Columbus's Description of the Discovery of America (1492) |
The passage below is taken from a version of Columbus's journals edited by Bartolomeo de Las Casas. As you read the passage, imagine the thrill of discovery that would have been experienced by the sailors on board Columbus's ships. For them this was truly a venture into the unknown. For many years Columbus's landing was judged to have been made on San Salvador (Watling Island). A recent study retracing the voyage suggests that Columbus landed on the island of Samana Cay, more than sixty miles to the southeast of San Salvador. Many scholars will not agree with this new assertion, and the exact location of the island does not change the nature of the reaction shown in this journal. If you wish to examine the new evidence, see the National Geographic 170, no. 5 (November 1986): 566–605.
. . . the Admiral requested and admonished them to keep a sharp lookout at the castle of the bow, and to look well for land, and said that he would give to him who first saw land a silk doublet, besides the other rewards which the King and Queen had promised, namely and annual pension of ten thousand maravedis to him who should see it first. Two hours after midnight, the land appeared about two leagues off. They lowered all the sails, leaving only a storm square sail, which is the mainsail without bonnets, and lay to until Friday when they reached a small island of the Lucayos, called Guanahani by the natives. They soon saw people naked, and the Admiral went on shore in the armed boat. . . . As soon as they had landed they saw trees of a brilliant green abundance of water and fruits of various kinds. The Admiral called the two captains and the rest who had come on shore . . . and he called them as witnesses to certify that he in the presence of them all, was taking, as he in fact took possession of said island for the king and Queen his masters, making the declarations that were required as they will be found more fully in the attestations then taken down in writing. Soon after a large crowd of natives congregated there. What follows are the Admiral's own words in his book on the first voyage and discovery of these Indies.
[From Christopher Columbus, Journals, Thursday, October 11, and Friday Octobver 12, 1492.]