Columbus and the “New” world: from some primary sources (or as close as we can get to them) (2023)

Quotes from Bartholome de Las Cases writings (priest who traveled with Columbus)

They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, “Boil there, you offspring of the devil!

And never have the Indians in all the Indies committed any act against the Spanish Christians, until those Christians have first and many times committed countless cruel aggressions against them or against neighboring nations.

They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike.

They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.

(Video) Christopher Columbus' First Letter After Discovery of America // 1493 Primary Source

They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house

These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world.

They made a grid of rods which they placed on forked sticks, then lashed the victims to the grid and lighted a smoldering fire underneath, so that little by little, as those captives screamed in despair and torment, their souls would leave them.

(Video) Reading Christopher Columbus’s New World Report to Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain

With still others, all those they wanted to capture alive, they cut off their hands and hung them round the victim’s neck, saying, “Go now, carry the message,” meaning, Take the news to the Indians who have fled to the mountains.

We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like fifteen million.

Michel de Cuneo quote from the Journal of Christopher Columbus:

It’s somewhat old hat at this point to point out that Christopher Columbus — in whose name children are off school and mail isn’t delivered today — was a homicidal tyrant who initiated the two greatest crimes in the history of the Western Hemisphere, the Atlantic slave trade, and the American Indian genocide.

Rehashing all of his crimes would require a much longer article, not least because evaluating the claims of contemporary primary sources is a somewhat tricky historiographical enterprise. Philadelphia Magazine’s Michael Coard has a good surveyhere; Howard Zinn’s work on this is controversial, but you can find a goodexcerpt at Jacobinand an illustrated version atthe Oatmeal.

Here are just a handful of specific cases, mostly culled from Laurence Bergreen’s biography (2011),Columbus: The Four Voyages, of unimaginable cruelty inflicted by Columbus and his crew during their time in the Caribbean.

1) Columbus kidnapped a Carib woman and gave her to a crew member to rape

(Video) Columbus Primary Source Activity Review

Bergreen quotes Michele de Cuneo, who participated in Columbus’s second expedition to the Americas (page 143):

While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful woman, whom the Lord Admiral [Columbus] gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked — as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought she had been brought up in a school for whores.

2) On Hispaniola, a member of Columbus’s crew publicly cut off an Indian’s ears to shock others into submission. Hispaniola, now divided between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.NASA/JPL/SRTM

After an attack by more than 2,000 Indians, Columbus had an underling, Alonso de Ojeda, bring him three Indian leaders, whom Columbus then ordered publicly beheaded. Ojeda also ordered his men to grab another Indian, bring him to the middle of his village, and “‘cut off his ears’ in retribution for the Indians’ failing to be helpful to the Spaniards when fording a stream” (Bergreen, 170-171).

3) Columbus kidnapped and enslaved more than a thousand people on Hispaniola

According to Cuneo, Columbus ordered 1,500 men and women seized, letting 400 go and condemning 500 to be sent to Spain, and another 600 to be enslaved by Spanish men remaining on the island. About 200 of the 500 sent to Spain died on the voyage, and were thrown by the Spanish into the Atlantic (Bergreen, 196-197).

4) Columbus forced Indians to collect gold for him or else die

Columbus ordered every Indian over 14 to give a large quantity of gold to the Spanish, on pain of death. Those in regions without much gold were allowed to give cotton instead. Participants in this system were given a “stamped copper or brass token to wear around their necks in what became a symbol of intolerable shame” (Bergreen, 203).

5) About 50,000 Indians committed mass suicide rather than comply with the Spanish

Bergreen explains, page 204:

The Indians destroyed their stores of bread so that neither they nor the invaders would be able to eat it. They plunged off cliffs, they poisoned themselves with roots, and they starved themselves to death. Oppressed by the impossible requirement to deliver tributes of gold, the Indians were no longer able to tend their fields, or care for their sick, children, and elderly. They had given up and committed mass suicide to avoid being killed or captured by Christians, and to avoid sharing their land with them, their fields, groves, beaches, forests, and women: the future of their people.

6) 56 years after Columbus’s first voyage, only 500 out of 300,000 Indians remained on Hispaniola

(Video) History KS2 | Explorers: Christopher Columbus | BBC Teach

Population figures from 500 years ago are necessarily imprecise, but Bergreen estimates that there were about 300,000 inhabitants of Hispaniola in 1492. Between 1494 and 1496, 100,000 died, half due to mass suicide. In 1508, the population was down to 60,000. By 1548, it was estimated to be only 500.

Understandably, some natives fled to the mountains to avoid the Spanish troops, only to have dogs set upon them by Columbus’s men (Bergreen, 205).

7) Columbus was also horrible to the Spanish under his rule

While paling in comparison to his crimes against Caribs and Taino Indians, Columbus’s rule over Spanish settlers was also brutal. He ordered at least a dozen Spaniards “to be whipped in public, tied by the neck, and bound together by the feet” for trading gold for food to avoid starvation. He ordered a woman’s tongue cut out for having “spoken ill of the Admiral and his brothers.”

Another woman was “stripped and placed on the back of a donkey … to be whipped” as punishment for falsely claiming to be pregnant. He “ordered Spaniards to be hanged for stealing bread” (Bergreen, 315-316). Bergreen continues:

He even ordered the ears and nose cut off one miscreant, who was also whipped, shackled, and banished from the island. He ordered a cabin boy’s hand nailed in public to the spot where he had pulled a trap from a river and caught a fish. Whippings for minor infractions occurred with alarming frequency. Columbus ordered one wrongdoer to receive a hundred lashes — which could be fatal — for stealing sheep, and another for lying about the incident. An unlucky fellow named Juan Moreno received a hundred lashes for failing to gather enough food for Columbus’s pantry.

8) Settlers under Columbus sold 9- and 10-year-old girls into sexual slavery

This one he admitted himself in aletter to Doña Juana de la Torre, a friend of the Spanish queen: “There are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid.”

9) Indian slaves were beheaded when their Spanish captors couldn’t be bothered to untie them

Benjamin Keen, a historian of the Spanish conquest of the Americas,notedthat multiple sources confirmed accounts of “exhausted Indian carriers, chained by the neck, whose heads the Spaniards severed from their bodies so they might not have to stop to untie them.”

Update:A prior version of this article used another translation of Columbus’s letter that wasn’t as clear that he was speaking of 9- and 10-year-olds; a different translation was substituted for clarity.


What did Christopher Columbus say about the new world? ›

guileless and honest,” Columbus declares that the land could easily be conquered by Spain, and the natives “might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen and Princes and all the people of Spain.”

How did Christopher Columbus impact the new world? ›

Columbus's journeys to the Americas opened the way for European countries to colonize and exploit those lands and their peoples. Trade was soon established between Europe and the Americas. Plants native to the Americas (such as potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco) were imported to Europe.

What is the new world that Columbus discovered? ›

Explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) is known for his 1492 'discovery' of the New World of the Americas on board his ship Santa Maria.

What is the primary reason Columbus is important in history? ›

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who stumbled upon the Americas and whose journeys marked the beginning of centuries of transatlantic colonization. Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who stumbled upon the Americas and whose journeys marked the beginning of centuries of transatlantic colonization.

Why is Columbus discovery of the New World a turning point in human history? ›

The travel between the Old and the New World was a huge environmental turning point, called the Columbian Exchange. It was important because it resulted in the mixing of people, deadly diseases that devastated the Native American population, crops, animals, goods, and trade flows.

What are the positive and negatives of Columbus arriving in the New World? ›

In terms of benefits the Columbian Exchange only positively affected the lives of the Europeans. They gained many things such as, crops, like maize and potatoes, land in the Americas, and slaves from Africa. On the other hand the negative impacts of the Columbian Exchange are the spread of disease, death, and slavery.

What did Columbus claim the New World for? ›

His expedition went ashore the same day and claimed the land for Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored his attempt to find a western ocean route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.

Who actually discovered the New World? ›

Americans get a day off work on October 10 to celebrate Columbus Day. It's an annual holiday that commemorates the day on October 12, 1492, when the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus officially set foot in the Americas, and claimed the land for Spain. It has been a national holiday in the United States since 1937.

How the New World was discovered? ›

Columbus's Famous Voyage

Columbus set sail from Spain in August of 1492, and on October 12, made landfall on an island off the coast of China, or rather, what he thought was the coast of China. It was probably Watlings Island in the Bahamas.

Where did Columbus think he was in the New World? ›

Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men.

What is the most important thing about Christopher Columbus? ›

Christopher Columbus was a navigator who explored the Americas under the flag of Spain. Some people think of him as the "discoverer" of America, but this is not strictly true. His voyages across the Atlantic paved the way for European colonization and exploitation of the Americas.

What is Columbus primary purpose in his letters? ›

PART A: What is Columbus' primary purpose in his letter? A. To express his desire to learn about the culture and people of the islands he explored.

What ideas did the New World bring to the Old World? ›

The exchange introduced a wide range of new calorically rich staple crops to the Old World—namely potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, and cassava. The primary benefit of the New World staples was that they could be grown in Old World climates that were unsuitable for the cultivation of Old World staples.

Was the discovery of the New World a positive or a negative event in world history? ›

Though there were positive effects, the Columbian Exchange had a long-lasting negative impact. Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas facilitated the exchange of plants, animals and diseases between the Old and New Worlds. For generations, Christopher Columbus was considered a hero of American history.

What were 3 effects of Columbus voyage? ›

Some of the long-term consequences of Columbus's encounters with the Americans were slavery, spread disease through the Columbian exchange, and new rivalries in Europe. The Columbus Exchange has a huge impact on every society on the planet. For example, Europeans introduced new diseases into the Americas.

What are 3 positives that came from the Columbian Exchange? ›

Although, this time period was very brutal for the Native Americans, the Columbian Exchange resulted in the transmitting of new technologies, an increase in remedies and cures for diseases, and a growth in resources such as food that helped to improve life.

Did Christopher Columbus have a positive or negative effect on the people who lived in the Americas? ›

In reality, Christopher Columbus had an incredibly negative impact on the world because he enslaved the Native Americans, didn't help the kind Natives when they got infected by diseases that the Spaniards had brought to America, and killed off most of the Native American population.

What made Columbus successful? ›

His passion for exploration when he was very young, and his persistence for not giving up when investors rejected him, were early signs that Columbus would succeed as an explorer.

What are some reasons Columbus is a hero? ›

Columbus's famed voyage to the New World was celebrated by Italian-Americans, in particular, as a pathway to their own acceptance in America. Christopher Columbus has long been exalted as a heroic figure in American history: the first explorer to establish a European presence in the New World.

Why was it called the New World? ›

North America and South America together are often called the “New World”. The label came about in the wake of European voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. The Europeans discovered these two continents only in the late 15th century. So, to the Europeans, these lands were new compared to the older civilisations.

What is the New World in history? ›

In contrast, New World history focuses on North America, Central America, and South America. The term New World was developed in 1492 when Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, arrived in the Americas.

Why was the discovery of the New World important? ›

Columbus's voyage of discovery also had another important result; it contributed to the development of the modern concept of progress. To many Europeans, the New World seemed to be a place of innocence, freedom, and eternal youth. Columbus himself believed that he had landed near the Biblical Garden of Eden.

What is the objective of New World? ›

Essentially, the island is trying to kill you. You'll harness the power of Azoth to fight back. When you begin, you'll choose one of three factions: The Marauders, The Syndicate and The Covenant. Within each factions are companies (what would be a guild or clan in another game), which you can join.

How did humans first enter the New World? ›

In the 1970s, college students in archaeology such as myself learned that the first human beings to arrive in North America had come over a land bridge from Asia and Siberia approximately 13,000 to 13,500 years ago. These people, the first North Americans, were known collectively as Clovis people.

What influenced Columbus? ›

Columbus was partly inspired by 13th-century Italian explorer Marco Polo in his ambition to explore Asia and never admitted his failure in this, incessantly claiming and pointing to supposed evidence that he had reached the East Indies.

What were the 3 goals of Christopher Columbus? ›

Columbus promised to explore Asia and bring back gold, spices, and silk to the Spanish crown and spread Christianity to these far parts of the world.

What is the most important lesson we can learn from the voyages of Columbus? ›

Perseverance in one's vision: Christopher Columbus's tenacity to get what he wanted until he attained it was admirable. His courage to explore and his foresight to travel west all contributed to his massive success as both a traveller and explorer of new lands.

What did Columbus call the people in the New World? ›

Columbus referred to the native people living there as "Indians", believing he had actually reached "The Indies" in Asia. He continued to believe this until the end of his life.

What was Christopher Columbus famous quote? ›

Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World. By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination. I have come to believe that this is a mighty continent which was hitherto unknown.

What did Columbus say when he discovered America? ›

guileless and honest,” Columbus declares that the land could easily be conquered by Spain, and the natives “might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen and Princes and all the people of Spain.”

What was the main message of the Columbus letter? ›

Columbus' letter conveys a number of key themes of early conquest: His astonishment at the abundance of natural resources available on the islands, an attitude towards the islands' inhabitants that was both patronizing and admiring, his belief in the wealth that stood to be gained by Spain by possessing and exploiting ...

What did Columbus actually do? ›

Throughout his years in the Americas, Columbus forced natives to work for the sake of profits. Later, he sent thousands of Taino “Indians” to Spain to be sold, and many of them died during the journey. The natives who weren't sold into slavery were forced to look for gold in mines and work on plantations.

What was Columbus's last words? ›

On May 20, 1506, in Valladolid, Spain, with his two brothers and two sons at his side, Columbus uttered his last words: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum (Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit).

Who was Christopher Columbus in simple words? ›

Christopher Columbus (/kəˈlʌmbəs/; born between 25 August and 31 October 1451, died 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer and navigator who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, opening the way for the widespread European exploration and colonization of the ...

What was Christopher Columbus biggest fear? ›

Fear of water since he left school at the age of 14 to apprentice himself on a trading ship. He spent most of his life on the seas.

What was America called before discovered? ›

The earlier Spanish explorers referred to the area as the Indies believing, as did Columbus, that it was a part of eastern Asia.

Do people think Columbus was the first person to arrive in America? ›

We know now that Columbus was among the last explorers to reach the Americas, not the first. Five hundred years before Columbus, a daring band of Vikings led by Leif Eriksson set foot in North America and established a settlement.

Who came to America first? ›

The Spanish were among the first Europeans to explore the New World and the first to settle in what is now the United States. By 1650, however, England had established a dominant presence on the Atlantic coast. The first colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.


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