Abby Tarwater ’21: Book III, Chapter VII (Of the arrival of the First Knight Commander of the Order of Alcántara)

Book III, Chapter VII

Of the arrival of the First Knight Commander of the Order of Alcántara, Don Frey Nicolás de Ovando, who governed this island, and of the departure of the Knight Commander Francisco de Bobadilla, who was lost at sea with the entire fleet bearing much gold, and of the warning given by the Admiral, as a man who knew the disposition of the weather, to the First Knight Commander not to let the fleet sail from this port. And because they did not believe or heed his advice or allowed him to enter the port, the fleet and many people were lost.

Translated by Abby Tarwater ’21

At the time that the Knight Commander of Larez, Don Frey Nicolás de Ovando, of the Military Order of Alcántara, came to this city and island, he was not yet the first knight commander of his Order: the position of first knight commander of Alcántara became vacant at the death of don Alonso de Santillán, which took place after Ovando had already been here a few years, and the Catholic King granted the title and mercy to this said Commander of Larez. And therefore, I will only refer to him as first knight commander in everything related to him. He had come to this island by order of the Catholic King and Queen, with thirty ships and caravels and a very large fleet, and with him came many gentlemen and noblemen from various parts of the kingdoms of Castile and León. While the Catholic Queen Doña Isabel lived, only subjects and vassals from territories falling within the Queen’s domains were allowed passage to the Indies, and thus they had been the ones who discovered the Indies, and not the Aragonese, or Catalans, or Valencians, or vassals from the Catholic King’s domains. Servants and known persons of the royal house who were not Castilian were only given license to come by special permission; because as these Indies were conquered by the crown of Castile, so its most serene Queen wanted only her vassals to come to these parts and no one else, unless it was by special exception; and it remained thus until the end of the year 1504 when God called her to His glory. Afterwards, the Catholic King, ruling the kingdoms in the name of the serene Queen Doña Juana, their daughter, our lady, gave license to the Aragonese and to all of vassals of the kingdom of Aragón to come to these parts through appointments as he saw fit. And later his Imperial Majesty further extended the license to come to these parts to vassals from all the domains under his rule.

The first knight commander departed from Spain in the year 1502 and arrived in this city of Santo Domingo on the fifth of April of that year, the city being then on the other side of the Ozama River. And later he was obeyed as governor, as directed by High Commander Bobadilla, the former governor, after the Catholic Monarchs had removed him from office and given him license to return to Spain, considering themselves very well served during the time he had been there, as he had fulfilled all the duties that fell under his charge honorably and as a good gentleman. And so he left for Castile in the fleet and navy in which the first high commander had arrived; and since a lot of gold had been extracted, the fleet bore in that journey over a hundred million golden pesos molten and marked, and some large nuggets still to melt, so they could be seen in Spain. Although on other occasions the fleet had transported gold for the Catholic Monarchs and for private individuals, never until then had so much gold been sent on a single journey, molten and in particular nuggets yet to be molten, among which there was a nugget that weighed 3,600 pesos of gold; and according to knowledgeable men and mining experts, the nugget did not contain more than three pounds of stone, which is six marks and amounts to 300 pesos. So discounting the portion of the nugget that could be stone, there would still remain three thousand and three hundred pesos of gold, and was as large as a loaf of bread. And because I said in the memorial that I wrote in Toledo in the year 1525, which was written without access to my notes, that this grain weighted 3,200 pesos, I can now correct myself in many things and say, since I am back where there are many living witnesses that saw that nugget, that it weighted something more than 3,600 pesos, as I said above, including stone and gold. It was found by an Indian woman belonging to Miguel Diaz, who is said to have been the reason the city was moved here from the other side of the river, and because he was in business with Francisco de Garay, the nugget was shared between them, and having accounted for the fifth due to the king, and free of other claims, they were paid the rest of its value and the nugget became the property of the king and queen; and being transported in that fleet, it was lost. And it was so big, that when the Indian woman who found it showed it to the Christian miners, they very happily decided to have lunch or eat a good and fat roast pig, and one of them said: “For a long time I’ve had the hope of eating on plates of gold, and since so many plates can be made from this nugget, I want to carve this pig on it.” And so he did; and they ate it from that rich plate, and the whole pig could fit on it, as I said.

Returning to my story, High Commander Bobadilla departed at a fateful hour with bad luck, and with him Antonio de Torres, brother to the prince’s housekeeper, who was captain general of the fleet in which the first high commander had arrived. When they were just about to leave, it happened that one or two days before the fleet left port, the first Admiral Don Christopher Columbus arrived with four caravels to explore by command of the Catholic Monarchs, bringing with him Don Ferdinand Columbus, his youngest son. And with his ships about a league from the port of Santo Domingo, the first high commander sent a boat with a handful of sailors to acknowledge the Admiral’s arrival and, it is believed, warn him not to enter the port. And as the Admiral perceived this, he sent word to the first high commander that if he did not want him to enter the land he had discovered, then let it be as he ordered, although he did not think that in this he served the Catholic Monarchs well; but he begged the first high commander that the fleet not be allowed to leave this port, because the weather did not look good to him, and he was leaving to find a safe port, because here they would not have him or welcome him. And so he went with his caravels to Puerto Escondido, which is on this island, ten leagues southwest of the city of Santo Domingo, and remained there until the storm, which I will describe later, passed. And after the storm passed, he crossed to the Mainland and discovered what will be described later in its place. Others say that he went to Azua, and that the Admiral was there until the storm passed.


Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.