In 2006, The Guardian newspaper reported that Spanish historians had located a 48-page document purporting to show that Christopher Columbus was a “greedy and vindictive tyrant who saved some of his most violent punishments for his own followers.” These punishments were said to include the cutting off of ears and noses, and parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery.
The problem with these claims is that they rely entirely on a man named Francisco de Bobadilla.
Columbus’ third voyage was marked by a shortage of provisions, illness and suffering. Fomenting the discontent was “one who sought to stir up the others and make himself head of a faction,” according to the book “The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus.” His name was Francisco Roldan.
In “De Orbe Novo,” Peter Martyr wrote that “Roldan won over the crews by promising them fresh, young girls instead of manual labor, pleasures instead of exertion, plenty in place of famine, and repose instead of weariness.”
The Spanish crew hated Columbus because he was a Genovese of no nobility.
Ferdinand Columbus wrote in “The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus” that Columbus “tried to fight the rebellion, but outnumbered, he ended up humiliated and surrendered to the terms of the revolt ringleader, Roldan.”
“He (Roldan) sowed rebellion, and he reaped rebellion back, as some of his own rebels revolted against him later,” Ferdinand wrote.
It was from this dissatisfied faction that the earliest allegations against Columbus arose.
“While these disorders went on, many of the rebels, writing from La Espanola, and others who had returned to Castile continually made false charges to the Catholic Sovereigns and their royal council against Christopher Columbus and his brothers, claiming they were cruel and unfit to govern because they were foreigners and had no experiences in governing men of quality,” Ferdinand Columbus wrote. The Spanish Sovereigns sent Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate the allegations, and he had Columbus sent back to Spain in chains.
According to Ferdinand Columbus, “Bobadilla arrested Columbus first, and asked questions later.”
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella did not believe Bobadilla’s accusations and ordered Columbus set free, and his property returned to him.
Bartholome de Las Casas, a Dominican friar who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, and who was appointed “Protector of the Indians,” was such a passionate opponent of slavery that he refused to grant absolution to slave owners. Las Casas wrote in “A Short History of the Destruction of the Indies” that “I have always believed they tried to depose the admiral in order to assume full government themselves because they were the kind of men who resent having a superior.”
In “A Short History of the Indies,” Las Casas called the allegations against Columbus “convincingly false.”
Revisionists like to advance a false narrative of Columbus as a slave trader, but the only natives Columbus enslaved were the cannibals on La Espanola de-populating entire islands, those he defeated in war and criminals.
The Guardian story fails to mention that Columbus and Bobadilla were political rivals, or that the allegations were proven false.
If there is any doubt in the reader’s mind that allegations against Columbus were politically motivated, consider who benefited most dramatically from them.
When Bobadilla succeeded Columbus as governor of La Espanol, he pardoned Francisco Roldan.