Joseph Niver ’19: Book III, Chapter III (On Columbus’ Third Voyage and the Discovery of Cubagua)

Which deals with what happened on this island while the admiral returned to Spain; the third voyage and discovery that he made when he found the coast (and a large part of the unexplored world), generally named the Spanish Main, where great realms and provinces are present; how he discovered in that same way the island of Cubagua, where there is an incredibly abundant pearl fishery; and of other new islands that he found and all the events related to it, with other things relevant to the history.

Translated by Joseph Niver ’19

After the admiral spent some days in the court of the Catholic Monarchs, responding to the complaints and allegations friar Buyl and others made against him, and he was heard and absolved with clemency, as was said in the second book, he was given license to return to the governance of these lands, and they sent him to continue their discoveries. To that effect, he left the bay of Cadiz in the month of March of the year 1496 (although some say that it was in the year 1497 of the nativity of Jesus Christ, our savior), and he set sail with six caravels, very well armed and provisioned with supplies and all the things necessary for the voyage. After he arrived at Canaria, he sent three caravels to this island of Hispaniola with provisions and some people, and continued his voyage with the three caravels that remained, rounding the islands that are colloquially called the islands of Antonio, now called Cabo Verde, which are the same that were called the Gorgades. From there he continued with his ships to the southeast for a good hundred and fifty leagues, when a great storm took them and put them in such need that they had to cut the masts of the spanker sails and discard a great part of the cargo, finding themselves in great danger. But this storm, as described by Hernan Perez Matheos, a navigator who today resides in the city of Santo Domingo, was not as he described it, according to don Ferdinand Columbus, the son of the admiral, who was there and affirmed that there were such calms and heat that the vessels they carried cracked open and the wheat rotted; they had to unload and double back from the equator, and they headed to the northwest toward the island of Trinidad, so named by the admiral because he thought of naming the first land that he saw the Trinity. And so, after having seen the first land and the aforementioned island, seeing three mountains close together or near, and after he gave said island the name Trinidad and passed through the inlet known as Boca del Drago, he saw the mainland and a large part of its coast. But as it was populated by Carib archers, as was the island that I’ve mentioned, who are a very fierce and wild people who use deadly poisoned arrows, they couldn’t communicate with the Indians, although they saw many of them in their piraguas and canoes, whose form and manner will be discussed going forward, and they also saw people on the mainland.

This island is located at nine degrees to the part of our artic pole of the band that occupies this island toward the south or meridian, and of the one looking toward septentrion or north, it is at ten degrees. It has a latitude of 18 or 20 leagues, more or less, and a longitude of 25 or more. The land that stands opposite the southern part of this island on the mainland is called the Palmar, after its large palm groves. More to the levant [east], on the coast above, sits Río Salado [Salted River]; wanting to drink water from it they found it very salty, after which the admiral gave it its name. To the west of the island of Trinidad, on the mainland, is the salt pond point, about ten or twelve leagues, and between said point and the mainland (although the same point is on the mainland) is a gulf or inlet which the admiral named Boca del Drago (because something in its appearance resembles the open mouth of a dragon), within which there are many islets. From the salt pond point, which stands ten degrees from the equator, the admiral passed by the coast to the west and revisited other islands and gave them the name Los Testigos, and named another island La Generosa. He saw many islands that exist over there and went forward and discovered the rich island named Cubagua, which we now call Pearl Island, because it contains the principal pearl fishery of these Indies. And together with this other greater island, the admiral named it La Margarita. Cubagua, or Pearl Island, is located almost fifty leagues to the east of the salt pond point that was mentioned earlier. This is a small island which may be three leagues in circumference, more or less. From this island to the mainland there are four leagues to the province they call Araya. There he discovered Los Testigos, which are islets, and the island of Pájaros and other islands. And the admiral passed to the west coast of the mainland with his three caravels, and he found the island of Poregari, which is twenty-six or thirty leagues from Cubagua. Continuing forward he discovered other islands called los Roques, and the island of orchilla [orchella weeds], which they call Yaruma, where there is a large quantity of said lichens, according to fame. This island is located twelve leagues from the other, also discovered by the admiral more to the west, which is called Curaçao. And in that same way he discovered many other islands and islets until he arrived at Cabo de la Vela [Cape of Sails]; thus named because there he saw a great canoe or piragua of Indians who were going by sail. From here to the aforementioned salt pond point and Boca del Drago there are five hundred and eighty leagues, more or less, and from Cabo de la Vela he crossed the gulf that exists between the mainland and this island of Hispaniola and he came to this city, which in that time was on the other side of this river. And this very Cabo de la Vela is located to the north south with Beata Island, an islet near this island of Haiti or Hispaniola, and to the west of this city thirty-five leagues. So, this was the first admiral’s third voyage and discovery of these Indies. Moreover, because it was said earlier that in Cubagua he discovered the pearl fisheries, and as it is such a notable and rich thing, we will discuss how he knew that they were there when we deal with this island in particular.