Most Christian and most high and most mighty princes:
That everlasting God who has given Your Highnesses so many victories has now given you the greatest ever given to any monarch.
I have come with the fleet that Your Highnesses gave me from the Indies, to which I crossed in thirty-three days after departing
from your kingdoms;1 for fourteen of those thirty-three, I was becalmed and made little progress. I found people without number and very many
islands, of which I took possession in Your Highnesses' name by royal proclamation and by unfurling the royal standard, and
To the first island I gave the name San Salvador, in memory of His High Majesty; to the second, Santa María de Concepción;
to the third, Fernandina; to the fourth, Isabela; to the fifth, Juana, and so on, to each a new name.3
When I reached Juana4 I followed the coast to the west and I found it to be so large that I thought it could not be an island, but mainland, and
that it could be the province of Cathay. I could get no information because, at every cape I reached, the people fled and
I could not speak to them; and because I could not find a town worthy of note, I thought that if I hugged the coast I could
not fail to find some town or great city, such as are described by those who have been ashore in that province.5
After following this coast for some way, I found that it was carrying me north rather than west, and I found that the wind
was coming from that direction. I decided to ride it out until it changed, because winter was now drawing on, and my sole
objective was to flee from there, to the south, and so I turned back.6
By this time I already understood something of the language and signs made by some Indians I had taken on the island of San
Salvador, and I understood that this was still an island.7 And so I came to a very fine harbour,8 from where I sent two men inland for three days with one of those Indians I had with me, and who had become friendly towards
me, to investigate and find out if there were any cities or large towns, what land this was and what there was there. They
found many settlements and countless people but no sign of any authority, and so they turned back and I left and took some
Indians from that harbour so that I could find out from them something about those lands. And so I followed the coast of this
island eastward for one hundred and seven leagues to where it ended.
Before I left it, I sighted another island to the east, eighteen leagues distant, which I then called Española,9 and I went there and followed the north coast as I had done in Juana, due east for a good hundred and eighty-eight leagues.
I pressed on and in the many harbours I found I set up a large cross in the most suitable place, as I had done in all the
harbours on the other islands, and in many places I had lengthy talks.
And so I proceeded until 16 January, when I decided to return to Your Highnesses, both because I had found most of what I
was looking for, and because I now had only one caravel, for I had left my flagship with the men in Your Highnesses' town
of Navidad, where they were establishing a fortress, as I shall later report;10 and as to the other caravel, someone from Palos, whom I had put in charge of it, expecting loyal service, made off with
it, thinking to help himself to great amounts of gold from an island about which an Indian had given information.11 I thought I would do with him later what seemed best.
This sea is the best in the world for sailing, and the least dangerous for any kind of ships; but for discovery, small caravels
are the best, because you have to hug the coast and sail up-river to discover the most, and they do not require great depth
and can be assisted by oars. There are never any storms, for on every cape I have visited I have seen trees and grass growing
right into the sea.12
Apart from the islands already mentioned, I have found many others in the Indies about which I do not intend to speak in this
letter. These, like the others, are so fertile that, even if I could describe it, I should not be surprised if you were doubtful
whether to believe me. The breezes are very mild, the trees and fruits and vegetation are extremely beautiful and very different
from ours, and there are so many rivers and harbours that are better than those in Christendom, that it is a wonder. All these
islands are densely populated by the finest people under the sun, without evil or deception.
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All of them, women and men alike, go naked as their mothers bore them, although some women wear some small cotton garment
or a leaf with which they cover themselves.
They have no iron or weapons except some cane stalks on the end of which they put a thin, sharp stick; all their work is done
I have not been able to establish if any of them have private property, because on some days when I was with the king13 in the town of Navidad, I saw that all the people, and especially the women, would bring him manioc roots, which is the
food they eat, and he ordered them to be shared out, a very unusual way of provisioning.14
Nowhere in these islands have I seen signs of religious observance or idolatry among the people, and there is little difference
between one people's language and another's; rather, they all understand each other.15 I could see that they know that all power is in heaven,16 and generally wherever I have been, they have believed and do believe that I, along with these ships and men, came from
heaven; and they received me with this respect, and still today they hold the same view and have not shaken it off, in spite of all the exchanges I have had with them;17 and whenever we approach any town, the men and women and children run from house to house crying: "Come and see the people
They give whatever they have and had for anything that might be given in exchange, even taking a piece of glass or a broken
bowl or some such thing for gold or anything else of value; one sailor got more than two and a half castellanos for the ends
of his leather laces;18 there are ten thousand similar stories I could tell.19
All these islands are very flat and the land is low-lying, except for Juana and Española; these are very high lands, with
ranges of high mountains beyond comparison with the island of Tenerife.20 The mountains are all of a thousand different shapes and all are very beautiful and fertile and accessible and covered in
trees; they seem to reach to the sky.
And both these two islands are very large, for, as I have said, I sailed their length in a straight line one hundred and seven
leagues along Juana, and two provinces lay in the direction of the northwest, which, as far as I could understand from these
Indians I have with me, cannot be less than fifty or sixty leagues, so that ... is much greater than England and Scotland
together;21 this other island of Española is certainly greater than all of Spain, for, as I said earlier, I sailed along it in a straight
line from west to east for a good hundred and eighty-eight leagues which is its length in that direction. Juana has many rivers,
and there are great mountains and very deep valleys and plains and fields, and all covered in trees and marvellous huge palms
of a thousand different kinds.
Española is better than anywhere; the trees are not so tall, nor of the same kind, being broad and very fruitful; and the
land is delightful, ideal for everything, for sowing and planting and raising cattle, of which I have seen no sight on any
island. This island has marvellously temperate breezes, and marvellous plains and open country beyond comparison with those
of Castile, and the same is true of the rivers, copious and with good water, of which the majority carry gold; the harbours
are so numerous and so fine that they have to be seen to be believed.
I have not dallied on these or any other islands for many reasons, as I said before, especially as it happened to be winter
when I was sailing these coasts; they did not give me the chance to sail south because I was on the northern shore, and the
winds were almost always easterly, and against the course I was sailing; furthermore, I did not understand these people nor
they me, beyond what native wit taught us, although they were very sorry about this and I much more so, because I very much
wanted good information about everything; and the solution I came up with were the Indians I had with me, who were learning
our language and we theirs, and we shall see later, on the next voyage, whether it worked; so there was no reason for me to
waste time in any harbour, as soon as I had the conditions for sailing; and also, as I have said, these ships which I had
with me were very large and heavy for such an undertaking, especially the flagship, about which I was very anxious before
I left Castile; I should very much have liked to take small caravels, but since this was the first voyage and the men I had
were afraid that the sea would be rough and were dubious about the voyage, and there were so many obstacles, and everyone
was bold enough to criticise this route and put thousands of dangers in my way without giving me any reason, my wishes were
disregarded and I had to do what those who were to sail with me wanted - anything to get the voyage over and done with and
find the land.
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But Our Lord, who is the light and strength of all those who achieve their ends, and who gives victory over things which appear
impossible, willed that I should find gold, and gold mines, and spices, and countless people ready to become Christians and
others so that the Christians might ... them and He gave me a place with evident wonderment where I might build a fort, which
must by now be completely finished.
And it was His wish that I should leave there, in possession of the town of Navidad, the men I had with me on the flagship
and some from the caravels, equipped with provisions for more than a year and a lot of artillery, free of any danger from
anyone, and, indeed, with the firm friendship of the king of the area, who took great pride in calling me his brother and
treating me as such; he showed every sign of finding it the greatest joy in the world, as I said, and not just the king but
all the others, so that the men I left there are enough to subjugate the whole island without danger.
As I have said, this island is in a place pointed out by the hand of Our Lord, from which I hope that His Majesty will give
Your Highnesses as much gold as you need, spices from one pepper, as many ships as Your Highnesses might order to be filled
and as much mastic22 as you might order to be shipped; to this day mastic has only been found on the island of Chios in Greece where the authorities
sell it for as much as they like, and I believe that they produce more than forty-five thousand ducats' worth of it every
year;23 and as much aloe24 as you might order to be shipped, and as much cotton as you order to be shipped, and so many slaves25 that they are without number, and will be from among the idolaters, and I believe I have found rhubarb26 and cinnamon.27 All of this I have found after a first brief inspection, but I hope in God's name that when I return the men I have left
there will have found thousands more things of great value, because that is what I ordered them to do; and I left them a boat
and tackle, and tools to make boats and galleys, and men experienced in all the arts of the sea; and above all I hold all
the above-mentioned islands to be possessions of Your Highnesses to do with as you wish and as you can and do most properly
with the kingdoms of Castile, and this is especially so of this island of Española.
To conclude: divine grace permitting, the grace of Him who is the beginning of all good and virtuous things and who gives
favour and victory to all those who follow His path, in seven years from now I will be able to pay to Your Highnesses the
costs of five thousand cavalry and fifty thousand infantry in the war and conquest of Jerusalem, which was the reason for undertaking this enterprise;28 and five years thereafter, another five thousand cavalry and fifty thousand infantry, making ten thousand cavalry and one
hundred thousand infantry; and this will be for a very small initial cost to Your Highnesses to secure all these Indies and
all that they contain, as I shall tell Your Highnesses later, in person; and in this I am right, and what I say is not in
dispute, and we should not sleep on it as has happened in the execution of this enterprise, and may God forgive those who
were the cause of it.
Most mighty princes: all of Christendom should hold great celebrations, and especially those of God's church, at the finding
of so many multitudes of people grouped together ready with very little effort to be converted to our Holy Faith, and of so
many lands full of so many good things which we need, and from which all Christians will derive comfort and benefit; all of
this was unknown and only spoken about in the form of fables; Your Highnesses should order great joy and festivities in the
churches and especially very many praises to the Holy Trinity throughout your kingdoms and possessions, for the great love
He has shown you, more than to any other prince.
Now, most serene princes: may Your Highnesses remember that I left wife and children29 and my homeland to serve you, I spent all I had, I wasted seven years30 and received nothing but opprobrium and discredit and suffered great need; I refused to deal with other princes who asked me to,31 although Your Highnesses had invested in this voyage, which was due more to my importunity than to anything else; and not
only have I received [no]32 thanks, but promises made to me have not been fulfilled.33 I do not ask Your Highnesses for reward in order to make money, because my intention is only to serve God and Your Highnesses
and bring this enterprise of the Indies to fruition, as time will testify; and so I ask that I be honoured in accordance with
The Church of God must also attend to this: to providing prelates and devout and wise religious; and because the matter is
so important and of such moment, it is right that the Holy Father should provide prelates who are absolutely free of greed
for earthly goods and entirely suitable for the service of God and Your Highnesses; and so I humbly request that in the letter
which you will write about this victory, you ask him for a cardinalate for my son,34 and that he be given one even though he is not yet of the right age, because there is little difference between him and
the son of the Medicis of Florence who was given the hat without his having done, nor intending to do, much honour to Christendom;35 please write a letter for me about this so that I can send him to secure it.
Furthermore, most serene princes, because the sin of ingratitude was the first to be punished, I realise that because I do
not have it I am always making requests of Your Highnesses about this business, without doubt it would not have happened without
Villacorta, who whenever necessary petitioned and worked because I had become despondent and everybody who heard about it
was tired of it. For this reason I beseech Your Highnesses to do me the favour of making him Senior Treasurer of the Indies,
for I guarantee that he will do it well.36
So Your Highnesses should know that the first island of the Indies, nearest to Spain, is entirely populated by women, without
a single man, and they do not behave like women; instead, they carry weapons and adopt other male habits; they carry bows
and arrows and adorn themselves with copper plates, of which they have a great deal; this island they call Matinino.37
The second they call Caribo, [lacuna] leagues away; here live the people of whom all the rest of the Indies are fearful;38 they eat human flesh, are great archers, have many canoes, almost as big as galleys,39 with which they sail around all the islands of the Indies and they are so feared that they have no equal; they are as naked
as the others, except that they wear their hair long as women do. I believe that the great cowardice of the people of the
other islands, that is beyond remedy, makes them say that these Caribs are bold; but I hold them in the same esteem as the
others, and when Your Highnesses order me to send you slaves, I expect to bring or send the majority of them from these people;
these are the people who have dealings with the women of Matinino, and if they40 bear a girl they keep her with them, and if it is a boy, they bring him up until he can fend for himself, and then they
send him to Caribo.
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Between these islands of Caribo and Española there is another island they call Boriquen,41 and none of this is very far from the other part of the island of Juana, which they call Cuba; in the western part, in one
of the two provinces I have not visited, which is called Faba,42 everyone is born with a tail.43
Beyond this island of Juana, and within sight, there is another than which these Indians assure me there is one greater which
they call Jamaica, where all the people are without hair. On this island there is gold beyond measure, and I now have with
me Indians who have been to both islands and know the language and customs.
No more, except may the Holy Trinity protect and promote Your Highnesses' royal estate, in its holy service. Dated on the
Spanish sea, 4 March 1493. At sea.
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