|Columbus: Letter to Louis De Santangel, 1493|
(Report On His First Voyage)
Sir,- Believing that you will take pleasure in hearing of the great success which our Lord has granted me in my voyage. 1 write you this letter, whereby you will learn how in thirty-three day's time I reached the Indies with the fleet which the most illustrious King and Queen, our Sovereigns, gave to me, where I found very many islands thickly peopled, of all which I took possession without resistance for their Highnesses by proclamation made and with the royal standard unfurled. To the first island that I found I gave the name of San Salvador, in remembrance of His High Majesty, who hath marvelously brought all these things to pass; the Indians call it Guanaham. To the second Island I gave the name of Santa-Maria de Concepción; the third I called Fernandina, the fourth, Isabella; the fifth, Juana; and so to each one I gave a new name. When I reached Juana, I followed its coast to the westward, and found it so large that I thought it must be the mainland -- the province of Cathay; and, as I found neither towns nor villages on the sea-coast, but only a few hamlets, with the inhabitants of which I could not hold conversation, because they all immediately fled, I kept on the same route, thinking that I could not fail to light upon some large cities and towns. At length [having] learned from some . . . Indians whom I had seized, that this land was certainly an island. I followed the mast eastward for a distance of one hundred and seven leagues, where it ended in a cape. From this cape, I saw another island to the eastward at a distance of eighteen leagues from the former, to which I gave the name of La Española [Hispaniola]. Thither I went, and followed its northern coast to the eastward, . . . one hundred and seventy-eight full leagues due east. This island, like all the others, is extraordinarily large . . . The lands are high, and there are many very lofty mountains . . . covered with trees of a thousand kinds of such great height that they seemed to reach the skier. Some were in bloom, others bearing fruit . . . The nightingale was singing . . . and that, in November. . . . In the interior there are many mines of metals and a population innumerable. Española is a wonder. Its mountains and plains, and meadows, and fields, are so beautiful and rich for planting and sowing, and rearing cattle of all kinds, and for building towns and villages. The harbours on the coast, and the number and size and wholesomeness of the rivers, must of them bearing gold, surpass anything that would be believed by one who has not seen them. There is a great difference between the trees, fruits, and plants of this island and those of Juana in this island there are many spices and extensive mines of gold and other metals. The inhabitants of this and of all the other islands I have found or gained intelligence of, both men and women, go as naked as they were horn, with the exception that some of the women cover one part only with a single leaf of grass or with a piece of cotton, made fur that purpose. They have neither iron. nor steel, nor aims, nor are they competent to use them, not that they are not well-formed and of handsome stature, but because they are timid to a surprising degree. . . It is true that when they are reassured and have thrown off this fear, they are guileless. . . . They never refuse anything that they possess when it is asked of them; on the contrary, they offer it themselves. . . and whether it be something of value or of little worth that is offered to them, they are satisfied. . . They are not acquainted with any kind of worship, and are not idolators; but believe that all power and, indeed, all good things are in heaven, and they are firmly convinced that I, with my vessels and crews, came from heaven, and with this belief received me at every place at which I touched, after they had overcome their apprehension. . . On my reaching the Indies, I took by force. . . some of these natives, that they might learn our language and give me information in regard to what existed in these parts; . . .[they] are still with me, and, from repeated conversations . . . I find that they still believe that I come from heaven. Although I have taken possession of all these islands in the name of their Highnesses, and they are all more abundant in wealth than I am able to express; and although I hold them all for their Highnesses, so that they can dispose of them quite as absolutely as they can of the kingdoms of Castile, yet there was one large town in Española of which especially I took possession, situated in a locality well adapted for the working of the gold mines, and for all kinds of commerce, either with the mainland on this side, or with that beyond which is the land of the great Kahn, with which there will be vast commerce and great profit. To that city I gave the name of Villa de Navidad, and fortified it with a fortress, which by this time will be quite completed, and I have left in it a sufficient number of men with arms, artillery, and provisions for more than a year, a barge, and a sailing master skillful in the arts necessary fur building others. I have also established the greatest friendship with the king of that country, so much so that he took pride in calling me his brother, and treating me as such. Even should these people change their intentions to towards us and become hostile, they do not know what arms are, but, as I have said, go naked, and are the most timid people in the world; so that the men I have left could, alone, destroy the whole country, and this island has no danger for them, if they only know how to conduct themselves. . . . Finally, and speaking only of what has taken place in this voyage, which has been so hasty, their Highnesses may see that I shall give them all the gold they require, if they will give me but a very little assistance, spices also, and cotton, as much as their Highnesses shall command to be shipped; and mastic, hitherto found only in Greece, in the island of Chios . . . slaves, as many of these idolators as their Highnesses shall command to be shipped. I think also I have found rhubarb and cinnamon, and I shall find a thousand other valuable things by means of the men that I have left behind me, for I tarried at no point so long as the wind allowed me to proceed . . . . Much more I would have done if my vessels had been in as good a condition as by rights they ought to have been. This is much, and praised be the eternal God, our Lord, who gives to all those who walk in his ways victory over things which seem impossible; . . . although others may have spoken or written concerning these countries, no one could say that he had seen them . . . . But our Redeemer hath granted this victory to our illustrious King and Queen and their kingdoms, which have acquired great fame by an event of such high importance, in which all Christendom ought to rejoice, and which it ought to celebrate with great festivals and the offering of solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity with many solemn prayers, both for the great exaltation which may accrue to them in turning so many nations to our holy faith, and also for the temporal benefits which will bring great refreshment and gain, not only to Spain, but to all Christians. This, thus briefly, in accordance with the events.
Done on board the caravel, off the Canary Islands, on the fifteenth of February, fourteen hundred and ninety-three.
At your orders.
From Select Letters of Christopher Columbus, edited by R.H. Major.