Book II, Chapter V
Of the first voyage and discovery of the Indies, made by Don Christopher Columbus, first discoverer of them, whereby he was worthily named perpetual Admiral of these seas and empire of these Indies and other parts.
Translated by Gabriela (Ella) Nguyen ‘23
You have heard of how and in what manner Christopher Columbus came to be known to the Catholic monarchs, Don Ferdinand and Doña Isabella, when they were in the city of Granada with their armies: and how they dispatched him and gave him royal provisions for his enterprise, and he went to the village of Palos de Moguer to begin his journey. You should know that from there he began his voyage with three caravels: the largest of them was called the Gallega; and the other two were from the village of Palos and were stocked and armed with everything necessary. And according to the agreement signed with Columbus, he was to get a tenth of the rents and rights that the King earned in what was discovered by Columbus; and so he was paid as long as he lived after he discovered this land, and so was the second Admiral, Don Diego Columbus, his son, and so this patrimony is enjoyed today by Don Luis Columbus, his grandson, third Admiral and present owner of his house and estate.
A few days before Columbus set out to sea, he spent some time in long consultations with a priest named Friar Juan Pérez, of the Franciscan Order, his confessor, who was in the monastery at Rábida (about half a league between Palos and the sea). And this friar was the sole person in life to whom Columbus confided most of his secrets, and one from whose knowledge it is said to this day that he received the most help and good counsel, because this priest was a great cosmographer. Columbus had spent some time in the monastery at Rábida and had determined to go from there to the royal court in Granada, where he had concluded his business and had come to his agreement. And later Columbus returned to the same monastery and spoke to the friar about his trip and put the affairs of his soul and life in order, and put himself and his enterprise in God’s hands and mercy, like a faithful Christian, as a business in which God would expect to be served through the expansion of his Christian republic. And after having confessed, he received the holy sacrament of the Eucharist on the same day he set sail to the sea; and in the name of Jesus he spread the sails and left from the port of Palos on the Saltes River towards the Ocean Sea with three armed caravels, thus marking the beginning of the first voyage of discovery of these Indies on Friday the third of August, in the year of the birth of our Savior 1492, with good luck, embarking on this memorable enterprise through the guidance of God, who wished to make this man the arbiter and minister of such a great and distinguished deed.
Of these three caravels the flagship was the Gallega, on which Columbus sailed: of the other two, the one named the Pinta was captained by Martín Alonso Pinzón; and the other was called Niña and it was captained by Francisco Martín Pinzón, and on it traveled Vicente Yañez Pinzón. All of these captains were brothers and pilots and natives of Palos, and the greatest part of those in this fleet were themselves from Palos. And they would be in total one hundred and twenty men, with whom, after these three caravels went out to sea, they took their route to the Canary Islands, which the ancients called the Fortunate Isles. For a long time these islands had not been explored, nor did people know how to navigate around them, until later, during the times of the King Don Juan, second of that name in Castile. Being a child and under the guardianship of the most serene Queen Doña Catalina, his mother, they were found and explored and conquered by his command and license, as it is written at more length in the Crónica about this same king, Don Juan the Second. Many years after this, Pedro de Vera, a noble gentleman from Jerez de la Frontera, and Miguel de Moxica conquered the Gran Canaria island in the name of the Catholic king and queen, as well as the others, except for Palma and Tenerife, which were conquered by Alonso de Lugo, by command of the same king and queen, who named him the adelantado of Tenerife.
These people of the Canaries were very hard workers, although they went about almost naked and very wild, and as some affirmed, they didn’t even have fire until the Christians conquered these islands. Their weapons were stones and sticks, with which they killed many Christians until they were vanquished and placed, as they are, under submission to Castile, to which they now belong. And the closest ones are two hundred leagues from Spain, while the islands of Lanzarote and El Fierro are two hundred and forty leagues away; so that all of them together occupy a space of fifty-five or sixty leagues more or less. And they are situated twenty-seven to twenty-nine degrees from the equinoctial line on our side of the Arctic pole; the furthest or westernmost of them all runs west to east in line with Cape Bojador in Africa, at a distance of sixty-five leagues from it. All of these islands are fertile and abundant in the things necessary for human life, and of mild air. But of the native people who lived there before the islands were conquered there are few left, as most of them are very populated by Christians. And there, as an appropriate place for the purpose of his navigation, came Columbus, on the way to his first discovery of the Indies, with the three caravels I have mentioned, and there he took in water, wood, meat and fish, and other provisions necessary for continuing his voyage. And he left from the island of Gomera with his fleet on the sixth of September of that year 1492, and sailed on the grand Ocean Sea for many days, to the point when the men with him began to lose heart and wanted to turn back; and wary of their route, they began muttering about Columbus’s knowledge and daring, and the crew and captains began to mutiny, given that their fear increased by the hour while their hopes of seeing the land they were looking for faded. In a shameless and public way, they told him that he had deceived them and was leading them astray; and that the king and the queen had done wrong and had behaved very cruelly to them in trusting such a man and giving credit to a foreigner who knew nothing of what he was talking about. It came to the point that they assured him that if he did not turn back they would make him do so against his will or they would throw him into the sea, because it seemed to them that he was desperate and they didn’t want to be, nor did they believe that he could accomplish what he had begun; and therefore, they unanimously refused to follow him. At this moment of conflict, they found what seemed to be extensive grass meadows on the water, and thinking that it was flooded land and that they were lost, they renewed their clamoring. And for those who had never seen that it was indeed a fearful sight; but then their fright subsided and they realized there was no danger in it, since they were simply weeds they call Sargasso that float on the watery surface of the sea; which accumulate depending on the weather and the currents, running and changing direction from east to west, or to the south or north; and sometimes are found in the middle of the gulf, and at other times much later or closer to Spain. And on some journeys the ships encounter very few or none at all, and sometimes they find such quantities that, as I have said, they look like large green, golden, or jade-colored meadows, since they seem to gravitate between those two colors all the time.
Having left the concerns and fear of the weeds behind, then, the three captains and all the sailors there having determined to return, they were still murmuring among themselves about throwing Columbus into the sea, believing he had tricked them; and since he was wise and felt the rumblings about him, also being prudent, he began to comfort them with many sweet words, pleading with them that they did not want to waste their work and time. He reminded them of how much glory and profit would follow from their persevering in their undertaking; he promised them that in a few days their fatigue and travels would end with much and undoubted prosperity; and in conclusion he told them that within three days they would find the land they were looking for. So they should remain in good spirits and continue their journey, since by the time he mentioned he would show them a new world and land, and they would have achieved their purpose and would see that he had always told the truth, both to the Catholic king and queen as to them; and if that were not so, they could follow their will and do as they wished, since he had no doubts about what he was saying.
With these words he moved the hearts of the weak spirits traveling with him into some feeling of shame, especially those of the three brothers who were pilots and captains whom I have mentioned; and they agreed to do what he requested, and to sail those three days and no more, with the determination and agreement that at the end of them they would turn back to return to Spain if they had not seen land. And this was what they considered most certain; for there were none among them who thought there was land to be found in that parallel and on the route they were following. And they told Columbus that they would follow him for those three days he had named, but not an hour more, because they believed that nothing of what he told them was true; and they were all in agreement in their refusal to continue forward, saying that they did not want knowingly to die, and that the food and water they had was not sufficient to return them to Spain without much danger, regardless of how well they regulated their eating and drinking. And like all fearful hearts who suspect that nothing could ease their toil, especially in matters of navigation and the like, their murmurings never ceased, threatening their chief captain and guide. Neither did Columbus rest or cease in his words of comfort and encouragement to everyone as they continued their journey; the more disturbed they seemed, the more his countenance was a happy one as he exhorted them and helped them cast off their fearful confusion. As Admiral Columbus said these words, he really knew that he was close to land through the appearance of the cloudscape against the sky; he warned the pilots that if the caravels were to stray from one another for whatever reason, they should follow the wind in the direction he had set out for them to preserve their safety. And as night fell, he ordered the main sails to be lowered and to sail ahead only with the lowered foresails; and as they sailed thus, one of the sailors in the flagship, a native of Lepe, called out; “Fire! . . . land! . . . .” And then a servant of Columbus, named Salcedo, replied, saying: “The Admiral my lord has already said so,” and Columbus immediately said: “I have been saying it for a while and have seen the fire burning on land.” And so it was that on a Thursday, two hours after midnight, the Admiral called a nobleman named Escobedo, the repostero de estrados or special treasury adjunct for the Catholic King, and told him that he had seen a fire. And on the following morning, as it grew light, and at the very time Columbus had mentioned the day before, the island that the Indians call Guanahani was seen to the north of the main caravel. And the one who first saw the land, when it was daylight, was named Rodrigo de Triana, eleven days into the month of October of the aforementioned year 1492. And seeing that the Admiral’s assurances had been so exact and that they had seen land just when he had said, there was increasing suspicion that he had been given certain information by the pilot who was said to have died at his home, as I mentioned above. And it could also be that seeing so many of those traveling with him so determined to turn back home, he told himself that they would turn around after three days if they had not seen land, trusting that God would show him land in the term he had set, so as not to lose effort and time.
Returning to our story, the island they had seen first, as I have said, is one of the Lucayos Islands; and that sailor who had first said that he had seen a fire on land later returned to Spain, and because he had not been given due credit he became bitter and went to Africa and renounced his faith. This man, according to what I was told by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón and Hernán Pérez Mateo, who were present for this first discovery, was from Lepe, as I have said.
Just as the Admiral saw land, he fell to his knees and with tears in his eyes from the unbounded pleasure he felt, began saying with Ambrose and Augustine: Te deum laudamus, te dominum confitemur, etc; and so, giving thanks to our Lord along with all those with him, the joy that one and all felt was immeasurable. Some took him in their arms, others kissed his hands, and others begged forgiveness for the little constancy they had shown. Some asked for mercies and offered their services to him. In short, the joy and delight were so great that, embracing each other, they could hardly contain their pleasure at their good luck; which I can truly understand, since knowing as those who travel here from Spain and back now know that the journey and route are safe and true, there is no comparison to the pleasure felt by those who had been sailing for days when they finally see land. Imagine then how it would have been for those in such a dubious voyage when they found themselves safe and sure of their rest.
But you should know that there are some that propose a different narrative about Columbus’ steadfastness, and even affirm that he would have turned back and not concluded his journey if the Pinzón brothers had not forced him to sail ahead; and I will say more, that it was because of them that the discovery was accomplished, and that Columbus had already given up and wanted to turn around. In this it would be better to refer to a long legal process ongoing between the Admiral and the royal prosecutor, where many things have been alleged for and against, and in which I don’t want to interfere; since these things pertain to justice and they will be determined by justice, and they will end as they end. But I have stated the opinions on one side and the other and the reader will choose that one that best suits his good judgement. It took the Admiral thirty-three days of sailing from the Canary Islands to this first sight of land; since he arrived in these islands, the first ones he saw, in the month of October of 1492.
 Insert English translation here. [EE]
Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University