Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

customed to the laborious exertions of industry, that they were satisfied with a proportion of food amazingly small. A handful of maize, or a little of the insipid bread made of a casada-root, was sufficient to support men, whose strength and spirits were not exhausted by any vigorous efforts either of body or mind. The Spaniards, though the most abftemious of all the European nations, appeared to them excessively voracious. One Spaniard consumed as much as several Indians. This keenness of appetite surprized them so much, and seemed to them to be so insatiable, that they supposed the Spaniards had left their own countiy, because it did not produce as much as was requisite to gratify their immoderate desire of food, and had come among them in quest of nourishment. Self-preservation prompted them to wish for the departure of guests who wasted so fast their slender stock of provisions. The injuries which they fuffered, added to their impatience for this event. They had long expected that the Spaniards would retire of their own accord. They now perceived that, in order to avert the destruction with which they were threatened, either by the slow consumption of famine, or by the violence of their oppreffors, it was necessary to affume courage, to attack those formidable invaders with united force, and drive them from the settlements of which they had violently taken possession.

Such were the sentiments which universally prevailed among the Indians, when Columbus returned to Isabella. Inflamed by the unprovoked outrages of the Spaniards, with a degree of rage of which their gentle natures, formed to suffer and submit, seemed highly susceptible, they waited only for a signal from their leaders to fall upon the colony. Some of the caziques had already surprised and cut off several ftragglers. The dread of this impending danger united the Spaniards, and re-established the authority of Columbus, as they saw no prospect of safety but in committing themselves to his prudent guidance. It was now necessary to have recourse to arms, the employing of which against the Indians, Columbus had hitherto avoided with the greatest solicitude. Unequal as the conflict may seem, between the naked inhabitants of the New World, armed with clubs, sticks hardened in the fire, wooden swords, and arrows pointed with bones or flints; and troops accustomed to the discipline, and provided with the instruments of destruction known in the European art of war, the fituation of the Spaniards was far from being exempt from danger. The vast fuperiority of the natives in number, compensated many defects. An handful of men was about to encounter a whole nation. One adverse event, or even any adverse delay in determining the fate of the war, might prove

fatal

fatal to the Spaniards. Conscious that success depended on the vigout and rapidity of his operations, Columbus instantly assembled his forces. They were reduced to a very small number. Diseases, engendered by the warmth and humidity of the country, or occafioned by their own licentiousness, had raged among them with much violence; experience had not yet taught them the art either of curing these, or the precautions requisite for guarding them; two-thirds of the original adventurers were dead, and many of those who survived were incapable of service. The body which took the field on March 24, 1495, confifted only of two hundred foot; twenty horse, and twenty large dogs; and how ftrange soever it may seem, to mention the last as composing part of a military force, they were not perhaps the least formidable and destructive of the whole, when employed against naked and timid Indians. All the caziques of the island, Guacanahari excepted, who retained an inviolable attachment to the Spaniards, were in arms to oppose Columbus, with forces amounting, if we may believe the Spanish hiftorians, to a hundred thousand men. Instead of attempting to draw the Spaniards into the fastnesses of the woods and mountains, they were so imprudent as to take their station in the Vega Real, the most open plain in the country. Columbus did not allow them time to perceive their error, or to alter their position. He attacked them during the night; when undisciplined troops are lealt capable of acting with union and concert, and obtained an easy and bloodless victory. The consternation with which the Indians were filled by the noise and havoc made by the fire-arms, by the impetuous force of the cavalry, and the first onset of the dogs, was so great, that they threw down their weapons, and filed without attempting resistance. Many were Nain; more were taken prisoners, and reduced to servitude ; and fo thoroughly were the rest intimidated, that from that moment they abandoned themselves to despair, relinquishing all thoughts of contending with aggressors whom they deemed invincible.

Columbus employed several months in marching through the ifland, and in subjecting it to the Spanish government, without meeting with any opposition. He impofed a tribute upon all the inhabitants above the age of fourteen. Each person 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 Co. lumbus had hitherto inculcated with respect to the mode of treating

thema

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

them. But intrigues were carrying on in the court of Spain at this juncture, in crder to undermine his power and discredit his operations, which constrained him to depart from his own fyftem of adminiftration. Several unfavourable accounts of his conduct, as well as of the countries discovered by him, had been transmitted to Spain. Margaritta and Father Boyl were now at court; and in order to justify their own conduct, or to gratify their refentment, watched with malevolent attention for every opportunity of spreading infinuations to his detriment. Many of the courtiers viewed his growing reputation and power with envious eyes. Fonseca, archdeacon of Seville, who was intrusted with the chief direction of Indian affairs, had conceived such an unfavourable opinion of Columbus, for some reason which the contemporary writers have not mentioned, that he listened with partiality to every invective against him. It was not easy for an unfriended stranger, unpractised in courtly arts, to counteract the machinations of so many enemies. Co. lumbus saw that there was but one method of supporting his own credits and of filencing all 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 this heavy tax upon the Indians, but to exact payment of it with extreme rigour; and may be pleaded in excuse for his deviating on this occasion from the mildness and humanity avith which he uniformly treated that unhappy people.

The labour, attention, and forefight which the Indians were obliged to employ in procuring the tribute demanded of them, appeared the most intolerable of all evils, to men accustomed to pass their days in a careless, improvident indolence. They were incapable of such a regular and persevering exertion of industry, and felt it such a grievous refraint upon their liberty, that they had recourse to an expedient for obtaining deliverance from this yoke, which demonstrates the excess of their impaticnce and despair. They formed a scheme of starving those oppressors whom they durit not attempt to expel; and from the opinion which they entertained with respect to the voracious appetite of the Spaniards, they concluded the execution of it to be very practicable. With this view they fufpended all the operations of agriculture; they fowed no maize, they pulled up the roots of the manioc or cassada which were planted, and retiring to the most inaccessible parts of the mountains, left the uncultivated plains to their enemies. This despefate resolution produced in some degree the effects which they expected. Tlit Spaniards were reduced to extreme want; but they received fuch

H

feasonable

seasonable supplies of provisions from Europe, and found so many resources in their own ingenuity and industry, that they suffered no great loss of men.

The wretched Indians were the victims of their own illconcerted policy. A great multitude of people, shut up in the mountainous part of the country, without any food but the spontaneous productions of the earth, soon felt the utmost distresses of famine. This brought on contagious diseases; and, in the course of a few months, more than a third part of the inhabitants of the island perished, after experiencing misery in all its various forms.

But while Columbus was establishing the foundations of the Spanish grandeur in the New World, his enemies laboured with unwearied affiduity to deprive him of the glory and rewards, which by his services and sufferings he was intitled to enjoy. The hardships unavoidable in a new settlement, the calamities occasioned by an unhealthy climate, the disasters attending a voyage in unknown seas, were all represented as the effects of his restless and inconsiderate ambition. His prudent attention to preserve discipline and subordination was denominated excess of rigour; the punishments which he inflicted upon the mutinous and disorderly were imputed to cruelty. These accusations gained such credit in a jealous court, that a commissioner was appointed to repair to Hispaniola, and to inspect into the conduct of Columbus. By the recommendation of his enemies, Aguado, a groom of the bed-chamber, was the person to whom this important trust was committed. But in this choice they seem to have been more influenced by the obsequious attachment of the man to their interest, than by his capacity for the station. Puffed up with such sudden elevation, Aguado displayed, in the exercise of this office, all the frivolous felf-importance, and acted with all the disgusting infolence, which are natural to little minds when raised to unexpected dignity, or employed in functions to which they are not equal. By listening with eagerness to every accusation against Columbus, and encouraging not only the malcontent Spaniards, but even the Indians, to produce their grievances, real or imaginary, he fomented the spirit of diffention in the island, without establishing any regulation of public utility, or that tended to redress the many wrongs, with the odium of which he wished to load the admiral's administration. As Columbus felt fengibly how humiliating his situation must be, if he should remain in that country while such a partial inspector observed his motions, and controuled his jurifdi&tion, he took the resolution of returning to Spain, in order to lay a full account of all his transactions, particularly with respect to the points in dispute between him and his adversaries, before Ferdinand and Isabella, from whose justice and dis

cernment

fcernment he expected an equal and a favourable decision. He committed the administration of affairs, during his absence, in one thousand four hundred and ninety-fix, to Don Bartholomew his brother, with the title of Adelantado, or Lieutenant Governor. By a choice less fortunate, and which proved the source of many calamities to the colony, he appointed Francis Roldan chief justice, with very extensive powers.

In returning to Europe, Columbus held a course different from that which he had taken in his former voyage. He steered almost due east from Hispaniola, in the parallel of twenty-two degrees of latitude; as experience had not yet discovered the more certain and expeditious method of stretching to the north, in order to fall in with the south-west winds. By this ill-advised choice, which, in the infancy of navigation between the New and Old Worlds, can hardly be imputed to the admiral as a defect in naval skill, he was exposed to infinite fatigue and danger, in a perpetual struggle with the trade-winds, which blow without variation from the east between the tropics. Notwithstanding the almost insuperable difficulties of such a navigation, he persisted in his course with his usual patience and firmness, but made so little way, that he was three months without seeing land. At length his provisions began to fail, the crew was reduced to the scanty allowance of fix ounces of bread a-day for each person. The admiral fared no better than the meanest failor. But, even in this extreme di ess, he retained the humanity which distinguishes his character, and refused to comply with the earnest solicitations of his crew, some of whom proposed to feed upon the Indian prisoners whom they were carrying over, and others insisted to throw them over-board, in order to lessen the consumption of their small stock. He represented that they were human beings, reduced by a common calamity to the same condition with themselves, and intitled to share an equal fate. His authority and remonftrances dissipated those wild ideas suggested by despair. Nor had they time to recur, as they came foon within sight of the coast of Spain, when all their fears and sufferings ended.

Columbus appeared at court with the modest but determined confidence of a man conscious not only of integrity, but of having performed great services. Ferdinand and Isabella, ashamed of their own facility in lending too favourable an ear to frivolous or ill-founded accusations, received him with such diftinguished marks of respect, as covered his enemies with shame. Their censures and calumnies were no more heard of at that juncture. The gold, the pearls, the cotton, and other commodities of value which Columbus produced, seemed fully to refute whạt the mal-contents had propagated with respect to the poverty of the

H 2

country.

« ZurückWeiter »