Book II, Chapter XIII
Which deals with the travails and wars endured by the Christians who remained with Don Diego Columbus and with the Adelantado Don Bartolomé Columbus in the settlement of Isabela while the Admiral went from there on his discoveries, and with what happened to the Alcaide Mossen Pedro Margarite with certain turtledoves at the fortress of Santo Tomás, and of the population and establishment of this city of Santo Domingo, to which the Admiral returned after having discovered Jamaica, and other things.
Translated by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert
When the Admiral first departed from the settlement of Isabela, he left his brother, Don Diego Columbus, as lieutenant and governor of this island, and in command of most of the Christians, pending the arrival of his other brother, the Adelantado Bartolomé Columbus, who duly arrived. You should know that after the city was settled and the Admiral distributed the plots of land so the Spaniards could build their houses, as they did, the Indians, seeing that this settlement was meant to last, were grieved to understand the Spaniards’ purpose. And to prevent this and give them a chance to leave the land, they came up with an evil plan that resulted in the death of more than two parts (or half ) of the Spaniards, and so many of the Indians themselves died that they were impossible to count. And this was done in a manner that could not be understood or remedied, and it was like this. All the Indians from the province agreed not to plant their crops at the appropriate time, and since they had no corn crop, they ate the yuca, which are two types of bread meal they had, and their main source of sustenance here. The Christians ate their own supplies, and once these were finished, wanting to help themselves from those the Indians produced from the land, found that there were none left from one source or the other. And thus the men, the Christians from this city, collapsed, dead from hunger; and at the fortress known as Santo Tomás, led by Comendador Mossen Pedro Margarite, half of the people died from the same cause. The stench was widespread and pestiferous; the sufferings endured by the Christians were many, besides those caused by hunger; and in this way the Indians achieved their evil desire, which was to force the Christians to flee for lack of sustenance, or to have them die without it if they remained. The Indians who escaped went deep inland and avoided contact with our men in order to inflict more damage to them and find food in other provinces.
During these times of such need the Christians ate all the dogs (known as gozques) there were on the island, which were mute and did not bark, and also ate those that had been brought from Spain, and they ate all the hutías there could be, and all the quemis, and other animals they call mohuy and all the others they call coris, which are like bunnies or small rabbits. They hunted these four species of animals with the dogs that had been brought from Spain; and after they had finished off the animals belonging to this land, they ate the dogs themselves, as payment for their services. And they not only brought to an end these five species of animals, which lived only on this island; but once these were gone, they took to eating some serpents called yvanas or iguanas, which have four legs, and such a countenance that they look to those who don’t know them like very frightful animals. They did not spare any lizards, took no pity on skinks, geckos, or snakes, of which there are many and of all types of markings, but none poisonous. So that, in order to live, they spared no beast or animal of those I have mentioned; all that could be caught ended up in the fire, or stewed or roasted, there was no appetite lacking to eat things so injurious to their health and so frightful to the eye. From which, and from the great humidity of this land, many grave and incurable illnesses persevered in those who remained alive. And for this reason those first Spaniards who came to these land in search of gold, when they returned, if they returned, to Spain, were of the very same golden color, but without its luster; they had turned the color of citrons, the color of saffron or jaundice; and so sick that they died later, soon after they returned, as a result of what they had endured here and because Spanish provisions and bread flour are easier to digest than the herbs and bad food they ate here, and the air is thinner and colder than that of this land. So even if they returned to Castile, soon after arriving they came to the end of their lives.
The Christians, early settlers of this island, suffered a lot from the jiggers, and endured great pains and illness from the disease of the sores (since it originated in the Indies), and I certainly mean the Indies, since the disease is natural to these parts and to the local women. It was through consorting with them that this plague was caught by some of the first Spaniards who came with the Admiral to discover these lands; this was quite possible given that it is such a contagious illness. And after returning to Spain and bringing the illness with them, it went to Italy and other parts, as I will narrate ahead, without forgetting to also offer a complete narrative, when appropriate, of eleven notable things that have been touched upon on this chapter, as noted: dogs, hutías, quemis, mohuy, coris; as well as the iguana, which is a four-legged serpent. And I will not forget the lizards, snakes, geckos to be found on this land; and I will write of the illness caused by the jiggers, and of the loathsome illness of the sores, which will account for the eleven items mentioned above.
So that, moving on with what I promised in the title of this Chapter XIII, I will say that at the same time that the Christians in Isabella were suffering the ills I mentioned, and many other vicissitudes (that I am not mentioning to avoid long-windedness), Comendador Mossen Pedro Margarite was at the Fortress of Santo Tomás in the mines of El Cibao with about thirty men, suffering the same anguish as those of Isabela; they were also lacking food and were suffering from many illnesses and enduring the travails forced upon the first settlers of lands so distant and so wild and difficult for those raised so far away; and these circumstances led to many of them dying and they were fewer by the day. They were too few to leave the fortress; leaving it empty was not a good idea; the loyalty to their leader was the proper one; the Admiral was away from the island on the discovery I mentioned; the ones in Isabela with the Adelantado Don Bartolomé had so much work they could not be counted on; the Indians, those who wanted or could escape the hunger had gone inland; so that, this mayor and his men being in such straits, an Indian came to the castle one day (since, according to what he said, he had a good opinion of the alcaide Mossen Pedro Margarite, being a man who never committed or allowed any violence or outrage against the Indians and natives of this land) and this Indian brought to the alcaide a pair of live turtledoves as a present. And upon being told, he ordered that he be allowed to come up to the tower where he was, and once he came up and the Indian gave him the turtledoves, the alcaide thanked him and as a reward gave him some glass beads that the Indians valued highly at that time to wear around his neck. And once the Indian left, happy with his stringed beads, the alcaide said to the Christians who were with him at the fort that he thought that the turtledoves were too few for all of them to partake of, and that they were only sufficient for him to eat that day; and all said that he was correct, and that there was nothing for them in that present, and that he could eat the turtledoves that day as he needed them more than the rest of them, since he was more ill than the rest. Then the alcaide said: “It never pleases God for things to be done like you suggest: since you have accompanied me in our hunger and travails to this point, I claim your company in both, and will be with you, living or dying, until it pleases God to have us all die of hunger or for all of us to be rescued by his mercy.” And having said this, he set the turtledoves, which were still alive, free, from a window in the tower, and they flew away.
With this, all were left contented and satisfied, as if he had given them to each and every one of those present there; and they felt so obliged to the mayor for this kindness, so as to suffer whatever was coming by his side, so no one wished to leave the fortress or his company, no matter the difficulties. As if those troubles were not enough, with Christians being in such need amidst the continuation of the travails and illnesses I have mentioned, there blew forceful winds from the north (which in Castile are called mistrals), and which in this island bring illness; and not only did more Christians die, but also the Indians as I have said.
Not having any help but that of God, He allowed for their rescue in the moving of the town of Isabela, where the Spaniards had settled. And what made possible this move was that a young man from Aragon, called Miguel Diaz, had words with another Spaniard, and wounded him several times with a knife; and although he didn’t die from his wounds, Diaz didn’t dare remain, since he was a servant of the Adelantado Bartolomé Columbus, so he absented himself for fear of punishment, and five or six Christians followed him in amicable company (some of them because they had participated in the attack perpetrated by Miguel Diaz, and others because they were his friends). And fleeing Isabela they went up the coast to the east or Levant, plying the coast towards the south until they reached the spot where this city of Santo Domingo is now located, and they stopped at this settlement because they found an Indian town there. And here Miguel Diaz established a friendship with a woman chieftain or cacica, who was later known as Catalina, and in time had two children with her. But shortly after he stopped there, since such a noted Indian lady wished him well and treated him like a friend closely connected to her, and because of her respect for the others, she gave him news of the mines located seven leagues from this city, and begged him to let it be known and make the Christians who were in Isabela (as he dearly wished) come to this land so fertile and beautiful, with such an excellent river and port; and that she would support them and give them whatever was necessary. This man, then, to please the cacica, and moreover because it seemed to him that bringing news of such good and abundant land would prompt the adelantado, being in such a sterile and sick land, to forgive him, and principally because God wanted it to be this way so that the Christians that remained would not come to an end; he agreed to go to the adelantado and traveled across the land with his companions, guided by some Indians that his friend commanded to accompany them until they reached Isabela, which was about fifty leagues from this city a bit more or less. And he found the way to speak secretly to some friends of his, and learned that the man he had wounded had healed; and thus he dared see the adelantado his lord and ask for his forgiveness, in payment for his services and for the good news he brought him about the gold mines. And the adelantado received him very well and forgave him, and made peace between him and his adversary. And after he had listened to him very particularly about this province and this coast, and determined to come personally to see it, and choosing his company, he came here and saw that what Miguel Diaz had said was true, and he climbed into a canoe or boat of the kind the Indians have, and explored this river they call the Ozama, which flows through this city, and took soundings and tested the depth of the entrance to the port, and he was left quite pleased and happy as he should have; and he went to the mines and he spent two days there and gathered some gold. And from there he returned to Isabela, and he gave great pleasure to all the Spaniards after he told them what he had seen here; and then he commanded everyone to travel through land to this settlement, and brought by sea what possessions the Christians had there in two caravels; and he arrived at this port, according to some, on a Sunday, the day of the glorious St. Domingo, on the fifth of August, 1594. And the above-mentioned Adelantado Don Bartolomé founded this city, not where it is presently, so as not to uproot the Cacica Doña Catalina and the Indians who lived here, but on the other side of the Ozama River, alongside the coast, and facing our present city.
Two and a half months later, the Admiral arrived with those who had gone with him on his discoveries; and having arrived in this city, he sent for word of whether Mossen Pedro Margarite was still living, and he sent a letter asking him and all who remained with him to come here and leave the fortress under the command of Captain Alonso de Hojeda, who was the second alcaide of the fortress of San Tomás and so they did. And once they arrived here, they recovered through the abundance and fertility of the land, and their health was restored.
Once they were all together, since our common adversary never tires nor ceases to affront and tempt believers, planting discord among them, many differences between the Admiral and that reverend father, Friar Buyl, surfaced. And this started because the Admiral hanged some men, especially a certain Gaspar Ferriz, Aragonese, and had others flogged; and he began to behave more severely and with more rigor than he was accustomed to, and although there were reasons for him to be obeyed, he should have remembered Emperor Otto’s grave dictum: pereunte obsequio imperium quoque intercidit, which says that if there’s no obedience there is no mastery; But Solomon also says: universa delicta operit charitas. Since charity covers all wrongdoing, as the wise man claims in the proverb cited, he who does not embrace compassion does evil, especially in these new lands where in order to preserve the company of the few some things need to be often overlooked that in other parts it would be wrong not to punish. A prudent captain, more than anyone else, would be wise to look to this, since it is written; if you have been declared master, don’t raise yourself above those subject to you, but be among them as one of the rest. The authors of these sacred words are Solomon and Saint Paul. The Admiral was crude, in the opinion of that religious man, who was the Pope’s representative and held his authority; and any time Columbus did anything that the friar did not consider to be fair in matters of criminal justice he would call it into question and put a stop to divine offices. And just as quickly the Admiral would order the Friar’s rations to be stopped, commanding that no food be allowed to Friar Buyl and his household.
Mossen Pedro Margarite and the other officers worked diligently to make them friends, and they would return to being so; but only for a few days. Because as soon as the Admiral did any of the things I have mentioned, the priest would do as he always did and question his actions and stop the hours and divine offices, and the Admiral would once again bring an end to their supplies, and would not consent to any deliveries of food to the Friar or his clerics, or their servants. The glorious St. Gregory has said that concord can only be sustained through patience; because discord is always the result of human actions when they are separated from their sense of unity and love. There were differing opinions about these disputes, although these were not made public; but each side found a way to write their account to send to Spain, which is why the Catholic Monarchs, receiving different accounts of what was happening here, sent to this island Juan Aguado, their servant (who now lives in Seville). And he left with four caravels and came here as their captain, as it appears in a decree from the Catholic Monarchs I have seen, signed in Madrid on the 5th of May, 1495; and from another decree they ordered those in the Indies to give him their faith and allegiance, which said as follows: “The King, the Queen: knights and squires and other persons who are in the Indies under our command, we send to you Juan Aguado, our head of household (repostero), who will speak to you on our behalf. We command you to give him your faith and allegiance. Madrid, 9th of April, 1495. I the King—I, the Queen,” and witnessed by Fernand Alvarez, secretary.
This captain had his authority announced throughout the Island of Hispaniola, and because of it all the Spaniards were at his service in everything he said on behalf of the Catholic Monarchs; and in a few days he told the Admiral to prepare to go to Spain, which he took as a very serious thing, and dressed himself in brown, as a friar, and let his beard grow.
This return of the Admiral to Spain as a prisoner took place in the year 1496, although it had not been commanded that he be arrested; and the King and the Queen sent for Friar Buyl, and for Mossen Pedro Margarite, and they returned to Spain in the same fleet; together with Comendador Gallego, and Comendador Arroyo, and the Contador Bernal de Pisa, and Rodrigo Abarca, and Micer Girao, and Pedro Navarro, all of whom were servants of the royal household; and once they arrived in Spain, they all went on their own to the court to kiss the hands of the Catholic Monarchs. And although they had heard through letters from here and then personally from Friar Buyl and other complainers, and those blessed monarchs were informed of the behavior of the Admiral (perhaps described as more criminal than it was), after hearing directly from him, having regard for his great services, and because of they own royal mercy, not only did they forgive him, but gave him leave to return to the governance of these lands. And they commanded that he continue the discovery of these Indies, and these very Christian Monarchs very earnestly commended to him the good treatment of their Spanish vassals and of the Indians and for him to be more moderate and less rigorous, as was right. And the Admiral thus promised it, even though most of those who went to Spain from here spoke badly of him. Which I don’t marvel at, even if he was not at all responsible; because as some of those who have come to these parts, the air of the land awakens them to novelties and discords (which is something proper to the Indies), and there naturally are the Indians, the people native to these parts and very different from them; and it is for this sin and may others that are abundant among them that God had forgotten them through some many centuries.
As to conflicts between the Christians in the past, it can be said that in these early years conflicts were in many cases provoked by their greater inclination for war than for leisure, and having no enemies among strangers, they looked for them among themselves, as Justinian has said; and also because their own agility and great abilities made them less likely to take offense lightly. Not to mention that those who came here were many different kinds of people; because although they were all vassals of the Spanish Monarchs, who will find common cause between a Basque and a Catalan, who come from different provinces and speak different languages? How do you reconcile an Andalusian to a Valencian, and someone from Perpignan to a Cordoban, an Aragonese to a native of Guipuzcoa, and a Galician to a Castilian (who will take him for a Portuguese), and an Asturian (or someone from Santander) with a Navarrese?, etc. And so it is that not all the vassals of the royal crown of Spain follow the same customs or speak the same languages. And especially during those early days, if a pure-blood nobleman walked by, he could be followed by ten uncouth men of low and obscure lineage. And this is how it all ended in quarrels.
But since the enterprise has been so important, there has never been a lack of persons of good blood and knights and noblemen who were determined to leave their country in Spain to come settle in these parts, especially and firstly in this city, being the first in the Indies, where the first seed of the Christian religion was planted, as will be told ahead. And because it would seem to me that my carelessness in not mentioning them would be noted, I will write of two new plagues that the Christians, in this second voyage of the Admiral (among others I have mentioned and many not named) fell victim to; I will write about them in the next chapter, because they were a great wonder and very dangerous. And one of them was carried back during this return of Columbus to Spain, and from there to all the provinces in the world, as we believe.
 Syphilis. See Book II, Chapter XIV. [EE]
 Insert English translation here. [EE]
 Proverbs. X [GFO]
 Insert English translation here. [EE]
 Ecclesiastes, Book XXXII, Verse 1. [GFO]
 Hebre. XXIII. [GFO]
 Book XXI, chapter XVII, about Chapter XXI of the Book of Job. [GFO]
Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University