Abbildungen der Seite

Iuflamed, and justly irritated, by the outrages of the Spaniards, with a degree of rage, of which their gentle natures seemed hardly susceptible, they waited only for a signal from their leaders, to fall upon the colony. Some of the caziques had already surprised, and cut off several stragglers. The dread of impending danger united the Spaniards, and re-established the authority of Columbus, as they saw no prospect of safety, but in committing themselves to his prudent guidance.

It was now become necessary, to have recourse to arms; an event, Columbus had anxiously wished to avoid. The vast superiority of the natives in number, compensated in a great measure their want of fire arms; one unforeseen event, might have proved fatal to the Spaniards. Conscious that success depended on the rapidity and vigour of his operations, Columbus instantly assembled his forces; which were reduced to a very small number, two hundred foot, twenty horse, and as many large dogs, were all the force he could muster, against (agreeable to the Spanish accounts,) one hundred thousand Indians. Although it may seem strange, to mention dogs as composing part of a military force, they were perhaps, as formidable and destructive as so many men in arms, when employed against naked and timid Indians.

All the caziques of the island, (Guacanahari excepted, who still retained an inviolable attachment to the Spaniards) were in arms to oppose Columbus. Instead of attempting to draw the Spaniards into the woods and mountains, they were so imprudent, as to take their station in the most open plain in the country. Columbus did not allow them time to perceive their inistake, or to alter their position. He attacked them during the night, and obtained an easy and bloodless victory.

The noise and havoc made by the fire arms; the impetuous force of the cavalry, and the fierce onset of the dogs, was so great, that the Indians were filled with consternation : they threw down their arms, and fled without making any resistance: many of them were slain, more were taken prisoners, and reduced to slavery. From that moment, they abandoned themselves to despair, and relinquished all thoughts of contending with aggressors, whom they deemed invincible. Humanity must lament the sad reverse of that unhappy race, who had enjoyed the free and unmolested enjoyment of their native woods; their wants were supplied by the spontaneous productions of the earth; but now a race unknown had invaded their country, and forced them to submit to exactions unthought of, and arbitrary impositions, which they were by no means enabled to comply with, consistent with their ideas of perfect liberty.

Columbus employed several months in the year 1495, in marching through the island, and in subjecting it to the Spanish government without meeting with any opposition. He imposed a tax upon all the inhabitants above the age of fourteeh : each person who resided in the district where gold was to be found, was obliged to pay quarterly as much gold dust aś would fill a hawk's bill; from others, twenty-five pounds of cotton were demanded. This served as a precedent for exactions still more oppressive. Contrary as these exactions were to the maxims which Columbus had hitherto inculcated, yet the intrigues carried on at the court of Spain at this juncture, with the manifest design to undermine his power, and discredit his operations, constrained him to depart from his own system of administration.

Several unfavourable accounts of his conduct, as well as of the countries, discovered by him, had been transmitted to Spain. Margarita and father Boyle were at court, and in order to gratify their resentment, watched with malevolent attention for opportunities to spread insinuations to his disadvantage. Several others about the court viewed his growing reputation with envious eyes, Fonseca, the archdeacon of Seville, who was intrusted with the chief direction of Indian affairs, for some reasons not made public, listened with partiality to every invective.

It was not easy for an unfriended stranger, unpractised in courtly arts, to counteract the machinations of such powerful enemies. l'here remained but one method to support his credit, and silence his enemies, he must produce such a quantity of gold, as would justify his reports, with respect to the richness of the country'; the necessity of obtaining it, forced him not only to impose this heavy tax upon the Indians, but to exact payment of it with extreme rigour, and furnished him with a plausible excuse for departing from that mildness and humanity, with which he had uniforınly treated that unhappy people,

This imposition appeared the inost intolerable of all evils; accustomed to pass their days in a careless manner, this restraint upon their liberty was so grievous, that they had recourse to an expedient to deliver themselves from a yoke, imposed upon them by a handful of strangers; to whom they were under no obligations.

Their impatience and despair prompted them to fall upon an expedient, which to them appeared an infallible method to rid them of their troublesome neighbours. They agreed to suspend all agricultural operations, and from the voracious appetites of the Spaniards, concluded the execution of it very practicable.

They pulled up the Manioc roots that were planted, and planted no Maize; and retired to the most inaccessible parts of the woods, leaving the uncultivated plains to their enemies.

This desperate resolution produced some of the effects intended; the Spaniards were reduced to great want; but they received some seasonable supplies from Europe, and found so many resources in their own ingenuity and industry, that they suffered no great loss of men.

The Indians were the greatest sufferers by this ill-concerted policy. Shut up among barren mountains, without any food but the wild productions of the earth, distressed by famine, contagi

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ous diseases were the consequence: and in the course of a few months, more than a third part of the inhabitants perished.

Columbus now began to have serious thoughts of returning to Spain. His enemies at court had gained considerable influence : they represented his prudent care to preserve discipline and subordination, as excess of rigour ; the punishments he inflicted upon the mutinous and disorderly, were imputed to cruelty ; and he was represented as inconsiderately ambitious; these accusations obtained such credit in a jealous court, that a commissioner was appointed to repair to Hispaniola, to inspect into the conduct of Columbus.

By the influence of his enemies, Aguado, a groom of the bed chamber, was made choice of, upon this occasion ; a man whose capacity was by no means fit for the station. Puffed up with such sudden and unexpected elevation, Aguado displayed all that fri-volous self-importance and insolence, natural to little minds, in the exercise of his office. He listened with eagerness to every accusation against Columbus, and encouraged, not only the evil disposed among the Spaniards, but also the Indians; by which partial conduct he fomented jealousies and dissentions in the colony, without establishing any regulations for the public good: and while he wished to load the administration of the admiral with disgrace, placed an indelible stain upon his own.

Columbus sensibly felt how humiliating his situation must be, if he remained under the controul of such a partial inspector. He therefore took the resolution of returning to Spain, in order to give a full account of his transactions, with respect to the points in dispute between him and his adversaries, before Ferdinand and Isabella. He committed the administration of his affairs during his absence to his brother Don Bartholomew, with the title of Adelantado, or lieutenant governor; and Francis Roldan, chief justice, with very extensive powers.

In returning to Europe, Columbus held a different course to what he had taken in his former voyage. He steered almost due east from Hispaniola in the parallel of twenty-two degrees of la. titude: as he was unacquainted with the more expeditious method of stretching to the north, whereby he would have fallen in with the south-west winds. By which mistake he was exposed to very great fatigue and danger; and had to struggle with the trade winds which blow without variation from the east, between the tropics.

He nevertheless persisted in this course with his usual patience and firmness, but made so little way, that he was three months before he came within sight of land. Provisions at last began to fail : they were reduced to the allowance of six ounces of bread a day for each person : the admiral faring no better than the meanest sailor.

In this extreme distress he retained that humanity which distinguished his character; and refused to comply with the press. ing solicitations of his crew to feed upon the Indian prisoners, whoni

they were carrying over ; others insisted that they should be thrown overboard, in order to lessen the consumption of provi-' sions. He objected to their destruction, alleging that they were human beings, reduced to the same calamities with themselves and intitled to share an equal fate. These arguments backed by his authority, dissipated those wild ideas suggested by despair : soon after, they came in sight of Spain, and all their troubles and fears vanished.

Columbus, conscious of his own integrity, appeared at court with that determined confidence, which those who have performed great actions, will always assume. Ferdinand and Isabella ashamed of lending #oo favorable an ear to frivolous and ill-founded accusations, received him with such distinguished marks of respect, as overwhelmed bis enemies with shame. Their calumny and censures were not heard at that juncture.

The gold, the pearls, the cotton and other rich commodities which Columbus produced, seemed fully to refute the stories the malecontents had propagated with respect to the poverty of the country. By reducing the Indians to obedience and imposing a regular tax upon them, he had secured to Spain a large accession of new subjects, and a revenue that promised much. By the mines which he had found out and examined, a source of wealth was still more copiously opened.

Columbus represented these only as preludes to future, and much larger acquisitions, and as an earnest of more important discoveries. The attentive consideration of all these circumstances made such an impression upon Ferdinand and Isabella that they resolved to supply the colony with every thing necessary to render it a permanent establishment, and to furnish Columbus with such a fleet, that he might proceed to make such discoveries as he meditated.

A plan was now formed of a regular colony, that might serve as a model for all future establishments. Every particular was considered with attention, and arranged with scrupulous accuracy. The exact number of adventurers who should be permitted to embark was fixed: these were to be of different ranks and professions; and the proportion of each was established, according to their usefulness and benefit to the colony. A proper number of women were chosen to accompany these new settlers.

As a want of provision had occasioned great distress in the colony, a number of husbandmen were to be carried over. As they had formed and entertained the most sanguine hopes with respect to the riches contained in the mines, a number of artists were engaged who were skilful in refining the precious metals; who were to receive pay from the government for a number of years.

Thus far the regulations were well adapted to the end in view; but as it was foreseen that few would engage to embark to settle in a country that had proved so fatal to many of their country. men, Columbus proposed to employ such convicts and malefactors who were convicted of crimes, which, though capital, were of a less atrocious nature ; and that instead of sending them to the gallies, they should be condemned to labour in the mines which were to be opened. This advice was inconsiderately adopted ; the prisons were drained to collect members for the intended colony ; and the judges were instructed to recruit it by their future sentences. But they were not aware that such corrupt members would poison the body politic, and be productive of violent and unhappy effects.

This the Spaniards fatally experienced, and other European powers imitated their practice, from which pernicious consequences have followed, and can be impated to no other cause.

Columbus easily obtained the royal approbation to every measure and regulation he proposed: but his endeavours to carry them into execution, were long retarded, and must have tired out any man of less patience than himself. Those delays were occasioned, partly by that tedious procrastination, so natural to the Spaniards; partly by the exhausted state of the treasury, which at that time was drained by the celebration of the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella's only 'son, with Margaret of Austria ; and that of Joanna, their daughter, with Philip of Austria : but the chief source of all these delays, must principally be imputed to the malice of his enemies,

These, astonished at the reception Columbus had met with, and overawed by his presence, gave way for some time, to a tide of favour too strong for them to oppose. Their enmity however, was too strong to remain long inactive; but by the assistance of Fonseca, minister for Indian affairs, who was now promoted to be bishop of Badajos, they threw in so many obstacles, that the pre. parations were retarded one whole year, before he could procure two ships, to send over a part of the supplies intended for the colony; and near two years were spent before the small squadron was ready, of which he was to take the command. This squad. ron consisted of six ships of no great burden, and indifferently provided for a long voyage.

He now meditated a different course from what he had before undertaken : still possessed with those erroneous ideas, which at first induced him to consider the country he had discovered, as a part of the continent of India : he expected to find those fertile regions to the south-west of the countries he had discovered. He therefore proposed, as tlre most certain for finding out these, to stand directly for the Cape de Verd islands, until he came under the equinoctial line, and thien to stretch to the west before a faTourable wind which blows invariably between the tropics.

Full of this idea he set sail for his third voyage, on the thirtieth of May, 1498, and touched at the Canaries, and Cape de Verd Islands ; from Ferro he dispatched three of his ships with a supply of provisions for the colony of Hispaniola : with the other three he pursued his course to the south.

No remarkable occurrence happened until they arrived within fire degrees of the line, when they were becalmed, and the heat

« ZurückWeiter »