way to do so, they argued, was to treat the natives as Christ would have treated them—with benevolence and respect as human equals.

Supporters of Columbus, on the other hand, praised him for his bravery and determination, without which the Spanish would never have made it to the Americas. Defenders asserted that Columbus was not the villain that his critics claimed; he revered the Amerindians on the whole and only lashed out against the hostility and resistance displayed by certain groups. Besides, many of his counterparts argued, the natives were ignorant, primitive people who often killed the innocents among them. In fact, they claimed, the natives were less than human, and many doubted they had souls at all. As such, they argued, the natives were naturally suited for servitude and should have meekly submitted to the inherent superiority of the Europeans. The Amerindians actually benefited from being conquered, they contended, because Europeans introduced them to Christianity, which had the power to save their souls from eternal damnation.

Columbus Struggles to Find Royal Backing

While the Portuguese established hegemony along the African coast, Spanish merchants and sailors began to look west for an alternative route to the Far East. One of those sailors was Columbus, born around 1451 in the northern Italian city of Genoa, a powerful commercial center with a long maritime history. The son of a wool weaver, Columbus from an early age dreamed of becoming a world explorer. In his twenties, he gained valuable sailing experience on several Genoese trade and military expeditions in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1476, during a voyage to England, his ship sank off the coast of Portugal and he barely made it to shore.

Lithographie de Turgis, Paris/Library of Congress
Christopher Columbus pays homage to Isabella I, Queen of Spain.
Columbus remained in Portugal for the next 10 years, during which time he became obsessed with finding a western route to the Indies—India and Southeast Asia. An intensely religious man, Columbus wrote that he would use the wealth of the Far East to fund the liberation of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. Columbus was greatly inspired by the writings of French clergyman Pierre d’Ailly, specifically the Image of the World (1410). A popular theory presented in that book was that nearly six-sevenths of the Earth’s surface was land, making the Atlantic Ocean far smaller than it really was. Columbus also absorbed the works of Florentine geographer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, who suggested that the wealthy ports of the Far East were just a few thousand miles west of Europe.

Such scholarly influences emboldened Columbus to seek patronage from King John II of Portugal to fund his scheme for sailing west to the Indies. The king was enthusiastic about the idea, so he appointed a commission of scholars to determine if the journey was feasible and thus worthy of funding. In 1484, however, the commission rejected Columbus’s plan. The commission concluded that Columbus’s reasoning was wrong, and that Asia was simply too far away for west-bound European vessels to reach it.

Undaunted, Columbus took his proposal elsewhere, leaving Portugal for Spain in 1485 to seek the support of Isabella and Ferdinand. At the time, the Spanish monarchy was engaged in a costly military campaign against Granada, the last Moorish stronghold in Spain. Despite their limited spare funds, Isabella and Ferdinand were impressed enough with Columbus to appoint a committee to assess his proposal. But like the Portuguese, the Spanish scholars rejected his scheme as unsound.

In 1488, Columbus returned to Portugal to present his case once again to John II. Unfortunately for Columbus, he arrived there just as Dias was returning from his landmark voyage to the Cape of Good Hope. Since the Portuguese had discovered a passage to the Indies around the tip of Africa and east across the Indian Ocean, the western route proposed by Columbus, the king decided, would be unnecessary.

With the door closed on Portuguese backing, Columbus once again traveled to Spain in a last-ditch effort to secure the support of Isabella and Ferdinand. They again appointed a royal commission in 1491 to listen to Columbus, and it again rejected his proposal, partly because he demanded to be appointed “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” and governor of any lands he discovered. Disheartened by his failed efforts on the Iberian Peninsula, Columbus looked north to the kingdom of France for his next attempt.

On January 2, 1492, the day Columbus was preparing to leave for France, Isabella and Ferdinand secured a surrender agreement from the Muslim emir in Granada. With the centuries-old reconquista finally over, the Catholic monarchs were free of their wartime financial burdens and thus able to turn their attention toward overseas exploration and closing the gap with Portugal. Disregarding the advice of their royal scholars, Isabella sent messengers to retrieve Columbus, who was already several miles north of Granada. Upon Columbus’s return to court, Isabella informed him that the Crown would fully finance his voyage, bestow upon him his requested titles, and guarantee him 10 percent of all profits garnered from discovered lands.

2) The Case for Praising Columbus

Supporters of Columbus and his legacy maintained that he was a great historical figure worthy of praise and admiration. His voyage to the Americas brought together the civilizations of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. While many atrocities were committed in the wake of his arrival, Columbus’s legacy should not be tied to the actions of subsequent conquistadors, supporters insisted. On the whole, they argued, Columbus made it possible for the benefits of Western civilization to spread throughout the world.

The personal qualities of Columbus were critical to his success, supporters maintained, in bridging Europe and the Americas. While he was mistaken regarding the exact location of Asia, they conceded, his voyage to the Americas would not have been possible without the dogged determination and bravery he exhibited in the face of doubt and adversity. “He had his faults and his defects,” wrote historian Samuel Eliot Morison in his book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, “but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great—his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement.”

Columbus was not the cold-hearted figure that his critics made him out to be, his supporters claimed. He in fact had great admiration for the Arawak, remarking on their generosity and high intelligence and calling them “the handsomest men and the most beautiful women” and “the best people in the world, and the gentlest.” Writing in his journal on his first encounter with the Arawak, Columbus expressed hope “that we might form great friendship, for I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force.” He added: “[I] gave to some of them red caps, and glass beads to put round their necks, and many other things of little value, which gave them great pleasure, and made them so much our friends that it was a marvel to see.”

Columbus’s attitudes and actions toward the Indians changed when he encountered the Caribs, who, he claimed, often attacked the Spanish without provocation. Furthermore, Columbus wrote, the men left at La Navidad had been brutally massacred by neighboring Arawak, who probably ate their remains as well. The aggression and cannibalistic tendencies of many Amerindians justified the sometimes harsh policies of Columbus, his defenders claimed. The label of slave trader was unfair, they insisted, since Columbus rounded up and sent back the offending Arawak as prisoners of war, a common practice at the time.

Subsequent Spanish explorers such as Bernal Diaz, who arrived in Mexico as part of the expedition of Hernán Cortés in the early 16th century, also related many acts of brutality performed by Amerindians, supporters of conquest pointed out. Observing an Aztec sacrificial ceremony, Diaz wrote:

They strike open the wretched Indian’s chest with flint knives and hastily tear out the palpitating heart which, with the blood, they present to the idols in whose name they have performed the sacrifice. Then they cut off the arms, thighs, and head, eating the arms and thighs at their ceremonial banquets. The head they hang up on a beam, and the body of the sacrificed man is not eaten but given to the beasts of prey.

Supporters of Columbus noted that while Europeans carried with them diseases such as measles and smallpox that devastated native populations, Amerindians also carried diseases, such as syphilis, that infected many Europeans. Regardless, they added, such transmission was done inadvertently and unknowingly by the Europeans.

Roughly a half-century after Columbus’s first voyage, Spanish theologian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda justified Columbus’s actions in a debate with Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Spanish priest and major advocate for Indian rights. This debate was an assembly of scholars brought together in 1550 by King Charles V to determine whether the Spanish conquest of the Americas was morally justified. Sepúlveda legitimized conquest based on four major points: the Indians were barbarians, they committed crimes against nature, they oppressed and killed other Indians, and they were infidels who should be converted to Christianity.

Wars had to be waged against Amerindians, Sepúlveda insisted, “in order to uproot crimes that offend nature,” such as idolatry, sodomy, and cannibalism. Since the Indians oppressed and killed each other, he argued, the Spanish had a right to intervene—violently if necessary. Such wars were just, Sepúlveda said, because they would “save many innocents, who [the Indians] immolate every year, from great injustices.”

Columbus’s supporters maintained that the Amerindians were naturally inferior to Europeans because of their primitive instincts and lack of rational thought. Based on this innate inferiority, they argued, the Spanish were justified in enslaving the natives and putting them in their “rightful” positions as servants and laborers. In his debate with de Las Casas, Sepúlveda invoked the writings of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher. “[T]he lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master,” Aristotle wrote in Politics. “Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making the one strong for servile labor, the other upright, and although useless for such services, useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace.”

Moreover, supporters of Columbus claimed, justification for Spanish conquest was based on divine authority, specifically through the teachings of the Bible. Slavery, they noted, was a prevalent theme in the Old Testament and also appeared in the New Testament. For instance, Sepúlveda cited the parable of the wedding feast in Luke and Matthew, where the lord of the feast “forces” passersby into holy celebration. That passage implied that pagans should be Christianized by force, he said. In fact, Sepúlveda pointed out, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great had used military force to convert the pagan peoples of Europe to Christianity in the 4th century. Thus the Spanish were not only justified but morally obliged to spread the truth of Christ to the pagans of the Americas.

Finally, Columbus’s defenders argued, charges that the Spanish simply stole Amerindian land were misleading. All humans were equally entitled to live off nature, they reasoned, but the natives used their land only sparsely. In contrast, they claimed, Europeans, with their advanced methods of agriculture and mining, could obtain much more from the land in their possession—thus they had more of a right to it. “[It is unjust] for a nation to hinder others from possessing a part of that soil of which they make no use, but which is suffered to lie idle and uncultivated;” wrote English statesman Sir Thomas More in Utopia (1516), “since every man has by the law of nature a right to such a waste portion of the earth as is necessary for his subsistence.”

3)The Case Against Praising Columbus

Critics of Columbus and his legacy argued that he was a vicious killer and slave trader motivated only by a desire for wealth and personal glory. Even if the Spanish had legitimate economic and religious goals in the Americas, they charged, there was absolutely no justification for the wanton destruction and plunder of the native peoples. “[Columbus] was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians,” Las Casas recalled in History of the Indies, which he wrote in the 1520s. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”

Antonio de Montesinos, one of the first Dominican friars to arrive in Hispaniola, offered similar sentiments in a sermon he gave to Spanish settlers in 1511 regarding their treatment of the Arawak:

I am the voice crying in the wilderness…the voice of Christ in the desert of this island…[saying that] you are all in mortal sin…on account of the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery? By what right do you wage such detestable wars on these people who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands…. Why do you so greatly oppress and fatigue them…so that you may extract and acquire gold every day?… Are they not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves?

No people deserved the kind of brutal and oppressive treatment dispensed by the Spanish, critics of Columbus insisted, particularly the Arawak, who were a peaceful and generous people. Any subsequent retaliation, such as the killing of Spanish settlers at La Navidad, was a justified form of self-defense, they argued. “Endless testimonies…prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives,” Las Casas wrote. “But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then.”

Though critics of Columbus accepted that the civilizations of the Americas were less technologically developed than those of Europe, they nonetheless argued that the Amerindians were no less human or rational than Europeans. They, like all people, had natural rights to their bodies, land, and property that could not be violated or confiscated without just cause. “It clearly appears that there are no races in the world, however rude, uncultivated, barbarous, gross, or almost brutal they may be, who cannot be persuaded and brought to a good order and way of life, and made domestic, mild and tractable [through] love and gentleness and kindness,” Las Casas wrote in The Apologetic History of the Indies (1530). In fact, he claimed, the Arawak were in many ways superior to European civilizations: [See Las Casas’ Apologetic History of the Indies (Excerpts) (primary document)]

Not only have [the Indians] shown themselves to be very wise peoples and possessed of lively and marked understanding…they have equaled many diverse nations of the world, past and present, that have been praised for their governance, politics and customs; and exceed by no small measure the wisest of all these, such as the Greeks and Romans, in adherence to the rules of natural reason.

Opponents of Columbus maintained that the Americas should not be used for economic or political gain, but rather for religious conversion; as Christians, Europeans had a duty to bring the divine truth of Christ to the ignorant, unsaved masses. But that mission should not use violence to achieve its goals, they insisted, since such coercion would go against the very heart of Christ’s teachings. “[S]ince Christ not only did not teach those first leaders, the very foundations of the faith, that war was permissible, but he positively deterred them,” Spanish monk Alonso de la Vera Cruz wrote in the mid-1500s in Defense of the Indians: Their Rights.

Since the Amerindians had never been exposed to the truth of Christ, critics of Columbus argued, the Spanish had no grounds to condemn them as immoral. “[T]he Indians were pagans, but that only called for Spaniards to help them, through persuasion, to receive the Gospel,” Las Casas said to Sepúlveda. And because they were pagans and did not know any better, he added, they could not be considered heretics; they had no right to “be punished by Christians, or even by the Church, for any crime at all, no matter how atrocious it may be.” He then asked Sepúlveda: how could God, in order to save them from their ignorance, have commanded the Church to kill pagans? “There is tremendous rashness [that Catholics] should use physical compulsion on unbelievers before the faith is preached to them.”

Pope Paul III adopted those sentiments in 1537, when he issued the Sublimis Dei, which forbade the enslavement of Amerindians. This edict, which also became the official position of Charles V, contained the following excerpt: [See Sublimus Dei (primary document)]

Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by the Christians are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen it shall be null and of no effect. Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living.

Furthermore, critics of conquest argued, declaring war in the name of Christ was in fact counterproductive to the cause of spreading Catholicism, since Amerindians would associate Catholicism with violence and plunder. “It is my considered opinion that the greatest obstacle that stands in the way of the pacification of the New World, and with it the conversion of the people to Christ, is the harshness and cruelty of the treatment meted out by Christians to those who surrender,” the bishop of Santa Marta wrote to Charles V in 1541. “This has been so harsh and so brutal that nothing is more odious nor more terrifying to the people than the name Christian, a word for which they use in their language the term yares, which means demons. And such a usage is amply justified, for what has been done to them by the Spanish commanders and by their men has been neither Christian nor indeed the work of devils.”

Opponents of conquest also insisted that there was no justification for simply taking the natives’ land by force. Property transactions should have involved fair negotiations and just payment, they argued, with preference given to the initial occupants of the disputed territory. “What right had the first discoverers of America to land, and take possession of a country,” American author Washington Irving asked in his History of New York (1809), “without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?”

Finally, many opponents of Columbus argued, even if the atrocities he committed were not taken into account, Columbus was still not praiseworthy. He grossly underestimated the distance to Asia from Europe and the time it would take to get there. Columbus blundered his way into the Americas and mismanaged his responsibilities once he got there, they pointed out, convinced until his death that he had actually found a western route to the Far East. His achievements, they claimed, could be attributed to nothing more than stubbornness and blind luck.

4 your own Opinion/Conclusion

Bibliograph Bitterli, Urs. Cultures in Conflict: Encounters between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492-1800. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Columbus, Christopher, and J. M. Cohen (translator). The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives. New York: Penguin Classics, 1992.

D’Souza, Dinesh. “The Crimes of Christopher Columbus.” First Things 57 (November 1995): 26-33.

Dugard, Martin. The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the Great Captain’s Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Mutiny, Shipwreck, and Discovery. New York: Time Warner, 2005.

Irving, Washington. The Life And Voyages Of Christopher Columbus. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Random House, 2006.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. Christopher Columbus, Mariner. New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books, 1985.

Phillips, Carla Rahn and William D. Phillips. The Worlds of Christopher Columbus. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. Christopher Columbus and the Conquest of Paradise. London: Tauris Parke, 2006.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.


5. Analysis of a primary document- Select one primary source (click on “Primary Sources” in the top/middle of the screen). Describe the source and state which side of the argument this document supports. Does it support your opinion/conclusion? Explain

Here is the source. Down below

Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Western Hemisphere in 1492 was one of the most significant events in modern history, bringing together for the first time the civilizations of Europe and the Americas. He kept a journal of his travels, which was lost upon his death. Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Spanish priest and famous Amerindian advocate, had access to the journal prior to its disappearance and wrote out his own interpretation—the only remaining copy of Columbus’s personal travel records. In it, Las Casas incorporates many direct quotations from “the Admiral,” as Columbus was called. The following are entries from his journal describing Columbus’s first encounter with the Americas and its native peoples:
Wednesday, October 10.

He sailed to the west-south-west and they went at the rate of 10 miles per hour and at times 12, and sometimes 7, and during the day and night they made 59 leagues. He told the people 44 leagues and no more. Here the people could no longer suffer the journey. They complained of the long voyage: but the Admiral encouraged them as well as he was able, giving them good hope of the benefits they would receive, and adding that for the rest it was useless to complain since he had come in search of the Indies, and thus he must pursue his journey until he found them, with the aid of our Lord.

Thursday, October 11.

He sailed to the west-south-west. They had a much higher sea than they had had in all the voyage. They saw petrels and a green branch, near the ship. Those on the caravel Pinta saw a reed and a stick and they took another small stick formed as it appeared with iron, and a piece of a reed and other grass which grows on land, and a small board. Those on the caravel Nina also saw other indications of land and a little branch full of dog-roses. With these signs every one breathed and rejoiced. They went 27 leagues during this day up to sunset.

After sunset he sailed on his first course to the west. They went 12 miles each hour and up to two hours after midnight they went about 90 miles which are 22 1/2 leagues. And because the caravel Pinta was the best sailor and was going ahead of the Admiral, land was discovered by her people and the signs which the Admiral had ordered were made. A sailor called Rodrigo de Traina saw this land first, although the Admiral at 10 o’clock at night being in the stern forecastle saw a light, but it was so concealed that he would not declare it to be land: but he called Pero Gutierrez Groom of the Chamber of the King, and said to him that it appeared to be a light, and asked him to look at it: and he did so and saw it. He also told Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovia, whom the King and Queen sent with the fleet as Inspector, who saw nothing because he was not where he could see it. After the Admiral told it, it was seen once or twice, and it was like a small wax candle which rose and fell, which hardly appeared to be an indication of land. But the Admiral was certain that they were near land. For this reason, when they said the Salve which all the sailors are in the habit of saying and singing in their way and they were all assembled together, the Admiral implored and admonished them to guard the stern forecastle well and search diligently for land and said that to whomever should first see land he would then give a silk doublet, besides the other gifts which the Sovereigns had promised them, which was an annuity of 10,000 maravedis to whomever should first see land. At two hours after midnight the land appeared, from which they were about two leagues distant. They lowered all the sails and remained with the cross-jack-sail, which is the great sail without bonnets, and lay to, standing off and on until the day, Friday, when they reached a small island of the Lucayas which is called in the language of the Indians, Guanahani. Then they saw naked people and the Admiral landed in the armed boat with Martin Alonso Pinzon and Vincente Yanez, his brother, who was captain of the Nina. The Admiral took the royal banner and the two captains had two banners of the Verde Cruz, which the Admiral carried on all the ships as a sign, with an F. and a Y. The crown of the Sovereigns surmounted each letter and one was one side of the + and the other the other side. Having landed they saw very green trees and much water and many fruits of different kinds. The Admiral called the two captains and the others who landed and Rodrigo Descoredo, Notary of all the Fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and told them to bear him witness and testify that he, in the presence of them all, was taking, as in fact he took possession of the said isle, for the King and for the Queen, his Lords, making the protestations which were required, as contained more at length in the depositions which were made there in writing. Then many of the people of the island gathered there. The following is in the exact words of the Admiral in his book of his first voyage and discovery of these Indies:

“That they might feel great friendship for us and because I knew they were a people who would better be freed and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force,—I gave them some red caps and some glass beads which they placed around their necks, and many other things of small value with which they were greatly pleased, and were so friendly to us that it was wonderful. They afterwards came swimming to the two ships where we were, and bringing us parrots and cotton thread wound in balls and spears and many other things, and they traded them with us for other things which we gave them, such as small glass beads and hawk’s bells. Finally they took everything and willingly gave what things they had. Further, it appeared to me that they were a very poor people, in everything. They all go naked as their mothers gave them birth, and the women also, although I only saw one of the latter who was very young, and all those whom I saw were young men, none more than thirty years of age. They were very well built with very handsome bodies, and very good faces. Their hair was almost as coarse as horses’ tails and short, and they wear it over the eyebrows, except a small quantity behind, which they wear long and never cut. Some paint themselves blackish, and they are of the colour of the inhabitants of the Canaries, neither black nor white, and some paint themselves white, some red, some whatever colour they find: and some paint their faces, some all the body, some only the eyes, and some only the nose. They do not carry arms nor know what they are, because I showed them swords and they took them by the edge and ignorantly cut themselves. They have no iron: their spears are sticks without iron, and some of them have a fish’s tooth at the end and others have other things. They are all generally of good height, of pleasing appearance and well built: I saw some who had indications of wounds on their bodies, and I asked them by signs if it was that, and they showed me that other people came there from other islands near by and wished to capture them and they defended themselves: and I believed and believe, that they come here from the continental land to take them captive. They must be good servants and intelligent, as I see that they very quickly say all that is said to them, and I believe that they would easily become Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no sect. If it please our Lord, at the time of my departure, I will take six of them from here to your Highnesses that they may learn to speak. I saw no beast of any kind except parrots on this island.” All are the words of the Admiral.

Saturday, October 13.

“At dawn many of these men came to the shore, all young men as I have said and all of good height, a very handsome people. Their hair is not curly but hanging and coarse like horsehair, and all the forehead and head is very wide, more than any other race seen until now, and their eyes are very handsome and not small. And none of them are blackish but the colour of the inhabitants of the Canaries; nor should anything else be expected since this place is on a line east and west with the island of Hierro in the Canaries. Their legs are in general very straight and they are not corpulent, but very well formed. They came to the ship with canoes, which are made from the trunk of a tree, like a long boat and all in one piece, and very wonderfully fashioned for the country, and large enough so that 40 or 45 men came in some of them, and others were smaller, some so small that only one man came in them. They rowed with a paddle and go wonderfully well; and if they upset, then they all commence to swim and bail them out with gourds, which they carry. They brought balls of spun cotton and parrots and spears and other small things which it would be tedious to write about, and gave everything for whatever might be given them. And I was attentive and sought to learn whether they had gold and I saw that some of them wore a small piece suspended from a hole they have in the nose: and I was able to understand by signs that, going to the south or going around the island to the south, there was a King who had large vessels of gold and who had a great deal of it. I tried to have them go there and afterward saw that they were not interested in going. I determined to wait until afternoon of the next day and then leave for the south-west, for according to what many of them showed me, they said that there was land to the south and to the south-west and to the north-west: and that these people from the north-west came to fight them many times and thus to go to the south-west in search of gold and precious stones. This island is very large and very level and has very green trees and many waters and a very large lake in the centre, without any mountain, and all so green that it is a pleasure to behold it. The people are very mild and on account of desiring our things, believing that they will not be given them without they give something, and they have nothing,—they take what they can, and then throw themselves into the water and swim. But they give all they have for whatever thing may be given them. They traded for even pieces of pitchers and broken glasses so that I saw 16 balls of cotton given for three ceotis of Portugal which are worth one blanca of Castile, and in the balls there would be more than an arroba of spun cotton. I forbade this and would not allow anything to be taken unless I should order everything taken for your Highnesses if there is a quantity. It [cotton] grows here on this island, but on account of brevity of time I could not give an account of everything: and also the gold which they wear hanging at the nose is found here. But in order not to lose time I wish to go and see if I can encounter the island of Cipango. Now, as it was night, all went to land with their canoes.”

Sunday, October 14.

“At dawn, I ordered the ship’s small boat prepared and the boats belonging to the caravels and went along the island toward the north-north-east to see the other part of it, which was the opposite part from the east and also to see the villages: and I saw then two or three, and the people all came to the shore calling us and giving thanks to God; some brought us water, others brought other things to eat. Others when they saw that I did not care to land threw themselves into the sea and came swimming and we understood that they asked us if we came from heaven. An old man came in to the boat and the others called loudly to all the men and women: Come and see the men who came from heaven: bring them something to eat and to drink. Many came and many women, each one with something, giving thinks to God, throwing themselves on the ground and lifting their hands toward heaven, and afterwards they called loudly to us to go to land; but I was afraid because of seeing a great reef of rocks which encircles all that island and the water is deep within and forms a port for as many ships as there are in Christendom: and the entrance to it is very tortuous. It is true there are some shoals in it, but the sea does not move any more than in a well. And I went this morning in order to see all this, that I might be able to give an account of everything to your Highnesses and also to see where I might be able to build a fortress, and I saw a piece of land formed like an island, although it is not one, on which there were six houses, but which could be made an island in two days. Although I do not believe it to be necessary, because this people are very simple in matters of arms, as your Highnesses will see by the seven which I took captive to be carried along and learn our speech and then be returned to their country. But when your Highnesses order it, all can be taken, and carried to Castile or held captives on the island itself, because with 50 men all can be subjugated and made to do everything which is desired. Then, near the said small island, there were orchards of trees, the most beautiful that I saw, and as green and with leaves like those of Castile in the months of April and May, and there was much water. I saw all that harbour and afterward I returned to the ship and made sail and saw so many islands that I could not decide which to visit first, and those men whom I had taken, told me by signs, that there were many, and so many that they could not be numbered, and they enumerated by their names more than one hundred. Therefore I looked for the largest and determined to go to it, and this I am doing. It may be five leagues distant from this island of San Salvador, and some of the others are farther from it, some not as far. All are very level without mountains and very fertile and all inhabited, and the inhabitants make war against each other although they are very simple and fine looking men.”


“A For more information on American History see

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