Columbus’ La Navidad


The waning star of Columbus’ personal fortunes, which had shown so brightly at the end of the first voyage and dimmed so soon with the discovery of the massacre at La Navidad, found no resurgence with the move to the new capital at Santo Domingo. The unhappy island continued to be racked by incessant warfare with the harried natives; by recurring rebellions of the Spanish colonists and public hangings of the dissidents; by never-ending shortages and spartan rationing of food. The wretched economy could only be sustained by costly infusions of new capital and supplies from Spain, and by enslavement of the Indians. The sullen hostility of the colonists toward Columbus and his two brothers, who shared in the governing of Espanola, was reflected in reports by influential persons which poured into the royal court with increasing urgency.

At last, in the year 1500, Ferdinand and Isabella decisively intervened, sending a knight commander named Francisco de Bobadilla with plenary powers to take over the administration of Espanola. At the same time, they summarily dismissed Columbus from his high estate of viceroy and governor.

Unwisely, Columbus attempted to resist the takeover, claiming his authority from the sovereigns superior to that of Bobadilla. The latter responded by clapping Columbus and his brothers in irons and sending them as prisoners to Spain.

“With cruelty I have been cast into the depths,” Columbus wrote in anguish to Dona Juana de Torres, a lady who had befriended him at court. “I have come to such a state that there is none so vile who does not consider he may insult me.”

The sovereigns released the Columbus brothers from their chains and indulgently authorized the admiral to undertake another voyage. But by their firm decree he never set foot on Espanola again in the six years of life that remained to him. The first Spanish colonial offspring in the New World had come to a quick and bitter end.