Being now very much on their guard, they still held on their course until about two in the morning of Friday, October 12th, when the Pinta, which was always far ahead, owing to her superior sailing, made the signal of seeing land.
Continuing Columbus Discovers America,
our selection from The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand by Ferdinand Columbus. The selection is presented in 6 easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Columbus Discovers America.
Place: San Salvador Island
It was from being so near the land that they continually saw such great numbers of birds; and on Monday, October 8th, twelve singing birds of various colors came to the ship, and after flying round it for a short time held on their way. Many other birds were seen from the ship flying toward the southwest, and that same night great numbers of large fowl were seen, and flocks of small birds proceeding from the northward, and all going to the southwest. In the morning a jay was seen, with an alcatras, several ducks, and many small birds, all flying the same way with the others, and the air was perceived to be fresh and odoriferous as it is at Seville in the month of April. But the people were now so eager to see land and had been so often disappointed that they ceased to give faith to these continual indications; insomuch that on Wednesday, the 10th, although abundance of birds were continually passing both by day and night, they never ceased to complain. The admiral upbraided their want of resolution, and declared that they must persist in their endeavors to discover the Indies, for which he and they had been sent out by their Catholic majesties.
It would have been impossible for the admiral to have much longer withstood the numbers which now opposed him; but it pleased God that, in the afternoon of Thursday, October 11th, such manifest tokens of being near the land appeared that the men took courage and rejoiced at their good-fortune as much as they had been before distressed. From the admiral’s ship a green rush was seen to float past, and one of those green fish which never go far from the rocks. The people in the Pinta saw a cane and a staff in the water, and took up another staff very curiously carved, and a small board, and great plenty of weeds were seen which seemed to have been recently torn from the rocks. Those of the Niña, besides similar signs of land, saw a branch of a thorn full of red berries, which seemed to have been newly torn from the tree.
From all these indications the admiral was convinced that he now drew near to the land, and after the evening prayers he made a speech to the men, in which he reminded them of the mercy of God in having brought them so long a voyage with such favorable weather, and in comforting them with so many tokens of a successful issue to their enterprise, which were now every day becoming plainer and less equivocal. He besought them to be exceedingly watchful during the night, as they well knew that in the first article of the instructions, which he had given to all the three ships before leaving the Canaries, they were enjoined, when they should have sailed seven hundred leagues west without discovering land, to lay to every night from midnight till daybreak. And, as he had very confident hopes of discovering land that night, he required every one to keep watch at their quarters; and, besides the gratuity of thirty crowns a year for life, which had been graciously promised by their sovereigns to him that first saw the land, he engaged to give the fortunate discoverer a velvet doublet from himself.
After this, as the admiral was in his cabin, about ten o’clock at night, he saw a light on shore; but it was so unsteady that he could not certainly affirm that it came from land. He called to one Pedro Gutierrez and desired him to try if he could perceive the same light, who said he did; but one Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, on being desired to look the same way, could not see it, because he was not up time enough, as neither the admiral nor Gutierrez could see it again above once or twice for a short space, which made them judge it to proceed from a candle or torch belonging to some fisherman or traveler, who lifted it up occasionally and lowered it again, or perhaps from people going from one house to another, because it appeared and vanished again so suddenly. Being now very much on their guard, they still held on their course until about two in the morning of Friday, October 12th, when the Pinta, which was always far ahead, owing to her superior sailing, made the signal of seeing land, which was first discovered by Rodrigo de Triana at about two leagues from the ship. But the thirty crowns a year were afterward granted to the admiral, who had seen the light in the midst of darkness, a type of the spiritual light which he was the happy means of spreading in these dark regions of error. Being now so near land, all the ships lay to, everyone thinking it long till daylight, that they might enjoy the sight they had so long and anxiously desired.
When daylight appeared, the newly discovered land was perceived to consist of a flat island fifteen leagues in length, without any hills, all covered with trees, and having a great lake in the middle. The island was inhabited by great abundance of people, who ran down to the shore filled with wonder and admiration at the sight of the ships, which they conceived to be some unknown animals. The Christians were not less curious to know what kind of people they had fallen in with, and the curiosity on both sides was soon satisfied, as the ships soon came to anchor. The admiral went on shore with his boat well armed, and having the royal standard of Castile and Leon displayed, accompanied by the commanders of the other two vessels, each in his own boat, carrying the particular colors which had been allotted for the enterprise, which were white with a green cross and the letter F on one side, and on the other the names of Ferdinand and Isabella crowned.
The whole company kneeled on the shore and kissed the ground for joy, returning God thanks for the great mercy they had experienced during their long voyage through seas hitherto unpassed, and their now happy discovery of an unknown land.
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