Account by Christopher Columbus of the First Voyage to the New World. Written in his caravel while off the Canary Islands, February 15th, 1493. pp. 2-19 (in) The Four Voyages of Columbus. A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by a Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, With English Translations. Translated and Edited by C. Jane. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1988.

I write this [letter] to you, from which you will learn how in 33 days, I passed from the Canary Islands to the Indies with the fleet which the most illustrious king and queen, our sovereigns, gave to me. And there I found very many islands filled with people innumerable, and of them all I have taken possession for their highnesses, by proclamation made and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me. To the first island which I found, I gave the name San Salvador [first landfall possibly, Watling Island] … the Indians call it Guanahani. To the second, I gave the name Isla de Santa María de Concepción [Island of Rum Cay], to the third, Fernandina [Long Island], to the fourth, Isabella [Crooked Island], to the fifth, Isla Juana [Cuba], and so to each one I gave a new name (Vol. 1. p. 2).

I followed [the coast of Cuba] eastward for one hundred and seven leagues to the point where it ended. And from that cape, I saw another island, distant eighteen leagues from the former, to the east, to which I at once gave the name Española [sighted December 5th, 1492] … This island and all the others are very fertile to a limitless degree (Vol. 1. p. 4).

There are six or eight kinds of palm, which are a wonder to behold on account of their beautiful variety, but so are the other trees and fruits and plants…there is honey, and there are birds of many kinds and fruits in great diversity … Española is a marvel. The sierras and mountains, the plains and arable lands and pastures, are so lovely and rich for planting and sowing, for breeding cattle of every kind, for building towns and villages … In this island, there are many spices and great mines of gold and of other metals … The people of this island … they have no iron or steel or weapons … [the people are] well-built men and of handsome stature … they are incurably timid … They never refuse anything which they possess, if it be asked of them … they invite anyone to share it … I forbade that they should be given things so worthless as fragments of broken crockery and scraps of broken glass, and ends of scraps … they took even the pieces of the broken hoops of the wine barrels and, like savages, gave [us] what they had, so that is seemed to me to be wrong and I forbade it … they are very firmly convinced that I, with these ships and men, came from the heavens (Vol. 1. pp. 6-10).

In these islands I have so far found no human monstrosities, as many expected, but on the contrary the whole population is very well-formed … In these islands, where there are high mountains, the cold was severe this winter, but they [the Indians] endure it, being used to it and with the help of meats which they eat with many and extremely hot spices (Vol. 1. p. 14).

I believe that I have found rhubarb and cinnamon, and I shall find a thousand other things of value (Vol. 1. p. 16).


Account by Christopher Columbus of His Second Voyage to the New World. Letter written by Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca, Physician to the Fleet, written to the City of Seville. Dated to the middle of the 16th century. pp. 20-166 (in) The Four Voyages of Columbus. A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by a Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, With English Translations. Translated and Edited by C. Jane. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1988.

The fleet … left Cádiz on the 25th of September in the year [1493] … having left Fero on the 13th of October, within 20 days we sighted land … On the first Sunday after All Saints, which was the third day of November, about daybreak, a pilot of the flagship cried … Land in sight … On the morning of the Sunday … we saw an island lying ahead of the ships [Dominica], and afterwards another [María Galante] … the admiral, with the royal standard in his hands, landed, and many men with him, and there took possession for their highnesses in form of law (Vol. 1. pp. 20-24).

In this island [María Galante], the trees were so dense that it was marvelous, and there were such varieties of trees, unknown to anyone, as was astonishing. Some of them were with fruit, some were in flower, so that everything was green. There were found a tree, the leaf of which had the finest scent of cloves that I have ever known, and it resembled laurel … There were there fruits of different kinds growing wild, which some rather unwisely tasted, and touching them only with their tongues, from the taste their faces became swollen and such great heat and pain came over them that they seemed to be going mad [they possibly had had eaten manchinal or manzanillo: the Carib Indians used the fruit of this tree to make the poison in which they dipped their arrows]; they cured this with cold things (Vol. 1. p. 24).

We left for another island [Guadaloupe] …  We reached it … The captain went to the shore in the boat and made his way to the houses … Directly they saw our men, they took to flight … He entered the houses … there he took two parrots … He found much cotton … and articles of food, of all of which he brought away a little … Especially he brought away four or five bones of the arms and legs of men … This island is very large … On the seashore there were some small villages, and as soon as they saw the sails, all the people ran away … In the morning certain captains set out [to land] … Some took a small boy … some took certain women … We were [there] for eight days … The customs of this race of Caribs are bestial … There are three islands [Guadeloupe, Maria Galante, and Santa Cruz] … These people raid the other islands and carry off the women…As for the men whom they are able to take, they bring such as are alive to their houses to cut up for meat, and those who are dead, they eat at once. They say that the flesh of a man is so good that there is nothing like it in the world … In one house there a neck of a man was found cooking in a pot. They castrate the boys whom they capture and employ them as servants until they are fully grown, and then when they wish to make a feast, they kill and eat them, for they say that the flesh of boys and of women is not good to eat (Vol. 1. pp. 24-32).

We left this island [November 10th]. Afterwards, next day at noon, we saw another island [Montserrat] … After that, on this evening, we saw another [Santa Maria la Redonda] … Then, in the morning, another very large island appeared [Santa Maria de la Antigua] … On the next day, at the hour of eating, we reached another island [San Martin] … We went there and put into a harbour on the coast … We left that island where we had not stayed more than six or seven hours, and we went towards some other land [Santa Cruz] which came in sight [on Thursday, November 14th] … We went along its coast .. .the following day … we came in sight of another island, called Burenquen [Puerto Rico] … This island is very lovely and appears to be very fertile … All these above-mentioned islands were discovered on this voyage, for up to then the admiral had seen none of them on the previous voyage. They are all very lovely and have a very fertile soil (Vol. 1. pp. 34-40).

[They concluded other islands were to the east, towards Spain, because they spotted birds: these islands would have been the Leeward Islands] We set out at dawn … [to the south?] and came in sight of land, which was also unknown to any of those who had gone on the previous voyage … we guessed [it] must be Española … As this island is large, it has provinces with different names, and the part to which we first came they call Haiti, and the province next after it they call Xamana, and the next in which we now are, Bohio … The land is very remarkable …  Neither in it nor in the other islands has any four-footed animal been seen, except some dogs of various colours, as in our own native land…There are no savage animals. There is, further, an animal, the colour of a rabbit and with similar fur; it is the size of a young rabbit, has a long tail, and hind and fore feet like those of a rat [aguti]. These animals climb trees, and many who have eaten them say that the flesh is very good to eat. There are many small snakes. There are not many lizards, and so the Indians make as great a dainty of them as we make of pheasants at home; they are the same size as those at home, but are of a different shape. In a small islet…they saw on many occasions a very large lizard, which they say was as great round as a calf, and from tip to tail as long as a lance [alligator] … In this island and in the others, there are an infinite number of birds like those of our own country and many others which have never been seen there. Of domestic fowl, none have been seen here, except that in Zuruquia [probably spelled Xaragua: unidentified locality], there were in the houses some ducks, most of them white as snow and some black, very pretty, with flat crests, and larger than those at home, although smaller than geese (Vol. 1. pp. 40-44).

The fish of this land [Española] is very strange and more wholesome than that of Spain. It is true that the climate, being hot and damp, does not allow it to be kept from one day to the next, for animal food quickly becomes putrid (Vol. 1. p. 62).

There come here constantly many Indians and with them caciques, who are like commanders among them, and many Indian women. All come laden with ages [yams], which are like turnips, very excellent for food; of these we make here many kinds of food-stuffs in various ways. It is so sustaining to eat that it comforts us all greatly, for in truth the life which has been spent on the sea has been the most [difficult] that ever men went through (Vol. 1. p. 64).

There is an infinite amount of cotton from trees as large as peach trees. There are trees which gear [provide] wax, in colour and taste and for burning as good as that of bees … There are innumerable trees producing turpentine … There is much tragacanth, also very good … There are trees which, I think, bear nutmegs, but they were so far without fruit, and I say that I think this because the taste and smell of the bark is like that of nutmegs. I saw a root of ginger which an Indian carried hanging round his neck. There are also aloes, although not of the kind which has hitherto been seen in our parts, but there is no doubt that they are one of the species of aloes which doctors use. There is also found a kind of cinnamon … Also there have been found yellow mirabolans … they are rotten and have a very bitter taste … There is also very good mastic [NOTE: Piscacia lentisca does not grow here, so the plant mentioned cannot be mastic] (Vol. 1. p. 68).

None of the people of these islands … possess any iron … Their food is bread made of the roots of a plant which is between a tree and a vegetable, and the age [yam], of which I have already said that it is like turnips and very nourishing. They used, to flavour it, a spice which is called agi [Indian pepper] which they also eat with fish, as well as with birds when they can get them; there are an infinite number of many kinds. They have also some grain like hazel nuts, very good to eat. They eat all the snakes and lizards and spiders and all the worms which are found in the ground. So it seems to me that their degradation is greater than that of any beast in the world (Vol. 1. pp. 68-69).


Letter by Christopher Columbus, A Memorandum sent to Ferdinand and Isabella Delivered by Antonio de Torres, January 13th, 1495. pp. 74-112 (in) The Four Voyages of Columbus. A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by a Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, With English Translations. Translated and Edited by C. Jane. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1988.

You shall say to their highnesses, as has been said, that the cause of the illness, so general among all, is the change of water and air, for we see that it spreads to all one after another, and few are in danger. It follows that, under God, the preservation of health depends upon this people being provided with the food to which they are accustomed in Spain, for none of them, or others who may newly arrive, can serve their highnesses unless they are in health. And this provision should continue until here a supply can be secured from that which is here sown and planted, I mean from wheat and barley and grapes, towards which little has been done this year, since it was not possible earlier to select a site for a settlement … Nevertheless, they have sown something, mainly in order to test the soil, which appears to be very wonderful, so that from this some relief in our necessities may be expected. We are very sure, as what has been done shows that in this country wheat as well as vines will grow very well. But it is necessary to wait for the fruit, and if it be such as the rapid growing of the wheat, and of some few vines which have been planted, suggests, it is certain that here there will be no need of Andalucía or of Sicily, and the same applies to sugar canes, judging from the way in which some few that have been planted have taken root. For it is certain that the beauty of the land of these islands, as well of the mountains and sierras and rivers, as of the plains, where there are broad rivers, is such to behold that no other land on which the sun shines can be better to see or more lovely (Vol. 1. pp. 82-84).

You shall say [to their majesties] that, on account of much of the wine of that which the fleet carried having run away on this voyage, and this, as the majority say, being the fault of the bad work which the coopers did in Seville, the greatest need which we now have, or which we expect to have for the present, is of wine. And though we have enough biscuit, as well as corn [wheat], for some while, yet it is necessary that some reasonable amount should also be sent, for the voyage is long and provision cannot be made every day, and likewise some salt meat, I mean bacon, and other salt flesh, which should be better than that which we have brought on this voyage. As to livestock, sheep and lambs above all, more females than males, and some calves and young heifers are necessary, so that they should come always in every caravel which may be sent here, and some he- and she-asses, and mares for labour and tillage, for there are here none of these animals which can be put to use or which are of value  … It is well that everything should be done that is possible in order that [these goods] may come here in any case in the month of May, so that the people, before the beginning of summer, may see and have some refreshment from these things, especially the sick. Of these things we have already great need, such as of raisins, sugar, almonds, honey and rice, of which a great quantity should have come and very little arrived, and that which did come has been expended and consumed, as well as the greater part of the medicines, which we brought from there [Spain] owing to the number of the many sick. Of these things, as has been said, both for the healthy and for the sick, you carry memoranda, signed by my hand (Vol. 1. p. 84-86).

[NOTE: Columbus took eight pigs on his 2nd voyage: some have suggested that from these most swine of the Indies are descended. Another document dated April 9th, 1495 states that livestock were sent: six mares, four male and two female asses, four calves and two heifers, a hundred head of small livestock, two hundred hens, eighty sows and twenty hogs, live rabbits, some sheep and cows, were dispatched to Española]


Account by Andrés Bernáldez, History of the Catholic Sovereigns, Don Ferdinand and Doña Isabella. Dated c. 1513. pp. 114-166 (in) The Four Voyages of Columbus. A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by a Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, With English Translations. Translated and Edited by C. Jane. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1988.

[On Cuba: Puerto Grande or Guantananamo] In that land the trees and plants bear fruit twice a year; this is known and proved to be true … They went on shore and found more than four quintals [NOTE: 1 quintal = 46 kilograms] of fish cooking over the fire, and rabbits [native words: were guabiniquinax and ayre], and two serpents, and very near there in many places they were laid at the foot of the trees … The admiral ordered the fish to be taken, and with it refreshed his men (Vol. 1. p. 120-121).

Next day [Columbus] left that place before sunrise and followed the coast of the country westward. They saw that it was a very populous and very lovely land … many people and children, small and great, came down to the shore, bringing to them bread and things to eat, running along, showing the bread and calabashes full of water, and crying, ‘Eat! Take! Men from heaven!’ and asking them to land and to come to their houses (Vol. 1. p. 122).

[Off the coast of Jamaica] there immediately came out against him quite seventy canoes, all full of people with darts as weapons (Vol. 1. p. 124).

And on Whitsunday, 1494, they arrived off the coast of the mainland [of Cuba] at a place which was uninhabited … there sprang forth two fountains of water, so abundant that at the outlet each was the size of a very large orange, and this water spouted up with force. When the tide was coming in, it was so cold and such and so sweet, that no better could be found in the world, and this cold is not harsh, as that of other waters, so as to injure the stomach, but very healthy … And all rested there on the grass by those fountains … a league to the east of that spot … they found the water in it so hot that a man could scarcely bear his hand in it … [he called this place] el Jardín de la Reina [NOTE: site located off the south coast of Cuba and today is known as the Cayas de las Leguas] (Vol. 1. pp. 130-131).

And on the following day, when the admiral was very anxious to have speech [with the Indians], there came a canoe to hunt fish. And so they call it, hunting, because they hunt some fish with others. For they have certain fish, fastened at the tail with cords, and these fish are the shape of congers and have a large mouth, all full of suckers must like the cuttlefish, and they are very daring, as ferrets are here. And when they are thrown into the water, they go to fasten themselves on some fish; of these they do not leave hold in the water, but only when they are pulled out, which is before their prey is dead. And these fish are very active, and as soon as they have fixed on anything, the Indians draw them in by a very long cord to which they are fastened, securing one at a time and taking it by bringing the hunting fish to the surface of the water (Vol. 1. pp. 132-133).

[NOTE: this method of fishing traditionally was practiced off the coast of Cuba, Jamaica, and Española: the hunting fish, a kind of lamprey was called guacicomo and used to catch manatees, turtles, and large fish].

They found forty dogs all together, which were not large or very ugly. They did not bark; it seemed that they were reared and fattened on fish. They learned that the Indians ate them, and that they are as tasty as kids are here in Castile, for some Castilians tried them. There, those Indians had many tame herons, and many other birds (Vol. 1. p. 136).

[NOTE: the comment that the dogs did not bark begs the question: were these dogs basenjis? The basenji was a breed domesticated by the ancient Egyptian and images of this type of dog appear in Old Kingdom tombs at Saqqara].

They steered westward [along the coast of Cuba] …  And on the side of the sea, there were innumerable villages, from which there came immediately to the ships innumerable people with fruit, bread and water, and spun cotton, and rabbits, and pigeons, and a thousand other marvels and birds of other kinds which are not found here. They came singing with joy, believing that the people and the ships came from the heavens … That province is called Ornofay [modern Camaguey on the south coast of Cuba] (Vol. 1. p. 136).

Along the shore they found tracks of very large wild animals with five claws, an alarming thing … So they returned. There they found many vines and very large, laden with unripe fruit which covered all those trees and it was a wonderful sight. The admiral took a basket full of that fruit and cuttings of the vines and of the white sand of the sea to exhibit and to send to the king and queen. There were also in that place many aromatic fruits, as in the other places already mentioned (Vol. 1. p. 144).


Account by Christopher Columbus of the Third Voyage to the New World. Sent from the Island of Española. Dated October 18th, 1498. pp. 2-71 (in) The Four Voyages of Columbus. A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by a Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, With English Translations. Translated and Edited by C. Jane. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1988.

I departed, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, on Wednesday, 20 May, from the town of San Lucar [San Lucar de Barrameda] … I navigated to the island of Madeira … from there I navigated to the Canary islands, whence I departed with one ship and two caravels, and I sent the other ships on the direct course to the Indies to the island of Española … I sailed southwards, with the intention of reaching the equinoctial line, and from there following it westwards so that the island of Española would be left to the north of me … [and later] at the end of seventeen days, during which Our Lord gave me a favouring wind, on Tuesday 31 July, at midday, land appeared to us … a sailor went up to the main-top to look out and to the westward saw three mountains near one another [island of Trinidad] (Vol. 2. pp. 8-12).

I set sail … seeking a harbour in order to repair the ships and take in water, and to add to the corn [wheat] and the only provisions which I had brought … I ordered the people to land to rest themselves. To this point [cape] I gave the name del Arenal [now known as Point Ycacos]. And there all the ground was trodden by some animals [deer?] which had footprints like those of a goat … I saw none except one that was dead (Vol. 2. p. 14).

[I found people who wore pieces of gold and had pearls round their arms] I endeavoured to obtain some of those pearls, and I sent the boats ashore. These people are very numerous, and all are of very good appearance … [we were led to a large house] They had there many seats on which they caused them to sit, and others on which they seated themselves. They caused bread to be brought and fruit of many kinds and wine of many kinds, white and red [perhaps cocuiza made from agave leaves], but not made from grapes; the wine must be made from fruits of different kinds, some from one fruit and some from another, and also some of it may be made from maize [similar to chicha: a heavy, white drink, sweetened and made from maize in modern Venezuela], which is a plant bearing an ear like an ear of wheat, some of which I brought home and there is now much in Castile. It seems that the best maize is regarded as most excellent and has great value (p. 22).


Account by Christopher Columbus of the Fourth Voyage to the New World, Written from Jamaica and dated July 7th, 1503. 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 Rives, and other Marvellous Things, and Where There Are Mines of Gold in Great Abundance, and Other Things of Great Richness and Value. pp. 72-111 (in) The Four Voyages of Columbus. A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by a Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, With English Translations. Translated and Edited by C. Jane. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1988.

From Cadiz I [departed May 9th, 1502, and] passed to the Canaries in four days and thence, in sixteen, to the Indies (Vol. 2. p. 72).

On a mountain I saw a tomb, as large as a house and carved, and the corpse was lying in it exposed and embalmed … [The Indians] told me of other works of art and very excellent. There are many animals, small and large, and very different from ours … I saw many very large fowls, with feathers like wool; lions, stags, besides fallow-deer, and also birds (Vol. 2. p. 100).


Account by Diego Mendez, of Certain Things That Occurred on the Last Voyage of the Admiral, Don Christopher Columbus, written June 26th, 1536. pp. 112-143 (in) The Four Voyages of Columbus. A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by a Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, With English Translations. Translated and Edited by C. Jane. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1988.

I did serve the great admiral, Dona Christopher, going with his lordship to the discovery of islands and Tierra Firma, in which service I many times put myself in danger of death in order to save his life and the lives of those who went and were with him (Vol. 2. p. 114).

I found people [in the Indies] so gentle that they did me no ill, but were friendly to me and gave me food with good will. And in a village which is called Aguacadiba, I agreed with the Indians and their cicique [Chief] that they should make cassava bread, and that they should hunt and fish and that of all the provisions they should give to the admiral a certain amount every day and that they should bring it to the ships, where there should be someone who would pay them in blue beads and combs and knives and hawks’ bells and fish-hooks and other articles which we had brought for this purpose (Vol. 2. p. 124).