Of what the Admiral, Don Christopher Columbus, did after he realized that the Indians had killed the Christians he had left behind on the island of Hispaniola during the first voyage; and how he founded the town of Isabela and the fortress of San Tomás, and how he discovered the island of Jamaica, and saw the island and coastline of Cuba in greater detail, and of the first samples of mined gold that they took to Spain.

Translated by Joseph Wiswell ‘20

I have told of the first and second voyages that the Admiral, Don Christopher Columbus, made to these islands and Indies, and how on his first trip he left thirty-eight men behind on the lands of the king or Cacique Goacanagari. He chose Christians who seemed to him of the best disposition and temperament; but as he knew the fragility of human life, he left many in case some died, so others would remain that he could find when he returned; and also so there were enough of them to keep each other in check and correct each other if any excesses were committed among them. And he did not leave more of them because he had need of those remaining with him to return to Spain, and because this people seemed to him to be very tame and docile. So they were not left behind as defenders or to make war, nor did it enter the Admiral’s thoughts that the Indians would wage war against them, given their meekness, because if he had suspected this he would not have left them behind. But to interpret and live in peace there were too many, since for those purposes ten or twelve would have sufficed, and either he had no need to leave more or should have left two-hundred of them, but he didn’t have that many men with him. Finally, his intention erred less in ordering them to stay than they themselves erred in not knowing how to behave and regulate themselves. Despite this, the Admiral gave them many recommendations and gave the orders they should follow to remain safe amongst those savage people. Promising them many mercies, he shared with them his provisions and as much of their supplies as he could leave them for clothing. He left them weapons, exhorting them not to use them under any circumstance, unless they were absolutely forced, and never to be the aggressors; and he entrusted them, as earnestly as he could express it, to the lord of the land Goacanagari, to whom he likewise gave many things, so he would treat them well and favor them. And he left as captain with these men, as I have said, a good nobleman, a native of Cordoba, named Rodrigo de Arana, and he left also with them another good man by the name of Maestre Juan, who was a kind surgeon. But since most of these men who remained were sailors, and such men are a breed unto themselves, and so different from those of the land, as is their trade, very few of them, if any, was fitted for what the Admiral wanted from them: which was to know how to behave and contain themselves among the Indians and learn their language and the customs, and to bear the shortcomings and brutalities they saw among the Indians. But the truth is, speaking without prejudice since there are sailors who are good men, restrained and virtuous, I am of the opinion that for the most part the men who practice the art of seafaring are very deficient in character and in their understanding of life on land; because in addition to being low-born and crude people, they are greedy and inclined to other vices, like gluttony, lust, thievery, and bad attitudes. And since among the men Columbus left on this island there was no portion of the prudence or shame needed to sustain them by obeying the precepts of so prudent a man, they did not remain contained where he had left them and gave a very bad account of their persons, or no account at all, since no life remained to them to give it.

Later Columbus learned from the Indians that those Christians had done much wrong and taken their women and their daughters and all that they had, just as they pleased. And despite all this, they continued to live as long as they were quiet and following the commands of their captains; but as soon as they abandoned the captains that remained to them and went inland, little by little and separated the ones from the others, they were all killed until none remained. They learned likewise that the selection between the two captains that the Admiral ordered would stay to take charge if the first one didn’t survive was a leading cause of the rift between them, since, as the Indians said, each one of the others wanted to be the captain. And as soon as the Admiral set off for Spain the differences and divisions between them began, and each one of them wanted to be the head and leader; and too many leaders is not a useful thing in times of war, as Livy says.[1] And thus their differences and their disregard for the Indians led to their loss, and they began to set out on their own, two by two and three by three, and in small groups they spread about everywhere; and their behavior was so outrageous that the Indians were no longer able to endure it, and while some of them were sleeping or dropped their guard, forsaking the weapons, or when they found another suitable opportunity, the Indians killed all of them, until there were none left. And since the Admiral returned with some of the Indians he had taken with him to Spain, among those one they called Diego Columbus, who had learned more than the others and spoke our tongue rather well, through his interpretation of what many Indians and King Goacanagari  himself told him the Admiral became very well informed of what I have told above had happened, the cacique expressing great sorrow at it. But the Admiral was even more regretful, and after having confirmed what had happened, after a few days in Puerto Real, he came to another province of this island, and he founded a city there that he named Isabela.

From there the Admiral set out with two caravels on his discoveries and left as his lieutenant and governor of this island of Hispaniola Don Diego Columbus, his brother, while they waited the arrival of the Adelantado Don Bartholomew Columbus, likewise his brother, who had remained in Spain and was coming from England to join the Admiral. And he left Comendador Mossen Pedro Margarite as mayor of a fortress that the Admiral had ordered built at the mines they called Cibao (the richest on this island by the banks of a river they call Janico), as soon as they had had news of them; from which the Spanish had seized some nuggets of gold since the Indians didn’t know how to find them unless they saw them lying on the ground. And neither did the Spanish have the experience of the ancient Asturians or the Portuguese and Galicians in this craft of mining in those provinces I have mentioned, where the Romans had found such grand treasures. This fortress was the second they had built on this island, and Comendador Mossen Pedro Margartie was its first mayor, and they called it San Tomás, since they had been in doubt about the gold and wanted to see and believe; as soon as the Christians were reassured about the gold the Admiral wished the fortress to be called thus. But in the beginning they took little gold, which the Admiral sent with certain natives to Captain Gorvalan. And this nobleman conveyed the news of the gold and the rich mines of Cibao to the Catholic Monarchs, Don Ferdinand and Doña Isabella, for which he was rewarded, although others would say that the first one to take gold samples to Spain by order of the Admiral was Captain Antonio de Torres, brother of the housekeeper to Prince Juan, of glorious memory. Once the gold had been found, the Admiral put his plans into effect and left Isabela, with other gentlemen, and those that it appeared to them advisable to sail in two very well armed and provisioned caravels. While he went to pursue his discoveries, the Christians left behind endured much turmoil as will be told ahead; and on that same year of 1494 they lost four ships at Isabela, one of them the flagship called Marigalante.

During this voyage the Admiral discovered the island of Jamaica, which they now call Santiago, which is twenty-five leagues from the westernmost point of this island, which is the Tiburon point. But the truth is that the Admiral called the tip or easternmost part of this island Cape San Rafael and the westernmost tip he named Cape San Miguel, which some of those ignorant of the truth now call Cape Tiburon. Turning to Jamaica, I’ll say that the island is seventeen degrees from the equator. It is about fifty leagues long or more, and twenty-five leagues wide; but before the Admiral discovered it he went to the Island of Cuba and explored its coastlines more carefully than when he discovered the island on his first voyage. It is now called Fernandina Island, in memory of His Serene Highness and Catholic King, Don Ferdinand, of glorious memory. I believe that this land is that which the chronicler Peter Martyr wanted to call Alpha, α; and other times called Juana; but there is not in these parts or Indies any island known by those names. And I don’t know what moved him to name them so; but since these islands will be described more specifically later on, what I have said here is sufficient to the purpose.

[1] Decade I, Book IV, Chapter XXIII. [GFO]