The First Explorations of Columbus



(From the Journal of Columbus.)

Translated by Sir Clements R. Markham

I left in the city of Granada on the 12th day of May, in the same year of 1492, being saturday, and came to the town of Palos, which is a seaport; where I equipped three vessels well suited for such service; and departed from that port, well supplied with provisions and with many sailors, on the third day of August of the same year, being Friday, half an hour before sunrise, taking the route to the islands of Canaria, belonging to your Highnesses, which are in the said Ocean Sea, that I might thence take my departure for navigating until I should arrive at the Indies, and give the letters of your highnesses to those princes, so as to comply with my orders. As part of my duty I thought it well to write an account of all the voyage very punctually, noting from day to day all that I should do and see, and that should happen, as will be seen further on. Also, Lords Princes, I resolved to describe each night what passed in the day, and to note each day how I navigated at night. I propose to construct a new chart for navigating, on which I shall delineate all the sea and lands of the ocean in their proper positions under their bearings; and further, I propose to prepare a book, and to put down all as it were in a picture, by latitude from the equator, and western longitude. Above all, I shall work at the business of navigation, that so the service may be performed; all which will entail great labor.

Friday, 3d of August.--We departed on Friday, the 3d of August, in the year 1492, from the bar of Saltes, at eight o'clock, and proceeded with a strong sea breeze until sunset, towards the south, for sixty miles, equal to fifteen leagues; afterwards S.W. and W.S.W., which was the course for the Canaries....

Thursday, 11th of October.--The course was W.S.W., and there was more sea than there had been during the whole of the voyage. They saw sandpipers, and a green reed near the ship. Those of the caravel Pinta saw a cane and a pole, and they took up another small pole which appeared to have been worked with iron; also another bit of cane, a land-plant, and a small board. The crew of the caravel Nina also saw signs of land, and a small branch covered with berries. Every one breathed afresh, and rejoiced at these signs. The run until sunset was twenty-six leagues.

After sunset the Admiral returned to his original west course, and they went along at the rate of twelve miles an hour. Up to two hours after midnight they had gone ninety miles, equal to twenty-two and one half leagues. As the caravel Pinta was a better sailor, and went ahead of the Admiral, she found the land, and made the signals ordered by the Admiral. The land was first seen by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana. But the Admiral, at then in the previous night, being on the castle of the poop, saw a light, thought it was so uncertain that he could not affirm it was land. He called Pero Gutierrez, gentleman of the king's bedchamber, and said that there seemed to be a light, and that he should look at it. He did so, and saw it. The Admiral said the same Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the queen had sent with the fleet as the inspector, but he could see nothing, because he was not in a place whence anything could be seen. After the Admiral had spoken, he saw the light once or twice, and it was like a wax candle rising and falling. It seemed to few to be an indication of land; but the Admiral made certain that land was close. WHen they said the Salve, which all the sailors were accustomed to sing in their way, the Admiral asked and admonished the men to keep a good lookout on the forecastle, and to watch well for land; and to him who should first cry out that he saw land, he would give a silk doublet, besides the other rewards promised by the sovereigns, which were ten thousand maravedis to him who should first see it. At two hours after midnight the land was sighted at a distance of two leagues. They shortened sail, and lay under the mainsail without the bonnets. The vessels were hove to, waiting for daylight; and on Friday they arrived at a small island of the Lucayos, called, in the language of the Indians, Guanahani. Presently they saw naked people. The Admiral went on shore in the armed boat, and Martin Alonso Pinzon, and Vicente Yanez, his brother, who was captain of the Nina. The Admiral took the royal standard, and the captains went with two banners of the green cross, which the Admiral took in all the ships as a sign, with an F and a Y, and a crown over each letter, one on one side of the cross and the other on the other. Having landed they saw trees very green, and much water, and fruits of diverse kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains, and to the others who leaped on shore, and to Rodrigo Escovedo, secretary of the whole fleet, and to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and said that they should bear faithful testimony that he, in the presence of all, had taken, as he now took, possession of all the said island for the king and for the queen, his lords making the declarations that are required, as is more largely set forth in the testimonies which were then made in writing.

Presently many inhabitants of the island assembled. What follows is in the actual words of the Admiral in his book of the first navigation and discovery of the Indies. "I," he says, "that we might form great friendship, for I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force, gave to some of them red caps, and glass beads to put round their necks, and many other things of little value, which gave them great pleasure, and made them so much our friends that it was a marvel to see.   They afterwards came to the ship's boats where we were, swimming and bringing us parrots, cotton threads in skeins, darts, and many other things; and we exchanged them for other things that we gave them, such as glass beads and small bells. In fine, they took all, and gave what they had with good will. It appeared to me to be a race of people very poor in everything. They go as naked as when their mothers bore them, and so do the women, although I did not see more than one young girl. All I saw were youths, none more than thirty years of age. They were very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse, almost like the hairs of a horse's tail. They wear the hairs brought down to the eyebrows, except a few locks behind, which they wear long and never cut. They paint themselves black, and they are the color of the Canarians, neither black nor white. Some paint themselves white, others red, and others of what color they find. Some paint their faces, others the whole body, some only round the eyes, others only on the nose. They carry nor know anything of arms, for I showed them swords, and they took them by the blade and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their darts being wands without iron, some of them having a fish's tooth at the end and others being pointed in other various ways. They are all of fair stature and size, with good faces, and well made. I saw some with marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to ask what it was, and they gave me to understand that people from other adjacent islands came with the intention of seizing them, and that they defended themselves. I believed, and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners. They should be good servants, and intelligent, for I observed tat they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion.

"I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses, that they may learned to speak. I saw no beast of any kind except parrots on this island." The above is in the words of the Admiral.

Saturday, 13th of October.--As soon as dawn broke many of these people came to the beach, all youths, as I have said, and all of good stature, a very handsome people. Their hair is not curly, but loose and coarse like horse hair. In all the forehead is broad, more so than in any other people I have hitherto seen. Their eyes are very beautiful and not small, and themselves far from black, but the color of the Canarians. Nor should anything else be expected, as this island is in a line east and west from the island of Hierro in the Canaries. Their legs are very straight, all in one line, and no belly, but very well formed.

They came to the ship in small canoes, made out of the trunk of a tree like a long boat, and all of one piece, and wonderfully worked, considering the country. They are large, some of them holding forty to forty-five men, others smaller, and some only large enough to hold one man. They are propelled with a paddle like a baker's shovel, and go at a marvellous rate. If the canoe capsizes they all promptly begin to swim, and to bail it out with calabashes that they take with them.

They brought skeins of cotton thread, parrots, darts, and other small things which it would be tedious to recount, and they give all in exchange for anything that may be given to them. I was attentive, and took trouble to ascertain if there was gold. I saw that some of them had a small piece fastened in a hole they have in their nose, and by signs I was able to make out that to the south, or going from the island to the south, there was a king who had great cups full, and who possessed a great quantity. I tried to get them to go there, but afterwards I saw that they had no inclination. I resolved to wait until to-morrow in the afternoon and then to depart, shaping a course to the S.W., for, according to what many of them told me, there was land to the S. to the SW., and N.W., and that the natives from the N.W. often came to attack them, and went on to the S.W. in search of gold and precious stones.

This island is rather large and very flat, with bright green trees, much water, and a very large lake in the centre, without any mountain; and the whole land so green that it is a pleasure to look on it.

The people are very docile, and for the longing to possess our things, and not having anything to give in return, they take what they can get, and presently swim away. Still, they give away all they have got, for whatever may be given to them, down to broken bits of crockery and glass. I saw one give sixteen skeins of cotton for three ceotis of Portugal, equal to one blanca of Spain, the skeins being as much as an arroba of cotton thread. I shall keep it, and shall allow no one to take it, preserving it all for your Highnesses, for it may be obtained in abundance. It is grown in this island, though the short time did not admit of my ascertaining this for a certainty. Here also is found the gold they wear fastened in their noses. But, in order not to lose time, I intend to go and see if I can find the island of Cipango. Now, as it is night, all the natives have gone on shore with their canoes.

Sunday, 14th of October.--"A dawn I ordered the ship's boat and the boats of the caravels to be got ready, and I went along the coast of the island to the N.N.E., to see the other side, which was on the other side to the east, and also to see the villages. Presently I saw two or three, and the people all came to the shore, calling out and giving thanks to God. Some of them brought us water, others came with food, and when they say that I did now want to land, they got into the sea and came swimming to us. We understood that they asked us if we had come from heaven. One old man came into the boat, and others cried out, in loud voices, to all the men and women, to come and see the men who had come from heaven, and to bring them to eat and drink. Many came, including women, each bringing something, thanks to God, throwing themselves on the ground and should to us to come on shore.

But I was afraid to land, seeing an extensive reef of rocks which surrounded the island, with deep water between it and the shore forming a port large enough for as many ships as there are in Christendom, but with a very narrow entrance. It is true that within this reef there are some sunken rocks, but the sea has no more motion than the water in a well. In order to see all this I went this morning, that I might be able to give a full account to your Highnesses, and also where a fortress might be established. I saw a piece of land which appeared like an island, although it is not one, and on it there were six houses. It might be converted into an island in two days, thought I do not see that it would be necessary, for there people are very simple as regards the use of arms, as your Highnesses will see from the seven that I caused to be taken, to bring home and learn our language, and return; unless your Hignesses should order them all to be brought to Castille, or to be kept as captives on the same island; for with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them. Close to the above peninsula there are gardens of the most beautiful trees I ever saw, and with leaves as green as those of Castille in the month of April and May, and much water. I examined all that port, and afterwards I returned to the ship and made sail. I saw so many islands that I hardly knew how to determine to which I should go first. Those natives I had with me said, by signs, that there were so many that they could not be numbered, and they gave the names of more than a hundred. At last I looked out for the largest, and resolved to shape a course for it, and so I did. It will be distant five leagues from this of San Salvador, and the others some more, some less. All are very flat, and all are inhabited. The natives make ear on each other, although there are very simple-minded and handsomely-formed people."

Monday, 15th of October.--"I had laid by during the night, with the fear of reaching the land to anchor before daylight, not knowing whether the coast was clear of rocks, and at dawn I made sail. As the island was more than five leagues distant, and nearer seven, and the tide checked my way, it was noon when we arrived at the said island. I found that side facing towards the island of San Salvador trended north and south with a length of five leagues, and other which I followed, ran east and west for more than ten leagues.

As from this island I saw another larger one one to the west, I clued up the sails, after having run all that day until night, otherwise I could not have reached the western cape. I gave the name of Santa Maria de la Consepcion to the island, and almost as the sun set I anchored near the cape to ascertain if it contained gold. For the people I had taken from the island of San Salvador told me that here they wore very large rings of gold on their arms and legs. I really believed that all they said was nonsense, invented that they might escape. My desire was not to pass any island without taking possession, so that, one having been taken, the same may be said of all. I anchored, and remained, until to-day, Tuesday, when I went to the shore with the boats armed, and landed. the people, who were numerous, went naked, and were like those of other island of San Salvador. They let us go over the island, and gave us what we required. As the wind changed to the S.E., I did not like to stay, and returned to the ships. A large canoe was alongside the Nina, and one of the men of the island of San Salvador, who was on board, jumped into the sea and got into the canoe. In the middle of the night before, another swam away behind the canoe, which fled, for there was never a boat that could have overtaken her, seeing that in speed they have a great advantage. So they reached the land and left the canoe. Some of my people went on shore in chase of them, but they all fled like fowls, and the canoe they had left was brought alongside the caravel Nina, whither, from another direction, another small canoe came, and a mn who wished to barter with skeins of cotton. Some sailors jumped into the sea, because he would not come on board the carvel, and seized him. I was on the poop of my ship, and saw everything. So I sent for the man, gave him a red cap, some small beads of green glass, which I put on his arms, and small bells, which I put in his ears, and ordered his canoe, which was also on board, to be returned to him. I sent him on shore, and presently made sail to go to the other larger island, which was in sight to the westward.

I also ordered the other large canoe, which the carvel Nina was towing astern, to be cast adrift; and I soon saw that it reached the land at the same time as the man to whom I had given the above things. I had not wished to take the skeins of cotton that he offered me. All the others came round him and seemed astonished, for it appeared clear to them that we were good people. The other man who had fled might do us some harm, because we had carried him off, and for that reason I ordered this man set free and gave him the above things, that he might think well of us, otherwise, when your Highnesses again send an expedition, they might not be friendly. All the presents I gave were not worth four maravedis.

At ten we departed with the wind S.W., and made for the south, to reach that other island, which is very large, and respecting which all the men that I bring from San Salvador make signs that there is much gold, and that they wear it it as bracelets on the arms, on the legs, in the ears and nose, and round the neck. The distance of this island from that of Santa Maria is nine leagues on a course east to west. All this part of the island trends N.W. and S.E., and it appeared that this coast must have a length of twenty-eight leagues. t is very flat, without any mountains, like San Salvador and Santa Maria, all being beach without rocks, except that there are some sunken rocks near the land, whence it is necessary to keep a good lookout when it is desired to anchor, and not to come to very near the land; but the water is always very clear, and the bottom is visible. At a distance of two shots of a lombard, there is, off all these islands, such a depth that the bottom cannot be reached.

These islands are very green and fertile, the climate very mild. They may contain many things of which I have no knowledge, for I do not wish to stop, in discovering and visiting many islands, to find gold. These people make signs that it is worn on the arms and legs; and it must be gold, for they point to some pieces that I have. I cannot err, with the help of our Lord, in finding out where this gold has its origin. Being in the middle of the channel between these two islands, that is to say, that of Santa Maria and this large one, to which I give the name of Fernandina, I came upon a man alone is a canoe going from Santa Maria to Fernandina. He had a little of their bread, about the size of a fist, a calabash of water, a piece of brown earth powdered and then kneaded, and some dried leaves, which must be a thing highly valued by them, for they bartered with it at San Salvador. he also had with him a native basket with a string of glass beads, and two blancas, by which I knew that he had come from the island of San Salvador, and had been to Santa Maria, and thence to Fernandina. He came alongside the ship, and I made him come on board as he desired, also getting the canoe inboard, and taking care of all his property. I ordered him to be given to eat bread and treacle, and also to drink: and so I shall take him on toe Fernandina, where I shall return everything to him, in order that he may give a good account of us, that, our Lord pleasing, when your Hignesses shall send here, those who come may receive honor, and that the natives may give them all they require.

Tuesday, 16th of October.--I sailed from the island of Santa Maria de la Concepcion at about noon, to go to Fernandina island, which appeared very large to the westward, and I navigated all that day with light winds. I could not arrive in time to be able to see the bottom, so as to drop the anchor on a clear place, for it is necessary to be very careful not to lose the anchors. So I stood off and on all that night until day, when I came to an inhabited place where I anchored, and whence that man had come that I found yesterday in the canoe in mid channel. he had given such a good report of us that there was no want of canoes alongside the ship all that night, which brought us water and what they had to offer. I ordered each one to be given something, such as a few beads, ten or twelve of those made of glass on a thread, some timbrels made of brass, such as are worth a maravedi in Spain, and some straps, all which they looked upon as most excellent. I also ordered them to be given treacle to eat when they came on board. At three o'clock I sent the ship's boat on shore for water, and the natives with good will showed my people where the water was, and they themselves brought the full casks down to the boat, and did all they could to please us.

This island is very large, and I have determined to sail round it, because, so far as I can understand, there is a mine in or near it.. The island is eight leagues from Santa Maria, nearly east and west; and this point I had reached, as well as all the coast, trends N.N.W. and S.S.E. I saw at least twenty leagues of it, and then it had not ended. Now, as I am writing this, I made sail with the wind at the south, to sail round the island, and to navigate until I find Samaot, which is the island or city where there is gold, as all the natives say who are on board, and as those of San Salvador and Santa Maria told us. These people resemble those of the said islands, with the same language and customs, except that these appear to me to be rather more domestic nd tractable people, yet also more subtle. For I observed that those who brought cotton and other trifles to the ship, knew better than the others how to make a bargain. In this island I saw cotton cloths made like mantles. The people were better disposed, and the women wore in front of their bodies a small piece of cotton which scarcely covered them.

It is a very green island, level and fertile, and I have no doubt that they sow and gather corn all the year round, as well as other things. I saw many trees very unlike those of our country. Many of them have their branches growing in different ways and all from one trunk, and one twig is one form , and another is a different shape, and so unlike that it is the greatest wonder in the world to see the great diversity; thus one branch has leaves like of a cane, and others like those of a mastick tree: and on a single tree there are five or six different kinds. Nor are these grafted, for it may be said that grafting is unknown, the trees being wild, and untended by these people. They do know any religion, and I believe they could easily be converted to Christianity, for they are very intelligent. here the fish are so unlike ours that it is wonderful. Some are the shape of dories, and of the finest colors in the world, blue, yellow, red, and other tints, all painted in various ways, and the colors are so bright that there is not a man who would not be astonished, and would not take great delight in seeing them. There are also whales. I saw no beasts on the land of any kind, except parrots and lizards. A boy told e that he saw a large serpent. I saw neither sheep nor goats, not any other quadruped. It is true I have been here a short time, since noon, yet I could not have failed to see some if there had been any. I will write respecting the circuit of the island after I have been around it.

Wednesday, 17th of October.--At noon I departed from the village off which I was anchored, and where I took in water, to sail round this island of Fernandina. The wind was S.W. and south. My wish was to follow the coast of this island to to the S.E., where I was, the whole coast trending N.N.W. and S.S.E.; because all the Indians I bring with me, and others, made signs to this southern quarter, as the direction of the island they call Samaot, where the gold is. Martin Alonso Pinzon, captain of the caravel Pinta, on board of which I had three of the Indians, came to me and said that one of them had given him to understand very positively that the island might be sailed round much quicker by shaping a N.N.W. course. I saw that the wind would not help me to take the course I desired, and that it was fair for the other, so I made sail N.N.W.

When I was two leagues from the cape of the island, I discovered a very wonderful harbor. It has one mouth, or, rather, it may be said to have two, for there is an islet in the middle. Both are very narrow, and within it is wide enough for a hundred ships, if there was a depth and a clean bottom, and the entrance was deep enough It seemed desirable to explore it and take soundings, so I anchored outside, and went in with all the ship's boats, when we saw there was insufficient depth. As I thought, when I first saw it, that it was the mouth of some river, I ordered the watercasks to be brought. On shore I found eight or ten men, who presently came to us and showed us the village, whither I sent the people for the water, some with arms, and others with the casks: and as it was some little distance, I waited two hours for them.

During that time I walked among the trees, which was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, beholding as much verdue as in the month of May in Andalusia. The trees are as unlike ours as night from day, as are the fruits, herbs, the stones, and everything. It is true that some of the trees bore some resemblance to those in Castille, but most of them are very different, and some were so unlike that no one could compare them to anything in Castille. The people were all like those already mentioned: like them naked, and the same size. They give what they possess in exchange for anything that may be given to them. I here saw one of the ship's boys bartering broken bits of glass and crockery for darts. The men who went for water told me that they have been in the houses of the natives, and that they ere very plain and clean inside. There beds and bags for holding things were like nets of cotton. The houses were like booths, and very high, with good chimneys. But, among many villages that I saw, there was none that consisted of more than from twelve to fifteen houses. They had dogs, mastiffs, and hounds, and here they found a man who had a piece of gold in his nose, the size of half a castellano, on which they saw letters. I quarrelled with these people because they would not exchange or give what was required; as I wished to see what and whose this money was; and they replied that they were not accustomed to barter.

After the water was taken I returned to the ship, made sail, and shaped a course N.W., until I had discovered all the part of the coast of the island which trends east to west. Then all the Indians turned round and said that this island was smaller than Samaot, and that it would be well to return back so as to reach it sooner. The wind presently went down, and then sprang from the W.N.W., which was contrary for us to continue on the previous course. So I turned back, and navigated all that night to E.S.E., sometimes to east and to S.E. This course was steered to keep me clear of the land, for there were very heavy clouds and thick weather, which did not admit of my approaching the land to anchor. On that night it rained very heavily from midnight until early dawn, and even afterwards the clouds threatened rain. We found ourselves at the S.W. end of the island, where I hoped to anchor until it cleared up, so as to see the other island whither I have to go. On all these days, since I arrived in these Indies, it has rained more or less. Your Highnesses my believe that this land is the best and more fertile, and with a good climate, level, and as good as there is in the world.

Thursday, 18th of October.-- "After it had cleared up I went before the wind, approaching the island as near as I could, and anchored when it was no longer light enough to keep under sail. But I did not go on shore, and made sail at dawn"...