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Founding of the City of Isabella-Discontents of the
THE misfortunes which had befallen the Spaniards, both by sea and land, in the vicinity of this harbour, threw a gloom over the place, and it was considered by the superstitious mariners as under some baneful influence, or malignant star. The situation, too, was low, moist, and unhealthy, and there was no stone in the neighbourhood for building. Columbus searched, therefore, for a more favourable place for his projected colony, and fixed upon a harbour about ten leagues east of Monte Christi, protected on one side by a natural rampart of rocks, and on the other by an impervious forest, with a fine plain in the vicinity, watered by two rivers. A great inducement also for settling here was, that it was at no great distance from the mountains of Cibao, where the gold mines were situated.
The troops and the various persons to be employed in the colony were immediately disembarked, together with the stores, arms, ammunition, and all the cattle and live stock. An encampment was formed on the margin of the plain, round a sheet of water, and the plan of a town traced out, and
the houses commenced. The public edifices, such as a church, a storehouse, and a residence for the admiral, were constructed of stone; the rest of wood, plaster, reeds, and such other materials as could be readily procured. Thus was founded the first christian city of the new world, to which Columbus gave the name of Isabella, in honour of his royal patroness.
For a time every one exerted himself with zeal; but maladies soon began to make their appearance. Many had suffered from sea sickness, and the long confinement on board of the ships; others from the exposures on the land, before houses could be built for their reception, and from the exhalations of a hot and moist climate, dense natural forests, and a new, rank soil, so trying to constitutions accustomed to a dry climate and open cultivated country. The important and hurried labours of building the city and cultivating the earth bore hard upon the Spaniards, many of whom were unaccustomed to labour, and needed repose and relaxation. The maladies of the mind also mingled with those of the body. Many, as has been shown, had embarked in the enterprise with the most visionary and romantic expectations. What, then, was their surprise at finding themselves surrounded by impracticable forests, doomed to toil painfully for mere subsistence, and to attain every comfort by the severest exertion! As to gold, which they had expected to find readily and in abundance, it was to be procured only in small quantities, and by patient and persevering labour. All these disappointments sank deep into their hearts, their spirits flagged as their golden dreams melted away, and the gloom of
despondency aided the ravages of disease. Columbus himself was overcome by the fatigues, anxieties, and exposures he had suffered, and for several weeks was confined to his bed by severe illness; but his energetic mind rose superior to the maladies of the body, and he continued to give directions about the building of the city, and the general concerns of the expedition.
The greater part of the ships were ready to return to Spain, but he had no treasure to send with them. The destruction of the garrison had defeated all his hopes of finding a quantity of gold, amassed and ready to be sent to the sovereigns. It was necessary for him to do something, however, before the vessels sailed, to keep up the reputation of his discoveries, and justify his own magnificent representations. The region of the mines lay at a distance of but three or four days' journey, directly in the interior; the very name of the cacique, Caonabo, signifying "the lord of the golden house," seemed to indicate the wealth of his dominions. bus determined, therefore, to send an expedition to explore them. If the result should answer to the accounts given by the Indians, he would be able to send home the fleet with confidence, bearing tidings of the discovery of the golden mountains of Cibao.
The person chosen for this enterprise was Alonzo de Ojeda, who delighted in all service of an adventurous nature. He set out from the harbour early in January, 1494, accompanied by a small number of well-armed men, several of them young and spirited cavaliers like himself. They crossed the first range of mountains by a narrow and winding
Indian path, and descended into a vast plain, covered with noble forests, and studded with villages and hamlets. The inhabitants overwhelmed them with hospitality, and delayed them in their journey by their kindness. They had to ford many rivers also, so that they were six days in reaching the chain of mountains, which locked up, as it were, the golden region of Cibao. Here they saw ample signs of
The sands of the mountain streams glittered with particles of gold; in some places they picked up large specimens of virgin ore, and stones streaked and richly impregnated with it. Ojeda himself found a mass of rude gold in one of the brooks weighing nine ounces. The little band returned to the harbour, with enthusiastic accounts of the golden promise of these mountains. A young cavalier, named Gorvalan, who had been sent to explore a different tract of country, returned with similar reports. Encouraged by these good tidings, Columbus lost no time in despatching twelve of the ships, under the command of Antonio de Torres, retaining only five for the service of the colony. By these ships he sent home specimens of the gold found among the mountains of Cibao, and of all fruits and plants of unknown and valuab.e species, together with the Carib captives, to be instructed in the Spanish language and the christian faith, that they might serve as interpreters, and aid in the conversion of their countrymen. He wrote also a sanguine account of the two expeditions into the interior, and expressed a confident expectation, as soon as the health of himself and his people would permit, of procuring and making abundant shipments of gold, spices, and valuable drugs. He extolled the fertility
of the soil, evinced in the luxuriant growth of the sugar-cane, and of various European grains and vegetables; but entreated supplies of provisions for the immediate wants of the colony, as their stores were nearly exhausted, and they could not accustom themselves to the diet of the natives.
Among many sound and salutary suggestions in this letter, there was one of a pernicious tendency. In his anxiety to lighten the expenses of the colony, and procure revenue to the crown, he recommended that the natives of the Caribbean islands, being cannibals and ferocious invaders of their peaceful neighbours, should be captured and sold as slaves, or exchanged with merchants for live stock and other necessary supplies. He observed, that, by transmitting these infidels to Europe, where they would have the benefits of christian instruction, there would be so many souls snatched from perdition, and so many converts gained to the faith. Such is the strange sophistry by which upright men may deceive themselves, and think they are obeying the dictates of their conscience, when, in fact, they are. but listening to the incitements of their interest. It is but just to add, that the sovereigns did not accord with him in his ideas, but ordered that the Caribs should be treated like the rest of the islanders; a command which emanated from the merciful heart of Isabella, who ever showed herself the benign protectress of the Indians.
When the fleet arrived in Europe, though it brought no gold, yet the tidings from Columbus and his companions kept up the popular excitement. The sordid calculations of petty spirits were as yet overruled by the enthusiasm of generous minds.