Columbus, Letter from the Fourth Voyage

An Electronic Edition · Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

Original Source: The Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Being the Journals of his First and Third, and the Letters Concerning his First and Last Voyages, to Which is Added the Account of his Second Voyage Written by Andres Bernaldez. Now newly Translated and Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Cecil Jane. London: The Argonaut Press, 1930.

Copyright 2006. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided.

Full Colophon Information


A letter which Don Christopher Columbus, viceroy and admiral of the Indies, wrote to the most Christian and most mighty king and queen of Spain, our sovereigns, in which he notified them of that which had occurred on his voyage, and of the lands, provinces, cities and rivers, and other marvellous things, and where there are mines of gold in great abundance, and other things of great richness and value..

Most serene and very high and mighty princes, the king and queen, our sovereigns: From Cadiz I passed to the Canaries in four days and thence, in sixteen, to the Indies, whence I wrote that my intention was to hasten my voyage, while I had ships, crews and supplies in good condition, and that my course lay to the island of Jamaica, and I wrote this in the island of Dominica. Until I arrived there, I had most excellent weather. On the night that I came there, a great storm burst, and ever since bad weather has pursued me. .

When I arrived off Española, I sent away a budget of letters, and asked as a favour that I might be supplied with a ship at my own cost, since one which I had with me was unseaworthy and could not carry sail. They took the letters and your highnesses will know if they delivered them to you. So far as I was concerned, the answer was that I was ordered from here not to come or go on shore. The hearts of the people who were with me failed them, for fear that I should take them farther, and they said that were any danger to come upon them, they would not be aided there, but would rather have some great ill done to them. Moreover, any who pleased could say that the commendator would have control of the lands which I might gain. .

The storm was terrible and on that night the ships were parted from me. Each one of them was reduced to an extremity, expecting nothing save death; each one of them was certain that the others were lost. What man has been horn, not excepting Job, who would not have been ready to die of despair? For, in such weather, when it was for my: safety and for that of my son, my brother, and my friends, I was forbidden the land and harbours which, by the will of God, I, sweating blood, gained for Spain. .

I return to the ships, which the storm had so carried away from me as to leave me alone. Our Lord restored them to me, when it pleased Him. The unseaworthy vessel had put out to sea in order to escape; near the island the Gallega lost her boat, and all lost a great part of their provisions; that in which I was, although amazingly tossed about, our Lord saved, so that she suffered no damage at all. My brother was in the unseaworthy vessel, and he, after God, was her salvation.

With this storm I made my way painfully to Jamaica. There the sea changed from rough to calm, and there was a strong current which carried me as far as the Jardin de la Reina, without land being sighted. Thence, when I was able, I steered for Tierra Firme. On the way the wind and a terrible current were against me; I struggled with them for sixty days and in the end had not been able to make more than seventy leagues. During all this time, I did not put into harbour, nor could I, nor did the storm from heaven cease; there was rain and thunder and lightning continuously, so that it seemed as if it were the end of the world. .

I reached cape Gracias a Dios, and from that point our Lord gave me a favouring wind and current. This was on the twelfth of September. Eighty—eight days had there been during which the awe—inspiring tempest did not cease, so that for so long I saw neither sun nor stars for the sea. My ships were stripped, and anchors, rigging and cables were lost, with the boats and many stores; the crews were weak and all were contrite and many turned to religion, nor was there one who did not make vows and promise pilgrimages. Many times they came to the point of confessing one another. Other storms have been seen, but none has ever endured so long or been so terrible. .

Many whom we regarded as men of courage were in a state of great terror and that many times. The distress of my son, whom I had there, racked my soul, and the more since I saw him, at the tender age of thirteen years, so exhausted and for so long a time. Our Lord gave him such courage that he revived the spirit of the others, and he acted as if he had been a sailor for eighty years and he consoled me. I had fallen ill and had many times come to the point of death. From a little shelter, which I ordered to be fixed up on deck, I directed the course. .

My brother was in the worst ship and that which was in the greatest danger. My grief was great, and was the greater because I had brought him with me against his will. Speaking of myself, little profit had I won from twenty years of service, during which I have served with so great labours and perils, for today I have no roof over my head in Castile; if I wish to sleep or eat, I have no place to which to go, save an inn or tavern, and most often I lack the wherewithal to pay the score. .

Another sorrow tore my very heartstrings, and that was for Diego, my son, whom I had left in Spain an orphan and dispossessed of my honour and estate. Yet I was assured that there, as just and grateful princes, you would make restitution to him of all, with increase. .

I reached the land of Cariay, where I halted to repair the ships and to replenish the stores, and to give relaxation to the people who were very weak. There I, who, as I have said, had many times come to the point of death, heard of the mines of gold of the provinces of Ciamba, which I was seeking. Two Indians brought me to Carambaru, where the people go naked and have a golden mirror hanging at the neck, but are unwilling to sell it or to give it in exchange. .

They named to me many places on the seacoast, where they said that there was gold and mines; the last was Veragua, distant from there a matter of twenty—five leagues. I departed with the intention of examining these places fully, and having gone half—way, I learned that there were mines at two days’ journey. I decided to send to visit them. The eve of SS. Simon and Jude was fixed for our departure; on that night there arose so great a sea and wind that it was necessary to run before it where it drove us; and the Indian who was the guide to the mines was always with me. .

In all these places where I have been, I found all that I had heard to be true. This convinced me that it is so in the case of the province of Ciguare, which, according to them, lies inland to the west nine days’ journey. They say that there is in that land an infinite amount of gold, and that the people wear corals on their heads and very large bracelets of coral on their feet and arms; and that with coral they adorn and inlay chairs and chests and tables. They said also that the women there have necklaces hanging down from the head to the shoulders. All the people of these places agree in this that I have related, and they say so much that I should be content with the tenth of it. They also know of pepper. .

In Ciguare they are accustomed to trade in fairs and markets; so these people related, and they showed me the way and manner in which they carry on barter. Further they said that the ships carry cannon, bows and arrows, swords and shields, and that the people go clothed, and that in the land there are horses, and that the people are warlike and wear rich clothing and have good houses. Also they say that the sea surrounds Ciguare, and that from there it is ten days’ journey to the river Ganges. It appears that these lands lie in respect of Veragua as Tortosa does in respect of Fuenterabia; or Pisa in respect of Venice. When I left Carambaru and arrived at these places which I have mentioned, I found the same customs among the people, except that any, who had the mirrors of gold, bartered them at the rate of one for three hawks’ bells, although they were ten or fifteen ducats in weight. In all their customs they are as those of Española. They collect gold by different methods, although these are all nothing in comparison with those of the Christians. .

This which I have said is that which I have heard. That which I know is that in the year ninety—four I navigated twenty—four degrees to the westward in nine hours, and I cannot be in error because there was an eclipse; the sun was in Libra and the moon in Aries. That also which I heard by word of mouth, I knew in detail from the written word. .

Ptolemy believed that he had well corrected Marinus, who is now found to have been very near the truth. Ptolemy places Catigara twelve lines from his west, which he fixed at two and one third degrees above Cape St. Vincent in Portugal. Marinus comprised the earth and its limits in fifteen lines. In Ethiopia Marinus draws beyond the equinoctial lines more than twenty—four degrees, and now that the Portuguese have sailed there, they find that this is true. Ptolemy says that the most southern land is the first place and that it does not lie more than fifteen and one—third degrees beyond. And the world is small. The dry land is six parts of it; the seventh only is covered with water. Experience has already shown this, and I have written it in other letters and with illustration from Holy Scripture concerning the situation of the earthly paradise, as Holy Church approves. I say that the world is not so great as the vulgar believe, and that a degree from the equinoctial line is fifty—six and two—thirds miles; easily this may be proved exactly. I leave this subject, inasmuch as it is not my intention to speak of this matter, but only to give an account of my voyage, hard and toilsome, although it is the most noble and profitable. .

I have said that on the eve of SS. Simon and Jude I ran where the wind bore me, without being able to resist it. In a harbour I sheltered for ten days from the great violence of sea and wind; there I decided not to go back to the mines and I left them as gained already. I departed, to continue my voyage, in rain. I reached the harbour of Bastimentos, where I entered and not of my free will; the storm and a great current kept me in it for fourteen days. And afterwards I departed and that not with fair weather. When I had gone fifteen leagues with difficulty, the wind and current with fury drove me back. Returning to the harbour whence I had set out, I found on the way el Retrete, where I put in with great danger and distress, and being myself, and the ships and the people, very worn out. There I stayed for fifteen days, compelled to do so by the cruel weather, and when I believed that it was ended, I found that it was beginning. There I changed my intention of going to the mines and of doing anything until the weather should be favourable for my voyage and for putting to sea.
When I had gone four leagues, the storm returned and so wearied me that I knew not what to do. There my wound reopened. For nine days I was lost, without hope of life; eyes never saw the sea so high, so rough, so covered with foam. The wind did not allow us to go forward, nor did it permit us to run under any headland. There was I held, in a sea turned to blood, boiling as a cauldron on a mighty fire. Never did the heavens appear more terrible. For a day and a night they blazed like a furnace, and the lightning darted forth in such flashes that I wondered every moment whether it had destroyed my masts and sails; the flashes came with such terrifying fury that we all believed that the ships must be consumed. All this while the water from heaven never ceased, and it cannot be said that it rained, but rather that there was a second universal deluge. The crews were already so broken in spirit that they longed for death as a release from such martyrdom. The ships had already twice lost their boats, anchors, and rigging, and were stripped bare, without sails. .

When it pleased our Lord, I returned to Puerto Gordo, where I repaired things as well as I could. Once more I turned back towards Veragua; for my voyage, although I was set upon it, the winds and currents were still contrary. I arrived almost where I had been before, and there again the wind and currents opposed me, and once more I put into port, since I did not dare to await the opposition of Saturn with Mars, so tossed about on a dangerous coast, since that generally brings storms or heavy weather. This was on the day of the Nativity, at the hour of mass. I came again to the point whence I had so laboriously set forth, and when the new year had come in, I resumed my struggling. But even if I had found good weather for my voyage, the ships were unseaworthy, and the crews dead or sick. .

On the day of the Epiphany I reached Veragua, being now without spirit. There our Lord gave me a river and a safe harbour, although at the entrance there were only ten spans of water. I made an entry with difficulty, and on the following day the storm began again; if it had found me outside, I should not have been able to enter, on account of the bar. It rained without ceasing until the fourteenth of February, so that there was no opportunity to penetrate into the interior or to repair my situation in any way. And on the twentyfourth of January, when I was already safely within, suddenly the river rose to a great height and violence. The cables were broken and the post to which they were fastened, and it almost bore away my ships, and certainly I saw them in greater danger than ever. Our Lord gave me a remedy, as He has always done. I do not know of any one who has suffered greater martyrdom. .

On the sixth of February, while the rain continued, I sent seventy men ashore into the interior. At five leagues’ distance, they found many mines. The Indians, who went with them, led them to a very lofty hill and from it showed them the country all round as far as the eye could reach, saying that there was gold everywhere and that towards the west the mines extended for twenty days’ journey, and they named the towns and villages, saying where there were more or less of them. Afterwards I learned that the Quibian who had given these Indians, had commanded them to show distant mines which belonged to one who was his enemy, and that within his own territory a man might collect in ten days as much gold as a child could carry, whenever he wished. I bear with me the Indians, his servants, and witnesses to this. .

The boats went to the place where he had his village. My brother returned with these people, and all came back with the gold that they had collected in the four hours for which they stayed there. The quantity is great, for none of these men had ever seen mines and most of them had never seen gold; the majority of them were sailors and most of them grumets. I had much building material and stores in abundance. I formed a settlement and I gave many gifts to the Quibian, as they call the lord of the country. And I knew that harmony would not long continue; they were very barbarous and our people were very importunate, and I had assumed possession within his territory. When he saw the houses built and trading so active, he decided to burn the buildings and to put all to death. But his scheme had just the contrary result. He was taken prisoner, with his women, sons and servants. It is true that his captivity did not last long; the Quibian escaped from a trustworthy man who had him under his charge with a guard of men, and his sons escaped from the master of a ship, into whose special care they had been given. .

In the month of January, the mouth of the river silted up. In April, the ships were all wormeaten, and it was impossible to keep them above water. At this time, the river made a channel, by which with difficulty I brought out three empty. The boats went back into the river for salt and water. The sea became high and rough and did not allow them to come out. The Indians were many and gathered together and attacked them, and in the end they slew them. My brother and all the rest of the people were in a ship which remained inside. I was outside on so dangerous a coast, utterly alone, in a high fever and in a state of great exhaustion. Hope of escape was dead.
I toiled up to the highest point of the ship, calling in a trembling voice, with fast falling tears, to the war captains of your highnesses, at every point of the compass, for succour, but never did they answer me. Exhausted, I fell asleep, groaning. I heard a very compassionate voice, saying: “O fool and slow to believe and to serve thy God, the God of all! What more did He for Moses or for His servant David? Since thou wast born, ever has He had thee in His most watchful care. When He saw thee of an age with which He was content, He caused thy name to sound marvellously in the land. The Indies, which are so rich a part of the world, He gave thee for thine own; thou hast divided them as it pleased thee, and He enabled thee to do this. Of the barriers of the Ocean sea, which were closed with such mighty chains, He gave thee the keys; and thou wast obeyed in many lands and among the Christians thou hast gained honourable fame. What did He more for the people of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt? Or for David, whom from a shepherd He made to be king in Judea? Turn thyself to Him, and know now thine error; His mercy is infinite; thine old age shall prevent thee from achieving all great things; He has many heritages very great. Abraham had passed a hundred years when he begat Isaac, and was Sarah young? Thou criest for help, doubting. Answer, who has afflicted thee so greatly and so often, God or the world? The rewards and promises which He gives, He does not bring to nothing, nor does He say, after He has received service, that His intention was not such and that it is to be differently regarded, nor does He inflict suffering in order to display His power. His deeds agree with His words; all that He promises, He performs with interest; is this the manner of men? I have said that which thy Creator has done for thee and does for all men. Now in part He shows thee the reward for the anguish and danger which thou hast endured in the service of others.” .

I heard all this as if I were in a trance, but I had no answer to give to words so true, but could only weep for my errors. He, whoever he was, who spoke to me, ended saying: “Fear not; have trust; all these tribulations are written upon marble and are not without cause.” .

I arose when I was able, and at the end of nine days came fine weather, but not such as allowed the ships to be brought out of the river. I gathered together the people who were on land, and all the rest that I could, because they were not sufficiently numerous for some to remain on shore and others to navigate the ships. I would have remained with all of them to maintain the settlement, if your highnesses had known of it. The fear that ships might never come there determined me, and the consideration that, when there was a question of providing succour, provision might be made for all. .

I departed in the name of the Holy Trinity on Easter night, with ships rotten, worm—eaten, all full of holes. There in Belen I left one and many things; in Belpuerto I did the same with another. There remained for me two only, in the condition of the others, and without boats and stores, with which to traverse seven thousand miles of sea and waves, or to die on the way with my son and brother and so many people. Let those, who are accustomed to find fault and to censure, asking there, where they are in safety, “Why was not soand-so done in that case?”, make answer now. I could wish them on this voyage; I verily believe that another voyage of another kind is in store for them, or our Faith is vain. .

On the thirteenth of May, I reached the province of Mago, which marches with that of Catayo, and thence I departed for Española. For two days I navigated with good weather, and after that it was unfavourable. I followed a route which would avoid the very numerous islands, in order that I might not be in difficulties in the shallows near them. The stormy sea assailed me, and I was driven backwards without sails. I anchored at an island where I suddenly lost three anchors, and at midnight, when it seemed that the world was dissolving, the cables of the other ship broke and it bore down on me, so that it was a wonder that we were not dashed to pieces. The anchor, such as remained to me, was that which, after our Lord, saved me. .

At the end of six days, when fair weather came, having thus already lost all my tackle, I proceeded on my voyage. My ships were more riddled with holes than a honeycomb, and the crews were spiritless and despairing. I passed somewhat beyond the point at which I had previously arrived, where the storm had driven me back, and I put into a much safer harbour in the same island. .

At the end of eight days I resumed my voyage and at the end of June reached Jamaica, having always contrary winds and the ships in a worse state. With three pumps, pots and kettles, and with all hands working, they could not keep down the water which came into the ship, and there was no other remedy for the havoc which the worm had wrought. I steered a course which should bring me as near as possible to the coast of Española, from which we were twenty—eight leagues distant, and I wished that I had not begun to do so. The other ship, half under water, was obliged to run for port. I struggled to keep the sea against the storm. My ship was sinking under me, when our Lord miraculously brought me to land. Who will believe that which I write here? I declare that in this letter I have not told the hundredth part. Those who were with the admiral can testify to this. .

If it please your highnesses graciously to accord me the help of a ship of above sixtyfour tons, with two hundred quintals of biscuit and some other provision, that would suffice to bring me and these people to Spain from Española. I have already said that it is only twenty—eight leagues from Jamaica to Española. I would not have gone to Española, even if the ships had been fit to do so; I have already said that orders were given me on behalf of your highnesses that I should not come there. If this command has profited, God knows. This letter I send by means and by the hand of Indians; it will be a great wonder if it reach its destination. .

I say this of my voyage, that there were with me a hundred and fifty persons, among whom there were some very capable pilots and great sailors. No one of them can give any certain account of where I went or where I came. The reason is not far to seek. I set out from a point above Puerto del Brasil; off Española, the storm prevented me from following the course which I desired; owing to its violence I had to run where the wind drove me. At that time, I fell very sick; no one had navigated in that direction. Then the wind and sea abated for some days, and in place of the storm there were calms and strong currents. I put into harbour at an island which is called de las Pozas, and thence steered for Tierra Firme. None can give a true account of this, for there was no sufficient reason, for I was obliged to go with the current, without seeing land, for so very many days. I followed the coast of Tierra Firme; this I ascertained by the compass and my skill. There was no one who could say under what part of the heavens we were, and when I set out thence to come to Española, the pilots believed that we were going to reach the island of San Juan, and it was the land of Mango, four hundred leagues more to the west than they said. Let them answer, if they know how, where Veragua is situated. I declare that they can give no other explanation or account, save that they went to lands where there is much gold, and this they are able to certify. But to return to it, they would have to follow an unknown route; it would be necessary for them to go to discover it as if for the first time. There is a method and means derived from astrology and certain, which is enough for one who understands it. This resembles a prophetic vision. .

In the Indies, if ships do not sail except with the wind abaft, it is not because they are ill built or because they are clumsy. The strong currents that are there, together with the wind, bring it about that hone can sail with the bowline, for in one day they would lose as much way as they might have made in seven, nor does a caravel serve, even if it be a Portuguese lateen—rigged vessel. This is the reason why they do not sail except with a regular breeze, and they sometimes remain in harbour waiting for it for seven or eight months, nor is this strange, since the same thing often occurs in Spain. .

The people of whom Pope Pius II writes, the country and its characteristics, have been found, but not the horses with saddles, poitrels and bridles of gold. Nor is this strange, for there the coast lands require only fisherfolk, nor did I stay there, since I went in haste. In Cariay and in these lands near, there are great enchanters and very awe—inspiring. They would have given the world that I should not have been remained there an hour. When I arrived there, they sent to me at once two girls, very showily dressed; the elder was not more than eleven years old and the other seven; they were both so abandoned that they were not better than prostitutes. They carried magic powder concealed about them. When they came, I commanded that they should be decorated with some of our things and sent them back to land at once. .

There on the mountain I saw a tomb, as large as a house and carved, and the corpse was lying in it exposed and embalmed. They told me of other works of art and very excellent. There are many animals, small and large, and very different from ours. I had at the time two hogs, and an Irish dog did not dare to face them. A crossbowman had wounded an animal, which appeared to be an ape, except that it was much larger and had the face of a man. The arrow had pierced it from the neck to the tail, and as a result it was so fierce that it was necessary to cut off an arm and a leg. When the hog saw it, it bristled up and fled. When I saw this, I ordered the begare, as it is called there, to be thrown where the hog was; coming within reach, although it was on the point of death and although the arrow was still in its body, it twisted its tail round the hog’s snout and holding it very firmly, seized it by the nape of the neck and with its remaining hand struck it on the head, as if it were an enemy. This action was so novel and such a delightful sight that I have described it. They have many kinds of animals, but they all die of barra. I saw many very large fowls and with feathers like wool; lions, stags; besides fallow, deer, and also birds. .

While I wearily traversed that sea, a delusion came to some that we were bewitched and they still persist in that idea. I found another people who eat men; their brutal appearance showed this. They say that there are great mines of copper; of it they make hatchets, other worked articles, cast and soldered, and forges with all the tools of a goldsmith, and crucibles. There they go clothed. And in this province I saw large cotton sheets, very cleverly worked; others were very cleverly painted in colours with pencils. They say that in the country inland towards Catayo, they have them worked with gold. Of all these lands and of that which there is in them, owing to lack of interpreter, they could not learn very much. The villages, although they are very close together, have each a different language, and it is so much so that they do not understand one another any more than we understand the Arabs. I believe that this is the case with the uncivilised people of the coast, but not inland. .

When I discovered the Indies, I said that they were the richest dominion that there is in the world. I was speaking of the gold, pearls, precious stones and spices, with the trade and markets in them, and because everything did not appear immediately, I was held up to abuse. This punishment leads me now to say only that which I have heard from the natives of the land. Of one thing I dare to speak, because there are so many witnesses, and this is that in this land of Veragua I saw greater evidence of gold on the first two days than in Española in four years, and that the lands in this district could not be more lovely or better cultivated, nor could the people be more timid, and there is a good harbour and a beautiful river and it is defensible against the world. All this makes for the security of the Christians and the assurance of their dominion, and gives great hope for the honour and increase of the Christian religion. And the voyage thither will be as short as to Española, since it will be with the wind. Your highnesses are as much sovereigns of this land as at Jerez or Toledo; your ships may go there as if they were going home. Thence they will obtain gold; in other lands, in order to become masters of that which is in them, it requires that they should seize it or return empty, and inland it is necessary for them to trust their persons to a savage. .

Concerning the rest, of which I refrain from speaking, I have said, why I put a guard on myself. Accordingly, I do not mention the sixth part in all that I have ever said and written, nor do I assert it as true, nor do I declare that I am at the fountain head. Genoese, Venetians and all who have pearls, precious stones and other things of value, all carry them to the end of the world in order to exchange them, to turn them into gold. Gold is most excellent. Gold constitutes treasure, and he who possesses it may do what he will in the world, and may so attain as to bring souls to Paradise. When the lords of those lands which are in the district of Veragua die, they bury the gold which they have with the body; so they say. .

To Solomon on one journey they brought six hundred and sixty—six quintals of gold, besides that which the merchants and sailors brought, and besides that which was paid in Arabia. From this gold, he made two hundred lances and three hundred shields, and he made the covering that was above them of massive gold and adorned with precious stones. Josephus writes this in his chronicle of the Antiquities; in the book of Chronicles, and in the book of Kings, there is an account of this. Josephus holds that this gold was obtained in the Aurea. If it were so, I declare that those mines of the Aurea are one and the same as these of Veragua, which, as I have said above, extend westward twenty days’ journey, and are at the same distance from the Pole as from the Equator. Solomon bought all that gold, precious stones, and silver, and you may command it to be collected there, if you wish. David, in his will, left three thousand quintals of gold of the Indies to Solomon to aid in building the Temple, and, according to Josephus, it was from these same lands. .

Jerusalem and Mount Sion are to be rebuilt by the hand of a Christian; who this is to be, God declares by the mouth of his prophet in the fourteenth Psalm. Abbot Joachin said that he was to come from Spain. St. Jerome showed the way to it to the holy lady. The emperor of Catayo, some time since, sent for wise men to instruct him in the faith of Christ. Who will offer himself for this work? If our Lord bring me back to Spain, I pledge myself, in the name of God, to bring him there in safety. .

The people who came with me have suffered incredible toils and dangers. I pray your highnesses, since they are poor, that you will command that they be paid immediately, and that you will grant rewards to each one of them according to their quality, for I certify that to my belief they bear the best news that ever there came to Spain. .

Although the gold which the Quibian has in Veragua and which others in that neighbourhood have, is, according to accounts, very abundant, it does not appear to me to be well or for the service of your highnesses that it should be seized violently. Fair dealing will avoid scandal and ill report, and it will be that all will come to the treasury, so that not a grain is left. .

With a month of fair weather, I shall complete all my voyage. I did not persist in delaying to enter on it, because there was a lack of ships, and for all that concerns your service, I hope in Him Who made me, that I shall be of use. I believe that your highness will remember that I wished to order the construction of ships in a new manner; the brevity of the time did not give room for this, and I foresaw certainly that which has come to pass. I hold that in this trade and mines of such extent and such dominion there is more than there is in all else that has been done in the Indies. This is not a child to be left to the care of a stepmother. .

Of Española, Paria, and the other lands, I never think without weeping. I believed that their example would have been to the profit of others; on the contrary, they are in a languid state although they are not dead; the infirmity is incurable or very extensive; let him who brought them to this state come now with the remedy if he can or if he knows it; in destruction, everyone is an adept. It was always the custom to give thanks and promotion to him who imperilled his person. It is not just that he who has been so hostile to this undertaking should enjoy its fruits or that his children should. Those who left the Indies, flying from toils and speaking evil of the matter and of me, have returned with official employment. So it has now been ordained in the case of Veragua. It is an ill example and without profit for the business and for the justice in the world. .

The fear of this, with other sufficient reasons, which I saw clearly, led me to pray your highnesses before I went to discover these islands and Tierra Firme, that you would leave them to me to govern in your royal name. It pleased you; it was a privilege and agreement, and under seal and oath, and you granted me the title of viceroy and admiral and governor—general of all. And you fixed the boundary, a hundred leagues beyond the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands, by a line passing from pole to pole, and you gave me wide power over this and over all that I might further discover. The document states this very fully. .

The other most important matter, which calls aloud for redress, remains inexplicable to this moment. Seven years I was at your royal court, where all to whom this undertaking was mentioned, unanimously declared it to be a delusion. Now all, down to the very tailors, seek permission to make discoveries. It can be believed that they go forth to plunder, and it is granted to them to do so, so that they greatly prejudice my honour and do very great damage to the enterprise. It is well to give to God that which is His due and to Caesar that which belongs to him. This is a just sentiment and based on justice. .

The lands which here obey your highnesses are more extensive and richer than all other Christian lands. After that I, by the divine will, had placed them under your royal and exalted lordship, and was on the point of securing a very great revenue, suddenly, while I was waiting for ships that I might come to your high presence with victory and with great news of gold, being very secure and joyful, I was made a prisoner and with my two brothers was thrown into a ship, laden with fetters, stripped to the skin, very ill—treated, and without being tried or condemned. Who will believe that a poor foreigner could in such a place rise against your highnesses, without cause, and without the support of some other prince, and being alone among your vassals and natural subjects, and having all my children at your royal court? .

I came to serve at the age of twenty—eight years, and now I have not a hair on my body that is not grey, and my body is infirm, and whatever remained to me from those years of service has been spent and taken away from me and sold, and from my brothers, down to my very coat, without my being heard or seen, to my great dishonour. It must be believed that this was not done by your royal command. The restitution of my honour, the reparation of my losses, and the punishment of him who did this, will spread abroad the fame of your royal nobility. The same punishment is due to him who robbed me of the pearls, and to him who infringed my rights as admiral. Very great will be your merit, fame without parallel will be yours, if you do this, and there will remain in Spain a glorious memory of your highnesses, as grateful and just princes..

The pure devotion which I have ever borne to the service of your highnesses, and the unmerited wrong that I have suffered, will not permit me to remain silent, although I would fain do so; I pray your highnesses to pardon me. I am so ruined as I have said; hitherto I have wept for others; now, Heaven have mercy upon me, and may the earth weep for me. Of worldly goods, I have not even a blanca for an offering in spiritual things. Here in the Indies I have become careless of the prescribed forms of religion. Alone in my trouble, sick, in daily expectation of death, and encompassed about by a million savages, full of cruelty, and our foes, and so separated from the Blessed Sacraments of Holy Church, my soul will be forgotten if it here leaves my body. Weep for me, whoever has charity, truth and justice. .

I did not sail upon this voyage to gain honour or wealth; this is certain, for already all hope of that was dead. I came to your highnesses with true devotion and with ready zeal, and I do not lie. I humbly pray your highnesses that if it please God to bring me forth from this place, that you will be pleased to permit me to go to Rome and to other places of pilgrimage. May the Holy Trinity preserve your life and high estate, and grant you increase of prosperity. .

Done in the Indies, in the island of Jamaica, on the seventh of July, in the year one thousand five hundred and three. .

Full Colophon Information

Genre: Prose
Subjects: Discovery and exploration of America
Period: 1450-1500
Location: Spanish America
Format: Letter

The original document of Columbus of this document was written in 1502.

This text of the present edition was prepared from and proofed against The Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Being the Journals of his First and Third, and the Letters Concerning his First and Last Voyages, to Which is Added the Account of his Second Voyage Written by Andres Bernaldez. Now newly Translated and Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Cecil Jane. London: The Argonaut Press, 1930. For the present edition, all preliminaries and notes have been omitted except those for which the author is responsible. All editorial notes have been omitted except those that indicate significant textual variations. Line and paragraph numbers contained in the source text have been retained. In cases where the source text displays no numbers, numbers are automatically generated. In the header, personal names have been regularized according to the Library of Congress authority files as "Last Name, First Name" for the REG attribute and "First Name Last Name" for the element value. Names have not been regularized in the body of the text.

One thought on “Columbus, Letter from the Fourth Voyage”