American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


The Voyage

With Isabella's aid and a little money which Columbus himself had, three ships were fitted out. These were not tall, stout ships such as you see lying at our wharves with their broad sails, huge wooden sides and wide decks. They were small, frail craft, not so large as those you may see to-day sailing up and down rivers and small lakes.

On Friday, August 3, 1492, three small vessels, the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina with twenty men on board set sail from Spain.

They sailed for weeks across the unknown waters, keeping all the time to the west, until at last the sailors began to be frightened at the thought of their distance from home. They threatened to throw Columbus overboard if he did not turn back; and at length Columbus promised them that if they did not see land in three days he would return to Spain. You can imagine how anxious Columbus must have been during those three days. He felt that land was near, although he could not prove it to the sailors. To turn back now would have been a terrible disappointment.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt

But fortunately for Columbus signs of land began to appear. Birds came and rested on the masts of their ships; a large branch of a tree floated by; and even the dullest sailor could not fail to believe these signs.

At last, one morning at daybreak, the cry of "Land! Land!" was heard from the foremost ship; and in a few hours more they reached the shores of a small island, which they called San Salvador.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


When Columbus set foot upon the dry land, he at once set up the Spanish flag and took possession in the name of Spain. A few days later they set sail for a larger island in the distance, and safely anchored in one of its harbors. They named this island Hispaniola, but it is now called Hayti. A beautiful island it proved to be, for the climate was soft and mild; there was an abundance of rich fruit, and there were many strange trees and flowers.

When the natives saw the white sails of the vessels, they rushed down to the shores, yelling with astonishment, for they never had seen a ship before, and of course were terribly frightened. Some thought they were great birds with white wings, some thought the "Great Spirit" had come. They were glad to see Columbus and his men, and they said to them in their strange language, "Welcome, white men." And from that time they were very kind to Columbus and his men, and helped them not a little in exploring the island and in hunting for food. Columbus at first treated them kindly; and it would have been well had all white men continued to do so.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt

Columbus, however, soon returned to Spain, and told of his great discovery and of the wonderful copper-colored people, some of whom he had brought back with him, with their straight black hair and head-dresses of feathers and faces streaked with paint. All Spain was filled with wonder; and it was not long before shiploads of men were sent over to the new country; so that very soon the island was settled by Spanish people.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


I wish that I could tell you that Spain was so proud of Columbus and so grateful to him for his gift that he was ever after treated with great honor; that he never again wanted for anything which money and favor could buy; and that he died peacefully at last, loved and honored by all. This is certainly what you might expect to hear of so brave a man.

But there were jealous, envious men in Spain, who plotted against Columbus; and when, a few years later, he went again to the islands he had discovered, he was seized by one of these Spaniards who had been sent out to govern the colony which had settled there, was put into chains and sent back a prisoner to Spain.

When they heard of this cruel treatment, the people of Spain were indignant, and insisted that he be restored to his rights. The queen is said to have been moved to tears by his story.

Columbus made two more voyages of discovery, but sickness and disappointment had undermined his health, and he died shortly after at Valladolid, on the 20th of May, 1506.