The Second Voyage - Colony Founded in Hispaniola

No time was lost in fitting out a second expedition to the new world. On the morning of the 25th September, 1493, Columbus left the bay of Cadiz with three large ships and fourteen caravels, loaded with everything necessary to found a colony, and manned not with despondent sailors, as the first fleet had been, but with eager and joyous adventurers, with young and bold cavaliers. In the fleet were several enthusiastic priests, who embarked with the intention of spreading Christianity among the benighted heathens of the new lands.

Steering farther south than in his last voyage, the first land which Columbus made was one of the Caribbee, or Leeward Islands, to which he gave the name of Dominica. It was discovered on the 2d of November, 1493. After cruising for about three weeks among these islands, giving names to several of the largest, among which may be mentioned Porto Rico, and everywhere discovering traces of that savage and warlike disposition which the Haytians had attributed to the Caribs, he bent his course to the north-west, anxious to learn the fate of the little colony which he had left at Hispaniola. Anchoring off the coast of La Navidad, he was surprised and alarmed to find none of the Spaniards on the shore to welcome him, and to receive no return-signals to the shots which he fired announcing his arrival. He soon learned the dreadful truth. Not a man of the thirty-eight he had left remained alive - they had all fallen victims to their own imprudence and licentiousness. A mystery hung about their story which was never fully cleared up; but it appeared, from the accounts of the natives, that as soon as Columbus had departed the men had begun to range through the island, committing all sorts of crimes, and losing the respect of the Indians; that at length one of the five chieftains of the island, named Caonabo, had attacked the fort, and put them all to death; and that Guacanagari and many of his subjects had been wounded in trying to protect them. With this account Columbus was obliged to be content, although some of his officers questioned its truth, and suspected Guacanagari of having been concerned in the massacre of their countrymen.

A second colony was immediately founded under better auspices. The plan of a city was marked out; and in a short time the building was sufficiently far advanced to afford protection to all who intended to remain on the island. To this rising city, Columbus gave the name of Isabella, in honor of the queen of Castile. Even thus early in the history of the colony, however, symptoms of discontent broke out. Many of the Spaniards were attacked by the diseases incident to a new climate; others, and especially such as were of noble families, began to complain of the hard labor imposed upon them. They had imagined that, on reaching the new world, they would find lumps of gold lying on the soil ready to be gathered, and mines of diamonds which it would be necessary to open, in order to grow rich; and when they found that what gold the island contained was only to be obtained by industry, and that the principal value of the new country consisted in the fertility of its soil, and its readiness to yield abundant produce to the patient cultivator, they could not conceal their disappointment and dislike to the ambitious foreigner, whose false representations, they said, had lured them from their homes. To banish these gloomy thoughts from the minds of the colonists, Columbus, as soon as the settlement of Isabella was in tolerable condition, employed himself and his men in expeditions into the interior of the island, especially to the mountainous district of Cibao, where gold was said to be obtained in large quantities.

Returning from a long expedition into the interior in the end of March 1492, Columbus found the colony of Isabella in a most flourishing condition. The only drawbacks to the satisfaction of Columbus were the illness of many of the colonists, their growing discontent, and the symptoms of ill-will which the natives began at length to manifest towards the Spaniards. Still, as there was no appearance of any interruption to the tranquillity of the colony, Columbus resolved to undertake a voyage of discovery through the Archipelago, with a view to reach the great Indian continent, of which his imagination was still full. Leaving, therefore, his brother Diego to govern the Island, with the assistance of a council of officers, and intrusting the command of a body of soldiers to Don Pedro Margarita, he sailed from Hayti on the 24th of April 1494. For five months he sailed in various directions through the West Indian Archipelago in quest of the imaginary Cathay or Cipango; discovering nothing of consequence, how ever, except the island of Jamaica. The weather was tempestuous; and it was only by incessant care on the part of the admiral that his fleet was kept afloat. At length, wearied out with his labors, he was attacked by a violent fever, which terminated in a sort of lethargy or paralysis of all his faculties; and his officers, despairing of his life, returned to Hispaniola in the month of September.

Here a joyful surprise awaited Columbus, which contributed greatly to his recovery. His brother Bartholomew, whom he had not seen for several years, had arrived in the island during his absence. Bartholomew, it will be remembered, had been despatched in 1488 to England, with offers of his brother's project to Henry VIII; but had been captured by pirates on the way. Escaping at length, he was engaged in negotiations with the English monarch, when he learned that his brother had returned to Spain with the announcement of a new world. Ere he could reach Spain, how ever, Columbus had departed on his second voyage; but on arriving, he had been treated with great honor by the Spanish sovereigns, and intrusted with the command of a squadron which they were sending out to the colony with provisions. Bartholomew was a man of extraordinary vigor and talent, with less enthusiasm and genius than his brother the admiral, but his equal in decision and sagacity; and much superior to his other brother Diego, who, though a worthy and good man, was of a soft and yielding character.

During Columbus' absence the colony had fallen into confusion. Besides the growing discontent of many of the colonists, the natives were in insurrection - provoked, as it appeared, by the ravages and cruelties of the whites. It was necessary, in the first place, to reduce the natives to obedience. Several months were spent in this wretched and bloody work; which was at length accomplished at the expense of the lives of some Spaniards and thousands of the natives. Many of the latter were also taken prisoners, and reduced to servitude; some of them being even shipped to Spain, to be sold in the slave market. The natives universally were compelled to pay tribute. Each person above fourteen years of age, who lived in those districts where gold was found, was obliged to pay quarterly as much gold dust as filled a hawk's bell; from those in other parts of the country twenty-five pounds of cotton were demanded. ' This was the first regular taxation of the Indians, and served as a precedent for exactions still more intolerable. Such an imposition was extremely contrary to those maxims which Columbus had hitherto inculcated with respect to the mode of treating them. But intrigues were carrying on in the court of Spain at this juncture, in order to undermine his power and discredit his operations, which constrained him to depart from his own system of administration. Several unfavorable accounts of his conduct, as well as of the countries discovered by him, had been transmitted to Spain. Columbus saw that there was but one method of supporting his own credit, and of silencing his adversaries. He must produce such a quantity of gold as would not only justify what he had reported with respect to the richness of the country, but encourage Ferdinand and Isabella to persevere in prosecuting his plans. The necessity of obtaining it forced him not only to impose a heavy tax upon the Indians, but to exact payment of it with extreme rigor; and may be pleaded in excuse for his deviating on this occasion from the mildness and humanity with which he uniformly treated that unhappy people.

The task of reducing the island to order occupied Columbus till towards the end of the year 1495. Meanwhile the representations of his enemies in Spain had gained such weight over the cold and jealous Ferdinand, and even over the generous soul of Isabella, that they resolved to send out a commissioner to investigate into his conduct. The person chosen for this office was Aguado, a groom of the king's bed-chamber. On arriving in Hispaniola; Aguado's behavior was so arrogant, and had such a bad effect upon the interests of the colony, that Columbus determined to proceed to Spain, and vindicate his conduct personally to the sovereigns. Accordingly, appointing his brother Bartholomew adelantado, or lieutenant-governor, of the island, and Francis Roldan chief-justice, he set sail in the spring of 1496, and arrived safely in Spain.