The American Yawp Reader

Journal of christopher columbus, 1492.

First encounters between Europeans and Native Americans were dramatic events. In this account we see the assumptions and intentions of Christopher Columbus, as he immediately began assessing the potential of these people to serve European economic interests. He also predicted easy success for missionaries seeking to convert these people to Christianity.

Thursday, October 11

…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 are 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 neither 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 various ways. They are all of fair stature and size, with good laces, 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 that 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, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses that they may learn to speak. I saw no beast of any kind except parrots, on this island.” The above is in the words of the admiral….

..As soon as dawn broke many of these people came to the beach, al! 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 40 to 45 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 marvelous rate. If the canoe capsizes they all promptly begin to swim, and to bale 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 the 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.

Sunday, October 14

…These people are very simple as regards the of arms, as your Highnesses will .sec from the seven that I caused to be taken, to bring home and learn our language and return; unless your Highnesses should order them all to be brought to Castile, 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…

Sunday, November 4

…At sunrise the Admiral again went away- in the boat, and landed to hunt the birds he had seen the day before. After a time, Martin Alonso Pinzon came to him with two pieces of cinnamon, and said that a Portuguese, who was one of his crew, had seen an Indian carrying two very large bundles of it; but he had not bartered for it, because of the penalty imposed by the Admiral on anyone who bartered. He further said that this Indian carried some brown things like nutmegs. The master of the Pinta said that he had found the cinnamon trees. The Admiral went to the place, and found that they were not cinnamon trees. The Admiral showed the Indians some specimens of cinnamon and pepper he had brought from Castillo, and they knew it, and said, by signs, that there was plenty in the vicinity, pointing to the S.E. He also showed them gold and pearls, on which certain old men said that there an infinite quantity in a place called Holito} and that the people wore it on their necks, ears, arms, and legs, as well as pearls. He further understood them to say that there were great ships and much merchandise, all to the S.K. He also understood that, far away, there were men with one eye, and others with dogs’ noses who were cannibals, and that when they captured an enemy they beheaded him and drank his blood…

The Journal of Christopher Columbus (During His First Voyage), and Documents Relating to the Voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real , Clements R. Markham, ed. and trans. (London: 1893), 37-68.

Available through the Internet Archive

Primary Source: Christopher Columbus, Journal Excerpts

This text is available online at the Medieval Sourcebook.

Christopher Columbus: Excerpts from his Journal (1492)

This document is the from the journal of Columbus in his voyage of 1492. The meaning of this voyage is highly contested. On the one hand, it is witness to the tremendous vitality and verve of late medieval and early modern Europe – which was on the verge of acquiring a world hegemony. On the other hand, the direct result of this and later voyages was the virtual extermination, by ill-treatment and disease, of the vast majority of the Native inhabitants, and the enormous growth of the transatlantic slave trade. It might not be fair to lay all the blame at Columbus’ feet, but since all sides treat him as a symbol, such questions cannot be avoided.


Whereas, Most Christian, High, Excellent, and Powerful Princes, King and Queen of Spain and of the Islands of the Sea, our Sovereigns, this present year 1492, after your Highnesses had terminated the war with the Moors reigning in Europe, the same having been brought to an end in the great city of Granada, where on the second day of January, this present year, I saw the royal banners of your Highnesses planted by force of arms upon the towers of the Alhambra, which is the fortress of that city, and saw the Moorish king come out at the gate of the city and kiss the hands of your Highnesses, and of the Prince my Sovereign; and in the present month, in consequence of the information which I had given your Highnesses respecting the countries of India and of a Prince, called Great Can [Khan], which in our language signifies King of Kings, how, at many times he, and his predecessors had sent to Rome soliciting instructors who might teach him our holy faith, and the holy Father had never granted his request, whereby great numbers of people were lost, believing in idolatry and doctrines of perdition. Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet, and of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith; and furthermore directed that I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but by a Westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no certain evidence that any one has gone. So after having expelled the Jews from your dominions, your Highnesses, in the same month of January, ordered me to proceed with a sufficient armament to the said regions of India, and for that purpose granted me great favors, and ennobled me that thenceforth I might call myself Don, and be High Admiral of the Sea, and perpetual Viceroy and Governor in all the islands and continents which I might discover and acquire, or which may hereafter he discovered and acquired in the ocean; and that this dignity should be inherited by my eldest son, and thus descend from degree to degree forever. Hereupon I left the city of Granada, on Saturday, the twelfth day of May, 1492, and proceeded to Palos, a seaport, where I armed three vessels, very fit for such an enterprise, and having provided myself with abundance of stores and seamen, I set sail from the port, on Friday, the third of August, half an hour before sunrise, and steered for the Canary Islands of your Highnesses which are in the said ocean, thence to take my departure and proceed till I arrived at the Indies, and perform the embassy of your Highnesses to the Princes there, and discharge the orders given me. For this purpose I determined to keep an account of the voyage, and to write down punctually every thing we performed or saw from day to day, as will hereafter appear. Moreover, Sovereign Princes, besides describing every night the occurrences of the day, and every day those of the preceding night, I intend to draw up a nautical chart, which shall contain the several parts of the ocean and land in their proper situations; and also to compose a book to represent the whole by picture with latitudes and longitudes, on all which accounts it behooves me to abstain from my sleep, and make many trials in navigation, which things will demand much labor. . . .

Wednesday, 10 October. Steered west-southwest and sailed at times ten miles an hour, at others twelve, and at others, seven; day and night made fifty-nine leagues’ progress; reckoned to the crew but forty-four. Here the men lost all patience, and complained of the length of the voyage, but the Admiral encouraged them in the best manner he could, representing the profits they were about to acquire, and adding that it was to no purpose to complain, having come so far, they had nothing to do but continue on to the Indies, till with the help of our Lord, they should arrive there.

Thursday, 11 October . . . . At two o’clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues’ distance; they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani. Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried; this contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and a crown over each letter Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits. The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing. Numbers of the people of the island straightway collected together. Here follow the precise words of the Admiral: “As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us. Afterwards they came swimming to the boats, bringing parrots, balls of cotton thread, javelins, and many other things which they exchanged for articles we gave them, such as glass beads, and hawk’s bells; which trade was carried on with the utmost good will. But they seemed on the whole to me, to be a very poor people. They all go completely naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl. All whom I saw were young, not above thirty years of age, well made, with fine shapes and faces. . . . Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their javelins being without it, and nothing more than sticks, though some have fish-bones or other things at the ends. They are all of a good size and stature, and handsomely formed. I saw some with scars of wounds upon their bodies, and demanded by signs the of them; they answered me in the same way, that there came people from the other islands in the neighborhood who endeavored to make prisoners of them, and they defended themselves. I thought then, and still believe, that these were from the continent. It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses, that they may learn our language. I saw no beasts in the island, nor any sort of animals except parrots.” These are the words of the Admiral.

Saturday, 13 October. “At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome. . . . They came loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention; these they exchanged for whatever we chose to give them. I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of this metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed large vessels of gold, and in great quantities. I endeavored to procure them to lead the way thither, but found they were unacquainted with the route. I determined to stay here till the evening of the next day, and then sail for the southwest; for according to what I could learn from them, there was land at the south as well as at the southwest and northwest and those from the northwest came many times and fought with them and proceeded on to the southwest in search of gold and precious stones. . . .

Sunday, 14 October. . . . I do not, however, see the necessity of fortifying the place, as the people here are simple in war-like matters, as your Highnesses will see by those seven which I have ordered to be taken and carried to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose to have them all transported to Castile, or held captive in the island. I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased. . . .

Tuesday, 16 October. . . . I saw many trees, very dissimilar to those of our country, and many of them had branches of different sorts upon the same trunk; and such a diversity was among them that it was the greatest wonder in the world to behold. Thus, for instance, one branch of a tree bore leaves like those of a cane, another branch of the same tree, leaves similar to those of the lentisk. In this manner a single tree bears five or six different kinds. Nor is this done by grafting, for that is a work of art, whereas these trees grow wild, and the natives take no care about them. They have no religion, and I believe that they would very readily become Christians, as they have a good understanding.

Friday, 19 October. . . . I am not solicitous to examine particularly everything here, which indeed could not be done in fifty years, because my desire is to make all possible discoveries, and return to your Highnesses, if it please our Lord, in April. But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain till I collect as much as possible, and for this purpose I am proceeding solely in quest of them.

This text was floating around the internet in 1996. It is slightly adapted from Julius E, Olson and Edward Gaylord Bourne,  The Northmen, Columbus, and Cabot, 985-1503,  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906), ORIGINAL NARRATIVES OF THE VOYAGES OF COLUMBUS, edited by Professor Edward G. Bourne, pp. 77 ff

Birth of Europe Copyright © by Andrea Boffa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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The journal of Christopher Columbus (during his first voyage, 1492-93) and documents relating to the voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real [microform]

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Early Americas Digital Archive

An Electronic Edition · Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

Original Source: Christopher Columbus, "Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus," in Julius E. Olson and Edward Gaylord Bourne, eds., . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906.

Copyright 2003. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided.

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This is the first voyage and the routes and direction taken by the Admiral Don Cristóbal Colon when he discovered the Indies, summarized; except the prologue made for the Sovereigns, which is given word for word and commences in this manner

In the name of our Lord

BECAUSE, O most Christian, and very high, very excellent, and puissant Princes, King and Queen of the Spains and of the islands of the Sea, our Lords, in this present year of 1492,after your Highnesses had given an end to the war with the Moors who reigned in Europe, and had finished it in the very great city of Granada, where in this present year, on the second day of the month of January, by force of arms, I saw the royal banners of your Highnesses placed on the towers of Alhambra, which is the fortress of that city, and I saw the Moorish King come forth from the gates of the city and kiss the royal hands of your Highnesses, and of the Prince my Lord, and presently in that same month, acting on the information that I had given to your Highnesses touching the land of India, and respecting a Prince who is called Gran Can, which means in our language King of Kings, how he and his ancestors had sent to Rome many times to ask for learned men of our holy faith to teach him, and how the Holy Father had never complied, insomuch that many people believing in idolatries were lost by receiving doctrine of perdition: YOUR HIGHNESSES, as Catholic Christians And Princes who love the holy Christian faith; and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristóbal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said princes, and the cities and lands, and their disposition, with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith; and ordered that I should not go by land to the eastward; as had been customary, but that I should go by way of the west, whither up to this day, we do not know for certain that any one; has gone. 1.

Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships, in the same month of January, your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India, and for this they made great concessions to me, and ennobled me, so that henceforward I should be called Don, and should be Chief Admiral of the Ocean Sea, perpetual Viceroy and Governor of all the islands and continents that I should discover and gain, and that I might hereafter discover and gain in the Ocean Sea, and that, my eldest son should succeed, and so on from generation to generation for ever. 2.

I left the city of Granada on the 12th day of May, in the same year of 1492, being Saturday, and came to the town of Palo., 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 3d 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 have accomplished much, for I shall forget sleep, and shall work at the business of navigation, that so the service may be performed; all which will entail great labor. 3.

Friday, 3d of August

We departed on Friday, the 3d of August, in the year 1492, from the bar of Saltes, at 8 o’clock, and proceeded with a strong sea breeze until sunset, towards the south, for 60 mile, equal to 15 leagues; afterwards S.W. and W.S.W., which was the course for the Canaries. 4.

Saturday, 4th of August

They steered S.W. 1/4 S. 5.

Sunday, 5th of August

They continued their course day and night more than 40 leagues. 6.

Monday, 6th of August

The rudder of the caravel Pinta became unshipped, and Martin Alonso Pinzon, who was in command, believed or suspected that it was by contrivance of Gomes Rascon and Cristóbal Quintero, to .whom the caravel belonged, for they dreaded to go on that voyage. The Admiral says that, before they sailed, these men had been displaying a certain backwardness, so to speak. The Admiral was much disturbed at not being able to help the said caravel without danger, and he says that he was eased of some anxiety when he reflected that Martin Alonso Pinzon was a man of energy and ingenuity. They made, during the day and night, 29 leagues. 7.

Tuesday, 7th of August

The rudder of the Pinta was shipped and secured, and they proceeded on a course for the island of Lanzarote 8.

Wednesday, 8th of August

Opinions respecting their position varied among the pilafs of the three caravels ; but that of the Admiral proved to be nearer the truth. He wished to go to Gran Canaria, to leave the caravel Pinta , because she was disabled by the faulty hanging of her rudder, and was making water. He intended to obtain another there if one could be found. They could not reach the place that day. 9.

Thursday, 9th of August

The Admiral was not able to reach Gomera until the night of Sunday, while Martin Alonso remained on that coast of Gran Canaria by order of the Admiral, because his vessel could not be navigated. Afterwards the Admiral took her to Canaria, and they repaired the Pinta very thoroughly through the pains and labor of the Admiral, of Martin Alonso, and of the rest. Finally they came to Gomera. They saw a great fire issue from the mountain of the island of Tenerife, which is of great height. They rigged the Pinta with square sails, for she was lateen rigged; and the Admiral reached Gomera on Sunday, the 2nd of September, with the Pinta repaired. 10.

The Admiral says that many honorable Spanish gentlemen who were at Gomera with Doña Ines Peraza, mother of Guillen Peraza (who was afterwards the first Count of Gomera), and who were natives of the island of Hierro, declared that every year they saw land to the west of the Canaries; and others, natives of Gomera, affirmed the same on oath. The Admiral here says that he remembers, when in Portugal in the year 1484, a man came to the King from the island of Madeira, to beg for a caravel to go to this land that was seen, who swore that it could be seen every year, and always in the same way. He also says that he recollects the same thing being affirmed in the islands of the Azores; and all these lands were described as in the same direction, and as being like each other, and of the same size. Having taken in water, wood, and meat, and all else that the men had who were left at Gomera by the Admiral when he went to the island of Canaria to repair the caravel Pinta , he finally made sail from the said island of Gomera, with his three caravels, on Thursday, the 6th day of September. 11.

Thursday, 6th of September

He departed on that day from the port of Gomera in the morning, and shaped a course to go on his voyage ; having received tidings from a caravel that came from the island of Hierro that three Portuguese caravels were off that island with the object of taking him. (This must have been the result of the King’s annoyance that Colon should have gone to Castile.) There was a calm all that day and night, and in the morning he found himself between Gomera and Tenerife. 12.

Friday, 7th of September

The calm continued all Friday and Saturday, until the third hour of the night. 13.

Saturday, 8th of September

At the third hour of Saturday night it began to blow from the N.E., and the Admiral shaped a course to the west. He took in much set, over the bows, which retarded progress, and 9 leagues were made in that day and night. 14.

Sunday, 9th of September

This day the Admiral made 19 leagues, and he arranged to reckon less than the number run, because if the voyage was of long duration, the people would not be so terrified and heartened. In the night he made 120 miles, at the rate of 12 miles an hour, which are 30 leagues. The sailors steered badly, letting the ship fall off to N.E., and even more, respecting which the Admiral complained many times. 15.

Monday, 10th of September

In this day and night he made 60 leagues, at the rate of 10 miles an hour, which are 2 leagues; but he only counted 48 leagues, that the people might not be alarmed if the voyage should be long. 16.

Tuesday, 11th of September

That day they sailed on their course, which was west, and made 20 leagues and more. They saw a large piece of the mast of a ship of 120 tons, but were unable to get it. In the night they made nearly 20 leagues, but only counted 16, for the reason already given. 17.

Wednesday, 12th of September

That day, steering their course, they made 33 leagues during the day and night, counting less. 18.

Thursday, 13th of September

That day and night, steering their course, which was west, they made 33 leagues, counting 3 or 4 less. The currents were against them. On this day, at the commencement of the night, the needles turned a half point to north-west, and in the morning they turned somewhat more north-west. 19.

Friday, 14th of September

That day they navigated, on their westerly course, day and night, 20 leagues, counting a little less. Here those of the caravel Niña reported that they had seen a tern and a boatswain bird, and these birds never go more than 25 leagues from the land. 20.

Saturday, 15th of September

That day and night they made 27 leagues and rather more on their west course ; and in the early part of the night there fell from heaven into, the sea a marvellous flame of fire, at a distance of- about 4 or 5 leagues from them. 21.

Sunday, 16th of September

That day and night they steered their course west, making 39 leagues, but the Admiral only counted 36. There were some clouds and small rain. The Admiral says that on that day, and ever afterwards, they met with very temperate breezes, so that there was great pleasure in enjoying the mornings, nothing being wanted but the song of nightingales. He says that the weather was like April in Andalusia. Here they began to see many tufts of grass which were very green, and appeared to have been quite recently torn from the land. From this they judged that they were near some island, but not the main land, according to the Admiral, “because,” he says, ” I make the main land to be more distant.” 22.

Monday, 17th of September

They proceeded on their west course, and made over 50 leagues in the day and night, but the Admiral only counted 47. They were aided by the current. They saw much very fine grass and herbs from rocks, which came from the west. They, therefore, considered that they were near land. The pilots observed the north point, and found that the needles turned a full point to the west of north. So the mariners were alarmed and dejected, and did not give their reason. But the Admiral knew, and ordered that the north should be again observed at dawn. They then found that the needles were true. The cause was that the star makes the movement, and not the needles. At dawn, on that Monday, they saw much more weed appearing, like herbs from rivers, in which they found a live crab, which the Admiral kept. He says that these crabs are certain signs of land. The sea-water was found to be less salt than it had been since leaving the Canaries. The breezes were always sof t. Every one was pleased, and the best sailers went ahead to sight the first land. They saw many tunnyfish, and the crew of the Niña killed one. The Admiral here says that these signs of land came from the west, “in which direction I trust in that high God in whose hands are all victories that very soon we shall sight land.” In that morning he says that a white bird was seen which has not the habit of sleeping on the sea, called rabo de junco (boatswain-bird). 23.

Tuesday, 18th of September

This day and night they made over 55 leagues, the Admiral only counting 48. In all these days the sea was very smooth, like the river at Seville. This day Martin Alonso, with the Pinta , which was a fast sailer, did not wait, for he said to the Admiral, from his caravel, that he had seen a great multitude of birds flying westward, that he hoped to see land that night, and that he therefore pressed onward. A great cloud appeared in the north, which is a sign of the proximity of land. 24.

Wednesday, 19th of September

The Admiral continued on his course, and during the day and night he made but 25 leagues because it was calm. He counted 22. This day, at 10 o’clock, a booby came to the ship, and in the afternoon another arrived, these birds not generally going more than 20 leagues from the land. There was also some drizzling rain without wind, which is a sure sign of land. The Admiral did not wish to cause delay by beating to windward to ascertain whether land was near, but he considered it certain that there were islands both to the north and south of his position, (as indeed there were, and he was passing through the middle of them). For his desire was to press onwards to the Indies, the weather being fine. For on his return, God willing, he could see all. These are his own words. Here the pilots found their positions. He of the Niña made the Canaries 440 leagues distant, the Pinta 420. The pilot of the Admiral’s ship made the distance exactly 400 leagues. 25.

Thursday, 20th of September

This day the course was W.b.N., and as her head was all round the compass owing to the calm that prevailed, the ship made only 7 or 8 leagues. Two boobies came to the ship, and afterwards another, a sign of the proximity of land. They saw much weed, although none was seen on the previous day. They caught a bird with the hand, which was like a tern. But it was a river-bird, not a sea-bird, the feet being like those of a gull. At dawn two or three land-birds came singing to the ship, and they disappeared before sunset. Afterwards a booby came from W.N.W., and flew to the S.W., which was a sign that it left land in the W.N.W. ; for these birds sleep on shore, and go to sea in the mornings in search of food, not extending their flight more than 20 leagues from the land. 26.

Friday, 21st of September

Most of the day it was calm, and later there was a little wind. During the day and night they did not make good more than 13 leagues. At dawn they saw so much weed that the sea appeared to be covered with it, and it came from the west. A booby was seen. The sea was very smooth, like a river, and the air the best in the world. They saw a whale, which is a sign that they were near land, because they always keep near the shore. 27.

Saturday, 22nd of September

They shaped a course W.N.W. more or less, her head turning from one to the other point, and made 30 leagues. Scarcely any weed was seen. They saw some sandpipers and another bird. Here the Admiral says : “This contrary wind was very necessary for me, because my people were much excited at the thought that in these seas no wind ever blew in the direction of Spain.” Part of the day there was no weed, and later it was very thick. 28.

Sunday, 23rd of September

They shaped a course N.W., and at times more northerly; occasionally they were on their course, which was west, and they made about 22 leagues. They saw a dove and a booby, another river-bird, and some white birds: There was a great deal of weed, and they found crabs in it. The sea being smooth and calm, the crew began to murmur, saying that here there was no great sea, and that the wind would never blow so that they could return to Spain. Afterwards the sea rose very much, without wind, which astonished them. The Admiral here says: ” Thus the high sea was very necessary to me, such as had not appeared but in the time of the Jews when they went out of Egypt and murmured against Moses, who delivered them out of captivity.” 29.

Monday, 24th of September

The Admiral went on his west course all day and night, making 14 leagues. He counted 12. A booby came to the ship, and many sandpipers. 30.

Tuesday, 25th of September

This day began with a calm, and afterwards there was wind. They were on their west course until night: The Admiral conversed with Martin Alonso Pinzon, captain of the other caravel Pinta , respecting a chart which he had sent to the caravel three days before, on which, as it would appear, the Admiral had certain islands depicted in that sea. Martin Alonso said that the ships were in the position on which the islands were placed, and the Admiral replied that so it appeared to him: but it might be that they had not fallen in with them, owing to the currents which had always set the ships to the N.E., and that they had not made so much as the pilots reported. The Admiral then asked for the chart to be returned, and it was sent back on a line. The Admiral then began to plot the position on it, with the pilot and mariners. At sunset Martin Alonso went up on the poop of his ship, and with much joy called to the Admiral, claiming the reward as he had sighted land. When the Admiral heard this positively declared, he says that he gave thanks to the Lord on his knees, while Martin Alonso said the Gloria in excelsis with his people. The Admiral’s crew did the same. Those of the Niña all went up on the mast and into the rigging, and declared that it was land. It so seemed to the Admiral, and that it was distant 25 leagues. They all continued to declare it was land until night. The Admiral ordered the course to be altered from W. to S.W., in which direction the land had appeared. That day they made 4 leagues on a west course, and 17 S.W. during the night, in all 21; but the people were told that 13 was the distance made good; for it was always feigned to them that the distances were less, so that the voyage might not appear so long. Thus two reckonings were kept on this voyage, the shorter being feigned, and the longer being the true one. The sea was very smooth, so that many sailors bathed alongside. They saw many dorados and other fish. 31.

Wednesday, 26th of September

The Admiral continued on the west course until afternoon. Then he altered course to S. W., until he made out that what had been said to be land was only clouds. Day and night they made 31 leagues, counting 24 for the people. The sea was like a river, the air pleasant and very mild. 32.

Thursday, 27th of September

The course west, and distance made good during day and night 24 leagues, 20 being counted for the people. Many dorados came. One was killed. A boatswain-bird came. 33.

Friday, 28th of September

The course was west, and the distance, owing to calms, only 14 leagues in day and night, 13 leagues being counted. They met with little weed; but caught two dorados, and more in the other ships. 34.

Saturday, 29th of September

The course was west, and they made 24 leagues, counting 21 for the people. Owing to calms, the distance made good during day and night was not much. They saw a bird called rabi forcado (man-o’-war bird), which makes the boobies vomit what they have swallowed, and eats it, maintaining itself on nothing else. It is a sea-bird, but does not sleep on the sea, and does not go more than 20 leagues from the land. There are many of them at the Cape Verde Islands. Afterwards they saw two boobies. The air was very mild and agreeable, and the Admiral says that nothing was wanting but to hear the nightingale. The sea smooth as a river. Later, three boobies and a man-o’-war bird were seen three times. There was much weed. 35.

Sunday, 30th of September

The western course was steered, and during the day and night, owing to calms, only 14 leagues were made, 11 being counted. Four boatswain-birds came to the ship, which is a great sign of land, for so many birds of this kind together is a sign that they are not straying or lost. They also twice saw four boobies. There was much weed. Note that the stars which are called Las Guardias (the Pointers) when night comes on, are near the western point, and when dawn breaks they are near the N.E. point; so that, during the whole night, they do not appear to move more than three lines or 9 hours, and this on each night. The Admiral says this, and also that at nightfall the needles vary a point westerly, while at dawn they agree exactly with the star. From this it would appear that the north star has a movement like the other stars, while the needles always point correctly. 36.

Monday, lst of October

Course west, and 25 leagues made good, counted for the crew as 20 leagues. There was a heavy shower of rain. At dawn the Admiral’s pilot made the distance from Hierro 578 leagues to the west: The reduced reckoning which the Admiral showed to the crew made it 584 leagues; but the truth which the Admiral observed and kept secret was 707. 37.

Tuesday, 2nd of October

Course west, and during the day and night 39 leagues were made good, counted for the crew as 30. The sea always smooth. Many thanks be given to God, says the Admiral, that the weed is coming from east to west, contrary to its usual course. Many fish were seen, and one was killed. A white bird was also seen that appeared to be a gull. 38.

Wednesday, 3rd of October

They navigated on the usual course, and made good 47 leagues, counted as 40. Sandpipers appeared, and much weed, some of it very old and some quite fresh and having fruit. They saw no birds. The Admiral, therefore, thought that they had left the islands behind them which were depicted on the charts. The Admiral here says that he did not wish to keep the ships beating about during the last week, and in the last few days when there were so many signs of land, although he had information of certain islands in this region. For he wished to avoid delay, his object being to reach the Indies. He says that to delay would not be wise. 39.

Thursday, 4th of October

Course west, and 63 leagues made good during the day and night, counted as 46. More than forty sandpipers came to the ship in a flock; and two boobies, and a ship’s boy hit one with a stone. There also came a man-o’-war bird and a white bird like a gull. 40.

Friday, 5th of October

The Admiral steered his course, going 11 miles an hour, and during the day and night they made good 57 leagues, as the wind increased somewhat during the night : 45 were counted. The sea was smooth and quiet. “To God,” he says, “be many thanks given, the air being pleasant and temperate, with no weed, many sandpipers, and flying-fish coming on the deck in numbers.” 41.

Saturday, 6th of October

The Admiral continued his west course, and during day and night they made good 40 leagues, 33 being counted. This night Martin Alonso said that it would be well to steer south of west, and it appeared to the Admiral that Martin Alonso did not say this with respect to the island of Cipango. He saw that if an error was made the land would not be reached so quickly, and that consequently it would be better to go at once to the continent and afterwards to the islands. 42.

Sunday, 7th of October

The west course was continued; for two hours they went at the rate of 12 miles an hour, and afterwards 8 miles an hour. They made good 23 leagues, counting 18 for the people. This day, at sunrise, the caravel Niña , which went ahead, being the best sailer, and pushed forward as much as possible to sight the land first, so as to enjoy the reward which the Sovereigns had promised to whoever should see it first, hoisted a flag at the mast-head and fired a gun, as a signal that she had sighted land, for such was the Admiral’s order. He had also ordered that, at sunrise and sunset, all the ships should join him; because those two times are most proper for seeing the greatest distance, the haze clearing away. No land was seen during the afternoon, as reported by the caravel Niña , and they passed a great number of birds flying from N. to S.W. This gave rise to the belief that the birds were either going to sleep on land, or were flying from the winter which might be supposed to be near in the land whence they were coming. The Admiral was aware that most of the islands held by the Portuguese were discovered by the flight of birds. For this reason he resolved to give up the west course, and to shape a course W.S.W. for the two following days. He began the new course one hour before sunset. They made good, during the night, about 5 leagues, and 23 in the day, altogether 28 leagues. 43.

Monday, 8th of October

The course was W.S.W., and 11 or 12 leagues were made good in the day and night ; and at tunes it appears that they went at the rate of 15 miles an hour during the night (if the handwriting is not deceptive). The sea was like the river at Seville. “Thanks be to God,” says the Admiral, “the air is very soft like the April at Seville; and it is a pleasure to be here, so balmy are the breezes.” The weed seemed to be very fresh. There were many land-birds, and they took one that was flying to the S.W. Terns, ducks, and a booby were also seen. 44.

Tuesday, 9th of October

The course was S.W., and they made 5 leagues. The wind then changed, and the Admiral steered W. by N. 4 leagues. Altogether, in day and night, they made 11 leagues by day and 20 leagues by night; counted as 17 leagues altogether. Throughout the night birds were heard passing. 45.

Wednesday. 10th of October

The course was W.S.W., and they went at the rate of 10 miles an hour, occasionally 12 miles, and sometimes 7. During the day and night they made 59 leagues, counted as no more than 44. Here the people could endure no longer. They complained of the length of the voyage. But the Admiral cheered them up in the best way he could, giving them good hopes of the advantages they might gain from it. He added that, however much they might complain, he had to go to the Indies, and that he would go on until he found them, with the help of our Lord. 46.

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 sand pipers, 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 Niña 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 27 leagues. 47.

After sunset the Admiral returned to his original west course, and they went along at the rate of 12 miles an hour. Up to two hours after midnight they had gone 90 miles, equal to 22 leagues. As the caravel Pinta was a better sailer, 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 ten o’clock, being on the castle of the poop, saw a light, though it was so uncertain that he could not affirm it was land. He called Pero Gutierrez, a gentleman of the King’s bed-chamber, 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 to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the fleet as 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. 48.

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 look-out on the forecastle, and to watch well for land; Land 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 10,000 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 by under the mainsail without the bonnets. 49.

Friday, 12th of October

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 Niña . 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 anda 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 presence of all, had taken, as he now took, possession of the said island for the King and for the Queen his Lords, making the declarations that are required, as is now largely set forth in the testimonies which were then made in writing. 50.

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 are very well made with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse, almost like the hairs of a horsetail. 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 neither care 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 witout iron, some of them having a fish’s tooth at the end, and others being pointed in 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 seeing them, and that they defended themselves. I believe and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners. They should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that 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 learn to speak. I saw no beast of any kind except parrots, on this island.” The above is in the words of the Admiral. 51.

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 shouldanything 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 40 to 45 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 marvelous rate. If the canoe capsizes, they all promptly begin to swim, and to bale 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 the 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 sawthat 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 S.W., 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. 52.

“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 16 skeins of cotton for three ceotis1 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.” 53.

Sunday, 14th of October

“At dawn I ordered the ship’s boat and the boats of the caravels to begot 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 saw that I did not 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, giving thanks to God, throwing themselves on the ground and shouting 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, though I do not see that it would be necessary, for these 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 Highnesses should order them all to be brought to Castile, 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 Castile 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 war on each other, although these are very simple-minded and handsomely-formed people.” 54.

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 5 leagues distant and nearer 7, 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 tended north and south with a length of 5 leagues, and the other which I followed ran east and west for more than 10 leagues. As from this island I saw another larger 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 Conception to the island, and almost as the sun set I anchored near the said cape to ascertain if it containedgold. 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 the 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 ship. A large canoe was alongside the Niña , 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 never was 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 Niña ,whither, from another direction, another small canoe came, with a man who wished to barter with skeins of cotton. Some sailors jumped into the sea, because he would not come on board the caravel, 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 large island which was in sight to the westward. I also ordered the other large canoe, which the caravel Niña 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 skein 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 to be 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 10 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, andthat they wear 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 9 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 28 leagues. It is very flat, without any mountain, 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, Icame upon a man alone in 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 to 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 Highnesses shall send here, those who come may receive honor, and that the natives may give them all they require.” 55.

Tuesday, 16th of October

“I sailed from the island of Santa Maria de la Conception 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. 56.

“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 20 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 a rather more domestic and 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. 57.

“It is a very green island, level and very 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 in 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 those 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 not 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 me that he saw a large serpent. I saw neither sheep, nor goats, nor 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 this island after I have been round it.” 58.

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 the S.E., from where I was, the whole coast tending 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 Samoet, 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 to the 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 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 water-casks 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 water, some with arms, and others with the casks; and, as it was some little distance, I waited two hours for them. 59.

“During that time I walked among the trees, which was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, beholding as much verdure as in the month of May in Andalusia. The trees are as unlike ours as night from day, as are the fruits, the herbs, the stones, and everything. It is true that some of the trees bore some resemblance to those in Castile, but most of them are very different, and some were so unlike that no one could compare them to anything in Castile. 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 some of the ship’s boys bartering broken bits of glass and crockery for darts. The men who went for water told me that they had been in the houses of the natives, and that they were very plain and clean inside. Their beds and bags for holding things were like nets of cotton. The houses are 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. Here they found that the married women wore clouts of cotton, but not the young girls, except a few who were over eighteen years of age. 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. 60.

“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 Samoet, and that it would be well to return back so as to reach it sooner. The wind presently went down and then sprang up from 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 nearly 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 may believe that this land is the best and most fertile, and with a good climate, level, and as good as therei s in the world.” 61.

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. . . .” 62.

Friday, 19th of October

“I weighed the anchors at daylight, sending the caravel Pinta on an E.S.E. course, the caravel Niña S.S.E., while I shaped a S.E. course, giving orders that these courses were to be steered until noon, and that then the two caravels should alter course so as to join companywith me. Before we had sailed for three hours we saw an island to the east, for which we steered, and all three vessels arrived at the north point before noon. Here there is an islet, and a reef of rocks to seaward of it, besides one between the islet and the large island. The men of San Salvador, whom I bring with me, called it Saomete, and I gave it the name of Isabella. The wind was north, and the said islet bore from the island of Fernandina, whence I had taken my departure, east and west. Afterwards we ran along the coast of the island, westward from the islet, and found its length to be 12 leagues as far as a cape, which I named Cabo Hermoso, at the western end. The island is beautiful, and the coast very deep, without sunken rocks off it. Outside the shore is rocky, but further in there is a sandy beach, and here I anchored on that Friday night until morning. This coast and the part of the island I saw is almost flat, and the island is very beautiful; for if the other islands are lovely, this is more so. It has many very green trees, which are very large. The land is higher than in the other islands, and in it there are some hills, which cannot be called mountains; and it appears that there is much water inland. From this point to the N.E. the coast makes a great angle, and there are many thick and extensive groves. I wanted to go and anchor there, so as to go on shore and see so much beauty; but the water was shallow, and we could only anchor at a distance from the land. The wind also was fair for going to this cape, where I am now anchored, to which I gave the name of Cabo Hermoso, because it is so. Thus it was that I do not anchor in that angle, but as I saw this cape so green and so beautiful, like all the other lands of these islands, I scarcely knew which to visit first; for I can never tire my eyes in looking at such lovely vegetation, so different from ours. I believe that there are many herbs and many trees that are worth much in Europe for dyes and for medicines; but I do not know them, and this causes me great sorrow. Arriving at this cape, I found the smell of the trees and flowers so delicious that it seemed the pleasantest thing in the world. To-morrow, before I leave this place, I shall go on shore to see what there is at this cape. There are no people, but there are villages in the interior, where, the Indians I bring with me say, there is a king who has much gold. To-morrow I intend to go so far inland as to find the village, and see and have some speech with this king, who, according to the signs they make, rules over all the neighboring islands, goes about clothed, and wears much gold on his person. I do not give much faith to what they say, as well because I do not understand them well as because they are so poor in gold that even a little that this king may have would appear much to them. This cape, to which I have given the name of Cabo Fermoso, is, I believe, on an island separated from Saometo, and there is another small islet between them. I did not try to examine them in detail, because it could not be done in 50 years. For my desire is to see and discover as much as I can before returning to your Highnesses, our Lord willing, in April. It is true that in the event of finding places where there is gold or spices in quantity I should stop until I had collected as much as I could. I, therefore, proceed in the hope of coming across such places.” 63.

Saturday, 20th of October

“To-day, at sunrise, I weighed the anchors from where I was with the ship, and anchored off the S.W. point of the island of Saometo, to which I gave the name of Cabo de la Laguna, and to the island Isabella. My intention was to navigate to the north-east and east from the south-east and south, where, I understood from the Indians I brought with me, was the village of the king. I found the sea so shallow that I could not enter nor navigate in it, and I saw that to follow a route by the south-east would be a great round. So I determined to return by the route that I had taken from the N.N.E. to the western part, and to sail round this island to [reconnoitre it]. 64.

“I had so little wind that I never could sail along the coast, except during the night. As it was dangerous to anchor off these islands except in the day, when one can see where to let go the anchor, for the bottom is all in patches, some clear and some rocky, I lay to all this Sunday night. The caravels anchored because they found themselves near the shore, and they thought that, owing to the signals that they were in the habit of making, I would come to anchor, but I did not wish to do so.” 65.

Sunday, 21st of October

“At ten o’clock I arrived here, off this islet, and anchored, as well as the caravels. After breakfast I went on shore, and found only one house, in which there was no one, and I supposed they had fled from fear, because all their property was left in the house. I would notallow anything to be touched, but set out with the captains and people to explore the island. If the others already seen are very beautiful, green, and fertile, this is much more so, with large trees and very green. Here there are large lagoons with wonderful vegetation on their banks. Throughout the island all is green, and the herbage like April in Andalusia. The songs of the birds were so pleasant that it seemed as if a man could never wish to leave the place. The flocks of parrots concealed the sun; and the birds were so numerous, and of so many different kinds, that it was wonderful. There are trees of a thousand sorts, and all have their several fruits; and I feel the most unhappy man in the world not to know them, for I am well assured that they are all valuable. I bring home specimens of them, and also of the land. Thus walking along round one of the lakes I saw a serpent, which we killed, and I bring home the skin for your Highnesses. As soon as it saw us it went into the lagoon, and we followed, as the water was not very deep, until we killed it with lances. It is 7 spans long, and I believe that there are many like it in these lagoons. Here I came upon some aloes, and I have determined to take ten quintals on board to-morrow, for they tell me that they are worth a good deal. Also, while in search of good water, we came to a village about half a league from our anchorage. The people, as soon as they heard us, all fled and left their houses, hiding their property in the wood. I would not allow a thing to be touched, even the value of a pin. Presently some men among them came to us, and one came quite close. I gave him some bells and glass beads, which made him very content and happy. That our friendship might be further increased, I resolved to ask him for something; I requested him to get some water. After I had gone on board, the natives came to the beach with calabashes full of water, and they delighted much in giving it to us. I ordered another string of glass beads to be presented to them, and they said they would come again to-morrow. I wished to fill up all the ships with water at this place, and, if there should be time, I intended to search the island until I had had speech with the king, and seen whether he had the gold of which I had heard. I shall then shape a course for another much larger island, which I believe to be Cipango, judging from the signs made by the Indians I bring with me. They call it Cuba, and they say that there are ships and many skilful sailors there. Beyond this island there is another called Bosio, which they also say is very large, and others we shall see as we pass, lying between. According as I obtain tidings of gold or spices I shall settle what should be done. I am still resolved to go to the mainland and the city of Guisay, and to deliver the letters of your Highnesses to the Gran Can, requesting a reply and returning with it.” 66.

Monday, 22nd of October

“All last night and to-day I was here, waiting to see if the king or other person would bring gold or anything of value. Many of these people came, like those of the other islands, equally naked, and equally painted, some white, some red, some black, and others in many ways. They brought darts and skeins of cotton to barter, which they exchanged with the sailors for bits of glass, broken crockery, and pieces of earthenware. Some of them had pieces of gold fastened in their noses, which they willingly gave for a hawk’s bell and glass beads. But there was so little that it counts for nothing. It is true that they looked upon any little thing that I gave them as a wonder, and they held our arrival to be a great marvel, believing that we came from heaven. We got water for the ships from a lagoon which is near the Cabo del Isleo (Cape of the Islet), as we named it. In the said lagoon Martin Alonso Pinzon, captain of the Pinta, killed another serpent 7 spans long, like the one we got yesterday. I made them gather here as much of the aloe as they could find.” 67.

Tuesday, 23rd of October

“I desired to set out to-day for the island of Cuba, which I think must be Cipango, according to the signs these people make, indicative of its size and riches, and I did not delay any more here nor [attempt to sail] . . . round this island to the residence of this king or lord, and have speech with him, as I had intended. This would cause me much delay, and I see that there is no gold mine here. To sail round would need several winds, for it does not blow here as men may wish. It is better to go where there is great entertainment, so I say that it is not reasonable to wait, but rather to continue the voyage and inspect much land, until some very profitable country is reached, my belief being that it will be rich in spices. That I have no personal knowledge of these products causes me the greatest sorrow in the world, for I see a thousand kinds of trees, each one with its own special fruit, all green now as in Spain during the months of May and June, as well as a thousand kinds of herbs with their flowers; yet I know none of them except this aloe, of which I ordered a quantity to be brought on board to bring to your Highnesses. I have not made sail for Cuba because there is no wind, but a dead calm with much rain. It rained a great deal yesterday without causing any cold. On the contrary, the days are hot and the nights cool, like May in Andalusia.” 68.

Wednesday, 24th of October

“At midnight I weighed the anchors and left the anchorage at Cabo del Isleo, in the island of Isabella. From the northern side, where I was, I intended to go to the island of Cuba, where I heard of the people who were very great, and had gold, spices, merchandise, and large ships. They showed me that the course thither would be W.S.W., and so I hold. For I believe that it si so, as all the Indians of these islands, as well as those I brought with me in the ships, told me by signs. I cannot understand their language, but I believe that it is of the island of Cipango that they recount these wonders. On the spheres I saw, and on the delineations of the map of the world, Cipango is in this region. So I shaped a course W.S.W. until daylight, but at dawn it fell calm and began to rain, and went on nearly all night. I remained thus, with little wind, until the afternoon, when it began to blow fresh. I set all the sails in the ship, the mainsail with the two bonnets, the foresail, spritsail, mizzen, main topsail, and the boat’s sail on the poop. So I proceeded until nightfall, when the Cabo Verde of the island of Fernandina, which is at the S.W. end, bore N.W. distant 7 leagues. As it was now blowing hard, and I did not know how far it was to this island of Cuba, I resolved not to go in search of it during the night; all these islands being very steep-to, with no bottom round them for a distance of two shots of a lombard. The bottom is all is patches, one bit of sand and another of rock, and for this reason it is not safe to anchor without inspection with the eye. So I determined to take in all sails except the foresail, and to go on under that reduced canvas. Soon the wind increased, while the route was doubtful, and there was very thick weather, with rain. I ordered the foresail to be furled, and we did not make two leagues during that night.” 69.

Thursday, 25th of October

“I steered W.S.W. from after sunset until 9 o’clock, making 5 leagues. Afterwards I altered course to the west, and went 8 miles an hour until one in the afternoon; and from that time until three made good 44 miles. Then land was sighted, consisting of 7 or 8 islands, the group running north and south, distant from us 5 leagues.” 70.

Friday, 26th of October

“The ship was on the south side of the islands, which were all low, distant 5 or 6 leagues. I anchored there. The Indians on board siad that thence to Cuba was a voyage in their canoes of a day and a half; these being small dug-outs without a sail. Such are their canoes. I departed thence for Cuba, for by the signs the Indians made of its greatness, and of its gold and pearls, I thought that it must be Cipango.” 71.

Saturday, 27th of October

“I weighed from these islands at sunrise, and gave them the name of Las Islas de Arena, owing to the little depth the sea had for a distance of 6 leagues to the southward of them. We went 8 miles an hour on a S.S.W. course until one o’clock, having made 40 miles. Unitl night we had run 28 miles on the same course, and before dark the land was sighted. At night there was much rain. The vessels, on Saturday until sunset, made 17 leagues on a S.S.W. course.” 72.

Sunday, 28th of October

“I went thence in search of the island of Cuba on a S.S.W. course, making for the nearest point of it, and entered a very beautiful river without danger of sunken rocks or other impediments. All the coast was clear of dangers up to the shore. The mouth of the river was 12 brazas across, and it is wide enough for a vessel to beat in. I anchored about a lombard-shot inside.” The Admiral says that “he never beheld such a beautiful place, with trees bordering the river, handsome, green, and different from ours, having fruits and flowers each one according to its nature. There are many birds, which sing very sweetly. There are a great number of palm trees of a different kind from those in Guinea and from outs, of a middling height, the trunks without that covering, adn the leaves very large, with which they thatch their houses. The country is very level.” The Admiral jumped into his boat and went on shore. He came to two houses, which he believed to beong to fishermen who had fled from fear. In one of them he found a kind of dog that never barks, and in both there were nets of palm-fibre and cordage, as well as horn fish-hooks, bone harpoons, and other apparatus “for fishing, and several hearths. He believed that many people lived together in one house. He gave orders that nothing in the houses should be touched, and so it was done.” The herbage was as thick as in Andalusia during April and May. He found much purslane and wild amaranth. He returned to the boat and went up the river for some distance, and he says it was great pleasure to see the bright verdure, and the birds, which he could not leave to go back. He says that this island is the most beautiful that eyes have seen, full of good harbors and deep rivers, and the sea appeared as if it never rose;for the herbage on the beach nearly reached the waves, which does not happen where the sea is rough. (Up to that time they had not experienced a rough sea among all those islands.) He says that the island is full of very beautiful mountains, although they are not very extensive as regards length, but high; and all the country is high like Sicily. It is abundantly supplied with water, as they gathered from the Indians they had taken with them from the island of Guanahani. These said by signs that there are ten great rivers, and that they cannot go round the island in twenty days. When they came near land with the ships, two canoes came out; and, when they saw the sailors get into a boat and row about to find the depth of the river where they could anchor, the canoes fled. The Indians say that in this island there are gold mines and pearls, and the Admiral saw a likely place for them and mussel-shells, which are signs of them. He understood that large ships of the Gran Can came here, and that from here to the mainland was a voyage of ten days. The Admiral called this river and harbor San Salvador. 73.

Monday, 29th of October

The Admiral weighed anchor from this port and sailed to the westward, to go to the city, where, as it seemed, the Indians said that there was a king. They doubled a point six leagues to the N.W., and then another point, then east ten leagues. After another league he saw a river with no very large entrance, to which he gave the name of Rio de la Luna. He went on until the hour of vespers. He saw another river much larger than the others, as the Indians told him by signs, and near he saw goodly villages of houses. He called the river Rio de Mares. He sent two boats on shore to a village to communicate, and one of the Indians he had brought with him, for now they understood a little, and show themselves content with Christians. All the men, women, and children fled, abandoning their houses with all they contained. The Admiral gave orders that nothing should be touched. The houses were better than those he had seen before, and he believed that the houses would improve as he approached the mainland. They were made like booths, very large, and looking like tents in a camp without regular streets, but one here and another there. Within they were clean and well swept, with the furniture well made. All are of palm branches beautifully constructed. They found many images in the shape of women, and many heads like masks, very well carved. It was not known whether these were used as ornaments, or to be worshipped. They had dogs which never bark, and wild birds tamed in their houses. There was a wonderful supply of nets and other fishing implements, but nothing was touched. He believed that all the people on the coast were fishermen, who took the fish inland, for this island is very large, and so beautiful, that he is never tired of praising it. He says he found trees and fruits of very marvellous taste; and adds that they must have cows or other cattle, for he saw skulls which were like those of cows. The songs of the birds and the chirping of crickets throughout the night lulled everyone to rest, while the air was soft and healthy, and the nights neither hot nor cold. On the voyage through the other islands there was great heat, but here it is tempered like the month of May. He attributed the heat of the other islands to their flatness, and to the wind coming from the east, which is hot. The water of the rivers was salt at the mouth, and they did not know whence the natives got their drinking-water, though they have sweet water in their houses. Ships are able to turn in this river, both entering and coming out, and there are very good leading-marks. He says that all this sea appears to be constantly smooth, like the river at Seville, and the water suitable for the growth of pearls. He found large shells unlike those of Spain. Remarking on the position of the river and port, to which he gave the name of San Salvador, he describes its mountains as lofty and beautiful, like the Pena de las Enamoradas, and one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque. The other river and port, in which he now was, has two round mountains to the S.W., and a fine low cape running out to the W.S.W. 74.

Tuesday, 30th of October

He left the Rio de Mares and steered N.W., seeing a cape covered with palm trees, to which he gave the name of Cabo de Palmas, after having made good 15 leagues. The Indians on board the caravel Pinta said that beyond that cape there was a river, and that from the river to Cuba it was four days’ journey. The captain of the Pinta reported that he understood from that, that this Cuba was a city, and that the land was a great continent tending far to the north. The king of that country, he gathered, was at war with the Gran Can, whom they called Cami, and his land or city Fava, with many other names. The Admiral resolved to proceed to that river, and to send a present, with the letter of the Sovereigns, to the king of that land. For this service there was asailor who had been to Guinea, and some of the Indians of Guanahani wished to go with him, and afterwards to return to their homes. TheAdmiral calculated that he was forty-two degrees to the north of the equinoctial line (but the handwriting is here illegible). He says that he must attempt to reach the Gran Can, who he thought was here or at the city of Cathay, which belongs to him, and is very grand, as he was informed before leaving Spain. All this land, he adds, is low and beautiful, and the sea deep. 75.

Wednesday, 31st of October

All Tuesday night he was beating to windward, and he saw a river, but could not enter it because the entrance was narrow. The Indians fancied that the ships could enter wherever their canoes could go. Navigating onwards, he came to a cape running out very far, and surrounded by sunken rocks, and he saw a bay where small vessels might take shelter. He could not proceed because the wind had come round to the north, and all the coast runs N.W. and S.E. Another cape further on ran out still more. For these reasons, and because the sky showed signs of a gale, he had to return to the Rio de Mares. 76.

Thursday, November the 1st

At sunrise the Admiral sent the boats on shore to the houses that were there, and they found that all the people had fled. After some time a man made his appearance. The Admiral ordered that he should be left to himself, and the sailors returned to the boats. After dinner, one of the Indians on board was sent on shore. He called out from a distance that there was nothing to fear, because the strangers were good people and would do no harm to anyone, nor were they people of the Gran Can, but they had given away their things in many islands where they had been. The Indian then swam on shore, and two of the natives took him by the arms and brought him to a house, where they heard what he had to say. When they were certain that no harm would be done to them they were reassured, and presently more than sixteen canoes came to the ships with cotton-thread and other trifles. The Admiral ordered that nothing should be taken from them, that they might understand that he sought for nothing but gold, which they call nucay. Thus they went to and fro between the ships and the shore all day, and they came to the Christians on shore with confidence. The Admiral saw no gold whatever among them, but he says that he saw one of them with a piece of worked silver fastened to his nose. They said, by signs, that within three days many merchants from inland would come to buy the things brought by the Christians, and would give information respecting the king of that land. So far as could be understood from their signs, he resided at a distance of four days’ journey. They had sent many messengers in all directions, with news of the arrival of the Admiral. “These people,” says the Admiral, “are of the same appearance and have the same customs as those of the other islands, without any religion so far as I know, for up to this day I have never seen the Indians on board say any prayer; though they repeat the Salve and Ave Maria with their hands raised to heaven, and they make the sign of the cross. The language is also the same, and they are all friends; but I believe that all these islands are at war with the Gran Can, whom they called Cavila, and his province Bafan. They all go naked like the others.” This is what the Admiral says. “The river,” he adds, “is very deep, and the ships can enter the mouth, going close to the shore. The sweet water does not come within a league of the mouth. It is certain,” says the Admiral, “that this is the mainland, and that I am in front of Zayto and Guinsay, a hundred leagues, a little more or less, distant the one from the other. It is very clear that no one before has been so far as this by sea. Yesterday, with wind from the N.W., I found it cold.” 77.

Friday, 2nd of November

The Admiral decided upon sending two Spaniards, one named Rodrigo de Jerez, who lived in Ayamonte, and the other Luis de Torres, who had served in the household of the Adelantado of Murcia, and had been a Jew, knowing Hebrew, Chaldee, and even some Arabic. With these men he sent two Indians, one from among those he had brought from Guanahani, and another a native of the houses by the river-side. He gave them strings of beads with which to buy food if they should be in need, and ordered them to return in six days. He gave them specimens of spices,to see if any were to be found. Their instructions were to ask for the king of that land, and they were told what to say on the part of the Sovereigns of Castile, how they had sent the Admiral with letters and a present, to inquire after his health and establish friendship, favoring him in what he might desire from them. They were to collect information respecting certain provinces, ports, and rivers of which the Admiral had notice, and to ascertain their distances from where he was. 78.

This night the Admiral took an altitude with a quadrant, and found that the distance from the equinoctial line was 42 degrees. He says that, by his reckoning, he finds that he has gone over 1142 leagues from the island of Hierro. He still believes that he has reached the mainland. 79.

Saturday, 3rd of November

In the morning the Admiral got into the boat, and, as the river is like a great lake at the mouth, forming a very excellent port, very deep, and clear of rocks, with a good beach for careening ships, and plenty of fuel, he explored it until he came to fresh water at a distance of two leagues from the mouth. He ascended a small mountain to obtain a view of the surrounding country, but could see nothing, owing to the dense foliage of the trees, which were very fresh and odoriferous, so that he felt no doubt that there were aromatic herbs among them. He said that all he saw was so beautiful that his eyes could never tire of gazing upon such loveliness, nor his ears of listening to the songs of birds. That day many canoes came to the ships, to barter with cotton threads and with the nets in which they sleep, called hamacas. 80.

Sunday, 4th of November

At sunrise the Admiral again went away in the boat, and landed to hunt the birds he had seen the day before. After a time, Martin Alonso Pinzon came to him with two pieces of cinnamon, and said that a Portuguese, who was one of his crew, had seen an Indian carrying two very large bundles of it; but he had not bartered for it, because of the penalty imposed by the Admiral on any one who bartered. He further said that this Indian carried some brown things like nutmegs. The master of the Pinta said that he had found the cinnamon trees. The Admiral went to the place, and found that they were not cinnamon trees. The Admiral showed the Indians some specimens of cinnamon and pepper he had brought from Castile, and they knew it, and said, by signs, that there was plenty in the vicinity, pointing to the S.E. He also showed them gold and pearls, on which certain old men said that there was an infinite quantity in a place called Bohio, and that the people wore it on their necks, ears, arms, and legs, as well as pearls. He further understood them to say that there were great ships and much merchandise, all to the S.E. He also understood that, far away, there were men with one eye, and others with dogs’ noses who were cannibals, and that when they captured an enemy, they beheaded him and drank his blood, and cut off his private parts. 81.

The Admiral then determined to return to the ship and wait for the return of the two men he had sent, intending to depart and seek for those lands, if his envoys brought some good news touching what he desired. The Admiral further says: “These people are very gentle and timid; they go naked, as I have said, without arms and without law. The country is very fertile. The people have plenty of mames which are like carrots and have the flavor of chestnuts; and they have faxones and beans of kinds very different from ours. They also have much cotton, which they do not sow, as it is wild in the mountains, and I believe they collect it throughout the year, because I saw pods empty, others full, and flowers all on one tree. There are a thousand other kinds of fruits, which it is impossible for me to write about, and all must be profitable.” All this the Admiral says. 82.

Monday, 5th of November

This morning the Admiral ordered the ship to be careened, afterwards the other vessels, but not all at the same time. Two were always to beat the anchorage, as a precaution; although he says that these people were very safe, and that without fear all the vessels might have been careened at the same time. Things being in this state, the master of the Niña came to claim a reward from the Admiral because he had found mastic, but he did not bring the specimen, as he had dropped it. The Admiral promised him a reward, and sent Rodrigo Sanchez and master Diego to the trees. They collected some, which was kept to present to the Sovereigns, as well as the tree. The Admiral says that he knew it was mastic, though it ought to be gathered at the proper season. There is enough in that district for a yield of 1000 quintals every year. The Admiral also found here a great deal of the plant called aloe. He further says that the Puerto de Mares is the best in the world, with the finest climate and the most gentle people. As it has a high, rocky cape, a fortress might be built, so that, in the event of the place becoming rich and important, the merchants would be safe from any other nations. He adds: “The Lord, in whose hands are all victories, will ordain all things for his service. An Indian said by signs that the mastic was good for pains in the stomach.” 83.

Tuesday, 6th of November

Yesterday, at night, says the Admiral, the two men came back who had been sent to explore the interior. They said that after walking 12 leagues they came to a village of 50 houses, where there were a thousand inhabitants, for many live in one house. These houses are like very large booths. They said that they were received with great solemnity, according to custom, and all, both men and women, came out to see them. They were lodged in the best houses, and the people touched them, kissing their hands and feet, marvelling and believing that they came from heaven, and so they gave them to understand. They gave them to eat of what they had. When they arrived, the chief people conducted them by the arms to the principal house, gave them two chairs on which to sit, and all the natives sat round them on the ground. The Indian who came with them described the manner of living of the Christians, and said that they were good people. Presently the men went out, and the women came sitting round them in the same way, kissing their hands and feet, and looking to see if they were of flesh and bones like themselves. They begged the Spaniards to remain with them at least five days. The Spaniards showed the natives specimens of cinnamon, pepper, and other spices which the Admiral had given them, and they said, by signs, that there was plenty at a short distance from thence to S.E., but that there they did not know whether there was any. Finding that they had no information respecting cities, the Spaniards returned; and if they had desired to take those who wished to accompany them, more than 500 men and women would have come, because they thought the Spaniards were returning to heaven. There came, however, a principal man of the village and his son, with a servant. The Admiral conversed with them, and showed them much honor. They made signs respecting many lands and islands in those parts. The Admiral thought of bringing them to the Sovereigns. He says that he knew not what fancy took them; either from fear, or owing to the dark night, they wanted to land. The ship was at the time high and dry, but, not wishing to make them angry, he let them go on their saying that they would return at dawn, but they never came back. The two Christians met with many people on the road going home, men and women with a half-burnt weed in their hands, being the herbs they are accustomed to smoke. They did not find villages on the road of more than five houses, all receiving them with the same reverence. They saw many kinds of trees, herbs, and sweet-smelling flowers; and birds of many different kinds, unlike those of Spain, except the partridges, geese, of which there are many, and singing nightingales. They saw no quadrupeds except the dogs that do not bark. The land is very fertile, and is cultivated with yams and several kinds of beans different from ours, as well as corn. There were great quantities of cotton gathered, spun, and worked up. In asingle house they saw more than 500 arrobas, and as much as 4000 quintals could be yielded every year. The Admiral said that “it did not appear to be cultivated, and that it bore all the year round. It is very fine, and has a large boll. All that was possessed by these people they gave at a very low price, and a great bundle of cotton was exchanged for the point of a needle or other trifle. They are a people,” says the Admiral, “guileless and unwarlike. Men and women go as naked as when their mothers bore them. It is true that the women weara very small piece of cotton-cloth which covers their private parts and no more, and they are of very good appearance, not very dark, less so than the Canarians. I hold, most serene Princes, that if devout religious persons were here, knowing the language, they would all turn Christians. I trust in our Lord that your Highnesses will resolve upon this with much diligence, to bring so many great nations within the Church, and to convert them; as you have destroyed those who would not confess the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And after your days, all of us being mortal, may your kingdoms remain in peace, and free from heresy and evil, and may you be well received before the eternal Creator, to whom I pray that you may have long life and great increase of kingdoms and lordships, with the will and disposition to increase the holy Christian religion as you have done hitherto. Amen!” 84.

“To-day I got the ship afloat, and prepared to depart on Thursday, in the name of God, and to steer S.E. in search of gold and spices, and to discover land.” 85.

These are the words of the Admiral, who intended to depart on Thursday, but, the wind being contrary, he could not go until the 12th of November. 86.

The original document of Columbus' journal was written in 1492-1493 but has been lost. However, it has been paraphrased and quoted by Bartolome de Las Casas.

This text of the present edition was prepared from and proofed against Christopher Columbus, "Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus," in Julius E. Olson and Edward Gaylord Bourne, eds., The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503, Original Narratives of Early American History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). For the present edition, all preliminaries and notes have been omitted except those for which the author is responsible. All editorial notes have been omitted except those that indicate significant textual variations. Line and paragraph numbers contained in the source text have been retained. In cases where the source text displays no numbers, numbers are automatically generated. In the header, personal names have been regularized according to the Library of Congress authority files as "Last Name, First Name" for the REG attribute and "First Name Last Name" for the element value. Names have not been regularized in the body of the text.

Early Modern Spain

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Introduction to Christopher Columbus, Journal of the first voyage

There was a time when the inclusion of a historical document such as Columbus's Journal in a series dedicated to Spanish Golden-Age prose fiction and drama might have required some comment. To put Columbus alongside Cervantes, Quevedo and Calderón might have been taken to imply that the contents of the Journal were just so much fiction or, conversely, that the editors were taking an essentially documentary view of the other works included in the series. Nowadays we have a much less compartmentalised approach to the notion of `text' - one which is more in tune with the expectations of Renaissance writers and readers -, and much has been gained by bringing the techniques of literary textual analysis and criticism to bear on a wide variety of texts, whether written, spoken or non-verbal forms of cultural expression.

The purpose of this new edition of the Spanish text of Columbus's Journal of the 1492 voyage, published together with a new translation, is to make available to the general reader as well as the specialist historiographer one of the most important texts ever written in Spanish. Columbus's 1492 Journal, even in the truncated and partially summarised form in which it has survived, gives an unrivalled insight into the events of the voyage, Columbus's first impressions of a people and a culture which failed in so many ways to live up to his expectations, and the creation of many of the myths surrounding the New World which have coloured its view of itself down to the present day.

Columbus's Spanish is not that of a native-speaker. Even after several transcriptions at the hands of Spanish-speaking copyists, it retains many features which have an important bearing on our understanding of Columbus's cultural and linguistic formation, and on such issues as the reliability of the Journal in the form in which we have it. I am grateful to my colleague Ralph Penny for agreeing to contribute a short study of the most important features of Columbus's language. Some of the material of the Introduction derives from my Inaugural Lecture, Writing and Conquest , given at King's College London on 1 May 1990.

This edition and translation is dedicated to Henry Maxwell.


by B.W. Ife

Text history

When Columbus set sail for the Far East in August 1492 he decided, in view of the significance of what he was about to attempt, to make a documentary record of the voyage in the form of charts and a log book:

... I decided to write down the whole of this voyage in detail, day by day, everything that I should do and see and undergo, as will be seen in due course. (Prologue) 1

Keeping such a Journal was by no means routine at the time and did not become a legal requirement for captains of vessels flying the Spanish flag until 1575. The importance which Columbus attached to the accurate day-to-day recording of the events of the first voyage cannot be underestimated. By setting the voyage down in writing he ensured a place for himself in history which others have disputed but from which no one has succeeded in displacing him. The written record has become the touchstone of his achievement.

On returning to Spain in the spring of 1493 Columbus presented his record of the voyage to Queen Isabel. She had it copied, retained the original, and gave the copy to Columbus before he set out on the second voyage in the autumn of 1493. The original has not been seen since 1504, the year in which the Queen died.

In 1506, on the Admiral's death, the copy passed to Columbus's eldest son Diego, and then in 1526 to Diego's son, Luis, the Third Admiral of the Indies. Luis was granted permission to publish the Journal in 1554, though it did not in fact appear. This is thought to indicate that he sold the manuscript, as he did that of his uncle Ferdinand's biography of the Admiral, in order to subsidise his legendary debauchery. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that both the original Journal, and the only copy known to have been made of it, have both disappeared.

The role of Bartolomé de las Casas

We should have very little knowledge indeed about the conduct and events of the 1492 voyage had it not been for the intervention of the historian Bartolomé de las Casas. Las Casas, whose father and uncle had accompanied Columbus on the second voyage in 1493, began collecting material for a history of the Indies as early as 1502. After his conversion in 1514 he dedicated himself to exposing in writing and by personal advocacy the oppression of the Indians and the illegitimacy of the Spanish presence in the New World. In 1527 he began his great Historia de las Indias . Chapters 35 to 75 of the Historia rely heavily on the evidence of Columbus's Journal. It is not clear when Las Casas consulted it, 2 though from remarks made in the Historia about scribal errors and confusions, we may be sure that what he consulted was a copy, possibly Columbus's own copy, and not the original. The access which Las Casas had to the Journal was evidently restricted. However he came by it, he was evidently not able to take it away with him or to keep it over a period of time. He therefore made an extensive digest for his own use, summarising the majority of the text, but copying out word-for-word those parts of the original which he thought were particularly interesting or worthy of quotation in full. Failing the discovery of the full text, Las Casas's summary, preserved in the National Library in Madrid, is the closest we are likely to get to Columbus's original.

The major textual and historiographical problem surrounding the Journal is therefore easily stated: how much of what we have is Columbus and how much Las Casas? On the face of it, the evidence is not encouraging. At best, the manuscript is at two removes from the original: a digest of a copy of the original, which may itself have been a fair copy rather than the actual log-book which Columbus wrote up from day to day on board ship. We can only assume that the copy from which Las Casas worked was reasonably faithful, although he was himself aware of inaccuracies and mistranscriptions. In the entry for 13 January, concerning Columbus's astrological observations, Las Casas writes in the margin:

... here it seems that the Admiral knew something about astrology, although these planets do not seem to be in their proper positions, due to bad transcription by the copyist ... (13.1) 3

Other remarks made both in the text and in the margin suggest that Las Casas was less than confident in the accuracy of what he was reading:

He steered WSW and they made about 11 and a half or 12 leagues during the day and night and it seems that at times during the night they were making 15 miles an hour, if the text is to believed. (8.10)

The major doubts, however, must concern Las Casas's own working methods. Las Casas was a tendentious historian and the Historia de las Indias is a work of extreme political and moral commitment. Cecil Jane, for one, has accused Las Casas of `deliberate misstatement of fact' and reliance on `a memory which was either curiously defective or singularly convenient'. 4 Can an avowed champion of the Indians' cause be relied upon to summarize accurately, without distortion and editorialising, the work of a pioneer colonist like Columbus?

Since virtually everything we know about the 1492 voyage has come down to us from Columbus via Las Casas's digest, it is perhaps surprising that a serious answer to such a fundamental question appears not so far to have been sought. Historians have not always shown a proper circumspection in their treatment of the text, and, until recently, successive generations of editors have failed to improve significantly on the text first published by Martín Fernández de Navarrete in 1825.

A more serious failing among scholars, however, has been the lack of any systematic attempt to evaluate the role of Las Casas as intermediary or to use the physical and linguistic evidence of the manuscript to establish how much of Columbus's original has survived the process of being copied and then summarized. Such a study is beyond the scope of this Introduction, but it is worthwhile to give some indication of the issues involved because they help to illuminate the nature of the Journal itself as well as the textual and interpretative problems which it poses. Broadly speaking, there are two main areas of interest: the evidence of Las Casas's working methods derived from the manuscript itself; and comparative analysis of linguistic and descriptive evidence in the summary and verbatim sections of the Journal.

Las Casas's working methods

One of the most impressive features of Las Casas's digest is its length. The manuscript consists of 67 folios (133 pages) with a total text length of nearly 54,000 words. It is abstracted on a day-to-day basis and covers the period 3 August 1492 to 15 March 1493, that is, the full extent of the outward voyage, including the preparations, the progress through the Bahamas, to the north coast of Cuba and Hispaniola and the return voyage. There is an entry in the digest for the majority of the days covered by the period of the voyage. The main omissions are the period 9 August to 6 September while the fleet was fitting out and provisioning in the Canaries, but the intervening period is summarized. There is another omission for the period 6-12 November when Columbus was unable to sail through bad weather. 17 February also has no entry in the digest. Otherwise, there are only a couple of small lacunae in the text, probably attributable to damage to or the illegibility of the original. The day-to-day structure of the Journal imposed a similar constraint on the digest and seems to have prevented significant loss of coverage. This perhaps is an encouraging sign.

Also encouraging is the fact that the manuscript we have is clearly not a fair copy of a ready-made digest; Las Casas was making the summary as he wrote. There are many corrections in the text, and in the margins. Sometimes errors were detected immediately, sometimes later, when they had to be squeezed in between the lines or put in the margin. In all, there are just over 1,000 corrected errors in the manuscript, most of them quite legible, and a full analysis of them gives a vivid picture of Las Casas struggling to capture the essence of the original text as fully and as succinctly as possible, going back and correcting often quite trivial details where he senses that he has misrepresented the emphasis of the original text. Occasionally, however, as in the case of the correction of `dezía' to `fingía' on 25 September, 5 Las Casas betrays some misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what he is reading.

Las Casas is also careful, as far as is possible, to separate fact from opinion. Overt comment is restricted to the margins of the text, and takes various forms:

  • Notes or short summaries to assist in locating the more important events, such as the marginal note marking the first landfall on 12 October.
  • Clarifications or explanations made with the benefit of hindsight. Las Casas had lived in the Caribbean for several years before he began abstracting the text of the Journal and is often able to correct Columbus's first impressions. When, on 17 October, Columbus describes the straw crowns on the roofs of the native houses as chimneys, Las Casas records the mistake in the text and notes the correct explanation in the margin (see Note 56, p. 247).
  • Criticism of the Admiral's actions and praise of the Indians. When Columbus says that 1,000 Indians live together in fifty huts, Las Casas comments in the margin that this is a sign that they are amicable (6.11), and when Columbus records that an Indian who had been released from captivity on the understanding that he would return the next day had failed to come back, Las Casas observes in the margin `What a fool!' (6.11)
  • The word `no[ta]', used to indicate a point of interest or one which will require explanation at some later date. Many of these instances are precisely those which Las Casas later expanded when writing up the digest into the finished version of the Historia de las Indias .

Las Casas's use of the margin of the manuscript as he proceeds seems, then, to indicate in general a feeling for the distinction between fact and comment and a willingness to keep the two apart as far as is possible.

Verbatim transcription and summary

Las Casas began the digest by assuming that he would make a summary of the entire Journal. He writes at the top of the first page:

... This is the first voyage with the courses and route which the Admiral don Christopher Columbus took when he discovered the Indies, set down in an abbreviated form, except for the prologue to the Monarchs which is given in full and begins ...

That is, everything will be summarized, except the prologue, which will be given verbatim. Las Casas promptly forgot this distinction. The first entry immediately following the prologue, 3 August, is also written in the first person, and thereafter a substantial portion of the Journal is transcribed verbatim, or at least, in the first person. Usually this is indicated by words which introduce direct speech (`he says', `says the Admiral at this point') or which refer back (`those are his own words'). Very often small stretches of verbatim text are not introduced as such and are detectable only by changes in point of view and in the person of the verb. There are also many cases where the text is a mixture of direct and indirect speech:

Here the Admiral says that those indications came from the west, where I hope that Almighty God, in whose hands all victories are found, will soon grant us land . (17.9)

On arrival in the New World, whole entries are written in the first person. All the entries from 11-24 October are in what are ostensibly the Admiral's own words, as are the entries for 6, 12, 27 November, and several of the December entries, when Columbus was in Hispaniola, contain extensive verbatim sections. In all, about 20% of the digest is in the first person and appears to record the Admiral's own words.

The two parts of the Journal, first-person verbatim text and third-person summary, therefore provide a means of contrasting Columbus's contribution with that of Las Casas, and of judging how much of Columbus's original input is still detectable in the summary. Here the linguistic evidence, summarised by Ralph Penny at the end of this Introduction, is very important. There are many indications both in the summary and verbatim sections of non-standard usage in lexis, morphology and syntax which have survived at least two stages of transcription. As we might expect, the errors are those commonly committed by foreign learners of Spanish: pronouns, relatives, subjunctives. One of Columbus's most endearing errors is his mangling of the phrase `desnudos como sus madres los parió' (`naked as their mothers bore them') which he consistently uses with a singular verb, and which Las Casas respects in the digest but corrects in his own Historia to `como su madre los parió' or `como sus madres los parieron'.

It is also important to bear in mind that not only was Columbus's Spanish that of a non-native speaker, but there was also a lapse of anything up to 30 years between the time when Columbus wrote and the time when Las Casas summarized and transcribed him. If the transcription is accurate, features of the language which were undergoing change at this time should be reflected differentially in the verbatim and summary sections of the text. An investigation of initial f- against initial h- , for example, shows this to be the case. 6

One particular feature of Columbus's written style which survives in Las Casas's summary is his use of repetitive and what one might call formulaic description. One of the striking features of the digest is the way it repeatedly supplies information which Las Casas certainly knew, and which he in any case did not need to repeat because at the time he was writing for his own eyes alone. Ten times, for example, he tells himself that a `canoa' is a boat made from a single piece of wood. Five times he reminds us that Martín Alonso Pinzón is the captain of the Pinta; indeed, the phrase becomes something of an epic epithet. Other small and relatively trivial examples of repetitive and formulaic description include his frequent comparison of the calm sea on the outward journey with the river at Seville:

All those days he had a very calm sea, like the river at Seville. (18.9)
They had a sea like the river at Seville, thanks be to God , the Admiral says; the sweetest of breezes, like April in Seville, such that it is a pleasure to be in them, so fragrant are they . (8.10)
He says that it seems to him that the whole of that sea must always be calm like the river at Seville ... (29.10)
... the breezes he says are very gentle and sweet, as in Seville in April and May, and the sea , he says, is always calm, thanks be to God . (20.1)

The allusion to the pleasant climate of Andalusia in April and May is also a formula which appears several times:

Here the Admiral says that today and thenceforth they always encountered the most gentle breezes, that the enjoyment of the morning was a great pleasure, that all they needed was to hear nightingales, he says; and the weather was like April in Andalusia. (16.9)
During this time I wandered among those trees which were more beautiful to look at than anything else that has ever been seen; I saw as much greenery as in May in Andalusia ... (17.10)
Here and in all the island everything is green and the vegetation is like April in Andalusia. (21.10)

And there are many other examples. Compare, too, his account of the `niames', the sweet potatoes which were an important part of the Indians' diet, which on three separate occasions (4.11, 13.12, 16.12) he says look like carrots and taste like chestnuts. If Las Casas were not summarizing fairly closely, he would have undoubtedly spared himself the effort of writing out the same thing several times.

As for Columbus himself, there are many reasons why the ways in which he describes places, events and impressions tend to be stereotyped. Undoubtedly he suffered from the limitations of vocabulary or range of expression which someone writing in a foreign language might be excused. But Columbus was not naive where language was concerned; for all his imperfect command of Spanish, Columbus understood what any writer understands - the power of language to constitute reality. Many times in the Journal Columbus comments on the importance of language in conquest, and the disadvantages under which he labours because he cannot understand the Indians and they cannot understand him. Columbus's initial impression of the docility of the Indians is like a closed door which requires only to be unlocked by the power of language for them to carry out the designs of the Spanish Crown:

... he says that the only thing needed is to know the language and give them orders ... (21.12)
This task would, he says, be much easier in the Caribbean than in Guinea, for example, because here ` the language is one and the same in all these islands ' whereas in Guinea `... there are a thousand different languages, with one not understanding the other .' (12.11)

Columbus understands, too, the power of naming. He gives the islands, the headlands, the bays `Christian' names, and he does so in the full knowledge of what the islands are `really' called in the language of the inhabitants. When he baptises them he `names' them, he does not `re-name' them.

This is not a picture of a linguistic novice, not least when he admits that language - or his poor command of it - cannot do justice to his achievement: `... a thousand tongues would not suffice to give the Monarchs an account of what they had seen, and his hand could not write it ...' (27.11) Rather, what it suggests is that the repetitive, somewhat formulaic language of the Journal is not just of use in evaluating the accuracy or otherwise of Las Casas's summary, but also gives us an important clue to the nature of Columbus's descriptive language and the way that he uses it. It also returns us to the key question of what Columbus's purpose was in writing his Journal.

The aim of the Journal

We are used to thinking of Columbus and the later generations of conquistadores as free agents, pioneers, driven by ideals and lusts of their own devising beyond the margins of the society they left behind. But this was almost never the case. Wherever they went, the conquistadores were constrained by a far-reaching network of controls administered with varying degrees of success by the Crown and the Church. Although they were always in conflict with that bureaucracy, they could not ignore it. When Columbus went ashore on the morning of Friday 12 October 1492 he had with him four individuals who embodied these forces in tension. On the one hand he had the brothers Martín Alonso and Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, captains of the Pinta and the Niña, archetypal adventurers, fractious and disobedient, always on the lookout for private gain. On the other, he had two Crown officials, the secretary of the expedition, Rodrigo de Escobedo, and the accountant, Rodrigo Sánchez de Segovia.

The presence of the two officials hardly seems to fit the popular image of the 1492 voyage as a do-or-die mission led by a hare-brained visionary. But they were there because when Columbus sailed he did so under the auspices of what was fast becoming a very efficient, modern, bureaucratic state. The system of conciliar government which Ferdinand and Isabel were in the process of setting up would provide the newly-unified Spain with a powerful mechanism for administering a huge empire with a high degree of centralised control. The delegation of much of the work of discovery and conquest to private individuals like Columbus was not done without strict contractual obligations which were, in theory at least, closely monitored. The secretary and the accountant were there to keep tabs on progress, look after the Crown's interests and see that all the proper formalities were carried out. And when the first landing was made, it was they who officially witnessed the documents which formally constituted the act of possession.

The rate at which the central administration in Spain kept pace with territorial expansion in the New World is impressive indeed. By 1503, the enterprise of the Indies was being run by its own administrative unit in Seville, the Casa de Contratación. The head of this unit, Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, Isabel's chaplain and later Bishop of Burgos, kept a remarkable degree of control over activities which were going on at the furthest edge of the known world. In 1524, as the network of governorships and tribunals grew in the Caribbean and the mainland, the Empire of the Indies acquired its own Council of State.

As the extent of the newly-discovered territories grew ever greater, there sprang up alongside the conquistadores a shadowy army of clerks and secretaries, recording the events for posterity and maintaining a discreet surveillance in the process. There was, it seems, no conquest without writing. As John Elliott has put it, `Royal officials in the Indies, theoretically at large in the great open spaces of a great New World, in practice found themselves bound by chains of paper to the central government in Spain. Pen, ink and paper were the instruments with which the Spanish crown responded to the unprecedented challenges of distance implicit in the possession of a world-wide empire.' 7

But the written records were not always created by civil servants and Crown officials. The conquistadores themselves often turned their own hands to writing, and between them they built up a huge volume of accounts of discovery and conquest which constitute an important chapter in Spanish and Latin-American literary history. In this they were following Columbus's own example. During the homeward journey, on Thursday 14 February, he records how, at the height of a terrible storm, fearing that if he were to perish Their Majesties would have no news of his voyage, he took a piece of parchment and wrote on it everything he could about everything he had found, beseeching whomsoever might find it to take it to the Monarchs. He then wrapped the parchment tightly in a waxed cloth and cast it afloat in a large wooden barrel.

Columbus's despair at the thought that everything he had achieved could easily go to the bottom of the ocean brought home to him how, in the end, words are much more important than deeds when one is working at the edge of the known world and the rewards are to be found at the centre. His writing, then, is characterised by two characteristic qualities which are often in tension in the Journal: the need to be accountable and the need to communicate effectively with the powerful people back in Spain. At times one feels a strong sense of the writer looking over his shoulder, fending off criticism and justifying his actions and decisions. At others he is desperately trying to get the people who hold the keys to reward and recognition to understand and re-live the problems he faces, the terrain, the culture, the sheer size of everything. And all this had to be done when the writer himself was often at a loss to understand the reality he was describing. Before attempting a comprehensive account of the city of Tenochtitlan, Cortés voices a characteristic complaint about the difficulties he faces as a narrator:

Most powerful Lord, in order to give an account to Your Royal Excellency of the magnificence, the strange and marvellous things of this great city of Temixtitan and of the dominion and wealth of this Mutezuma, its ruler, and of the rites and customs of the people, and of the order there is in the government of the capital as well as in the other cities of Mutezuma's dominions, I would need much time and many expert narrators. I cannot describe one hundreth part of all the things which could be mentioned, but, as best I can, I will describe some of those I have seen which, although badly described, will, I well know, be so remarkable as not to be believed, for we who saw them with our own eyes could not grasp them with our understanding. 8

Columbus was the first of a line of shrewd conquerors who learned not just to live with but to harness the power of the document and the written record, and to turn it to their advantage. They learned quickly and effectively how to set the record straight, using the written word to gain political and financial support in the pursuit of their aims. And they used writing to try to stamp political, linguistic and conceptual authority on the unknown. But the reality all too often rebelled.

The objectives of the 1492 voyage

In order to understand the problems Columbus faced in writing his Journal, it is important to understand his objectives. What was he trying to do, and to what extent did that first landfall confirm or confound his expectations? There are three main statements about Columbus's objectives in three different documents, and as one might expect, they all say different things. First there is the contract made between Columbus and the Crown and signed on 17 April 1492. This document, known as the Capitulaciones , is written in Spanish and sets out the terms of the agreement by which Columbus was to become viceroy and governor-general of any islands and mainland he might discover, the appointment to be hereditary in perpetuity; and, in exchange, the Crown would take 90% of all income from the territories under his jurisdiction. 9

The second document is the passport issued to Columbus to ensure that he received maximum cooperation from any King, Prince, Duke, Marquis, Count, Viscount, Baron, Lord or Lady he might meet on his travels. This document, so that it might more readily be understood in the Far East, was written in Latin, and speaks of Columbus as engaged on matters concerning the service of God and the Catholic religion, `necnon benefficium et utilitatem nostram'. 10

The third statement about objectives comes from the prologue to the Journal itself. This is the longest and most detailed statement and it aims to put the 1492 voyage into a broad religious and diplomatic context. With the ending of the Reconquest in Spain, and the expulsion of the Moors and the Jews, the time was ripe, it suggests, for a diplomatic mission to the lands of the Great Khan to promote the Catholic faith:

Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and princes devoted to the holy Christian faith and the furtherance of its cause, and enemies of the sect of Mohammed and of all idolatry and heresy, resolved to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said regions of India to see the said princes and the peoples and lands and determine the nature of them and of all other things, and the measures to be taken to convert them to our holy faith; and you ordered that I should not go by land to the East, which is the customary route, but by way of the West, a route which to this day we cannot be certain has been taken by anyone else.

The idea of a religious alliance with the Far East directed against Islam was a very long-standing one in the European mind; so long-standing, in fact, that the last Mongol Emperor of China, the Great Khan to which Columbus refers, had been deposed in 1368.

Clearly, if we take each of these documents at face value and assume that Columbus was trying to do all of those things, we get a mishmash of strategic objectives - scientific, economic, diplomatic and religious - which is so diffuse as to guarantee disaster. Columbus's objectives undoubtedly were unclear, but there was also, I believe, a firm sense of priorities underlying them. While the Capitulations speak entirely in terms of discovery and conquest, the terms used - `descubrir' and `ganar' (literally `discover' and `gain' or `win') - are formulae which appear frequently in comparable documents licensing expeditions in the Atlantic. To that extent, the Capitulations need to be seen more as a pro-forma agreement drafted in very general terms to cover any eventuality than as a specific set of commands. For that reason, the more detailed statements of objectives which appear in the passport and the Journal appear to take priority. Columbus, then, was not primarily trying to discover anything at all. He was simply trying to get somewhere he had never been before, by a route no one had ever used, to make contact with a ruler who had been deposed 124 years earlier.

Now there is nothing inherently contradictory about each of the objectives as they have been stated - it is quite possible to be aiming for a known port of call, and to come across some previously unknown territory in the process; the Atlantic, everyone knew, was peppered with islands which Spain and Portugal had been busily identifying and colonising throughout the fifteenth century. But if one is prepared for both the expected and the unexpected there will come a point in the voyage when the commander will have to decide: is this new phenomenon something he knows about and is expecting, or is it something unforeseen?

No one can blame Columbus for failing in his main objective; in failing to reach China he was wholly the victim of circumstance. But Columbus went on to compound his failure. At the first landfall and in the weeks that followed, he was apparently unable to make that crucial distinction between something foreseen and something unforeseen. In this, he was also a victim, but this time, perhaps, he was a victim of his preparation.

The preparations for the 1492 voyage

In terms of navigation, the preparation for the 1492 voyage was extraordinarily thorough. It had to be, for in aiming to reach a known destination by an unknown route, the very success of the enterprise depended on reducing unknown factors to a minimum. Planning was everything, not just because his life and those of his crews were at stake, but because Columbus had no means of his own, and if he was to obtain the funding for the expedition he had to convince his sponsors that there was a good chance of success, and a return on their investment. This was a particularly important consideration when the Portuguese voyages to Guinea were consistently self-financing and a much safer bet. The Catholic Monarchs were not in the business of funding disinterested research.

In planning his project Columbus did what anyone would do in the circumstances, that is, he tried to limit the number of unknown factors by thorough research. He made an extensive search of the available geographical literature, he consulted all the leading European geographers, and made sure that he got access to the best available maps, charts and guidebooks. His research told him what all the best geographers knew: that of course a western route to the east was a theoretical possibility and always had been. The difficulty was knowing if it was a practical proposition. There was a strong and growing body of opinion that the distances involved were not impossibly great, and as the true size of Africa became apparent throughout the 1480s, many were saying that the time had come to take a serious look at the western route. Columbus's reading and interpretation of the evidence of classical geographers was confirmed by a family of maps drawn by Henricus Martellus and Francesco Roselli in Florence, by Martin Behaim's globe made in Nuremberg, and by his own calculations based on first-hand observations made during extensive sailing experience in the Atlantic. All the evidence pointed to a transatlantic voyage from the Canaries to Japan of around 2,400 miles.

Columbus's presentation of his plan to the Portuguese coincided unhappily with the news of Bartolomeu Dias's rounding of Cape of Good Hope in 1488, a success which revived faith in the viability of the southern route to the East. When Columbus turned to Spain, he was met by a cool response from a government which was still too preoccupied by the Reconquest to show any great interest in the rather remote possibility of scoring a point off their long-standing rivals. Nevertheless, Columbus lobbied with great vigour, his Genoese friends in Seville came up with some financial backing and the Crown contributed two caravels, the Pinta and the Niña, whose participation came as the result of a fine imposed on the town of Palos. The expedition left Palos on 3 August 1492, and on the morning of 12 October, 2,400 miles out into the Atlantic, just where he said it would be, he found land.

The landfall and its aftermath

The reality that confronted Columbus in the days following the landfall was, in some ways, a great disappointment, and the conflict between his expectations and the evidence of his eyes has been the object of a great deal of comment. Where he expected to find the sophisticated subjects of the Great Khan and the bustling ports of the Orient, he found naked innocents and little else. In a sense he was the victim of a cruel coincidence, but he was also unduly fixated by the written authority of charts and books, and for that he must take some of the blame. The days immediately following the landfall were therefore a period of crisis in Columbus's thinking, but he managed that crisis remarkably well. He was very resourceful, and he devised a number of strategies for coping with the mismatch between reality and expectation.

The most obvious one was closely tied in with his operational decision-making: what should he do now, where should he go next? While he could not admit that he was not in the Orient - to admit that was to admit the failed objective of the whole voyage - he could properly admit that he was not quite where he wanted to be. This strategy is a very effective one in terms of keeping spirits up, keeping the expedition going and giving it a sense of purpose. In explanatory terms it is even more effective because the real objective is always constituted elsewhere, and writing is the perfect medium for doing just that, giving the products of the imagination substance in the text. Large parts of the Journal are designed to construct an alternative reality beyond the horizon. So while the characteristic gesture of the voyage is an out-stretched arm and a pointing finger - what we seek is on the next island - that gesture has a number of rhetorical equivalents in the Journal. One of the most commonly-used nouns in the Journal is `gold' although no gold worth speaking of was found on the first voyage; and what was found is always referred to as `samples'. Simply talking about gold often enough helps to create a strong impression of substance, or holds out the strong likelihood of substance.

By the same token, one of the most commonly-used groups of words in the Journal used to describe Columbus's impressions is that related to `marvellous'. Columbus's use of this and related words is closely tied to another rhetorical strategy which also has a counterpart in operational terms. Operationally, if what he is looking for is not here, and is therefore somewhere else, he needs a means of deciding which way to go and whether he is making any progress. The first one is easy - just follow the signs marked `gold' - but the second one involves finding a substitute for gold to which an incremental rhetoric can reasonably be applied. The substitute he uses most often is landscape, and Columbus's growing sense of the marvellous is an important element in the success of this strategy.

In the early pages of the Journal, Columbus is very keen to make everything seem familiar. There are constant references back to the Spanish experience; everything is just like Spain, like spring in Andalusia, like the river in Seville, like the hills behind Córdoba. But as the voyage progresses, and particularly off the coasts of Cuba and Hispaniola, Columbus shows a much greater willingness to concede difference, to make things exotic. One can appreciate why he might want to refer back to common experience with the absent addressee in mind, and why on the outward voyage especially, he might want to give a strong sense of predictability almost, of a sense that everything is just as he expected. But once arrived, and in view of his limited success, he has to adopt a different posture. No one, having sailed to the other end of the earth wants to have to write back that `it's just like Spain'.

Columbus's response to the natural beauty of the islands is undoubtedly genuine, but it is also strategic. Each island is the most beautiful that eyes have ever seen. The trees are green, straight and tall, fragrant, and full of singing birds. The rivers are deep, and the harbours wide, wide enough to embrace all the ships of Christendom. His eyes never tired of looking nor his ears of listening. `He praises all this very highly', Las Casas sums up at one point (25.11), evidently lacking Columbus's own stamina for hyperbole. On 25 November, Columbus assures Their Majesties that the reality is a hundred times greater than his description. By 5 January inflation had taken that to a thousand. And all the time Columbus's incremental rhetoric - this bay is more commodious than that, these people more intelligent than those, this island richer and more marvellous than that - is skilfully deployed to encourage the sense that he is getting warmer and warmer.

Morison has argued that Columbus's descriptions are not extravagant for the 1490s. 11 Undoubtedly the islands were heavily wooded and rich in exotic flora and fauna. But what we have in the Journal is not really a description, and to judge it in those terms is to misunderstand the genre to which this text belongs. For all Columbus's empiricism in the execution of the voyage, his account of it has more in common with travellers' tales than with a ship's log. Travellers' tales are supposed to be marvellous, and what Columbus describes is not so much what he saw, as the sense of wonder with which he saw it.

That is all very well, say the Crown officials, but beautiful views cannot be turned into cash. Columbus's answer appears to be: cut the trees down and turn them into ships, develop the natural resources for economic ends, and, of course, where there are such wonderful things, who can doubt that there are many more things of value yet to be discovered? Columbus anticipates in the Journal many of the forms of exploitation of both human and natural resources which will lead in a very short time to the total destruction of a whole way of life in the Caribbean. But, in privileging the landscape, even if for want of anything of more tangible value, Columbus inevitably calls up associations in the European mind with rural worth versus urban decadence, and in doing so he raises important questions about the nature of the inhabitants which point to a fundamental contradiction in Columbus's mind. Underlying what appears to be a systematic search for the epicentre of this oriental civilisation there is a network of contradictory behaviour and discourse which allows us to glimpse his sense of failure which is never explicitly articulated.

Native inhabitants

In an important and influential study of the origins of the cannibal mythology in the Journal, Peter Hulme has argued that it contains two conflicting discourses, of civilisation and savagery. 12 As the absence of cities, and therefore of gold, becomes more apparent, an alternative discourse emerges in which gold in the form of artifacts, to be traded for or plundered, is replaced with the idea of gold as an element to be dug from the earth. Marco Polo gives way to Herodotus. At the same time the docility of the natives - on which Columbus frequently comments, particularly in the early stages - is superceded by a growing fascination with the possibility that there may be another more aggressive and therefore more civilised tribe on a neighbouring island who prey on the inhabitants of Hispaniola. However, this conflict, between the native as a thing of value and a thing of no value, is there from the outset and is maintained throughout the first and subsequent voyages.

I have suggested that Columbus evolved some effective strategies for making the best of the reality which presented itself to him, and that he implemented these in the writing of the Journal with considerable skill. Although the landscape presented him with many opportunities to write up reality, the native inhabitants of the islands were more difficult. The Indians wore no clothes, in contrast to the rich robes described by Marco Polo, and this was a truth which was too naked to be covered up. But Columbus did his best. On 18 December he was visited on board the Santa María by a young chieftain and his entourage of 200 men, of whom four carried him on a litter. `Your Highnesses would no doubt approve of the ceremony and respect with which they all treat him, although they all go naked', writes Columbus, and there follows a set-piece of savage nobility, an acting out by these two leaders of the kind of elaborate ceremonial which would be expected of men of their status in a sophisticated society.

When the cacique comes aboard, Columbus is at table in the sterncastle. The Indian will not allow him to interrupt his meal or rise to greet him. Some food is brought for the visitor and the entourage is ordered outside, with the exception of two men whom Columbus judged to be his advisers and who sat at his feet. Of the food and the drink which are brought, the cacique takes just enough to taste, sending the rest to his men `and all with an amazing gravity and with few words, and those he did speak, as far as I could understand, were very wise and considered, and those two men watched his mouth and spoke for him and with him and with great respect.'

Gifts and pleasantries are exchanged:

After he had eaten, a page brought a belt just like those from Castile in manufacture although the workmanship is different, which he took and gave to me, and two pieces of worked gold which were very thin, because I believe that they get very little of it here, although I hold that they are very close to its source and there is a great deal of it. I saw that he liked a tapestry which I had over my bed. I gave it to him with some very good amber beads which I had around my neck, and some red slippers, and a flask of orange-flower water with which he was so pleased that it was amazing. He and his advisers are very sad because they could not understand me nor I them. Nevertheless, I understood him to say that if I wanted anything from there, the whole island was at my disposal. (18.12)

It takes very little to see in this awesome, well-mannered, softly-spoken and above all generous Indian a not too distant reflection of the Great Khan himself, attended by 12,000 liegemen in token of his power, surrounded by elaborate ritual and held in universal fear.

But though Columbus must find his Great Khan, one way or another, so much of what he says and does on the first voyage gainsays his praise of the land and its people, and that contradiction is evident from the very moment Columbus first goes ashore. If this is a diplomatic mission, why is Columbus's first act one of possession? He has a Latin passport and men aboard who speak Hebrew and Arabic and Chaldean so that he can present his credentials to one of the greatest princes and richest men in the world. Why, then, does he take twopenny trinkets - glass beads and hawks' bells - instead of something to impress the man who has everything? And if he is intent on conquering the lands of the Great Khan, why does he take such a small expedition, no soldiers and minimal weapons?

The answer to this question may well lie in the ceremony which took place on Guanahaní at the first landfall on 12 October. The Journal reads:

... they saw some naked people and the Admiral went ashore in the armed boat with Martín Alonso Pinzón and Vicente Yáñez, his brother, who was the captain of the Niña. The Admiral brought out the royal standard, and the captains unfurled two banners of the green cross, which the Admiral flew as his standard on all the ships, with an F and a Y, and a crown over each letter, one on one side of the + and one on the other. When they landed they saw trees, very green, many streams and a large variety of fruits. The Admiral called the two captains and the others who landed, and Rodrigo de Escobedo, secretary of the expedition, and Rodrigo Sánchez de Segovia, and made them bear witness and testimony that he, in their presence, took possession, as in fact he did take possession, of the said island in the names of the King and Queen, His Sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, as is more fully recorded in the statutory instruments which were set down in writing. (12.10)

The ceremony they enacted had many precedents in Roman and Germanic law and had been often used during the reconquest and the colonisation of the Canaries. 13 The act of possession always took a physical, symbolic form. Columbus would have taken a handful of earth, cut off the branch of a tree, drunk some water or eaten some fruit, or simply imprinted his footsteps on the soil. The mention of trees, water and fruit in the Journal may be an indication of the precise form the ceremony took. But that itself was not enough. Other elements had to be present for the act to be valid in law. There had to be witnesses (the Pinzón brothers); there had to be Crown representatives (the secretary and the accountant); and there had to be someone to give possession. Columbus knew about these formalities, because at the beginning of the prologue of the Journal he describes the handing over of the keys of the Alhambra to Their Majesties by the defeated Boabdil in a ceremony at which Columbus claims to have been present.

Now there were circumstances under which the third element could be dispensed with, that is when the lands being annexed were considered `res nullius', when they belonged to no one. But these, surely, were the lands of the Great Khan; how could they be considered `res nullius'? Clearly, the legal precedents put Columbus in some difficulty; either these lands belonged to someone, or they did not. Evidently, Columbus decided they did not. And if they did not, who were all these people who inhabited them?

Columbus's judgement in this legal matter clearly indicates that he had formed a view at a very early stage about the Taino inhabitants of the Caribbean. They were, it seems, nothing, a tabula rasa on which the Catholic faith and European civilisation had still to be inscribed. His chosen stylus was language, and the book in which this inscription would take place is the Journal. There is, however, an irony underlying Columbus's attempt at linguistic and cultural colonisation through language. We know that he made his first landfall on an island called Guanahaní, an island which he then (re)named `San Salvador'. But to this day no-one knows for certain which island Guanahaní was. In suppressing the Indian name, Columbus has erased the site of his greatest triumph.

Editorial note

The purpose of this new edition of the Journal is to provide a clear, accurate and readable Spanish text which keeps faith as far as possible with the features of the original manuscript. Original orthography has been maintained, but all contractions have been resolved. Las Casas made over 1,000 corrections to the text as he was making the summary and no attempt has been made to document these, but all his marginal notes are retained, as footnotes tied to the nearest appropriate place in the Spanish text.

The punctuation of the original differs considerably from modern usage. Las Casas used three main punctuation marks, a slash and a point (/.), a colon (:), and a slash alone (/), in descending order of importance. An equivalent hierarchy has been used in the edition: a point (.), a semi-colon (;), and a comma (,). Very occasionally some punctuation has had to be added, but this is kept to a minimum.

Verbatim text is printed in italic on both the Spanish and the English pages. Explanatory notes are tied to the English text and follow it.

The language of Christopher Columbus

by R.J. Penny

Columbus was born in Genoa in 1451, and lived there until 1473, when he was 22. Despite some opinions to the contrary, his family was in all probability Genoese, 14 and it is therefore reasonable to assume that his native language was the Genoese vernacular. Through his involvement in the wool trade, he may have become familiar with the commercial Latin of the time, and it is possible that he came into contact with Spanish and/or Portuguese speakers in the busy port (although this is a notion for which there is no direct evidence). What familiarity Columbus had with Tuscan is unknown; the idea that he was a student at Pavia has been discarded as a myth, created by Columbus, and the little that Columbus later wrote in Italian is heavily contaminated by Spanish.

Between the ages of 22 and 25 (1473-6), Columbus was employed as a commercial agent by the great Genoese shipping houses of Paolo di Negro and Ludovico Centurione, for one of whom he undertook a journey to the Greek-speaking island of Chios. The house of Centurione maintained agencies in Seville, Cádiz, and other Spanish ports, but there is no evidence that Columbus worked in or visited such offices.

At the age of 25, Columbus was shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal, and for the next nine years (1476 to the end of 1485) he made his home in Lisbon. During this time, he made voyages to England and Iceland, and to West Africa, as well as visits to Genoa and other Mediterranean ports, but for most of the period Columbus found himself in a Portuguese-speaking environment. Even before marrying a Portuguese wife in 1480, it can be assumed that he learned to speak Portuguese; after his marriage, it is a near certainty. At least from 1480, Columbus became involved in the social and intellectual life of Portugal, and it is probable that at the same time as he was formulating his projects for discovery he was also learning to write Spanish, in accordance with the practice of many educated Portuguese of the time. 15 In all probability, Spanish was the first language Columbus learned to write; there is no evidence that he ever learned to write Portuguese, and he could barely write Italian.

At the age of 34, Columbus moved to Spain and had his home there until his death. For most of this period (1485-1506) he was in the service of the Catholic Monarchs, and his various writings are almost exclusively in Spanish, even in the case of letters addressed to Italians. The few notes made by Columbus in Italian are, as we noted above, full of hispanisms.

Columbus's written Spanish

The evidence summarized in the previous section suggests that the only language Columbus learned to write was Spanish. He was at least 25 when he began this learning process, and it would be natural to assume that, as in the case of all adult language-learners, his native speech (i.e., Genoese, not Italian) would have interfered with and distorted his written Spanish. Furthermore, because of the fact that he was learning to write Spanish after learning to speak Portuguese and in a milieu where the native language was Portuguese, it would be unsurprising to find that the language he learned to speak in Portugal should have influenced the way he wrote Spanish. There are some instances where these two outside influences (Genoese and Portuguese) can be expected to conspire; that is, there are features of development which are common to Genoese and Portuguese which are not shared by Spanish. On other occasions, namely where Genoese and Portuguese differ in their development both from each other and from Spanish, it is in theory possible to identify which of the two vernaculars concerned is responsible for a given non-native feature in Columbus's Spanish.

The language of the 1492 Journal

It should be noted at the outset that, since the journal only survives in Las Casas's summary (although with extensive verbatim quotation), it is to be expected that at least some non-native features of Columbus's Spanish would have been filtered out by copyists of the Journal and by Las Casas himself. Such modifications are most likely at the level of spelling, possible at the level of morphology and syntax, and perhaps least likely in the case of lexis and semantics.In order to minimize the effect of such standardization, the following discussion is based entirely on those sections of Las Casas's text in which it is evident that he is directly quoting Columbus's words.

Influence exercised jointly by Genoese and Portuguese

  • . The absence of diphthong /ue/, /ie/ in cases like al longo de (20.10; vs. luengo [13.10]), aviamento (26.12), pagamento (16.10), may be a case of joint Genoese-Portuguese influence on Columbus's Spanish. This is certainly claimed by Milani. 16 However, Rohlfs claims that the graphs e , o are used in 13th-century Genoese texts to represent diphthongs, which have today receded to remoter parts of Liguria. 17 It is possible (but not proven) that such diphthongs had already been lost from the Genoese vernacular of the 1450s, so that their occasional absence from Columbus's Spanish may indeed be due to Genoese as well as Portuguese influence.
  • . The form gavilano (22.10) (for gavilán ) may be due to awareness on Columbus's part that Genoese -ª , -an, Portuguese -ªo often corresponded to Spanish -ano (e.g., Genoese mª , 18 Portuguese mªo , Spanish mano ), although such cross-linguistic comparisons, if they are at work here, have led in this case to an erroneous result.
  • . Use of the form non with final /n/ (20.10: una de limpio y otra de non ), unusual at this stage in Spanish, may argue for combined Genoese and Portuguese influence, since in these varieties the negative particle ended in a nasal (e.g., Old Portuguese nom ).
  • . Columbus's preference for /r/ in the forms temperada (17.10, 12.11), temperadas (23.10), temperançia (27.11), rather than templar and its derivatives, which were becoming normal in Spanish at the end of the 15th century, perhaps reveals both Genoese and Portuguese influence, since both these varieties continued (and continue) to use forms with /r/. Additionally, absence of syncope may be due to Genoese, where syncope is less frequent than in Hispano-Romance. 19
  • . Columbus's use of monosyllabic nos , rare in late 15th-century Spanish, to the exclusion of nosotros (e.g. porque dé buenas nuevas de nos [15.10, 16.10]; vinieron a nos [17.10]) is perhaps due to the fact that contemporary Genoese and Portuguese used monosyllabic forms of the corresponding pronoun.
  • . The sense `steal, seize' for the verb prender was probably obsolete in Spanish by the end of the 15th century. Its use by Columbus in this sense (12.11) is arguably due to the fact that in both Genoese and Portuguese, the verb prender continued to be used with this value.

Influence exercised by Genoese alone

Such evidence is hard to come by, owing to the scarcity of sources of information on 15th-century Genoese, so that the following cases must be viewed with caution. Evidence is often available from medieval Italian (i.e., Tuscan) sources, but it goes without saying that such data by no means necessarily imply that a given form was used in contemporary Genoese. Caution is all the more necessary in that we have seen that it cannot be established that Columbus was a fluent user of `standard' Italian.

  • . The otherwise unprecedented form símplice(s) `simple', used by Columbus in 14.10, may owe its form to interference from a Genoese cognate of Italian sémplice . Likewise, the final vowel of doblo (26.12) may be accounted for in similar manner (cf. Italian doppio ). Doblo does not elsewhere appear in Spanish until 1640, and then only as a legal term. 20
  • . Columbus uses the words diforme and disforme in the sense `different' ( muy diformes de los nuestros [16.10], disformes de los nuestros [16.10, 17.10], with the same meaning as in tan diversas de las nuestras [19.10]). Such a meaning is associated with late medieval and Renaissance Italian disforme 21 and may conceivably have been attached to a cognate Genoese term, introduced unconsciously by Columbus into his Spanish. Similar arguments can be applied to Columbus's use of estimulados `excited, worried' (22.9), infra ( infra la tierra `inland' [27.11]), and to temporejar `to delay, stand off (a coast)' (15.10, 20.10). For the latter verb Milani (pp. 155-6) quotes cases of late medieval and Renaissance Italian temporeggiare , `id.', a Genoese cognate of which Columbus may have introduced into his Spanish; the Spanish verb does not otherwise appear until the late 19th century, when it is borrowed from Catalan or Portuguese.
  • . Columbus uses the verb ser in impersonal constructions, as the equivalent of impersonal haber . Thus: es [= hay ] en estas tierras grandíssima suma de oro (12.11); adonde es [= hay ] mill maneras de lenguas (12.11); es [= hay ] tanto (29.12); que más mejor gente ni tierra puede ser [= haber ] (24.12). Since such a construction does not occur in Spanish or Portuguese, we may be dealing with a case of interference from Genoese, if it can be shown that 15th-century Genoese was like Tuscan in using the verb `to be' in this way. It should be noted that Columbus also uses aver (modern haber ) in this role.

Influence exercised by Portuguese alone

Evidence of such interference in Columbus's Spanish is abundant and, in some instances, has long been known. 22

  • . The verb sufrir `suffer' appears spelt with ç- ( çufriré [9.1]). It is not inconceivable that this spelling reveals that the Portuguese Columbus learned was subject to incipient merger of /s/ and /ts/ (since seseo had begun in Southern Portuguese in the 13th century, even if it did not become fully acceptable in educated usage until the mid-16th century. 23 However, such a hypothesis is weakened by the fact that this verb is also spelt with ç- (five instances) in the non-verbatim sections of Las Casas's summary.
  • . Raising of atonic /o/ to /u/, not unknown in non-standard varieties of Castilian, is regular in Portuguese, and may account for Columbus's use of cudiçia `greed' (25.12, 26.12).
  • . The form convertería (11.10; vs. convertirán [6.11, 27.11]), as well as reflecting vocalic uncertainty similar to the preceding case, may reveal interference in Columbus's Spanish of the Portuguese infinitive converter .
  • . Cogujos `buds (?)' (4.11) is conceivably a falsely castilianized form of a Portuguese word. Latin CUCULLIO, -ONIS `hood' might be expected to provide Portuguese * cogulhªo , or conceivably by back-formation * cogulho . The latter form may have been the one learned by Columbus, for which he invented a non-existent Castilian cognate.
  • . Multidumbre `multitude' (12.11) appears to be a blend created by Columbus from separate components of Spanish muchedumbre and Portuguese multidªo `id.'.
  • . Columbus confuses the pronouns el and lo , using lo as a masculine ( lexos de lo uno y de lo otro [= del uno y del otro ], with reference to geographical locations [1.11]). This confusion is likely to be due to the dual masculine and neuter function of the Portuguese pronoun o .
  • . The masculine gender of nariz (11.10, 15.10 17.10 22.10; vs. fem. twice at 13.10) and of señal 18.12 (vs. fem. at 1.11 and 12.11) probably reveals Portuguese influence, since the Portuguese cognates of these words are masculine. However, in the second case, Genoese may have conspired with Portuguese, if the Genoese cognate was masc., as is the Italian segnale .
  • . The verb tener is used as an auxiliary to form the perfect and other compound tenses with some frequency in Golden-Age Spanish. However, the consistency with which Columbus uses this auxiliary (rather than haber ) argues for considerable Portuguese influence on his Spanish. E.g., aquellos hombres que yo tenía tomado (14.10), como tenía determinado (23.10); tengo determinado de la rodear (16.10); desnuda como dicho tengo (4.11); como hasta aquí tienen fecho (6.11); tengo hablado del sitio (27.11); menos de lo que yo tengo dicho (24.12).

It has long been known that Columbus's Spanish contains items of Portuguese vocabulary not elsewhere attested in Spanish, or not attested there until later. Among such items we find: angla `inlet of the sea' (19.10; probably Portuguese angra `id.', castilianised by Columbus; Castilian angra is attested only from 1573, 24 arambel `bed-cover' (18.12) (< Portuguese alambel `id.', otherwise attested only from 1527, corredíos `straight, smooth (hair)' (13.10), fugir `to flee' ( fugir , fugió , fugeron , se avía fugido [15.10], se avían fugido [21.10], fugir [21.10, 27.11]; vs. fuyen [12.11], huyr [16.12]).

Other evidence of Columbus's imperfect learning of Spanish

In the following cases it can be argued that we are witnessing errors typical of those made by an adult learner of a second or subsequent language. In the absence of detailed information on 15th-century Genoese, these departures from the Castilian norm are not here assigned to interference from Columbus's native language (or from any previously learned language), although subsequent investigation may reveal that they are interference errors.

  • . Columbus twice uses ningúnd (27.11), perhaps modifying ningún in imitation of según , which genuinely alternated with segúnd in medieval and early modern Spanish. 25 Columbus uses the form segúnd at 12.12.
  • . The verb-form andássemos (19.10), for standard andoviéssemos or anduviéssemos , although not totally unprecedented in the history of Spanish, is likely to be an adult language-learner's error, perhaps ultimately due to the regular nature (if this is indeed the case) of the cognate verb in Genoese.
  • . The relative pronoun qui was ousted by quien in the 13th century. 26 Columbus nevertheless uses this pronoun ( un cabo a qui yo llamé el Cabo Hermoso [19.10]; este, a qui yo digo Cabo Fermoso [19.10]; uno se llegó a qui yo di unos cascaveles [21.10]); he must either have picked up this archaism from his reading of Spanish, or it is due to some (unidentified) outside interference.
  • . Columbus's use of the Spanish personal pronouns is notoriously confused. Like some speakers (but few writers) of Spanish, he uses le with plural value (additionally confusing direct with indirect object function): y si se le [= los ] trastorna, luego se echan todos a nadar (13.10); de siete que yo hize tomar para le [= los / les ] llevar y deprender nuestra lengua (14.10); muchas vezes le [= les ] entiendo una cosa por otra (27.11); porque ... le [= les ] obedezcan (26.12); yo no le [= les ] dexé tocar (21.10); como le [= les ] amuestran (1.11). He also uses le (for standard lo ) in reference to non-animate (including mass) nouns: yo no le falle [sc. oro ] (15.10); sin le [sc. algodón ] llevar a España (12.11); que todos le [sc. acatamiento ] tienen (18.12). In the following case, le is used as a feminine direct object form (i.e., for standard la ): nos le [sc. a la sierpe ] seguimos dentro (21.10). Similarly, as in some of the phrases listed first in this paragraph, Columbus confuses plural los with les : los pareçe a ellos (19.10). Finally, his use of tonic ello to refer to mass nouns, although non-standard, is similar to the present-day usage of northern and north-western dialect areas: 27 tenía grandes vasos de ello [sc. de oro ] (13.10), topar en ello [sc. oro ] (19.10). However, él and ella also appear in this role: aquí alcançan poco de él [sc. oro ] (18.12), no e podido aver de ella [sc. resina ], salvo muy poquita ( sic ) (12.11), while ello on one occasion has a count-noun as its referent: la entrada de ello [sc. del puerto ] (14.10).
  • . Like many non-standard speakers of Spanish today, Columbus sometimes pluralizes finite forms of the verb haber when they are used with impersonal value: an en ella 5 leguas (15.10), an en ella más de diez leguas (15.10). However, both ay and ( h ) a are also found with plural complements.
  • . Unless we are dealing with an error of transcription by Las Casas, Columbus confuses indicative and subjunctive mood in the following case: no me pareçe que las puede aver (27.11).

One or two items of Columbus's vocabulary may be due to imperfect learning. I find no corroborative trace of the verb asensar ( asensar la ánima [14.2]), which is conceivably an error for assentar `to calm'. Oppósito `(personal) opposition' (15.3) likewise appears to lack documentation in Spanish as a noun; on its rare appearances, it functions as a participle, alternating with opuesto . In the realm between lexis and syntax, Columbus entirely conflates Spanish salvo and sino , using only salvo (e.g., 23.10, 30.10 12.11, no falta salvo assiento [16.12]). Although other writers occasionally use salvo where the modern language prefers sino , Columbus stands out from his contemporaries by never using sino .

Aspects of Columbus's language which are in keeping with late 15th-century practice

The language of Columbus's Journal is, in a majority of its features, typical, unsurprisingly, of the language used by other late 15th-century writers. Among such features, there are of course a good number which differ from those of the modern standard, and it is worthwhile to note here the most important.

We have noted above that the spelling used by Columbus is very likely to have been `standardized' either by the copyists of the original Journal or by Las Casas himself. However, it is interesting to observe one aspect of Spanish spelling which underwent substantial change between the time of the composition of the journal and its publication in summary form. In 1492, the letter f was still used with two values, that of /f/ (as in favor , fortaleza ) and that of the aspirate /h/, then the normal educated pronunciation appropriate to words like fablar , fazer , fijo , etc. However, some writers, led by Antonio de Nebrija 28 were beginning to use h to indicate /h/ ( hablar , hazer , hijo , etc.). In those parts of Las Casas's text which are evidently verbatim quotations of Columbus's words, we find 88 cases in which f arguably represents Castilian /h/, and 144 cases in which this phoneme is written h . By contrast, in those parts of Las Casas's summary where he is not directly quoting, use of the letter f for the phoneme /h/ is rare. It is likely that Columbus used f spellings in all cases like fablar , fazer , etc., and that in the majority of cases his spelling was replaced by hablar , hazer , etc., but leaving a substantial number of original spellings intact.

Within the word, cases of /h/ were relatively rare in 15th-century Castilian. Columbus spells with f the verb refe [ r ] tar ( rehertar `to dispute, haggle over' [16.10]), and we find both the spellings bofío and bohío for a word, borrowed from Arawak with sense `hut', which almost certainly contained /h/ in that language and therefore also in the receptor language, Castilian.

That these spellings cannot tell us is how Columbus pronounced such words. Had he learned the Castilian pronunciation /h-/, or, having learned his Spanish in Portugal, where the Portuguese words cognate with Spanish fazer / hazer , etc., were pronounced with /f/, did he pronounce some or all of the Spanish words with /f/? The latter pronunciation would have been foreign in his period, but cannot be entirely excluded, since we have independent testimony that Columbus spoke Spanish with a foreign accent.

The morphology of certain words (for verbs, see below) differs from that of their modern counterparts. As mentioned above, we find segúnd (12.12); similarly, one notes vidro `glass' (11.10, etc.), still common in the Golden Age beside vidrio , and peçe `fish' (11.10), the only form used by Nebrija. 29

Verbal morphology still allowed considerable free variation in Columbus's time. In the stem of -ir verbs, variation between /o/ and /u/ continued to be common, irrespective of the structure of the verbal ending; thus Columbus uses forms like sorgí beside surgí , descobrir beside descubrir , descubrí , descubrirán , etc. Similarly, in the 1st pers. sing. pres. ind. and throughout the pres. subj. of inceptive verbs, forms in -sc- compete with those in -zc (e.g., cognosco [15.3], aclaresca [17.10], by contrast with five cases of cognozco and one each of cognozca and cognozcan ), and the corresponding forms of the verbs caer, oír, traer may still lack analogical /g/ (thus oyo `I hear' [21.10], vs. traygo `I take' [21.10] and 14 other cases with /g/).

In the preterite of the verb ver `to see', the 1st and 3rd pers. sing. forms may appear with or without /d/. On 11 occasions Columbus uses vi , against 29 cases of vide ; for the 3rd pers., he uses only vido (two cases). In the case of the verbs ser and ir , the 1st pers. sing. preterite form hesitated between fue (the only form recommended for both verbs by Nebrija 30 and fui / fuy . However, in Columbus's use of these forms, he appears to use fue as the preterite of ser (e.g., 15.10, 17.10) and fui / fuy as that of ir (e.g., 17.10, 18.10). In the case of the verb traer , Columbus uses the commonest medieval preterite form, one which was still frequent in the Golden Age: truxeron (15.10, 12.12).

The imperfect of ver `to see' is given its more usual Golden Age form vía (15.10, 18.12), while, more unusually, the participle of ser appears in its medieval guise of seydo (14.1), rather than the by then usual form sido (Nebrija, Gramática , pp. 238-45).

The verb llevar `to take, carry' could, in the 15th century, appear with initial /l/ in those forms in which the word-stress did not fall on the first syllable. Thus Columbus is able to use levar (23.10), levaré (11.10) (against six cases with ll- : llevar , llevamos , llevasen , llevava , llevávamos , llevé ).

In the field of syntax, it should be noted that until about the middle of the 16th century the auxiliary used to form the compound tenses of intransitive verbs (especially verbs of motion) was frequently ser , although haber was becoming dominant in this role. Columbus uses both constructions: si éramos venido ( sic ) del çielo (14.10), éramos venidos del çielo (22.10), todo es venido mucho a pelo (26.12), against nosotros avemos venido del çielo (12.11).

In normal medieval and frequent Golden Age usage, the `personal a' construction is only required where it is otherwise unclear whether a given noun functioned as the subject or object of its clause. Columbus can therefore write, in accordance with contemporary syntactical usage, así truxeron la muger (12.12).

Medieval partitive expressions, based on de + noun or pronoun, continued in use in the early Golden Age. We find cases like buscar del oro `search for some gold' (6.11) which exemplify this usage.

In the late 15th century, the semantic range of words was naturally sometimes different from their present range. Thus the verb ser could still indicate location, as in the following cases: que en ella era (15.10); adonde es el oro (17.10); fue acerca `I was nearby' (17.10); por ser en ella más presto `in order to arrive there' (17.10); aquí ... no es la poblaçión (19.10); adonde entendí ... que era la poblaçión (20.10); es ella en esta comarca (24.10); las otras que son entremedio (21.10). The same verb can be used to indicate non-permanent attributes, fulfilling a role currently fulfilled by the verb estar : [ sus casas ] eran de dentro muy barridas y limpias (17.10).

The verb aver (= modern Spanish haber ) could still in the 15th century indicate `possession': aya lengua con este rey (19.10, 21.10), para aver lengua con este rey (23.10); y ver si puedo aver de él el oro (21.10); aquí se avría grande suma de algodón (12.11); avrán en dicha servir `they will consider themselves fortunate to serve' (12.11); aviendo mugeres (12.11); el benefiçio de que aquí se pueda aver (27.11). However, tener is already found with this value: teniendo sus mugeres (12.11).

The expression después que can mean `since', as in después que en estas Yndias estoy (17.10).

Some of the vocabulary used by Columbus represents the earliest attestation in Spanish of the words concerned. Corominas-Pascual list only later examples of restinga / restringa `(underwater) rock' (14.10, 19.10, 26.12), and the noun tomo ( de tanto tomo `of such importance' [31.12]). Other words no longer current (or current only in modified form) were normal in Columbus's time: alfilel (21.10; cf. Nebrija: alhilel / alfilel ), aviamento (for aviamiento ) `supplies (of food, etc.)' (26.12), enxeridos (now injertados ) `grafted' (16.10), estima `esteem' (15.10), mareantes `sailors' (21.10), refe [ r ] tar `to dispute, haggle over' (16.10, whence the noun refierta / rehierta , now spelt reyerta `quarrel'), roquedos (15.10, 24.10), now replaced by the infrequent roqueda `rocky ground', hazer la salva `to taste food, in case of poison (before a king, etc., eats)' (18.12), ventar (e.g., no ventavan... vientos [22.9], vienta [23.10], ventar muy amoroso [24.10]) `to blow', now ventear .

Amerindian words borrowed by Columbus

It is hardly surprising that Columbus uses few amerindianisms, since his Journal is only intermittently concerned with description of the life and customs of the territories he discovered. He does make attempts at verbal communication with the islands' inhabitants (usually in an effort to gain information on the availability of gold and other commodities), but it appears from his account that such attempts had only limited success. Novel concepts are therefore labelled, for the most part, with the Spanish vocabulary available to Columbus. Thus, the dug-out canoes of the islanders are generally (on 16 occasions) referred to as almadías , while the borrowing canoa appears only four times (all at 17.12). The only other amerindianisms used by Columbus are cacique `Indian chieftain' (17.12), and the disputed ajes `yam' (21.12), which is described by Corominas-Pascual as a `voz de origen antillano', but which may be an arabism. 31 The same plants are referred to as mames (4.11), a variant of (or perhaps a misreading of) niames , a form found in the non-verbatim part of Las Casas's digest of the Journal, later ñames , a word which is possibly of W. African origin. 32

Idiosyncrasies of Columbus's language

Columbus's Spanish sometimes suffers from overcomplexity of syntax, seen in its most opaque form in the prologue of the Journal. On other occasions, one identifies less acute infelicities of style, as in the entry where Columbus is describing the bargaining abilities of different groups of natives: cositas que saben mejor refe [ r ] tar el pagamento que no hazían los otros (16.10). Elsewhere it is difficult to distinguish clumsiness from imperfect learning of Spanish: es en esto mucho de aver gran diligencia (16.10), para otra isla grande mucho (21.10), en todos tres los navíos (27.11), yo he visto solos tres de estos marineros (16.12), más gente al doblo `twice the population' (26.12), no pudiera errar de ver alguna `I could not have failed to see one' (16.10), para pujar a rodear toda la ysla (16.10). The last case is a strange instance of the use of the verb pujar , which usually means `to raise'; the sentence is still odd even if pujar is an error for puxar `to push', since the writer's intended meaning seems to be `to try to sail around the whole island'.

This study of Columbus's language has been based exclusively upon the sections of Las Casas's summary of the Journal in which he explicitly quotes Columbus's words. However, there is no reason to think that the observations made on this portion of Columbus's output are not relevant to his other writings. We have seen that Columbus's native language, Genoese, probably influenced the Spanish he later learned, but that it is easier to identify interference from Portuguese, the language he learned to speak in adulthood before learning to write (and speak) Castilian. Other non-standard features of his language can be put down to inadequate learning of Spanish, while in other ways his language does not depart from the late 15th-century norm. There are few cases of borrowing of Amerindian terms and we have noted certain infelicities of Columbus's style.


There is a vast bibliography relating to Columbus and his age. The following list is restricted to important editions and translations of the Journal, and a small number of major studies of Columbus. The text of Las Casas's digest was unknown until 1790, when Martín Fernández de Navarrete discovered it in the library of the Duque del Infantado. Robert H. Fuson discusses the history of the Journal and its reliability in `The Diario de Colón : A legacy of poor transcription, translation, and interpretation', de Vorsey and Parker, 51-75.

  • Manuel Alvar, Cristóbal Colón, Diario del descubrimiento , 2 vols., Madrid: La Muralla, 1976.
  • Joaquín Arce and Manuel Gil Esteve, Diario de a bordo de Cristóbal Colón , Turin, 1971.
  • Luis Arranz Márquez, Cristóbal Colón, Diario de a bordo , Madrid, 1985.
  • Oliver Dunn [partial], `The Diario, or Journal, of Columbus's First Voyage: A New Transcription of the Las Casas Manuscript for the Period October 10 through December 6, 1492', in de Vorsey and Parker, 173-231.
  • Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr., The `Diario' of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America 1492-1493 , Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
  • Martín Fernández de Navarrete, Colección de los viajes y descubrimientos que hicieron por mar los españoles desde fines del siglo quince con varios documentos inéditos , 5 vols., (Madrid, 1825-37), 2, 1-197. [Edited by Carlos Seco Serrano in Obras de D. Martín Fernández de Navarrete , Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, Madrid, 1954, vol. 75.]
  • Julio F. Guillén y Tato, El primer viaje de Cristóbal Colón , Madrid, 1943.
  • Cesare de Lollis, Raccolta di documenti et studi , 14 vols., Rome, 1892-96.
  • Vicente Muñoz Puelles, ed., Cristóbal Colón, Diario de a bordo , Madrid: Anaya, 1985.
  • Carlos Sanz, Diario de Colón: Libro de la primera navegación y descubrimiento de las Indias , 2 vols., Madrid, 1962.
  • Consuelo Varela, Cristóbal Colón, Textos y documentos completos , Madrid: Alianza, 1982, 2nd edition, 1984.
  • Consuelo Varela, Diario del primer y tercer viaje de Cristóbal Colón , Madrid: Alianza, 1989 [vol. 14 of the Obras completas of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas].


  • J.M. Cohen, The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus , Harmondsworth, 1952.
  • Robert H. Fuson, The Log of Christopher Columbus , Southampton: Ashford Press, 1987.
  • Cecil Jane, The Voyages of Christopher Columbus , London, 1930. [Revised and annotated by L.A. Vigneras with an appendix by R.A. Skelton, Hakluyt Society, Extra series, 38, London, 1960.]
  • Clements R. Markham, The Journal of Christopher Columbus (during his first voyage, 1492-93), and Documents Relating to the Voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real , Hakluyt Society, London, 1893.
  • Samuel Eliot Morison, Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus , New York, 1963.
  • R.H. Major, trans. and ed., Select Letters of Christopher Columbus, with other Original Documents, Relating to his Four Voyages to the New World , 1st ed. Hakluyt Society 1st series, 2, London 1847; 2nd ed. Hakluyt Society, 1st series, 43, London, 1870. [Re-edited with additional material by Cecil Jane, 2 vols., Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, 65, 70, London, 1930, 1933; reprinted by Kraus Reprint Co., 1967]
  • Alain Milhou, Colón y su mentalidad mesiánica en el ambiente franciscanista español , Valladolid: Casa-Museo de Colón, 1983.
  • Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus , 2 vols, Boston, 1942.
  • John Boyd Thacher, Christopher Columbus: His Life, His Work, His Remains , 3 vols., New York, 1903-04, reprinted Kraus, 1962.
  • Tzvetan Todorov, La conquête de l'Amérique. La question de l'autre , Paris: Seuil, 1982.
  • Henry Vignaud, Toscanelli and Columbus , New York, 1902.
  • Louis de Vorsey, Jr. and John Parker, In the Wake of Columbus. Islands and Controversy , Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985.

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Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus

Journal written by Christopher Columbus during his first voyage. Covers, events from August 1492 to March 1493. Columbus writes about his daily encounters as well as his desire to enslave the Native Americans

christopher columbus voyage journal

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Christopher Columbus

By: Editors

Updated: August 11, 2023 | Original: November 9, 2009

Christopher Columbus

The explorer Christopher Columbus made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain: in 1492, 1493, 1498 and 1502. He was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did. Instead, he stumbled upon the Americas. Though he did not “discover” the so-called New World—millions of people already lived there—his journeys marked the beginning of centuries of exploration and colonization of North and South America.

Christopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery

During the 15th and 16th centuries, leaders of several European nations sponsored expeditions abroad in the hope that explorers would find great wealth and vast undiscovered lands. The Portuguese were the earliest participants in this “ Age of Discovery ,” also known as “ Age of Exploration .”

Starting in about 1420, small Portuguese ships known as caravels zipped along the African coast, carrying spices, gold and other goods as well as enslaved people from Asia and Africa to Europe.

Did you know? Christopher Columbus was not the first person to propose that a person could reach Asia by sailing west from Europe. In fact, scholars argue that the idea is almost as old as the idea that the Earth is round. (That is, it dates back to early Rome.)

Other European nations, particularly Spain, were eager to share in the seemingly limitless riches of the “Far East.” By the end of the 15th century, Spain’s “ Reconquista ”—the expulsion of Jews and Muslims out of the kingdom after centuries of war—was complete, and the nation turned its attention to exploration and conquest in other areas of the world.

Early Life and Nationality 

Christopher Columbus, the son of a wool merchant, is believed to have been born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. When he was still a teenager, he got a job on a merchant ship. He remained at sea until 1476, when pirates attacked his ship as it sailed north along the Portuguese coast.

The boat sank, but the young Columbus floated to shore on a scrap of wood and made his way to Lisbon, where he eventually studied mathematics, astronomy, cartography and navigation. He also began to hatch the plan that would change the world forever.

Christopher Columbus' First Voyage

At the end of the 15th century, it was nearly impossible to reach Asia from Europe by land. The route was long and arduous, and encounters with hostile armies were difficult to avoid. Portuguese explorers solved this problem by taking to the sea: They sailed south along the West African coast and around the Cape of Good Hope.

But Columbus had a different idea: Why not sail west across the Atlantic instead of around the massive African continent? The young navigator’s logic was sound, but his math was faulty. He argued (incorrectly) that the circumference of the Earth was much smaller than his contemporaries believed it was; accordingly, he believed that the journey by boat from Europe to Asia should be not only possible, but comparatively easy via an as-yet undiscovered Northwest Passage . 

He presented his plan to officials in Portugal and England, but it was not until 1492 that he found a sympathetic audience: the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile .

Columbus wanted fame and fortune. Ferdinand and Isabella wanted the same, along with the opportunity to export Catholicism to lands across the globe. (Columbus, a devout Catholic, was equally enthusiastic about this possibility.)

Columbus’ contract with the Spanish rulers promised that he could keep 10 percent of whatever riches he found, along with a noble title and the governorship of any lands he should encounter.

Where Did Columbus' Ships, Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria, Land?

On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew set sail from Spain in three ships: the Niña , the Pinta and the Santa Maria . On October 12, the ships made landfall—not in the East Indies, as Columbus assumed, but on one of the Bahamian islands, likely San Salvador.

For months, Columbus sailed from island to island in what we now know as the Caribbean, looking for the “pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever” that he had promised to his Spanish patrons, but he did not find much. In January 1493, leaving several dozen men behind in a makeshift settlement on Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he left for Spain.

He kept a detailed diary during his first voyage. Christopher Columbus’s journal was written between August 3, 1492, and November 6, 1492 and mentions everything from the wildlife he encountered, like dolphins and birds, to the weather to the moods of his crew. More troublingly, it also recorded his initial impressions of the local people and his argument for why they should be enslaved.

“They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells," he wrote. "They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Columbus gifted the journal to Isabella upon his return.

Christopher Columbus's Later Voyages

About six months later, in September 1493, Columbus returned to the Americas. He found the Hispaniola settlement destroyed and left his brothers Bartolomeo and Diego Columbus behind to rebuild, along with part of his ships’ crew and hundreds of enslaved indigenous people.

Then he headed west to continue his mostly fruitless search for gold and other goods. His group now included a large number of indigenous people the Europeans had enslaved. In lieu of the material riches he had promised the Spanish monarchs, he sent some 500 enslaved people to Queen Isabella. The queen was horrified—she believed that any people Columbus “discovered” were Spanish subjects who could not be enslaved—and she promptly and sternly returned the explorer’s gift.

In May 1498, Columbus sailed west across the Atlantic for the third time. He visited Trinidad and the South American mainland before returning to the ill-fated Hispaniola settlement, where the colonists had staged a bloody revolt against the Columbus brothers’ mismanagement and brutality. Conditions were so bad that Spanish authorities had to send a new governor to take over.

Meanwhile, the native Taino population, forced to search for gold and to work on plantations, was decimated (within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island). Christopher Columbus was arrested and returned to Spain in chains.

In 1502, cleared of the most serious charges but stripped of his noble titles, the aging Columbus persuaded the Spanish crown to pay for one last trip across the Atlantic. This time, Columbus made it all the way to Panama—just miles from the Pacific Ocean—where he had to abandon two of his four ships after damage from storms and hostile natives. Empty-handed, the explorer returned to Spain, where he died in 1506.

Legacy of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus did not “discover” the Americas, nor was he even the first European to visit the “New World.” (Viking explorer Leif Erikson had sailed to Greenland and Newfoundland in the 11th century.)

However, his journey kicked off centuries of exploration and exploitation on the American continents. The Columbian Exchange transferred people, animals, food and disease across cultures. Old World wheat became an American food staple. African coffee and Asian sugar cane became cash crops for Latin America, while American foods like corn, tomatoes and potatoes were introduced into European diets. 

Today, Columbus has a controversial legacy —he is remembered as a daring and path-breaking explorer who transformed the New World, yet his actions also unleashed changes that would eventually devastate the native populations he and his fellow explorers encountered.

christopher columbus voyage journal

HISTORY Vault: Columbus the Lost Voyage

Ten years after his 1492 voyage, Columbus, awaiting the gallows on criminal charges in a Caribbean prison, plotted a treacherous final voyage to restore his reputation.

christopher columbus voyage journal

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Morison, Samuel Eliot (1887-1976) Journals and other documents on the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus.

NOT AVAILABLE DIGITALLY Online access and copy requests are not available for this item. If you would like us to notify you when it becomes available digitally, please email us at [email protected] and include the catalog item number.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC08616 Author/Creator: Morison, Samuel Eliot (1887-1976) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Book Date: 1963 Pagination: 1 v. : xv, 417 p. : illus. col. : maps. ; 31 cm. Order a Copy

Translated and edited by Samuel Eliot Morison. Illustrated by Lima de Freitas. Printed for members of the Limited Editions Club. One of 1500 copies, signed by the artist.

At the time of the first discoveries, Europeans tended to view the New World from one of two contrasting perspectives. Many saw America as an earthly paradise, a land of riches and abundance, where the native peoples led lives of simplicity and freedom similar to those enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the Biblical Garden of Eden. Other Europeans described America in a much more negative light: as a dangerous and forbidding wilderness, a place of cannibalism and human misery, where the population lacked Christian religion and the trappings of civilization. This latter view of America as a place of savagery, cannibalism, and death would grow more pronounced as the Indian population declined precipitously in numbers as a result of harsh labor and the ravages of disease and as the slave trade began transporting millions of Africans to the New World. But it was the positive view of America as a land of liberty, liberation, and material wealth that would remain dominant. America would serve as a screen on which Europeans projected their deepest fantasies of a land where people could escape inherited privilege, corruption, and tradition. The discovery of America seemed to mark a new beginning for humanity, a place where all Old World laws, customs, and doctrines were removed, and where scarcity gave way to abundance. In a letter reporting his discoveries to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) paints a portrait of the indigenous Taino Indians as living lives of freedom and innocence near the biblical Garden of Eden.

....The people of this island [Hispaniola] and of all the other islands which I have found and seen, or have not seen, all go naked, men and women, as their mothers bore them, except that some women cover one place with the leaf of a plant or with a net of cotton which they make for that purpose. They have no iron or steel or weapons, nor are they capable of using them, although they are well-built people of handsome stature, because they are wondrous timid. They have no other arms than the arms of canes, [cut] when they are in seed time, to the end of which they fix a sharp little stick; and they dare not make use of these, for oftentimes it has happened that I have sent ashore two or three men to some town to have speech, and people without number have come out to them, as soon as they saw them coming, they fled; even a father would not stay for his son; and this was not because wrong had been done to anyone; on the contrary, at every point where I have been and have been able to have speech, I have given them of all that I had, such as cloth and many other things, without receiving anything for it; but they are like that, timid beyond cure. It is true that after they have been reassured and have lost this fear, they are so artless and so free with all they possess, that no one would believe it without having seen it. Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never say no; rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts; and whether the thing be of value or of small price, at once they are content with whatever little thing of whatever kind may be given to them. I forbade that they should be given things so worthless as pieces of broken crockery and broken glass, and lace points, although when they were able to get them, they thought they had the best jewel in the world.... And they know neither sect nor idolatry, with the exception that all believe that the source of all power and goodness is in the sky, and in this belief they everywhere received me, after they had overcome their fear. And this does not result from their being ignorant (for they are of a very keen intelligence and men who navigate all those seas, so that it is wondrous the good account they give of everything), but because they have never seen people clothed or ships like ours.

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