Narrating the events of his fourth and last voyage to the Americas, on which he sailed on May 9,1502, exploring the coast of Central America and the Isthmus of Panama.
This letter was written in Jamaica, by Christopher Columbus, July 7, 1503.
Most Serene, and very high and mighty Princes, the King and Queen our Sovereigns:--
My passage from Cadiz to the Canary occupied four days, and thence to the Indies sixteen days. From which I wrote, that my intention was to expedite my voyage as much as possible while I had good vessels, good crews and stores, and that Jamaica was the place to which I was bound. I wrote this in Dominica; and until now my time has been occupied in gaining information.
Up to the period of my reaching these shores I experienced most excellent weather, but the night of my arrival came on with a dreadful tempest, and the same bad weather has continued ever since. On reaching the island of Española I despatched a packet of letters, by which I begged as a favor that a ship should be supplied me at my own cost in lieu of one of those that I had brought with me, which had become unseaworthy, and could no longer carry sail. The letters were taken, and your Highnesses will know if a reply has been given to them. For my part I was forbidden to go on shore; the hearts of my people failed them lest I should take them further, and they said that if any danger were to befall them, they should receive no succor, but, on the contrary, in all probability have some great affront offered them. Moreover every man had it in his power to tell me that the new Governor would have the superintendence of the countries that I might acquire.
The tempest was terrible throughout the night, all the ships were separated, and each one driven to the last extremity, without hope of anything but death; each of them also looked upon the loss of the rest as a matter of certainty. What man was ever born, not even excepting Job, who would not have been ready to die of despair at finding himself as I then was, in anxious fear for my own safety, and that of my son, my brother and my friends, and yet refused permission either to land or to put into harbor on the shores which by God's mercy I had gained for Spain sweating blood?
But to return to the ships: although the tempest had so completely separated them from me as to leave me single, yet the Lord restored them to me in His own good time. The ship which we had the greatest fear for, had put out to sea for safety, and reached the island of Gallega, having lost her boat and a great part of her provisions, which latter loss indeed all the ships suffered. The vessel in which I was, though dreadfully buffeted, was saved by our Lord's mercy from any injury whatever; my brother went in the ship that was unsound, and he under God was the cause of its being saved. With this tempest I struggled on till I reached Jamaica, and there the sea became calm, but there was a strong current which carried me as far as the Queen's Garden [JGH: group of islands south of Cuba] without seeing land. Hence as opportunity afforded I pushed on for the mainland, in spite of the wind and a fearful contrary current, against which I contended for sixty days, and after all only made seventy leagues [JGH: 1 league = ~3.5 miles]. All this time I was unable to get into harbor, nor was there any cessation of the tempest, which was one continuation of rain, thunder and lightning; indeed it seemed as if it were the end of the world. I at length reached the Cape of Gracias á Dios, and after that the Lord granted me fair wind and tide; this was on the twelfth of September. Eighty-eight days did this fearful tempest continue, during which I was at sea, and saw neither sun nor stars; my ships lay exposed, with sails torn, and anchors, rigging, cables, boats and a great quantity of provisions lost; my people were very weak and humbled in spirit, many of them promising to lead a religious life, and all making vows and promising to perform pilgrimages, while some of them would frequently go to their messmates to make confession. Other tempests have been experienced, but never of so long a duration or so fearful as this: many whom we looked upon as brave men, on several occasions showed considerable trepidation; but the distress of my son who was with me grieved me to the soul, and the more when I considered his tender age, for he was but thirteen years old, and he enduring so much toil for so long a time. Our Lord, however, gave him strength even to enable him to encourage the rest, and he worked as if he had been eighty years at sea, and all this was a consolation to me. I myself had fallen sick, and was many times at the point of death, but from a little cabin that I had caused to be constructed on deck, I directed our course. My brother was in the ship that was in the worst condition and the most exposed to danger; and my grief on this account was the greater that I brought him with me against his will.
Such is my fate, that the twenty years of service through which I have passed with so much toil and danger, have profited me nothing, and at this very day I do not possess a roof in Spain that I can call my own; if I wish to eat or sleep, I have nowhere to go but to the inn or tavern, and most times lack wherewith to pay the bill. Another anxiety wrung my very heartstrings, which was the thought of my son Diego, whom I had left an orphan in Spain, and dispossessed of my honor and property, although I had looked upon it as a certainty, that your Majesties, as just and grateful Princes, would restore it to him in all respects with increase.
I reached the land of Cariay [JGH: near the mouth of the San Juan River, Nicaragua], where I stopped to repair my vessels and take in provisions, as well as to afford relaxation to the men, who had become very weak. I myself (who, as I said before, had been several times at the point of death) gained information respecting the gold mines of which I was in search, in the province of Ciamba; and two Indians conducted me to Carambaru, where the people (who go naked) wear golden mirrors round their necks, which they will neither sell, give, nor part with for any consideration. They named to me many places on the sea-coast where there were both gold and mines. The last that they mentioned was Veragua [JGH: today's Panama], which was five-and-twenty leagues distant from the place where we then were. I started with the intention of visiting all of them, but when I had reached the middle of my journey I learned that there were other mines at so short a distance that they might be reached in two days. I determined on sending to see them. It was on the eve of St. Simon and St. Jude, which was the day fixed for our departure; but that night there arose so violent a storm, that we were forced to go wherever it drove us, and the Indian who was to conduct us to the mines was with us all the time. As I had found every thing true that had been told me in the different places which I had visited, I felt satisfied it would be the same with respect to Ciguare, which according to their account, is nine days journey across the country westward: they tell me there is a great quantity of gold there, and that the inhabitants wear coral ornaments on their heads, and very large coral bracelets and anklets, with which article also they adorn and inlay their seats, boxes, and tables. They also said that the women there wore necklaces hanging down to their shoulders. All the people agree in the report I now repeat, and their account is so favorable that I should be content with the tithe of the advantages that their description holds out. They are all likewise acquainted with the pepper-plant; according to the account of these people, the inhabitants of Ciguare are accustomed to hold fairs and markets for carrying on their commerce, and they showed me also the mode and form in which they transact their various exchanges; others assert that their ships carry cannon, and that the men go clothed and use bows and arrows, swords and cuirasses, and that on shore they have horses which they use in battle, and that they wear rich clothes and have good things. They also say that the sea surrounds Ciguare, and that at ten days' journey from thence is the river Ganges; these lands appear to hold the same relation to Veragua, as Tortosa to Fontarabia, or Pisa to Venice. When I left Carambaru and reached the places in its neighborhood, which I have mentioned above as being spoken of by the Indians, I found the customs of the people correspond with the accounts that had been given of them, except as regarded the golden mirrors: any man who had one of them would willingly part with it for three hawks'-bells, although they were equivalent in weight to ten or fifteen ducats. These people resemble the natives of Española JGH: Hispaniola in all their habits. They have various modes of collecting the gold, none of which will bear comparison with the plans adopted by the Christians.
All that I have here stated is from hearsay. This, however, I know, that in the year ninety-four I sailed twenty-four degrees to the westward in nine hours, and there can be no mistake upon the subject, because there was an eclipse; the sun was in Libra and the moon in Aries. What I had learned by the mouth of these people I already knew in detail from books. Ptolemy thought that he had satisfactorily corrected Marinus, and yet this latter appears to have come very near to the truth. [JGH: reference to a theory about earth's diameter]
Ptolemy placed Catigara at a distance of twelve lines to the west of his meridian, which he fixes at two degrees and a third beyond Cape St. Vincent, in Portugal. Marinus comprised the earth and its limits in fifteen lines. Marinus on Ethiopia gives a description covering more than twenty-four degrees beyond the equinoctial line, and now that the Portuguese have sailed there they find it correct. Ptolemy says also that the most southern land is the first boundary, and that it does not go lower down than fifteen degrees and a third. The world is but small; out of seven divisions of it the dry part occupies six, and the seventh is entirely covered by water. Experience has shown it, and I have written it with quotations from the Holy Scripture, in other letters, where I have treated of the situation of the terrestrial paradise, as approved by the Holy Church; and I say that the world is not so large as vulgar opinion makes it, and that one degree of the equinoctial line measures fifty-six miles and two-thirds; and this may be proved to a nicety.
But I leave this subject, which it is not my intention now to treat upon, but simply to give a narrative of my laborious and painful voyage, although of all my voyages it is the most honorable and advantageous. I have said that on the eve of St. Simon and St. Jude I ran before the wind wherever it took me, without power to resist it; at length I found shelter for ten days from the roughness of the sea and the tempest overhead, and resolved not to attempt to go back to the mines, which I regarded as already in our possession. When I started in pursuance of my voyage it was under a heavy rain, and reaching the harbor of Bastimentos JGH: Island off Panama I put in, though much against my will. The storm and a rapid current kept me in for fourteen days, when I again set sail, but not with favorable weather. After I had made fifteen leagues with great exertions, the wind and the current drove me back again with great fury, but in again making for the port which I had quitted, I found on the way another port, which I named Retrete, where I put in for shelter with as much risk as regret, the ships being in sad condition, and my crews and myself exceedingly fatigued. I remained there fifteen days, kept in by stress of weather, and when I fancied my troubles were at an end, I found them only begun. It was then that I changed my resolution with respect to proceeding to the mines, and proposed doing something in the interim, until the weather should prove more favorable for my voyage. I had already made four leagues when the storm recommenced, and wearied me to such a degree that I absolutely knew not what to do; my wound reopened, and for nine days my life was despaired of; never was the sea seen so high, so terrific, and so covered with foam; not only did the wind oppose our proceeding onward, but it also rendered it highly dangerous to run in for any headland, and kept me in that sea which seemed to me as a sea of blood, seething like a cauldron on a mighty fire. Never did the sky look more fearful; during one day and one night it burned like a furnace, and every instant I looked to see if my masts and my sails were not destroyed; these flashes came with such alarming fury that we all thought the ships must have been consumed. All this time the waters from heaven never ceased, not to say that it rained, for it was like a repetition of the deluge. The men were at this time so crushed in spirit that they longed for death as a deliverance from so many martyrdoms. Twice already had the ships suffered loss in boats, anchors, and rigging, and were now lying bare without sails.
When it pleased our Lord, I returned to Puerto Gordo, where I recruited my condition as well as I could. I then once more attempted the voyage towards Veragua, although I was by means in a fit state to undertake it. The wind and currents were still contrary. I arrived at nearly the same spot as before, and there again the wind and currents still opposed my progress; and once again I was compelled to put into port, not daring to await the opposition of Saturn with Mars so tossed on an exposed coast; for it almost always brings on a tempest or severe weather. This was on Christmas-day, about the hour of mass.
Thus, after all these fatigues, I had once more to return to the spot from whence I started; and when the new year had set in, I returned again to my task: but although I had fine weather for my voyage, the ships were no longer in a sailing condition, and my people were either dying or very sick. On the day of the Epiphany, I reached Veragua in a state of exhaustion; there, by our Lord's goodness, I found a river and a safe harbor, although at the entrance there were only ten spans of water. I succeeded in making an entry, but with great difficulty; and on the following day the storm recommenced, and had I been still on the outside at that time, I should have been unable to enter on account of the reef. It rained without ceasing until the fourteenth of February, so that I could find no opportunity of penetrating into the interior, nor of recruiting my condition in any respect whatever; and on the twenty-fourth of January, when I considered myself in perfect safety, the river suddenly rose with great violence to a considerable height, breaking my cables and the breastfasts, and nearly carrying away my ships altogether, which certainly appeared to me to be in greater danger than ever. Our Lord, however, brought a remedy as He has always done. I do not know if any one else ever suffered greater trials.
On the sixth of February, while it was still raining, I sent seventy men on shore to go into the interior, and at five leagues' distance they found several mines. The Indians who went with them conducted them to a very lofty mountain, and thence showing them the country all around, as far as the eye could reach, told them there was gold in every part, and that, towards the west, the mines extended twenty days' journey; they also recounted the names of the towns and villages where there was more or less of it. I afterwards learned that the Quibian, who had lent these Indians, had ordered them to show the distant mines, and which belonged to an enemy of his; but that in his own territory one man might, if he would, collect in ten days as much as a child could carry. I bring with me some Indians, his servants, who are witnesses of this fact. The boats went up to the spot where the dwellings of these people are situated; and, after four hours, my brother returned with the guides, all of them bringing back gold which they had collected at that place. The gold must be abundant, and of good quality, for none of these men had ever seen mines before; very many of them had never seen pure gold, and most of them were seamen and lads. Having building materials in abundance, I established a settlement, and made many presents to the Quibian, which is the name they gave to the lord of the country. I plainly saw that harmony would not last long, for the natives are of a very rough disposition, and the Spaniards very encroaching; and, moreover, I had taken possession of land belonging to the Quibian. When he saw what we did, and found the traffic increasing, he resolved upon burning the houses, and putting us all to death; but his project did not succeed, for we took him prisoner, together with his wives, his children, and his servants. His captivity, it is true, lasted but a short time, for he eluded the custody of a trustworthy man, into whose charge he had been given, with a guard of men; and his sons escaped from a ship, in which they had been placed under the special charge of the master.
In the month of January the mouth of the river was entirely closed up, and in April the vessels were so eaten by the shipworm, that they could scarcely be kept above water. At this time the river forced a channel for itself, by which I managed, with great difficulty, to extricate three of them after I had unloaded them. The boats were then sent back into the river for water and salt, but the sea became so high and furious, that it afforded them no chance of exit; upon which the Indians collected themselves together in great numbers, and made an attack upon the boats, and at length massacred the men. My brother, and all the rest of our people, were in a ship which remained inside; I was alone, outside, upon that dangerous coast, suffering from a severe fever and worn with fatigue. All hope of escape was gone. I toiled up to the highest part of the ship, and, with a voice of fear crying, and very urgently, I called upon your Highnesses' war-captains in every direction for help, but there was no reply. At length, groaning with exhaustion, I fell asleep, and heard a compassionate voice address me thus: "O fool, and slow to believe and to serve thy God, the God of all! what did He do more for Moses, or for David his servant, than He has done for thee? From thine infancy He has kept thee under His constant and watchful care. When He saw thee arrived at an age which suited His designs respecting thee, He brought wonderful renown to thy name throughout all the land. He gave thee for thine own the Indies, which form so rich a portion of the world, and thou hast divided them as it pleased thee, for He gave thee power to do so. He gave thee also the keys of those barriers of the ocean sea which were closed with such mighty chains; and thou wast obeyed through many lands, and gained an honorable fame throughout Christendom. What did he more for the people of Israel, when he brought them out of Egypt? or for David, whom from a shepherd He made to be king in Judea? Turn to Him, and acknowledge thine error--His mercy is infinite. Thine old age shall not prevent thee from accomplishing any great undertaking. He holds under His sway many very great possessions. Abraham had exceeded a hundred years of age when he begat Isaac; nor was Sarah young. Thou criest out for uncertain help: answer, who has afflicted thee so much and so often, God or the world? The privileges promised by God, He never fails in bestowing; nor does He ever declare, after a service has been rendered Him, that such was not agreeable with His intention, or that He had regarded the matter in another light; nor does he inflict suffering, in order to give effect to the manifestation of His power. His acts answer to His words; and it is His custom to perform all His promises with interest. Thus I have told you what the Creator has done for thee, and what He does for all men. Even now He partially shows thee the reward of so many toils and dangers dangers incurred by thee in the service of others."
I heard all this, as it were, in a trance; but I had no answer to give in definite words, and could but weep for my errors. He who spoke to me, whoever it was, concluded by saying,--"Fear not, but trust; all these tribulations are recorded on marble, and not without cause." I arose as soon as I could; and at the end of nine days there came fine weather, but not sufficiently so to allow of drawing the vessels out of the river. I collected the men who were on land, and, in fact, all of them that I could, because there were not enough to admit of one party remaining on shore while another stayed on board to work the vessels. I myself should have remained with my men to defend the settlement, had your Highnesses known of it; but the fear that ships might never reach the spot where we were, as well as the thought, that when provision is to be made for bringing help, everything will be provided, made me decide upon leaving. I departed, in the name of the Holy Trinity, on Easter night [JGH: April 16, 1503], with the ships rotten, worm-eaten and full of holes. One of them I left at Belen, with a supply of necessaries; I did the same at Belpuerto. I then had only two left, and they in the same state as the others. I was without boats or provisions, and in this condition I had to cross seven thousand miles of sea; or, as an alternative, to die on the passage with my son, my brother, and so many of my people. Let those who are accustomed to finding fault and censuring ask, while they sit in security at home, "Why did you not do so and so under such circumstances?" I wish they now had this voyage to make. I verily believe that another journey of another kind awaits them, or our faith is nothing.
On the thirteenth of May I reached the province of Mago, which borders on Cathay, and thence I started for the island of Española. I sailed two days with a good wind, after which it became contrary. The route that I followed called forth all my care to avoid the numerous islands, that I might not be stranded on the shoals that lie in their neighborhood. The sea was very tempestuous, and I was driven backward under bare poles. I anchored at an island, where I lost, at one stroke, three anchors; and, at midnight, when the weather was such that the world appeared to be coming to an end, the cables of the other ship broke, and it came down upon my vessel with such force that it was a wonder we were not dashed to pieces; the single anchor that remained to me was, next to the Lord, our only preservation. After six days, when the weather became calm, I resumed my journey, having already lost all my tackle; my ships were pierced by borers more than a honey-comb and the crew entirely paralyzed with fear and in despair. I reached the island a little beyond the point at which I first arrived at it, and there I turned in to recover myself after the storm; but I afterwards put into a much safer port in the same island. After eight days I put to sea again, and reached Jamaica by the end of June; [JGH: June, 23rd, 1503] but always beating against contrary winds, and with the ships in the worst possible condition. With three pumps, and the use of pots and kettles, we could scarcely clear the water that came into the ship, there being no remedy but this for the mischief done by the ship-worm. I steered in such a manner as to come as near as possible to Española, from which we were twenty-eight leagues distant, but I afterwards wished I had not done so, for the other ship which was half under water was obliged to run in for a port. I determined on keeping the sea in spite of the weather, and my vessel was on the very point of sinking when our Lord miraculously brought us upon land. Who will believe what I now write? I assert that in this letter I have not related one hundredth part of the wonderful events that occurred in this voyage; those who were with the Admiral can bear witness to it. If your Highnesses would be graciously pleased to send to my help a ship of above sixty-four tons, with two hundred quintals of biscuits and other provisions, there would then be sufficient to carry me and my crew from Española to Spain. I have already said that there are not twenty-eight leagues between Jamaica and Española; and I should not have gone there, even if the ships had been in a fit condition for so doing, because your Highnesses ordered me not to land there. God knows if this command has proved of any service. I send this letter by means of and by the hands of Indians; it will be a miracle if it reaches its destination.
This is the account I have to give of my voyage. The men who accompanied me were a hundred and fifty in number, among whom were many calculated for pilots and good sailors, but none of them can explain whither I went nor whence I came; the reason is very simple: I started from a point above the port of Brazil in Española. The storm prevented me from following my intended route, for I was obliged to go wherever the wind drove me; at the same time I fell very sick, and there was no one who had navigated in these parts before. However, after some days, the wind and sea became tranquil, and the storm was succeeded by a calm, but accompanied with rapid currents. I put into harbor at an island called Isla de las Pozas, and then steered for mainland; but it is impossible to give a correct account of all our movements, because I was carried away by the current so many days without seeing land. I ascertained, however, by the compass and by observation, that I moved parallel with the coast of the mainland. No one could tell under what part of the heavens we were, and when I set out from there to come to the island of Española, the pilots thought we had come to the island of St. John, whereas it was the land of Mango, four hundred leagues to the westward of where they said. Let them answer and say if they know where Veragua is situated. I assert that they can give no other account than that they went to lands, where there was an abundance of gold, and this they can certify surely enough; but they do not know the way to return thither for such a purpose; they would be obliged to go on a voyage of discovery as much as if they had never been there before.
There is a mode of reckoning derived from astronomy which is sure and safe, and a sufficient guide to any one who understands it. This resembles a prophetic vision. The Indies ships do not sail except with the wind abaft, but this is not because they are badly built or clumsy, but because the strong currents in those parts, together with the wind, render it impossible to sail with the bowline, for in one day they would lose as much way as they might have made in seven; for the same reason I could make no use of caravels, even though they were Portuguese lateens. This is the cause that they do not sail unless with a regular breeze, and they will sometimes stay in harbor waiting for this seven or eight months at a time; nor is this anything wonderful, for the same very often occurs in Spain.
The nation of which Pope Pius writes has now been found, judging at least by the situation and other evidences, excepting the horses with the saddles and poitrels and bridles of gold; but this is not to be wondered at, for the lands on the sea-coast are only inhabited by fishermen, and moreover I made no stay there, because I was in haste to proceed on my voyage. In Cariay and the neighboring country there are great enchanters of a very fearful character. They would have given the world to prevent my remaining there an hour. When I arrived they sent me immediately two girls very showily dressed; the eldest could not be more than eleven years of age and the other seven, and both exhibited so much immodesty, that more could not be expected from public women; they carried concealed about them a magic powder; when they came I gave them some articles to dress themselves out with, and directly sent them back to the shore. I saw here, built on a mountain, a sepulchre as large as a house, and elaborately sculptured; the body lay uncovered and embalmed in it. They also spoke to me of other very excellent works of art. There are many species of animals both small and large, and very different from those of our country. I had a present of two pigs, and an Irish dog was afraid to face them. A cross-bowman had wounded an animal like a monkey, except that it was larger, and had a face like a man's; the arrow had pierced it from the neck to the tail, and since it was fierce he was obliged to cut off an arm and a leg; one of the pigs grew wild on seeing this, and fled; upon which I ordered the begare (as the inhabitants called him), to be thrown to the pig, and though the animal was nearly dead, and the arrow had passed quite through his body, yet he threw his tail round the snout of the boar, and then holding him firmly, seized him by the nape of the neck with his remaining hand, as if he were engaged with an enemy. This action was so novel and so extraordinary, that I have thought it worth while to describe it here. There is a great variety of animals here, but they all die of barra. I saw some very large fowls (the feathers of which resemble wool), lions, stags, fallow-deer and birds.
When we were so harassed with our troubles at sea, some of our men imagined that we were under the influence of sorcery, and even to this day entertain the same notion. Some of the people whom I discovered eat men, as was evidenced by the brutality of their countenances. They say that there are great mines of copper in the country, of which they make hatchets and other elaborate articles both cast and soldered; they also make of it forges, with all the apparatus of the goldsmith, and crucibles. The inhabitants go clothed; and in that province I saw some large sheets of cotton very elaborately and cleverly worked, and others very delicately painted in colors. They tell me that more inland towards Cathay they have them interwoven with gold. For want of an interpreter we were able to learn but very little respecting these countries, or what they contain. Although the country is very thickly peopled, yet each nation has a very different language; indeed so much so, that they can no more understand each other than we understand the Arabs. I think, however, that this applies to the barbarians on the sea-coast, and not to the people who live more inland. When I discovered the Indies, I said that they composed the richest lordship in the world; I spoke of gold and pearls and precious stones, of spices and the traffic that might be carried on in them; and because all these things were not forthcoming at once I was abused. This punishment causes me to refrain from relating anything but what the natives tell me. One thing I can venture upon stating, because there are so many witnesses of it, viz., that in this land of Veragua I saw more signs of gold in the first two days than I saw in Española during fours years, and that there is not a more fertile or better cultivated country in all the world, nor one whose inhabitants are more timid; added to which there is a good harbor, a beautiful river, and the whole place is capable of being easily put into a state of defence. All this tends to the security of the Christians and the permanency of their sovereignty, while it affords the hope of great increase and honor to the Christian religion; moreover the road hither will be as short as that to Española, because there is a certainty of a fair wind for the passage. Your Highnesses are as much lords of this country as of Xerez or Toledo; and your ships that may come here will do so with the same freedom as if they were going to your own royal palace. From hence they will obtain gold; an whereas, if they should wish to become masters of the products of other lands, they will have to take them by force or retire empty-handed, in this country they will simply have to trust their persons in the hands of a savage.
I have already explained my reason for refraining to treat of other subjects respecting of which I might speak. I do not state as certain, nor do I confirm even the sixth part of all that I have said or written, nor do I pretend to be at the fountain-head of information. The Genoese, Venetians and all other nations that possess pearls, precious stones, and other articles of value, take them to the ends of the world to exchange them for gold. Gold is most excellent; gold is treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise. They say that when one of the lords of the country of Veragua dies, they bury all the gold he possessed with his body. There were brought to Solomon at one journey six hundred and sixty-six quintals of gold, besides what the merchants and sailors brought, and that which was paid in Arabia. Of this gold he made two hundred lances and three hundred shields, and the entablature which wasabove them was also of gold, and ornamented with precious stones; many other things he made likewise of gold, and a great number of vessels of great size, which he enriched with precious stones. This is related by Josephus in his Chronicle de "Antiquitatibus;" mention is also made of it in the Chronicles and in the Book of Kings. Josephus thinks that this gold was found in the Aurea; if it were so, I contend that these mines of the Aurea are identical with those of Veragua, which, as I have said before, extends westward twenty days' journey, and they are at an equal distance from the Pole and the Line. Solomon bought all of it,--gold, precious stones, and silver,--but your Majesties need only send to seek them to have them at your pleasure. David, in his will, left three thousand quintals of Indian gold to Solomon, to assist in building the Temple; and, according to Josephus, it came from these lands. Jerusalem and Mount Zion are to be rebuilt by the hands of Christians, who it is to be God told by the mouth of His prophet in the fourteenth Psalm. The Abbot Joaquim said that he who should do this was to come from Spain; Saint Jerome showed the holy woman the way to accomplish it; and the emperor of China has, some time since, sent for wise men to instruct him in the faith of Christ. Who will offer himself for this work? Should any one do so, I pledge myself, in the name of God, to convey him safely thither, provided the Lord permits me to return to Spain.
The people who have sailed with me have passed through incredible toil and danger, and I beseech your Highnesses, since they are poor, to pay them promptly, and to be gracious to each of them according to their respective merits; for I can safely assert, that to my belief they are the bearers of the best news that ever was carried to Spain. With respect to the gold which belongs to the Quibian of Veragua, and other chiefs in the neighboring country, although it appears by the accounts we have received of it to be very abundant, I do not think it would be well or desirable, on the part of your Highnesses, to take possession of it in the way of plunder; by fair dealing, scandal and disrepute will be avoided, and all the gold will thus reach your Highnesses' treasury without the loss of a grain.
With one month of fair weather I shall complete my voyage. As I was deficient in ships, I did not persist in delaying my course; but in everything that concerns your Highnesses' service, I trust in Him who made me, and I hope also that my health will be re-established. I think your Highnesses will remember that I had intended to build some ships in a new manner, but the shortness of the time did not permit it. I had certainly foreseen how things would be. I think more of this opening for commerce, and of the lordship over such extensive mines, than of all that has been done in the Indies. This is not a child to be left to the care of a stepmother.
I never think of Española, and Paria, and the other countries, without shedding tears. I thought that what had occurred there would have been an example for others; on the contrary, these settlements are now in a languid state, although not dead, and the malady is incurable, or at least very extensive. Let him who brought the evil come now and cure it, if he knows the remedy, or how to apply it; but when a disturbance is on foot, every one is ready to take the lead. It used to be the custom to give thanks and promotion to him who placed his person in jeopardy; but there is no justice in allowing the man who opposed this undertaking, to enjoy the fruits of it with his children. Those who left the Indies, avoiding the toils consequent upon the enterprise, and speaking evil of it and me, have since returned with official appointments,--such is the case now in Veragua: it is an evil example, and profitless both as regards the business in which we are embarked, and as respects the general maintenance of justice. The fear of this, with other sufficient considerations, which I clearly foresaw, caused me to beg your Highnesses, previously to my coming to discover these islands and mainland, to grant me permission to govern in your royal name. Your Highnesses granted my request; and it was a privilege and treaty granted under the royal seal and oath, by which I was nominated viceroy, and admiral, and governor-general of all: and your Highnesses limited the extent of my government to a hundred leagues beyond the Azores and Cape Verde islands, by a line passing from one pole to the other, and gave me ample power over all that I might discover beyond this line; all which is more fully described in the official document.
But the most important affair of all, and that which cries most loudly for redress, remains inexplicable to this moment. For seven years was I at your royal court, where every one to whom the enterprise was mentioned treated it as ridiculous; but now there is not a man, down to the very tailors, who does not beg to be allowed to become a discoverer. There is reason to believe, that they make the voyage only for plunder, and that they are permitted to do so, to the great disparagement of my honor, and the detriment of the undertaking itself. It is right to give God His own,--and to Caesar that which belongs to him. This is a just sentiment, and proceeds from just feelings. The lands in this part of the world, which are now under your Highnesses' sway, are richer and more extensive than those of any other Christian power, and yet, after that I had, by the Divine will, placed them under your high and royal sovereignty, and was on the point of bringing your majesties into the receipt of a very great and unexpected revenue; and while I was waiting for ships, to convey me in safety, and with a heart full of joy, to your royal presence, victoriously to announce the news of the gold that I had discovered, I was arrested and thrown, with my two brothers, loaded with irons, into a ship, stripped, and very ill-treated, without being allowed any appeal to justice.
Who could believe, that a poor foreigner would have risen against your Highnesses, in such a place, without any motive or argument on his side; without even the assistance of any other prince upon which to rely; but on the contrary, amongst your own vassals and natural subjects, and with my sons staying at your royal court? I was twenty-eight years old when I came into your Highnesses' service, and now I have not a hair upon me that is not gray; my body is infirm, and all that was left to me, as well as to my brothers, has been taken away and sold, even to the frock that I wore, to my great dishonor. I cannot but believe that this was done without your royal permission. The restitution of my honor, the reparation of my losses, and the punishment of those who have inflicted them, will redound to the honor of your royal character; a similar punishment also is due to those who plundered me of my pearls, and who have brought a disparagement upon the privileges of my admiralty. Great and unexampled will be the glory and fame of your Highnesses, if you do this; and the memory of your Highnesses, as just and grateful sovereigns, will survive as a bright example to Spain in future ages. The honest devotedness I have always shown to your Majesties' service, and the so unmerited outrage with which it has been repaid, will not allow my soul to keep silence, however much I may wish it: I implore your Highnesses to forgive my complaints. I am indeed in as ruined a condition as I have related; hitherto I have wept over others;--may Heaven now have mercy upon me, and may the earth weep for me. With regard to temporal things, I have not even a blanca, for an offering; and in spiritual things, I have ceased here in the Indies from observing the prescribed forms of religion. Solitary in my trouble, sick, and in daily expectation of death, surrounded by a million of hostile savages full of cruelty, and thus separated from the blessed sacraments of our holy Church, how will my soul be forgotten if it be separated from the body in this foreign land? Weep for me, whoever has charity, truth, and justice! I did not come out on this voyage to gain to myself honor or wealth; this is a certain fact, for at that time all hope of such a thing was dead. I do not lie when I say, that I went to your Highnesses with honest purpose of heart, and sincere zeal in your cause. I humbly beseech your Highnesses, that if it please God to rescue me from this place, you will graciously sanction my pilgrimage to Rome and other holy places. May the Holy Trinity protect your Highnesses' lives, and add to the prosperity of your exalted position.
Done in the Indies, in the island of Jamaica, on the seventh of July, in the year one thousand five hundred and three.