Columbus to the Caribbean | Spain to Mexico | Spanish Adventurers and the Inca | Pope Paul III, Spanish Authority and More Eexpansion | Expedition to Arizona and New Mexico, 1540-42 | Florida, California, expansion in South America, and settling New Mexico
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella greet Christopher Columbus on his return to their kingdom. Christian monarchs
believed in pomp that demonstrated their earthly status regarding power and wealth – as had monarchs before Christianity.
Rather than journey to India by going around the southern tip of Africa, as had Portugal's Bartolomew Diaz, Queen Isabella of Spain sent Christopher Columbus with three ships westward. Columbus believed that the Far East was only a couple thousand miles in that direction. Columbus and his crew were at sea for seventy days, the crew saying their vespers and singing a hymn to the Virgin Mary every night before sleeping. They spotted a small island in the Caribbean Sea called Guanahani – perhaps the island that today is called San Salvador. For three months Columbus and his crew explored the islands between Guanahani and the island they called Hispaniola, believing they were in the Far East. They found people on these islands friendly, while Columbus was concluding that they could be easily dominated and had the makings of what he described as "fine servants." Although deeply religious, like many others of his time, Columbus combined his faith with a lust for wealth and a belief in authoritarianism, including slavery. Columbus was impressed by the beauty of the islands, especially Hispaniola, with its forested mountains and river valleys.
Columbus was impressed too by the gold being worn by people on Hispaniola, especially the island's chiefs – gold that lay in the island's rivers. For a European like Columbus, gold represented a greater wealth than it did for Americans, who were using it for decoration and jewelry rather than for money.
On December 24, Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria, wrecked on the coast of Hispaniola. The goods on board were taken ashore and a settlement created, called La Navidad (Christmas). Columbus left thirty-nine men at La Navidad and, on January 4, with his two remaining ships, he began his return journey to Spain. He assumed that the islands he found were his to declare for Spain's royalty: Isabella and Ferdinand. Isabella and Ferdinand petitioned Pope Alexander VI for sovereignty over the islands. Alexander granted them exclusive title in the papal bull of 1493 – the island people having no say in the matter.
Columbus made his second voyage to the Caribbean, with seventeen ships and 1,500 men, horses and dogs, arriving at his base on the island of Hispaniola in 1494, and he found that the crewmen he had left behind had been slaughtered. Some on the island had decided against being pushed around and to defend themselves against the Spanish. Columbus established another settlement, on the north shore of Hispaniola, called Isabella.
Columbus had been instructed to convert the islanders to Christianity, but he had promised to export wealth to Spain – gold and spices – and to pay the costs of his enterprise, in addition to having been promised ten percent of the wealth that he could gather. In the place of other wealth, Columbus transported islanders back to Spain to be sold as slaves. Unhappy about the kidnappings, the islanders rebelled again.
It was in 1495 that syphilis was first diagnosed in Europe. The disease is described as having been carried back to Europe by Columbus' crew – to spread to European soldiers in India and from them to Asians.
In 1496 a permanent base for Spain in the "New World" was established at Santo Domingo. Columbus began his fourth and last journey to the Caribbean in 1502. He had found all of the Caribbean's major islands, and he believed that these islands lay off the coast of India.
Columbus believed that he might come across creatures that were half-human and half-monster, in keeping with the view in Europe that such people existed in remote places outside of Christendom. No clear-cut differentiation between the human species and non-humans had been established, and a popular travel book by Sir John Mandeville, written in the fourteenth century, had reported the existence of half-monsters – a book written in several languages and published in numerous editions. Columbus found no monsters, but suspicion remained among the Spaniards that half-beasts existed nearby, especially cannibals, and people who ate insects – the doings of the devil.
Columbus returned to Spain in 1504 and, in poor health, he died there in 1506. Carribean islanders working as slaves were also dying. Hispaniola's indigenous population, approximately 100,000 in 1493, would be down to around 300 by 1570. Meanwhile, in place of the islanders, slaves were shipped from Africa to labor there for Europeans.
Some among the Spanish found the nakedness of American as a sign of natural virtue, but others saw it as "a beastly lack of shame of nakedness." Spaniards had begun to consider the Americans, in the words of historian Joyce Appleby, "as children of the devil whose indolence and ignorance justified their enslavement." There were at least a few who saw the Americans as human enough. In 1511, a Dominican friar, Antonio de Montesino, returned to Spain concerned about those called Indians. He persuaded King Ferdinand to summon a group of theologians and learned men to suggest a remedy for what was called the "Indian problem." From these discussions the Laws of Burgos were produced, which declared that the Indians were by nature idle and given to vice. Spaniards were instructed to congregate the Indians into villages near where Europeans had received grants of land. The Spaniards were to build churches and to support and maintain priests, who were to give Indians instruction in the rudiments of Catholicism. The Indians were to be forbidden from engaging in commerce. They were to be allowed only one wife, and they were to work in the fields and mines, but not overworked, and they were to be fed and not beaten.
The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon had been bestowed with the task of finding and taking for the Spanish monarchy the island of Bimini and a legendary spring that gave eternal life and health. In March 1513 he set sail from Puerto Rico with three ships and about 200 men. In April they came upon a land that Ponce de Leon called "Pascua de Florida" (Feast of Flowers). He claimed Florida for Spain and fighting broke out between his men and local people.
Continuing his search for Bimini, Ponce de Leon found instead Andros Island. He returned to Spain and in September the King of Spain named him a Captain General. He returned to Puerto Rico and began again his search of the island of Bimini. In 1521 he landed again in Florida, on its western coast. He was met by hostile warriors who struck with a poisoned arrow. Ponce de Leon returned to Havana Cuba where he died of his wound.
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