Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Voyagers to the East, Part II

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

Hagiographers of Christopher Columbus have avoided drawing attention to the navigator's second voyage to America (1493-1496), an expedition featuring 17 ships and 1,500 men (mostly soldiers). That's because Columbus's actions on this voyage made it plain that he was a conquistador and a slaver, as well as an explorer.

Upon returning to Hispaniola, Columbus discovered that Indians had killed the 39 men he'd left on the island. The admiral used this as an excuse to make war on the Caribs and Tainos. For the next two years Columbus's men, with the help of their war dogs, hunted and killed hundreds of Indians, and forced thousands of others to work for them as gold miners and servants. The adventurers also decided to see if they could create a market in Europe for Native American labor. In February 1495 they herded 1,600 Indian captives into the settlement of Isabela and selected 550 men and women for transport to Spain, where they would be sold as slaves.

Michele de Cuneo, an Italian nobleman who accompanied Columbus, reported that the slave ships ran into contrary winds during their return voyage and did not reach Spain until April 1495, by which time 200 of the 550 Indian slaves had died. "I believe [this was] because of the unaccustomed air, colder than theirs," de Cuneo wrote. "We cast them into the sea." Of the remaining 350 bondsmen, half were sick by the time the fleet dropped anchor in Cadiz. "They are not working people," de Cuneo derisively observed, "and they very much fear cold, nor have they long life." (de Cuneo to Hieronymo Annari, 28 Oct. 1495, in Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. and trans., Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Columbus [New York: Heritage Press, 1963], 226-227.)

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela were not pleased to hear of the enslavement of their new Indian subjects. They ordered that the surviving Indians be freed and returned to the Indies, though if half of the 350 survivors were already sick when they arrived in Spain it is unlikely that more than 150 ever made it home.

Columbus himself returned to Spain in 1496 with 30 more Indians aboard his ship, whom his crewmen had threatened to eat when supplies ran low. Ferdinand and Isabela henceforth forbade Columbus to enslave Indians, and according to accounts of Columbus's third and fourth voyages he did not bring any more Indians with him to Spain. (Morison, op. cit., 247, 250-251, 318.)

For the next entry in this series, click here.

1 comment:

Yvonne said...

Interesting that Ferdinand and Isabella disapproved of the Native Americans being enslaved.

Fascinating blog, I've bookmarked it.