Cruise in the West India Archipelago - Various Discoveries
Columbus imagined that the island he had thus discovered, and others which could be seen from it, belonged to the Archipelago, which, according to Marco Polo, lay east of the Asiatic continent. He resolved, therefore, to remain no longer at San Salvador, but to sail in the direction in which he conceived the mainland to lie. When he asked the natives, by signs, where they obtained the gold, of which most of them wore thin plates attached to their nostrils by way of ornament, they invariably pointed to the south. To the south, therefore, he determined to prosecute his voyage, not doubting but that the region which the natives pointed to must be Cathay or Cipango. Accordingly, after spending one day at San Salvador, he directed his course through the midst of that multitudinous cluster of islands now called the Bahamas, convinced as he gazed at their green and luxuriant foliage, that these must be the seven thousand four hundred and fifty-eight islands abounding with spices and odoriferous trees,' which Marco Polo described as filling the Chinese sea. He landed at three of the largest, and gave them names. Here the appearance of the ships and the Spaniards produced the same astonishment among the natives as at San Salvador. Receiving to his inquiries after gold the same invariable answer, that it lay to the south, he pushed on through group after group of islands, and at last, on the 28th of October, came in sight of Cuba. The appearance of this noble island as he approached it, its high mountains, its spreading forests, its broad rivers, made him uncertain whether it might not be part of the great continent he was in search of. He entered the mouth of a large river with his squadron, and all the inhabitants fled to the mountains as he approached the shore. But as he resolved to careen his ships in that place, he sent some Spaniards, together with one of the people of San Salvador, to view the interior part of the country. They having advanced above sixty miles from the shore, reported, upon their return, that the soil was richer and more cultivated than any they had hitherto discovered; that, besides many scattered cottages, they had found one village containing above a thousand inhabitants; that the people, though naked, seemed to be more intelligent than those of San Salvador, but had treated them with the same respectful attention, kissing their feet, and honoring them as sacred beings allied to heaven; that they had given them to eat a certain root, the taste of which resembled roasted chestnuts, and likewise a singular species of corn called maize, which, when roasted whole or ground into meal, was abundantly palatable; that there seemed to be no four-footed animals in the country but a species of dog, which could not bark, and a creature resembling a rabbit, but of a much smaller size; that they had observed some ornaments of gold among the people, but of no great value.' Here also, for the first time, the Spaniards saw the use of tobacco.