THE MEETING OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLDS

THE MEETING OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLDS

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

On “Discovery Day” 1892, the citizens of the United States were in a festive mood. Along parade routes, at neighborhood picnics, and in town square rallies, flag-waving Americans celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s voyage by eating hot dogs, swaying to the music of brass bands, and applauding local celebrities who touted the exploits of the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.”

In large cities, the festivities were more elaborate. In New York, for example, the editors of the New York Times used hyperbole to describe the opening of the Columbian Celebration: “YOUNG AMERICA LEADS OFF–FIRST OF THE GREAT PARADES OF COLUMBUS WEEK—SOLID MASSES OF HUMANITY LINE THE ROUTE—THE CITY HIDDEN UNDER FLAGS AND BUNTING.” The next day, it wrote, “BEFORE TWO MILLION EYES—THE GREAT PARADE OF WAR SHIPS AND RIVER CRAFT—SPECTATORS HIDE THE WATER FRONT FROM SIGHT.” On the third day, the headlines screamed, “THE CLIMAX OF THE WEEK–ALL PAST PARADE RECORDS SENT TO THE REAR–CASCADES OF GAY COLORS EVERYWHERE–THE AVENUES PACKED WITH VAST THRONGS BY SUNRISE AND FILLED TO THEIR UTMOST CAPACITY ALL DAY AND NIGHT—MODEL WORK BY THE POLICE IN HANDLING THE GREATEST CROWD NEW-YORK EVER HELD.”

The quadricentennial parties in New York City, as spectacular as they were, could not match the size or duration of the festivities in Chicago. On October 21, 1892, Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition—an event destined to attract about 40 percent of the U.S. population!—held its opening-day ceremonies. Cardinal James Gibbons declared:

· Four hundred years ago Columbus discovered this American continent, and therefore, we are primarily indebted to him for the land which we enjoy in peace and security. Columbus united the skill and daring of a navigator with the zeal of an apostle, and in his voyage of exploration he was not only impelled by the desire of enriching his sovereign with the wealth of new dominions, but he was also inspired by the lofty ambition of carrying the light of the Gospel to a people that were buried in the darkness of idolatry…. Fervent should be our gratitude since we possess the fruits of his labors and of his victory. But not for this earthly possession only should we be thankful, more for the precious boon of constitutional liberty which we inherit.

Gibbons’s words resonated with themes common to most 1892 Columbus observances. For millions of late-nineteenth-century Americans, hailing Columbus was synonymous with celebrating the progress of humanity, the opening of the American frontier, the triumph of Western technology, the advance of the Christian religion, and the spread of democratic institutions.

One hundred years later, Americans prepared for the five hundredth anniversary of the Columbus voyage. This time, however, reflections on the era of Old and New World contact evoked different reactions. There were plenty of parades and patriotic speeches. But there were also some discordant notes. In Denver, Colorado, a scheduled Columbus Day parade was called off to prevent a clash between the marchers and Native American protesters. In Berkeley, California, the city council renamed October 12 Indigenous People’s Day and dedicated the site of a planned Turtle Island Monument, which was to commemorate a Native American story of creation. In Columbus, Ohio (the world’s largest city named for Columbus), groups of Native Americans held a memorial service in a park about two blocks from a full-scale model of the Santa Maria. In New York City, the National Council of Churches announced that 1992 should be a time, not of celebration, but of repentance for an “invasion and colonization with legalized occupation, genocide, economic exploitation, and a deep level of institutional racism and moral decadence.”

Americans in 1992 remembered an unpopular war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and the ugly stain of numerous “ethnic cleansings” around the world. We look at the past differently from U.S. citizens of 1892. The past itself has not changed, but assessments of the consequences of past events have undergone dramatic alterations. With a greater sensitivity to Native American perceptions and to environmental concerns, recent interpretations of history often emphasize the negative side of the Columbian exchange. Contact brought not “progress,” but disease, starvation, and enslavement. It wrought havoc on the cultures and environment of the Western Hemisphere, and it resulted in the death of tens of millions of people. Indeed, according to the interpretation offered by David E. Stannard in American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World (1992), the “European and white American destruction of the native peoples of the Americas was the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world.”

This chapter focuses on the era of initial contact between the peoples of Europe and the Americas. It was a period of discovery and disease, of exploration and exploitation, of colonization and conquest. The chapter includes excerpts from Columbus’s narrative of his first voyage; from the works of Bartolomé de Las Casas, the controversial “Protector of the Indians”; and from Aztec accounts of the coming of the Spanish. The first two sources, although among the most significant texts describing the period of encounter, are both products of European minds, and they tell us as much about Old World perceptions and ambitions as they do about New World realities. Consequently, do not be too quick to accept at face value the assertions stated in the texts. Rather, question the sources thoroughly, always asking why these words were written and how much of the testimony is trustworthy. While no full narratives exist that reveal how the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean reacted to those early days of contact, other voices give us hints of how they experienced the coming of Europeans. The Aztec chroniclers left moving accounts of the clash between the two peoples.

Columbus had a simple but expensive idea: to reach the Eastern world by sailing west. While European monarchs coveted the profits that could be made from finding a waterway to the Orient, most gave little consideration to Columbus’s plan. They rejected Columbus’s scheme, not because they believed the earth to be flat, but because their advisers told them that the earth was quite large, and that to reach the East by sailing west, one would have to travel some ten thousand miles across dangerous Atlantic waters. Columbus, however, believing the earth to be much smaller than scholars estimated, insisted that Japan was only about twenty-four hundred miles from the Canary Islands. If given the opportunity, Columbus promised not only to prove the calculations of the scholars wrong, but also to find a waterway to the riches of Asia.

Several developments worked to Columbus’s advantage. In searching for a southern sea-lane to India in 1488, the Portuguese sailed five thousand miles down the African coastline to the tip of the continent. These explorations—while confirming the possibility of reaching the East by sailing south—also demonstrated that such a trip would be longer and more costly than had been anticipated. This discovery made a westward journey to the East appear more attractive. Furthermore, in January 1492, the Spanish Christians defeated the Moorish Muslims in Granada, thereby ending years of warfare in southern Spain. The Spaniards also banished all Jews from the land. Once freed from the expense of this costly civil war, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, now had the luxury of gambling their fortunes on Columbus’s scheme. They supplied Columbus with three ships and a crew, an elaborate title, and a diplomatic passport intended to introduce him to the kings he expected to meet in the Orient. In return for this sponsorship, the Spanish Crown was to receive 90 percent of all income gained from the enterprise.

A woodcut published with the 1493 edition of Columbus’s letter. King Ferdinand is the figure on the left side. Columbus is the little figure in the boat meeting the much larger inhabitants of Hispaniola. In much medieval and early modern art, the size of the figures in artistic renderings implied something about the relationship of the figure to God and the viewer. Often, saints and other important people were larger than commoners. What do you think this artist was implying by making the Taino Indians larger than Columbus and approximately the same size as King Ferdinand? (Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)

Although it was not required or even customary for Spanish sea captains at this time to keep a travel log, Columbus decided to document his historic search for the Orient. Writing for his monarchs but with an eye to history, Columbus produced a narrative of the voyage, a document that included a prologue detailing the objectives of the mission, as well as daily journal entries describing the preparation of the fleet, the outward voyage, landfall, exploration, and the homeward journey. On returning to Spain, Columbus presented his narrative to Queen Isabella, who copied it, kept the original, and returned the copy to Columbus. The original was subsequently lost, and Columbus’s copy passed on his death to his eldest son, and later to Luis, one of his grandsons. Although Luis had permission to publish the journal, he never did, and some scholars have been led to conclude that he sold it to subsidize his legendary debauchery. At any rate, both the original and the only known copy of Columbus’s journal disappeared before the historic text could be published.

Fortunately, however, in the 1530s Bartolomé de Las Casas came into contact with one of the copies of the journal while he was conducting research for his own History of the Indies. Las Casas took extensive notes from the journal, summarizing portions of it and copying other sections word for word. Las Casas’s transcription, which itself was not published until 1825, is the closest we are likely to get to Columbus’s original 1492–1493 narrative.

In addition to providing us with the only extant version of Columbus’s journal, Las Casas also left a passionate description of the consequences of the first half-century of Spanish colonization. Las Casas became interested in the peoples of the New World at an early age. In 1493, while only eight years old, he saw Columbus parade through the streets of Seville during a triumphant tour showcasing Columbus’s first voyage. Six months later, Las Casas’s father and three of his uncles sailed with Columbus on the second of Columbus’s four transatlantic voyages. As a young teenager, Las Casas received from his father an unusual souvenir gift: a Taino boy, a servant who was subsequently freed and returned to the Indies on the order of Queen Isabella. In 1502, Las Casas made the first of what would be ten trips across the Atlantic. Initially as a doctrinero (or teacher of Christian doctrine to the Indians) and later as the first Roman Catholic priest ordained in the New World, Las Casas began to see the moral inequities within a colonial system that granted Spanish settlers—in return for promising to instruct the natives in Christian doctrine—the right to the fields, mines, and labor of Native American subjects. Between 1514, when Las Casas first spoke against the horrors of Spanish exploitation, and his death in 1564, he carried on a gallant if sometimes frustrating crusade for Native American rights.

THE DOCUMENTS

While reading the following documents, rethink the meaning of the “Age of Contact and Conquest.” Re-create the moment of encounter. In what ways were the Old and New Worlds and their peoples alike and not alike? What did the word discovery mean to Columbus and the subsequent colonists, and what did it mean to the Native Americans who encountered alien creatures invading their lands? Also, reflect on the consequences of the Spanish colonization efforts. How did the Spanish justify colonization, and how valid were these justifications?

Introduction to Documents 1 and 2

The following are excerpts from the writings of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, and Christopher Columbus. The first document, “Privileges and Prerogatives Granted by Their Catholic Majesties,” offers insights into what the Spanish monarchs expected Columbus to accomplish on his maiden voyage. The second document is taken from the prologue and journal of Columbus’s first voyage. Recall that Columbus found land as he had anticipated, when about twenty-four hundred miles out into the Atlantic. The people and environs he encountered, however, were not expected. Whereas he anticipated the busy ports and elegantly robed subjects that had been described in the writings of Marco Polo, he instead found naked strangers and few signs of commerce. His words suggest a bewildered man struggling to reconcile the known with the unknown. Note: Grand Khan and Cathay refer to Asia.

DOCUMENT 1 Privileges and Prerogatives Granted by Their Catholic Majesties to Christopher Columbus: 1492

FERDINAND and ELIZABETH, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of Castile, of Leon, of Arragon, of Sicily, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Minorca, of Sevil, of Sardinia, of Jaen, of Algarve, of Algezira, of Gibraltar, of the Canary Islands, Count and Countess of Barcelona, Lord and Lady of Biscay and Molina, Duke and Duchess of Athens and Neopatria, Count and Countess of Rousillion and Cerdaigne, Marquess and Marchioness of Oristan and Gociano, &c.

For as much of you, Christopher Columbus, are going by our command, with some of our vessels and men, to discover and subdue some Islands and Continent in the ocean, and it is hoped that by God’s assistance, some of the said Islands and Continent in the ocean will be discovered and conquered by your means and conduct, therefore it is but just and reasonable, that since you expose yourself to such danger to serve us, you should be rewarded for it. And we being willing to honor and favor You for the reasons aforesaid: Our will is, That you, Christopher Columbus, after discovering and conquering the said Islands and Continent in the said ocean, or any of them, shall be our Admiral of the said Islands and Continent you shall so discover and conquer; and that you be our Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor in them, and that for the future, you may call and style yourself, D. Christopher Columbus, and that your sons and successors in the said employment, may call themselves Dons, Admirals, Vice-Roys, and Governors of them; and that you may exercise the office of Admiral, with the charge of Vice-Roy and Governor of the said Islands and Continent, which you and your Lieutenants shall conquer, and freely decide all causes, civil and criminal, appertaining to the said employment of Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor, as you shall think fit in justice, and as the Admirals of our kingdoms use to do; and that you have power to punish offenders; and you and your Lieutenants exercise the employments of Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor, in all things belonging to the said offices, or any of them; and that you enjoy the perquisites and salaries belonging to the said employments, and to each of them, in the same manner as the High Admiral of our kingdoms does….

GIVEN at Granada, on the 30th of April, in the year of our Lord, 1492.

I, THE KING, I, THE QUEEN.

DOCUMENT 2 Journal of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage

…This present year of 1492, after Your Highnesses had brought to an end the war with the Moors who ruled in Europe and had concluded the war in the very great city of Granada, where this present year on the second day of the month of January I saw the Royal Standards of Your Highnesses placed by force of arms on the towers of the Alhambra, which is the fortress of the said city; and I saw the Moorish King come out to the gates of the city and kiss the Royal Hands of Your Highnesses and of the Prince my Lord; and later in that same month, because of the report that I had given to Your Highnesses about the lands of India and about a prince who is called “Grand Khan,” which means in our Spanish language “King of Kings”; how, many times, he and his predecessors had sent to Rome to ask for men learned in our Holy Faith in order that they might instruct him in it and how the Holy Father had never provided them; and thus so many peoples were lost, falling into idolatry and accepting false and harmful religions; and Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, lovers and promoters of the Holy Christian Faith, and enemies of the false doctrine of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, you thought of sending me, Christóbal Colón, to the said regions of India to see the said princes and the peoples and the lands, and the characteristics of the lands and of everything, and to see how their conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken. And you commanded that I should not go to the East by land, by which way it is customary to go, but by the route to the West, by which route we do not know for certain that anyone previously has passed. So, after having expelled all the Jews from all of your Kingdoms and Dominions, in the same month of January Your Highnesses commanded me to go, with a suitable fleet, to the said regions of India. And for that you granted me great favors and ennobled me so that from then on I might call myself “Don” and would be Grand Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and perpetual Governor of all the islands and lands that I might discover and gain and [that] from now on might be discovered and gained in the Ocean Sea; and likewise my eldest son would succeed me and his son him, from generation to generation forever. And I left the city of Granada on the twelfth day of May in the same year of 1492 on Saturday, and I came to the town of Palos, which is a seaport, where I fitted out three vessels very well suited for such exploits; and I left the said port, very well provided with supplies and with many seamen, on the third day of August of the said year, on a Friday, half an hour before sunrise; and I took the route to Your Highnesses’ Canary Islands, which are in the said Ocean Sea, in order from there to take my course and sail so far that I would reach the Indies and give Your Highnesses’ message to those princes and thus carry out that which you had commanded me to do. And for this purpose I thought of writing on this whole voyage, very diligently, all that I would do and see and experience, as will be seen further along….

Wednesday 10 October

This map by Strabo, a Greek geographer, is a redrawing of the world according to Eratosthenes. In the third century B.C., the Greek geographer projected the circumference of the earth to be the equivalent of twenty-five thousand miles. Eratosthenes’s world view dominated scholarly thought at the time of Columbus. (This map was adopted from Orbis Terrarum Secundum Strabonem from C. Müller.)

Columbus had a simple but expensive idea: to reach the Eastern world by sailing west. While European Columbus had a simple but expensive idea: to reach the Eastern world by sailing west. While European monarchs coveted the profits that could be made from finding a waterway to the Orient, most gave little consideration to Columbus’s plan. They rejected Columbus’s scheme, not because they believed the earth to be flat, but because their advisers told them that the earth was quite large, and that to reach the East by sailing west, one would have to travel some ten thousand miles across dangerous Atlantic waters. Columbus, however, believing the earth to be much smaller than scholars estimated, insisted that Japan was only about twenty-four hundred miles from the Canary Islands. If given the opportunity, Columbus promised not only to prove the calculations of the scholars wrong, but also to find a waterway to the riches of Asia.

Several developments worked to Columbus’s advantage. In searching for a southern sea-lane to India in 1488, the Portuguese sailed five thousand miles down the African coastline to the tip of the continent. These explorations—while confirming the possibility of reaching the East by sailing south—also demonstrated that such a trip would be longer and more costly than had been anticipated. This discovery made a westward journey to the East appear more attractive. Furthermore, in January 1492, the Spanish Christians defeated the Moorish Muslims in Granada, thereby ending years of warfare in southern Spain. The Spaniards also banished all Jews from the land. Once freed from the expense of this costly civil war, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, now had the luxury of gambling their fortunes on Columbus’s scheme. They supplied Columbus with three ships and a crew, an elaborate title, and a diplomatic passport intended to introduce him to the kings he expected to meet in the Orient. In return for this sponsorship, the Spanish Crown was to receive 90 percent of all income gained from the enterprise.

A woodcut published with the 1493 edition of Columbus’s letter. King Ferdinand is the figure on the left side. Columbus is the little figure in the boat meeting the much larger inhabitants of Hispaniola. In much medieval and early modern art, the size of the figures in artistic renderings implied something about the relationship of the figure to God and the viewer. Often, saints and other important people were larger than commoners. What do you think this artist was implying by making the Taino Indians larger than Columbus and approximately the same size as King Ferdinand? (Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)

Although it was not required or even customary for Spanish sea captains at this time to keep a travel log, Columbus decided to document his historic search for the Orient. Writing for his monarchs but with an eye to history, Columbus produced a narrative of the voyage, a document that included a prologue detailing the objectives of the mission, as well as daily journal entries describing the preparation of the fleet, the outward voyage, landfall, exploration, and the homeward journey. On returning to Spain, Columbus presented his narrative to Queen Isabella, who copied it, kept the original, and returned the copy to Columbus. The original was subsequently lost, and Columbus’s copy passed on his death to his eldest son, and later to Luis, one of his grandsons. Although Luis had permission to publish the journal, he never did, and some scholars have been led to conclude that he sold it to subsidize his legendary debauchery. At any rate, both the original and the only known copy of Columbus’s journal disappeared before the historic text could be published.

Fortunately, however, in the 1530s Bartolomé de Las Casas came into contact with one of the copies of the journal while he was conducting research for his own History of the Indies. Las Casas took extensive notes from the journal, summarizing portions of it and copying other sections word for word. Las Casas’s transcription, which itself was not published until 1825, is the closest we are likely to get to Columbus’s original 1492–1493 narrative.

In addition to providing us with the only extant version of Columbus’s journal, Las Casas also left a passionate description of the consequences of the first half-century of Spanish colonization. Las Casas became interested in the peoples of the New World at an early age. In 1493, while only eight years old, he saw Columbus parade through the streets of Seville during a triumphant tour showcasing Columbus’s first voyage. Six months later, Las Casas’s father and three of his uncles sailed with Columbus on the second of Columbus’s four transatlantic voyages. As a young teenager, Las Casas received from his father an unusual souvenir gift: a Taino boy, a servant who was subsequently freed and returned to the Indies on the order of Queen Isabella. In 1502, Las Casas made the first of what would be ten trips across the Atlantic. Initially as a doctrinero (or teacher of Christian doctrine to the Indians) and later as the first Roman Catholic priest ordained in the New World, Las Casas began to see the moral inequities within a colonial system that granted Spanish settlers—in return for promising to instruct the natives in Christian doctrine—the right to the fields, mines, and labor of Native American subjects. Between 1514, when Las Casas first spoke against the horrors of Spanish exploitation, and his death in 1564, he carried on a gallant if sometimes frustrating crusade for Native American rights.

THE DOCUMENTS

While reading the following documents, rethink the meaning of the “Age of Contact and Conquest.” Re-create the moment of encounter. In what ways were the Old and New Worlds and their peoples alike and not alike? What did the word discovery mean to Columbus and the subsequent colonists, and what did it mean to the Native Americans who encountered alien creatures invading their lands? Also, reflect on the consequences of the Spanish colonization efforts. How did the Spanish justify colonization, and how valid were these justifications?

Introduction to Documents 1 and 2

The following are excerpts from the writings of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, and Christopher Columbus. The first document, “Privileges and Prerogatives Granted by Their Catholic Majesties,” offers insights into what the Spanish monarchs expected Columbus to accomplish on his maiden voyage. The second document is taken from the prologue and journal of Columbus’s first voyage. Recall that Columbus found land as he had anticipated, when about twenty-four hundred miles out into the Atlantic. The people and environs he encountered, however, were not expected. Whereas he anticipated the busy ports and elegantly robed subjects that had been described in the writings of Marco Polo, he instead found naked strangers and few signs of commerce. His words suggest a bewildered man struggling to reconcile the known with the unknown. Note: Grand Khan and Cathay refer to Asia.

DOCUMENT 1  Privileges and Prerogatives Granted by Their Catholic Majesties to Christopher Columbus: 1492

FERDINAND and ELIZABETH, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of Castile, of Leon, of Arragon, of Sicily, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Minorca, of Sevil, of Sardinia, of Jaen, of Algarve, of Algezira, of Gibraltar, of the Canary Islands, Count and Countess of Barcelona, Lord and Lady of Biscay and Molina, Duke and Duchess of Athens and Neopatria, Count and Countess of Rousillion and Cerdaigne, Marquess and Marchioness of Oristan and Gociano, &c.

For as much of you, Christopher Columbus, are going by our command, with some of our vessels and men, to discover and subdue some Islands and Continent in the ocean, and it is hoped that by God’s assistance, some of the said Islands and Continent in the ocean will be discovered and conquered by your means and conduct, therefore it is but just and reasonable, that since you expose yourself to such danger to serve us, you should be rewarded for it. And we being willing to honor and favor You for the reasons aforesaid: Our will is, That you, Christopher Columbus, after discovering and conquering the said Islands and Continent in the said ocean, or any of them, shall be our Admiral of the said Islands and Continent you shall so discover and conquer; and that you be our Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor in them, and that for the future, you may call and style yourself, D. Christopher Columbus, and that your sons and successors in the said employment, may call themselves Dons, Admirals, Vice-Roys, and Governors of them; and that you may exercise the office of Admiral, with the charge of Vice-Roy and Governor of the said Islands and Continent, which you and your Lieutenants shall conquer, and freely decide all causes, civil and criminal, appertaining to the said employment of Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor, as you shall think fit in justice, and as the Admirals of our kingdoms use to do; and that you have power to punish offenders; and you and your Lieutenants exercise the employments of Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor, in all things belonging to the said offices, or any of them; and that you enjoy the perquisites and salaries belonging to the said employments, and to each of them, in the same manner as the High Admiral of our kingdoms does….

GIVEN at Granada, on the 30th of April, in the year of our Lord, 1492.

I, THE KING, I, THE QUEEN.

DOCUMENT 2  Journal of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage

…This present year of 1492, after Your Highnesses had brought to an end the war with the Moors who ruled in Europe and had concluded the war in the very great city of Granada, where this present year on the second day of the month of January I saw the Royal Standards of Your Highnesses placed by force of arms on the towers of the Alhambra, which is the fortress of the said city; and I saw the Moorish King come out to the gates of the city and kiss the Royal Hands of Your Highnesses and of the Prince my Lord; and later in that same month, because of the report that I had given to Your Highnesses about the lands of India and about a prince who is called “Grand Khan,” which means in our Spanish language “King of Kings”; how, many times, he and his predecessors had sent to Rome to ask for men learned in our Holy Faith in order that they might instruct him in it and how the Holy Father had never provided them; and thus so many peoples were lost, falling into idolatry and accepting false and harmful religions; and Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, lovers and promoters of the Holy Christian Faith, and enemies of the false doctrine of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, you thought of sending me, Christóbal Colón, to the said regions of India to see the said princes and the peoples and the lands, and the characteristics of the lands and of everything, and to see how their conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken. And you commanded that I should not go to the East by land, by which way it is customary to go, but by the route to the West, by which route we do not know for certain that anyone previously has passed. So, after having expelled all the Jews from all of your Kingdoms and Dominions, in the same month of January Your Highnesses commanded me to go, with a suitable fleet, to the said regions of India. And for that you granted me great favors and ennobled me so that from then on I might call myself “Don” and would be Grand Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and perpetual Governor of all the islands and lands that I might discover and gain and [that] from now on might be discovered and gained in the Ocean Sea; and likewise my eldest son would succeed me and his son him, from generation to generation forever. And I left the city of Granada on the twelfth day of May in the same year of 1492 on Saturday, and I came to the town of Palos, which is a seaport, where I fitted out three vessels very well suited for such exploits; and I left the said port, very well provided with supplies and with many seamen, on the third day of August of the said year, on a Friday, half an hour before sunrise; and I took the route to Your Highnesses’ Canary Islands, which are in the said Ocean Sea, in order from there to take my course and sail so far that I would reach the Indies and give Your Highnesses’ message to those princes and thus carry out that which you had commanded me to do. And for this purpose I thought of writing on this whole voyage, very diligently, all that I would do and see and experience, as will be seen further along….

Wednesday 10 October

He *  steered west-southwest; they traveled ten miles per hour and at times 12 and for a time seven and between day and night made 59 leagues; he told the men only 44 leagues. Here the men could no longer stand it; they complained of the long voyage. But the Admiral encouraged them as best he could, giving them good hope of the benefits that they would be able to secure. And he added that it was useless to complain since he had come to find the Indies and thus had to continue the voyage until he found them, with the help of Our Lord.

Thursday 11 October

He steered west-southwest. They took much water aboard, more than they had taken in the whole voyage. They saw petrels and a green bulrush near the ship. The men of the caravel Pinta saw a cane and a stick, and took on board another small stick that appeared to have been worked with iron, and a piece of cane, and other vegetation originating on land, and a small plank. The men of the caravel Niña also saw other signs of land and a small stick loaded with barnacles. With these signs everyone breathed more easily and cheered up. On this day, up to sunset, they made 27 leagues.

* Note that Columbus sometimes referred to himself in the third person.

After sunset he steered on his former course to the west. They made about 12 miles each hour and, until two hours after midnight, made about 90 miles, which is twenty-two leagues and a half. And because the caravel Pinta was a better sailor and went ahead of the Admiral it found land and made the signals that the Admiral had ordered. A sailor named Rodrigo de Triana saw this land first, although the Admiral, at the tenth hour of the night, while he was on the stern castle, saw a light, although it was something so faint that he did not wish to affirm that it was land. But he called Pedro Gutierrez, the steward of the king’s dais, and told him that there seemed to be a light, and for him to look: and thus he did and saw it. He also told Rodrigo Sánchez de Segovia, whom the king and queen were sending as veedor * of the fleet, who saw nothing because he was not in a place where he could see it. After the Admiral said it, it was seen once or twice; and it was like a small wax candle that rose and lifted up, which to few seemed to be an indication of land. But the Admiral was certain that they were near land, because of which when they recited the Salve, which sailors in their own way are accustomed to recite and sing, all being present, the Admiral entreated and admonished them to keep a good lookout on the forecastle and to watch carefully for land; and that to the man who first told him that he saw land he would later give a silk jacket in addition to the other rewards that the sovereigns had promised, which were ten thousand maravedis as an annuity to whoever should see it first. At two hours after midnight the land appeared, from which they were about two leagues distant. They hauled down all the sails and kept only the treo, which is the mainsail without bonnets, and jogged on and off, passing time until daylight Friday, when they reached an islet of the Lucayas, which was called Guanahani in the language of the Indians. Soon they saw naked people; and the Admiral went ashore in the armed launch, and Martin Alonso Pinzón and his brother Vicente Anes, who was captain of the Niña. The Admiral brought out the royal banner and the captains two flags with the green cross, which the Admiral carried on all the ships as a standard, with an F and a Y, and over each letter a crown, one on one side of the † and the other on the other. Thus put ashore they saw very green trees and many ponds and fruits of various kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains and to the others who had jumped ashore and to Rodrigo Descobedo, the escrivano [secretary] of the whole fleet, and to Rodrigo Sánchez de Segovia; and he said that they should be witnesses that, in the presence of all, he would take, as in fact he did take, possession of the said island for the king and for the queen his lords, making the declarations that were required, and which at more length are contained in the testimonials made there in writing. Soon many people of the island gathered there. What follows are the very words of the Admiral in his book about his first voyage to, and discovery of, these Indies. I, he says, in order that they would be friendly to us—because I recognized that they were people who would be better freed [from error] and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force—to some of them I gave red caps, and glass beads which they put on their chests, and many other things of small value, in which they took so much pleasure and became so much our friends that it was a marvel. Later they came swimming to the ships’ launches where we were and brought us parrots and cotton thread in balls and javelins and many other things, and they traded them to us for other things which we gave them, such as small glass beads and bells. In sum, they took everything and gave of what they had very willingly. But it seemed to me that they were a people very poor in everything. All of them go around as naked as their mothers bore them; and the women also, although I did not see more than one quite young girl. And all those that I saw were young people, for none did I see of more than 30 years of age. They are very well formed, with handsome bodies and good faces. Their hair [is] coarse—almost like the tail of a horse—and short. They wear their hair down over their eyebrows except for a little in the back which they wear long and never cut. Some of them paint themselves with black, and they are of the color of the Canarians, neither black nor white; and some of them paint themselves with white, and some of them with red, and some of them with whatever they find. And some of them paint their faces, and some of them the whole body, and some of them only the eyes, and some of them only the nose. They do not carry arms nor are they acquainted with them, because I showed them swords and they took them by the edge and through ignorance cut themselves. They have no iron. Their javelins are shafts without iron and some of them have at the end a fish tooth…. All of them alike are of good-sized stature and carry themselves well. I saw some who had marks of wounds on their bodies and I made signs to them asking what they were; and they showed me how people from other islands nearby came there and tried to take them, and how they defended themselves; and I believed and believe that they come here from tierra firme * to take them captive. They should be good and intelligent servants, for I see that they say very quickly everything that is said to them; and I believe that they would become Christians very easily, for it seemed to me that they had no religion. Our Lord pleasing, at the time of my departure I will take six of them from here to Your Highnesses in order that they may learn to speak….

* A veedor, or comptroller, was appointed by the sovereigns.

…They came to the ship with dugouts that are made from the trunk of one tree, like a long boat, and all of one piece, and worked marvelously in the fashion of the land, and so big that in some of them 40 and 45 men came. And others smaller, down to some in which came one man alone. They row with a paddle like that of a baker and go marvelously. And if it capsizes on them they then throw themselves in the water, and they right and empty it with calabashes [bowls] that they carry. They brought balls of spun cotton and parrots and javelins and other little things that it would be tiresome to write down, and they gave everything for anything that was given to them. I was attentive and labored to find out if there was any gold; and I saw that some of them wore a little piece hung in a hole that they have in their noses. And by signs I was able to understand that, going to the south or rounding the island to the south, there was there a king who had large vessels of it and had very much gold…. This island is quite big and very flat and with very green trees and much water and a very large lake in the middle and without any mountains; and all of it so green that it is a pleasure to look at it. And these people are very gentle, and because of their desire to have some of our things, and believing that nothing will be given to them without their giving something, and not having anything, they take what they can and then throw themselves into the water to swim….

Sunday 14 October

As soon as it dawned I ordered the ship’s boat and the launches of the caravels made ready and went north-northeast along the island in order to see what there was in the other part, which was the eastern part. And also to see the villages, and I soon saw two or three, as well as people, who all came to the beach calling to us and giving thanks to God. Some of them brought us water; others, other things to eat; others, when they saw that I did not care to go ashore, threw themselves into the sea swimming and came to us, and we understood that they were asking us if we had come from the heavens. And one old man got into the ship’s boat, and others in loud voices called to all the men and women: Come see the men who came from the heavens. Bring them something to eat and drink. Many men came, and many women, each one with something, giving thanks to God, throwing themselves on the ground; and they raised their hands to heaven, and afterward they called to us in loud voices to come ashore. But I was afraid, seeing a big stone reef that encircled that island all around. And in between the reef and shore there was depth and harbor for as many ships as there are in the whole of Christendom, and the entrance to it is very narrow…. And I saw a piece of land formed like an island, although it was not one, on which there were six houses. This piece of land might in two days be cut off to make an island, although I do not see this to be necessary since these people are very naive about weapons, as Your Highnesses will see from seven that I caused to be taken in order to carry them away to you and to learn our language and to return them. Except that, whenever Your Highnesses may command, all of them can be taken to Castile or held captive in this same island; because with 50 men all of them could be held in subjection and can be made to do whatever one might wish. And later [I noticed], near the said islet, groves of trees, the most beautiful that I saw and with their leaves as green as those of Castile in the months of April and May, and lots of water. I looked over the whole of that harbor and afterward returned to the ship and set sail, and I saw so many islands that I did not know how to decide which one I would go to first. And those men whom I had taken told me by signs that they were so very many that they were numberless. And they named by their names more than a hundred. Finally I looked for the largest and to that one I decided to go and so I am doing. It is about five leagues distant from this island of San Salvador, and the others of them some more, some less. All are very flat without mountains and very fertile and all populated and they make war on one another, even though these men are very simple and very handsome in body….

*Tierra firme literally means “firm earth.” In this context, however, it means the mainland.

Tuesday 30 October

He went out of the Rio de Mares to the northwest and, after he had gone 15 leagues, saw a cape full of palms and named it Cabo de Palmas. The Indians in the caravel Pinta said that behind that cape there was a river and that from the river to Cuba was a four-day journey. And the captain of the Pinta said that he understood that this Cuba was a city and that that land was a very big landmass that went far to the north, and that the king of that land was at war with the Grand Khan, whom they call cami, and his land or city, Faba, and many other names. The Admiral decided to go to that river and to send a present to the king of the land and to send him the letter of the sovereigns. And for this purpose he had a sailor who had gone on the same kind of mission in Guinea, and certain Indians from Guanahani wished to go with him so that afterward they would be returned to their own land. In the opinion of the Admiral he was distant from the equinoctial line 42 degrees toward the northern side (if the text from which I took this is not corrupt). And he says that he must strive to go to the Grand Khan, whom he thought was somewhere around there, or to the city of Cathay, which belongs to the Grand Khan. For he says that it is very large, according to what he was told before he left Spain. All this land, he says, is low and beautiful, and the sea deep….

Sunday 4 November

…The Admiral showed cinnamon and pepper to a few of the Indians of that place (it seems from the samples that he was bringing from Castile) and he says that they recognized it; and they said by signs that nearby to the southeast there was a lot of it. He showed them gold and pearls, and certain old men answered that in a place that they called Bohío there was a vast amount and that they wore it on neck and in ears and on arms and legs; and also pearls. Moreover, he understood that they said that there were big ships and much trade and that all of this was to the southeast. He understood also that, far from there, there were one-eyed men, and others, with snouts of dogs, who ate men, and that as soon as one was taken they cut his throat and drank his blood and cut off his genitals. The Admiral decided to return to the ship to wait for the two men whom he had sent and to decide whether to leave and seek those lands, unless the two men brought good news of that which they desired….

Tuesday 6 November

…They saw many kinds of trees and plants and fragrant flowers; they saw birds of many kinds, different from those of Spain, except partridges and nightingales, which sang, and geese, for of these there are a great many there. Four-footed beasts they did not see, except dogs that did not bark. The earth was very fertile and planted with those mañes and bean varieties very different from ours, and with that same millet. And they saw a large quantity of cotton collected and spun and worked; and in a single house they had seen more than five hundred arrobas; and that one might get there each year four thousand quintales[of it]. The Admiral says that it seemed to him that they did not sow it and that it produces fruit [i.e., cotton] all year. It is very fine and has a large boll. Everything that those people have, he says, they would give for a very paltry price, and that they would give a large basket of cotton for the tip of a lacing or anything else given to them. They are people, says the Admiral, quite lacking in evil and not warlike; [and] all of them, men and women [are] naked as their mothers bore them. It is true that the women wear a thing of cotton only so big as to cover their genitals and no more. And they are very respectful and not very black, less so than Canarians. I truly believe, most Serene Princes (the Admiral says here), that, given devout religious persons knowing thoroughly the language that they use, soon all of them would become Christian. And so I hope in Our Lord that Your Highnesses, with much diligence, will decide to send such persons in order to bring to the Church such great nations and to convert them, just as you have destroyed those that did not want to confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that after your days (for all of us are mortal) you will leave your kingdoms in a tranquil state, free of heresy and evil, and will be well received before the Eternal Creator, may it please Whom to give you long life and great increase of your kingdoms and dominions and the will and disposition to increase the Holy Christian Religion, as up to now you have done, amen. Today I pulled the ship off the beach and made ready to leave on Thursday, in the name of God, and to go to the southeast to seek gold and spices and to explore land. All these are the Admiral’s words. He intended to leave on Thursday, but because a contrary wind came up he could not leave until the twelfth of November….

Introduction to Document 3

The second document comes from a Catholic priest who dared to challenge the justice of Spanish conduct in the New World. Bartolomé de Las Casas wrote his Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies in 1542 to be read aloud in a court called by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to consider Spanish colonial reforms. Las Casas’s objective was to shock his audience with gruesome details of Spanish cruelty. His account was later translated into six European languages and was circulated widely by the enemies of Spain. The passages reprinted here describe the island of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), which Columbus described in his journal.

DOCUMENT 3  From The Destruction of the Indies

A BRIEF ACCOUNT

Bartolomé de Las Casas

The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. In the following year a great many Spaniards went there with the intention of settling the land. Thus, forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first so-claimed being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, which is six hundred leagues in circumference. Around it in all directions are many other islands, some very big, others very small, and all of them were, as we saw with our own eyes, densely populated with native peoples called Indians. This large island was perhaps the most densely populated place in the world. There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island, and the seacoast has been explored for more than ten thousand leagues, and each day more of it is being explored. And all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.

And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome. These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady. The sons of nobles among us, brought up in the enjoyments of life’s refinements, are no more delicate than are these Indians, even those among them who are of the lowest rank of laborers. They are also poor people, for they not only possess little but have no desire to possess worldly goods. For this reason they are not arrogant, embittered, or greedy. Their repasts are such that the food of the holy fathers in the desert can scarcely be more parsimonious, scanty, and poor. As to their dress, they are generally naked, with only their pudenda covered somewhat. And when they cover their shoulders it is with a square cloth no more than two varas in size. They have no beds, but sleep on a kind of matting or else in a kind of suspended net called bamacas. They are very clean in their persons, with alert, intelligent minds, docile and open to doctrine, very apt to receive our holy Catholic faith, to be endowed with virtuous customs, and to behave in a godly fashion. And once they begin to hear the tidings of the Faith, they are so insistent on knowing more and on taking the sacraments of the Church and on observing the divine cult that, truly, the missionaries who are here need to be endowed by God with great patience in order to cope with such eagerness. Some of the secular Spaniards who have been here for many years say that the goodness of the Indians is undeniable and that if this gifted people could be brought to know the one true God they would be the most fortunate people in the world.

Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.

The island of Cuba is nearly as long as the distance between Valladolid and Rome; it is now almost completely depopulated. San Juan [Puerto Rico] and Jamaica are two of the largest, most productive and attractive islands; both are now deserted and devastated. On the northern side of Cuba and Hispaniola lie the neighboring Lucayos comprising more than sixty islands including those called Gigantes, beside numerous other islands, some small some large. The least felicitous of them were more fertile and beautiful than the gardens of the King of Seville. They have the healthiest lands in the world, where lived more than five hundred thousand souls; they are now deserted, inhabited by not a single living creature. All the people were slain or died after being taken into captivity and brought to the Island of Hispaniola to be sold as slaves. When the Spaniards saw that some of these had escaped, they sent a ship to find them, and it voyaged for three years among the  islands searching for those who had escaped being slaughtered, for a good Christian had helped them escape, taking pity on them and had won them over to Christ; of these there were eleven persons and these I saw.

More than thirty other islands in the vicinity of San Juan are for the most part and for the same reason depopulated, and the land laid waste. On these islands I estimate there are 2,100 leagues of land that have been ruined and depopulated, empty of people.

As for the vast mainland, which is ten times larger than all Spain, even including Aragon and Portugal, containing more land than the distance between Seville and Jerusalem, or more than two thousand leagues, we are sure that our Spaniards, with their cruel and abominable acts, have devastated the land and exterminated the rational people who fully inhabited it. We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like fifteen million.

The common ways mainly employed by the Spaniards who call themselves Christian and who have gone there to extirpate those pitiful nations and wipe them off the earth is by unjustly waging cruel and bloody wars. Then, when they have slain all those who fought for their lives or to escape the tortures they would have to endure, that is to say, when they have slain all the native rulers and young men (since the Spaniards usually spare only the women and children, who are subjected to the hardest and bitterest servitude ever suffered by man or beast), they enslave any survivors. With these infernal methods of tyranny they debase and weaken countless numbers of those pitiful Indian nations.

Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts. And I say this from my own knowledge of the acts I witnessed. But I should not say “than beasts” for, thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares. And thus they have deprived the Indians of their lives and souls, for the millions I mentioned have died without the Faith and without the benefit of the sacraments. This is a well-known and proven fact which even the tyrant Governors, themselves killers, know and admit. And never have the Indians in all the Indies committed any act against the Spanish Christians, until those Christians have first and many times committed countless cruel aggressions against them or against neighboring nations. For in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from Heaven. Only after the Spaniards had used violence against them, killing, robbing, torturing, did the Indians ever rise up against them….

On the Island Hispaniola was where the Spaniards first landed, as I have said. Here those Christians perpetrated their first ravages and oppressions against the native peoples. This was the first land in the New World to be destroyed and depopulated by the Christians, and here they began their subjection of the women and children, taking them away from the Indians to use them and ill use them, eating the food they provided with their sweat and toil. The Spaniards did not content themselves with what the Indians gave them of their own free will, according to their ability, which was always too little to satisfy enormous appetites, for a Christian eats and consumes in one day an amount of food that would suffice to feed three houses inhabited by ten Indians for one month. And they committed other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from Heaven. And some of the Indians concealed their foods while others concealed their wives and children and still others fled to the mountains to avoid the terrible transactions of the Christians.

And the Christians attacked them with buffets and beatings, until finally they laid hands on the nobles of the villages. Then they behaved with such temerity and shame-lessness that the most powerful ruler of the islands had to see his own wife raped by a Christian officer.

From that time onward the Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. (Because of this, the wars of the Indians against each other are little more than games played by children.) And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, “Boil there, you offspring of the devil!” Other infants they put to the sword along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive. To others they attached straw or wrapped their whole bodies in straw and set them afire. With still others, all those they wanted to capture alive, they cut off their hands and hung them round the victim’s neck, saying, “Go now, carry the message,” meaning, Take the news to the Indians who have fled to the mountains. They usually dealt with the chieftains and nobles in the following way: they made a grid of rods which they placed on forked sticks, then lashed the victims to the grid and lighted a smoldering fire underneath, so that little by little, as those captives screamed in despair and torment, their souls would leave them….

After the wars and the killings had ended, when usually there survived only some boys, some women, and children, these survivors were distributed among the Christians to be slaves. The repartimiento or distribution was made according to the rank and importance of the Christian to whom the Indians were allocated, one of them being given thirty, another forty, still another, one or two hundred, and besides the rank of the Christian there was also to be considered in what favor he stood with the tyrant they called Governor. The pretext was that these allocated Indians were to be instructed in the articles of the Christian Faith. As if those Christians who were as a rule foolish and cruel and greedy and vicious could be caretakers of souls! And the care they took was to send the men to the mines to dig for gold, which is intolerable labor, and to send the women into the fields of the big ranches to hoe and till the land, work suitable for strong men. Nor to either the men or the women did they give any food except herbs and legumes, things of little substance. The milk in the breasts of the women with infants dried up and thus in a short while the infants perished. And since men and women were separated, there could be no marital relations. And the men died in the mines and the women died on the ranches from the same causes, exhaustion and hunger. And thus was depopulated that island which had been densely populated.

Introduction to Document 4

There is no way to tell the story of the coming of Europeans in the words of Caribbean peoples; their impressions are lost to history. But written records have survived from the most powerful native group, the Aztecs. On November 8, 1519, Hernán Cortés, accompanied by six hundred Spanish soldiers, as well as many indigenous allies, entered the Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlán (today, Mexico City). On first seeing the city, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of the conquistadors, thought he must be dreaming; the temples and towers and fortresses all gleaming white were “a wonderful thing to behold.” The Spaniards were greeted by Motecuhzoma (better known to us as Montezuma), the Aztec King. Motecuhzoma believed that Cortés must be Quetzalcoatl, the god who it had been prophesied would return some day from across the waters. The following account was recorded in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, by students of the Franciscan friar Bernadino de Sahagún. Called the Florentine Codex, these narratives were taken down a few decades after the conquest and were based on the reminiscences of Aztecs who had lived through those events.

DOCUMENT 4  The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest, Florentine Codex, as Collected by Bernadino de Sahagún

The Spaniards arrived in Xoloco, near the entrance to Tenochtitlán. That was the end of the march, for they had reached their goal.

Motecuhzoma now arrayed himself in his finery, preparing to go out to meet them. The other great princes also adorned their persons, as did the nobles and their chieftains and knights. They all went out together to meet the strangers.

They brought trays heaped with the finest flowers—the flower that resembles a shield; the flower shaped like a heart; in the center, the flower with the sweetest aroma; and the fragrant yellow flower, the most precious of all. They also brought garlands of flowers, and ornaments for the breast, and necklaces of gold, necklaces hung with rich stones, necklaces fashioned in the petatillo style.

Thus Motecuhzoma went out to meet them, there in Huitzillan. He presented many gifts to the Captain and his commanders, those who had come to make war. He showered gifts upon them and hung flowers around their necks; he gave them necklaces of flowers and bands of flowers to adorn their breasts; he set garlands of flowers upon their heads. Then he hung the gold necklaces around their necks and gave them presents of every sort as gifts of welcome.

When Motecuhzoma had given necklaces to each one, Cortés asked him: “Are you Motecuhzoma? Are you the king? Is it true that you are the king Motecuhzoma?”

And the king said: “Yes, I am Motecuhzoma.” Then he stood up to welcome Cortés; he came forward, bowed his head low and addressed him in these words: “Our lord, you are weary. The journey has tired you, but now you have arrived on the earth. You have come to your city, Mexico. You have come here to sit on your throne, to sit under its canopy.

“The kings who have gone before, your representatives, guarded it and preserved it for your coming. The kings Itzcoatl, Motecuhzoma the Elder, Axayacatl, Tizoc and Ahuitzol ruled for you in the City of Mexico. The people were protected by their swords and sheltered by their shields….

“No, it is not a dream. I am not walking in my sleep. I am not seeing you in my dreams…. I have seen you at last! I have met you face to face! I was in agony for five days, for ten days, with my eyes fixed on the Region of the Mystery. And now you have come out of the clouds and mists to sit on your throne again.

“This was foretold by the kings who governed your city, and now it has taken place. You have come back to us; you have come down from the sky. Rest now, and take possession of your royal houses. Welcome to your land, my lords!”

When Motecuhzoma had finished, La Malinche translated his address into Spanish so that the Captain could understand it. Cortés replied in his strange and savage tongue, speaking first to La Malinche: “Tell Motecuhzoma that we are his friends. There is nothing to fear. We have wanted to see him for a long time, and now we have seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that we love him well and that our hearts are contented.”…

When the Spaniards entered the Royal House, they placed Motecuhzoma under guard and kept him under their vigilance. They also placed a guard over Itzcuauhtzin, but the other lords were permitted to depart.

Then the Spaniards fired one of their cannons, and this caused great confusion in the city. The people scattered in every direction; they fled without rhyme or reason; they ran off as if they were being pursued. It was as if they had eaten the mushrooms that confuse the mind, or had seen some dreadful apparition. They were all overcome by terror, as if their hearts had fainted. And when night fell, the panic spread through the city and their fears would not let them sleep.

In the morning the Spaniards told Motecuhzoma what they needed in the way of supplies: tortillas, fried chickens, hens’ eggs, pure water, firewood and charcoal. Also: large, clean cooking pots, water jars, pitchers, dishes and other pottery. Motecuhzoma ordered that it be sent to them. The chiefs who received this order were angry with the king and no longer revered or respected him. But they furnished the Spaniards with all the provisions they needed—food, beverages and water, and fodder for the horses….

When the Spaniards were installed in the palace, they asked Motecuhzoma about the city’s resources and reserves and about the warriors’ ensigns and shields. They questioned him closely and then demanded gold.

Motecuhzoma guided them to it. They surrounded him and crowded close with their weapons. He walked in the center, while they formed a circle around him.

When they arrived at the treasure house called Teucalco, the riches of gold and feathers were brought out to them: ornaments made of quetzal feathers, richly worked shields, disks of gold, the necklaces of the idols, gold nose plugs, gold greaves and bracelets and crowns.

The Spaniards immediately stripped the feathers from the gold shields and ensigns. They gathered all the gold into a great mound and set fire to everything else, regardless of its value. Then they melted down the gold into ingots. As for the precious green stones, they took only the best of them; the rest were snatched up by the Tlaxcaltecas [a neighboring people]. The Spaniards searched through the whole treasure house, questioning and quarreling, and seized every object they thought was beautiful….

Next they went to Motecuhzoma’s storehouse, in the place called Totocalco [Place of the Palace of the Birds], where his personal treasures were kept. The Spaniards grinned like little beasts and patted each other with delight.

When they entered the hall of treasures, it was as if they had arrived in Paradise. They searched everywhere and coveted everything; they were slaves to their own greed. All of Motecuhzoma’s possessions were brought out: fine bracelets, necklaces with large stones, ankle rings with little gold bells, the royal crowns and all the royal finery—everything that belonged to the king and was reserved to him only. They seized these treasures as if they were their own, as if this plunder were merely a stroke of good luck. And when they had taken all the gold, they heaped up everything else in the middle of the patio….

The Aztecs begged permission of their king to hold the fiesta of Huitzilopochtli. The Spaniards wanted to see this fiesta to learn how it was celebrated. A delegation of the celebrants came to the palace where Motecuhzoma was a prisoner, and when their spokesman asked his permission, he granted it to them.

As soon as the delegation returned, the women began to grind seeds of the chicalote. These women had fasted for a whole year. They ground the seeds in the patio of the temple.

The Spaniards came out of the palace together, dressed in armor and carrying their weapons with them. They stalked among the women and looked at them one by one; they stared into the faces of the women who were grinding seeds. After this cold inspection, they went back into the palace. It is said that they planned to kill the celebrants if the men entered the patio….

[The Aztecs celebrated the fiesta of Toxcatl in honor of the god Huitzilopochtli. Bernadino de Sahagún observed that this spring festival was one of the most important in the calendar, much like the Spaniard’s Easter. The incidents described in this passage took place when Cortés was away from Tenochtitlán, and the Spanish soldiers were commanded in his absence by Pedro de Alvarado.]

On the evening before the fiesta of Toxcatl, the celebrants began to model a statue of Huitzilopochtli. They gave it such a human appearance that it seemed the body of a living man. Yet they made the statue with nothing but a paste made of the ground seeds of the chicalote, which they shaped over an armature of sticks.

When the statue was finished, they dressed it in rich feathers, and they painted crossbars over and under its eyes. They also clipped on its earrings of turquoise mosaic; these were in the shape of serpents, with gold rings hanging from them. Its nose plug, in the shape of an arrow, was made of gold and was inlaid with fine stones.

They placed the magic headdress of hummingbird feathers on its head. They also adorned it with an anecuyotl, which was a belt made of feathers, with a cone at the back. Then they hung around its neck an ornament of yellow parrot feathers, fringed like the locks of a young boy. Over this they put its nettleleaf cape, which was painted black and decorated with five clusters of eagle feathers.

Next they wrapped it in its cloak, which was painted with skulls and bones, and over this they fastened its vest. The vest was painted with dismembered human parts: skulls, ears, hearts, intestines, torsos, breasts, hands and feet. They also put on its maxtlatl, or loincloth, which was decorated with images of dissevered limbs and fringed with amate paper. This maxtlatl was painted with vertical stripes of bright blue….

Early the next morning, the statue’s face was uncovered by those who had been chosen for that ceremony. They gathered in front of the idol in single file and offered it gifts of food, such as round seedcakes or perhaps human flesh. But they did not carry it up to its temple on top of the pyramid.

All the young warriors were eager for the fiesta to begin. They had sworn to dance and sing with all their hearts, so that the Spaniards would marvel at the beauty of the rituals.

The procession began, and the celebrants filed into the temple patio to dance the Dance of the Serpent. When they were all together in the patio, the songs and the dance began. Those who had fasted for twenty days and those who had fasted for a year were in command of the others….

At this moment in the fiesta, when the dance was loveliest and when song was linked to song, the Spaniards were seized with an urge to kill the celebrants. They all ran forward, armed as if for battle. They closed the entrances and passageways, all the gates of the patio: the Eagle Gate in the lesser palace, the Gate of the Canestalk and the Gate of the Serpent of Mirrors. They posted guards so that no one could escape, and then rushed into the Sacred Patio to slaughter the celebrants. They came on foot, carrying their swords and their wooden or metal shields.

They ran in among the dancers, forcing their way to the place where the drums were played. They attacked the man who was drumming and cut off his arms. Then they cut off his head, and it rolled across the floor.

They attacked all the celebrants, stabbing them, spearing them, striking them with their swords. They attacked some of them from behind, and these fell instantly to the ground with their entrails hanging out. Others they beheaded: they cut off their heads, or split their heads to pieces

The Spanish massacre of the Aztecs in the main temple, Tenochtitlán. (Adapted from paintings in the Aztec Codex Duran by Alberto Bertran.)

They struck others in the shoulders, and their arms were torn from their bodies. They wounded some in the thigh and some in the calf. They slashed others in the abdomen, and their entrails all spilled to the ground. Some attempted to run away, but their intestines dragged as they ran; they seemed to tangle their feet in their own entrails. No matter how they tried to save themselves, they could find no escape.

Some attempted to force their way out, but the Spaniards murdered them at the gates. Others climbed the walls, but they could not save themselves. Those who ran into the communal houses were safe there for a while; so were those who lay down among the victims and pretended to be dead. But if they stood up again, the Spaniards saw them and killed them.

The blood of the warriors flowed like water and gathered into pools. The pools widened, and the stench of blood and entrails filled the air. The Spaniards ran into the communal houses to kill those who were hiding. They ran everywhere and searched everywhere; they invaded every room, hunting and killing.

…And they shackled Motecuhzoma in chains….

POSTSCRIPT

The Aztecs were formidable opponents; it took the Spanish nearly two years to conquer them, as the native warriors inflicted heavy casualties and sometimes drove their enemies before them. But superior technology and the European diseases that ravaged the population finally did their work. The Aztecs mourned for their lost city:

Broken spears lie in the roads;

we have torn our hair in our grief.

The houses are roofless now, and their walls

are red with blood.

Worms are swarming in the streets and plazas,

and the walls are splattered with gore.

The water has turned red, as if it were dyed

and when we drink it,

it has the taste of brine.

We have pounded our hands in despair

against the adobe walls,

for our inheritance, our city, is lost and dead.

The shields of our warriors were its defense,

but they could not save it….

QUESTIONS

Defining Terms

Identify in the context of the chapter each of the following:

James Gibbons Grand Admiral of the Ocean Sea
genocide Huitzilopochtli
Guanaham Motecuhzoma
Hispaniola fiesta of Toxcatl
Bartolomé de Las Casas Florentine Codex

Probing the Sources

· 1. Contrast the celebrations of “Discovery Day” in 1892 and “Columbus Day” in 1992. How do you explain the differences?

· 2. What were the scientific, economic, diplomatic, and religious objectives of the Columbus mission?

· 3. Compare the ways Columbus and Las Casas described the environment and peoples of the New World. How do you explain the similarities and differences in their observations?

· 4. To what degree did religion influence Spanish exploration and colonization?

· 5. In what ways did the Spanish conquest of the New World affect the political, economic, social, agricultural, and dietary patterns of the two continents?

Interpreting the Sources

· 1. Using all three sources, retell the story of Columbus as if you were living in the Caribbean when the Spanish arrived.

· 2. What label—hero, villain, victim, product of his time, or some other term—best captures your feelings about each of the following: (a) Columbus, (b) Las Casas, (c) Motecuhzoma? Justify your responses.

· 3. How do you think Americans should celebrate Columbus Day?

· ADDITIONAL READING

· An older yet still insightful and entertaining biography of Columbus is Samuel Eliot Morrison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1942). The definitive edition of the journal of the first voyage is Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, eds., The Diario of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage to America, 1492–93 (1989). An interesting introduction to Las Casas, as well as a translation of his writings, is in George Sanderlin, ed., Bartolomé de Las Casas (1971). An excellent study that details the important biological consequences produced by the interaction of the European and Native American cultures is Alfred W. Crosby, Jr.’s The Columbian Exchange (1972). Also of interest are the three short volumes produced for the Quincentennial by the American Historical Association: James Axtell, Imagining the Other: First Encounters in North America(1991); William D. Phillips, Jr., Before 1492: Christopher Columbus’s Formative Years (1992); and Karen Ordahl Kupperman, North America and the Beginnings of European Colonization (1992). On North America before Columbus, see Alvin M. Jose-phy, America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus (1992); Francis Jennings, The Founders of America (1993); Alice B. Kehoe, North American Indians (1992); Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., 500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians (1995); and Charles C. Mann, 1491 (2005).

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