During Columbus’ second voyage in 1493, a third of present-day Haiti’s population died. Historical revisionists blame Columbus for the deaths, without providing any context.
What does the historical record say?
According to Peter Martyr, “When the natives saw the Spaniards wanted to settle on their island, they tried to expel them by creating a scarcity of food. They therefore decided not only to plant no more crops, but also to destroy and tear up all the various kinds of cereals used for bread which had already been sown.”
In “De Orbe Novo, The First Decade” Book IV, Martyr wrote that “this calamity was the consequence of their own folly.”
When Columbus returned to the island from his exploration of other sites in the Caribbean, he found it in revolt. Although Queen Isabella had ordered the Spaniards to treat the natives “very well and lovingly,” the Santa Maria’s crew had taken advantage of Columbus’ absence to steal from the natives. Caonabo and other island caciques (kings) had exacted revenge against the crewmen by killing them.
When Francisco de Bobadilla replaced Columbus as governor, he permitted the Spaniards to do as they wished with the natives, without consequence. “The Spaniards loved (Bobadilla) because they knew how much freer they were,” Martyr wrote.
A popular YouTube video features actor Viggo Mortensen reading selected passages from “A Short History of the Destruction” of the Indies, documenting the mistreatment of the indigenous people, but neglects to mention that the events the author, Bartolome de las Casas, wrote of occurred five years after Columbus’ term as governor had ended.
In “Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus,” biographer Washington Irving wrote that Columbus “inflicted no wanton massacres, nor vindictive punishments.”
It was during Nicolas de Ovando’s term as governor from 1502 to 1509 that millions of Tainos died as a result of slavery, disease and mass suicide.
De las Casas described the scene: “As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7,000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation … husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk.”
Again it should be noted, these events occurred years after Columbus had been deposed as governor.
One blog states that “Christopher Columbus was still not getting the gold he wanted. He created a system where the indigenous people who gave the soldiers gold, received a token to wear around their neck. This token gave the slaves certain privileges. The slaves that could not or would not give gold to the soldiers were punished. Instead of wearing a token, their hands would be cut off and strung around their own necks.”
Where would someone get an idea like that? From revisionists like Howard Zinn, of course. According to de las Casas, the punishment was a moderate one. Columbus never asked more of the natives than they could comfortably spare — 25 pounds of cotton or a hawk’s bell of gold dust, if they lived near the mines.
For those who prefer to see history through a prism of grievance and victimization, James W. Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus” — all 49 pages of it — can be purchased on Amazon for $17.26.
But, it was Columbus who was greedy, right?