restricted access 4. The Conditions of Conquest and Colonization: Geography and Peoples
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CHAPTER 4 The Conditions of Conquest and Colonization: Geography and Peoples The Columbian Discovery In the darkness of the early morning of October 12, 1492, the lookout on Columbus's ship, the Pinta, sighted a white surface glimmering in the moonlight on the horizon and sang out, "Land! Land!" After several hours of excited suspense, first light revealed an expanse of sand and forest rising from the water that, upon reconnaissance, proved to be an island in what later became known as the Bahamas group. Shortly before noon Columbus went ashore in the Pinta's boat and on the strand raised the banner of Castile. He took possession of the island in the name of the Catholic Kings, gave thanks for a safe passage, and christened his discovery San Salvador (Holy Savior). He and his men expressed their delight at the "very green trees and much water and fruit of various kinds" that they saw around them. San Salvador was inhabited by a neolithic folk, the Lucayans, who were a branch of the Arawak linguistic family. They called their island Guanahani. Seeing the approach of three monsters from the sea they had fled into the forest, but when outlandishly dressed men appeared on the beach their curiosity overcame their terror and they emerged timidly to meet their visitors. The Europeans offered them gifts of red caps, glass beads, and hawks' bells, and they reciprocated with offerings of parrots, balls of cotton thread, and spears. Columbus and his men marveled at their innocence and generosity and remarked on their splendid physical appearance. The admiral believed that it would be easy to put them to work and, since they had no other religion, to convert them. Observing the small gold pendants that hung from their noses, 73 7 4 C O N D I T I O N S O F C O N Q U E S T A N D C O L O N I Z A T I O N he asked them where more of the yellow metal could be obtained. Thinking, or wishing others to think, that he had reached the Indies (the Far East), he called them Indians. The name stuck even after his claims had been disproved, and the Spanish and Portuguese soon applied the name Indies to all the lands whose outposts Columbus had discovered.1 After spending two days on San Salvador, Columbus explored other islands in the Bahamas group and then continued west, where the Lucayans had informed him gold was to be found. As he proceeded, he came upon two larger islands. One of them he called Cuba, a rough phonetic rendering of its native name; the other, Espanola (Hispaniola). On both he found Taina Indians who adorned themselves with golden trinkets and who led him to believe that much more of the precious metal lay in the interior of their insular homes. On Christmas Day, the Santa Maria settled on a reef on the northern coast of Espanola and had to be abandoned. Columbus established a town on the shore, which he called Villa de la Navidad (Town of the Day of Christ's Birth). Leaving thirtynine men to settle it, he sailed home, reaching Palos, the port from which he had departed the Old World, on March 15, 1493. The Papal Donation and the Line of Demarcation The admiral's return with reports of the rich and populated lands he had discovered supported by a visible assortment of gold trinkets roused great excitement in Andalusian ports and at court. Queen Isabella herself was pleased and directed that his enterprise with "the aid of God be continued and furthered," but before this could be done with confidence the question of who the new lands belonged to had to be settled. The Catholic Kings moved quickly to establish their rights. Upon their request, Pope Alexander VI, conveniently a Spaniard, issued in 1493 a series of bulls that assigned to the Crown of Castile "all islands and mainlands, discovered or yet to be discovered, sighted or not yet sighted, to the west and south of a line set and drawn from the Arctic or North Pole to the Antarctic or South Pole, the line to stand a hundred leagues to the west and south of the so-called Azores and Cape Verde Islands . . . if they were not actually possessed by another king or Christian prince. . . . "2 The Portuguese were not satisfied by this division, for reasons that are still controversial. At...


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Subject Headings

  • America -- Discovery and exploration -- Spanish.
  • America -- Discovery and exploration -- Portuguese.
  • Latin America -- History -- To 1830.
  • Spain -- Colonies -- America -- History.
  • Portugal -- Colonies -- America -- History.
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