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First landing of Columbus in the New World - Cruise among the Bahama Islands-Discovery of Cuba and Hispaniola.
WHEN the day dawned, Columbus saw before him a level and beautiful island, several leagues in extent, of great freshness and verdure, and covered with trees like a continual orchard. Though every thing appeared in the wild luxuriance of untamed nature, yet the island was evidently populous, for the inhabitants were seen issuing from the woods, and running from all parts to the shore. They were all perfectly naked, and, from their attitudes and gestures, appeared lost in astonishment at the sight of the ships. Columbus made signal to cast anchor, and to man the boats. He entered his own boat, richly attired in scarlet, and bearing the royal standard. Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincente Yañez his brother, likewise put off in their boats, each bearing the banner of the enterprise emblazoned with a green cross, having on each side the letters F and Y, surmounted by crowns, the Spanish initials of the Castilian monarchs, Fernando and Ysabel.
As they approached the shores, they were de
lighted by the beauty and grandeur of the forests; the variety of unknown fruits on the trees which overhung the shores; the purity and suavity of the atmosphere, and the crystal transparency of the seas which bathe these islands. On landing, Columbus threw himself upon his knees, kissed the earth, and returned thanks to God with tears of joy. His example was followed by his companions, whose breasts, indeed, were full to overflowing. Columbus then rising, drew his sword, displayed the royal standard, and took possession in the names of the Castilian sovereigns, giving the island the name of San Salvador. He then called upon all present to take the oath of obedience to him as admiral and viceroy, and representative of the sovereigns.
His followers now burst forth into the most extravagant transports. They thronged around him, some embracing him, others kissing his hands. Those who had been most mutinous and turbulent during the voyage, were now most devoted and enthusiastic, Some begged favours of him, as of a man who had already wealth and honours in his gift Many abject spirits, who had outraged him by their insolence, now crouched at his feet, begging his forgiveness, and offering for the future the blindest obedience to his commands.
The natives of the island, when, at the dawn ofday, they had beheld the ships hovering on the coast, had supposed them some monsters, which had issued from the deep during the night. Their veering about, without any apparent effort, and the shifting and furling of their sails, resembling huge wings, filled them with astonishment. When they beheld the boats approach
the shore, and a number of strange beings, clad in glittering steel, or raiment of various colours, landing upon the beach, they fled in affright to the woods. Finding, however, that there was no attempt to pursue or molest them, they gradually recovered from their terror, and approached the Spaniards with great awe, frequently prostrating themselves, and making signs of adoration. During the ceremony of taking possession, they remained gazing, in timid admiration, at the complexion, the beards, the shining armour, and splendid dress of the Spaniards. The admiral particularly attracted their attention, from his commanding height, his air of authority, his scarlet dress, and the deference paid to him by his companions; all which pointed him out to be the commander. When they had still further recovered from their fears, they approached the Spaniards, touched their beards, and examined their hands and faces, admiring their whiteness. Columbus, pleased with their simplicity, their gentleness, and the confidence they reposed in beings who must have appeared so strange and formidable, submitted to their scrutiny with perfect acquiescence. The wondering savages were won by this benignity; they now supposed that the ships had sailed out of the crystal firmament which bounded their horizon, or that they had descended from above, on their ample wings, and that these marvellous beings were inhabitants of the skies.
The natives of the island were no less objects of curiosity to the Spaniards, differing, as they did, from any race of men they had ever seen. They were entirely naked, and painted with a variety of colours and devices, so as to have a wild and fan
tastic appearance. Their natural complexion was of a tawny or copper hue, and they were entirely destitute of beards. Their hair was not crisped, like the recently discovered tribes of Africa, under the same latitude, but straight and coarse, partly cut above the ears, but some locks behind left long, and falling upon their shoulders. Their features, though disfigured by paint, were agreeable; they had lofty foreheads, and remarkably fine eyes. They were of moderate stature, and well shaped; most of them appeared to be under thirty years of age. There was but one female with them, quite young, naked like her companions, and beautifully formed. They appeared to be a simple and artless people, and of gentle and friendly dispositions. Their only arms were lances, hardened at the end by fire, or pointed with a flint or the bone of a fish. There was no iron to be seen among them, nor did they know its properties; for when a drawn sword was presented to them, they unguardedly took it by the edge. Columbus distributed among them coloured caps, glass beads, hawk's bells, and other trifles, which they received as inestimable gifts, and, decorating themselves with them, were wonderfully delighted with their finery.
As Columbus supposed himself to have landed on an island at the extremity of India, he called the natives by the general appellation of Indians, which was universally adopted before the nature of his discovery was known, and has since been extended to all the aboriginals of the new world. The Spaniards remained all day on shore, refreshing themselves, after their anxious voyage, amidst the beautiful groves of the island; and they returned to their
ships late in the evening, delighted with all they had seen.
The island where Columbus had thus, for the first time, set his foot upon the new world, is one of the Lucayos, or Bahama Islands, and was called by the natives Guanahanì: it still retains the name of San Salvador, which he gave it, though called by the English, Cat Island. The light which he had seen the evening previous to his making land may have been on Watling's Island, which lies a few leagues to the east.
On the following morning, at daybreak, some of the natives came swimming off to the ships, and others came in light barks, which they called canoes, formed of a single tree, hollowed, and capable of holding from one man to the number of forty or fifty. The Spaniards soon discovered that they were destitute of wealth, and had little to offer, in return for trinkets, except balls of cotton yarn, and domesticated parrots. They brought cakes of a kind of bread called cassava, made from the yuca root, which constituted a principal part of their food.
The avarice of the discoverers was awakened by perceiving small ornaments of gold in the noses of some of the natives. On being asked where this precious metal was procured, they answered by signs, pointing to the south; and Columbus understood them to say, that a king resided in that quarter, of such wealth that he was served in great vessels of gold. He interpreted all their imperfect communications according to his previous ideas and his cherished wishes. They spoke of a warlike people, who often invaded their islands from the north-west, and carried off the inhabitants. These