The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
In this letter, Christopher Columbus describes for the Court of Spain the islands and peoples encountered during his initial journey across the Atlantic Ocean to what is currently known as the Caribbean. Columbus reports taking possession of the group of islands he encountered thirty-three days after leaving the Andalusian port of Cadiz. In describing islands he calls Juana (Cuba) and Hispana (Haiti/Dominican Republic), he wonders at the abundance of flora and fauna on the islands, describing, among other things, palm trees and herbs that in number and size vastly exceed those available in Spain, and vividly notes the presence of gold and metals. Columbus recounts how the islands’ inhabitants do not wear clothing, and lack weapons, and therefore he characterizes them as “by nature fearful and timid.” He continues to characterize them as “trustworthy” and generous with their possessions, recounting how they traded gold for trifles like shoe-laces or ribbons like “persons without reason.” Columbus speaks of winning the “Indians” friendship so “that they can be made worshipers of Christ” and, obviously, become Spanish subjects. Columbus goes on to describe how he admires their skill and intelligence, and to recount how he seized several inhabitants by force so that they may “learn” from them. He also recounts how the “Indians” believe that the Spanish have come from heaven. Columbus continues by describing the islands’ size, and tells how, on the island he calls Hispana, he has left a group of men to build a fort and establish a settlement. He concludes his letter by arguing that the King [Ferdinand of Aragón] should support his enterprise with more funding because of the abundant resources he has found. Lastly, crediting Christ for his success, Columbus asks that the appropriate celebrations—rituals and processions—be made to thank God.
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was an Italian navigator and explorer whose voyages across the Atlantic ocean during the late-15th century were funded by the Queen of Spain [Isabel of Castile] initiating thus the process of colonizing the American continents and spreading awareness of them in Europe. This letter was addressed to the Spanish King Ferdinand of Aragón and was translated from Spanish into Latin by Aliander de Cosco in 1493 (the same year it was written). Columbus describes his encounter with the islands of the Antilles on the thirty-third day of this voyage from Southern Spain (Cadiz). 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 the islands, as well as his conviction that the will of God and the force of the Spanish King were closely aligned.