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Amerigo Vespucci

Florentine explorer and cartographer, two of his famous letters


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Amerigo Vespucci as a famous navigator in Spain, looking up to the stars which guided him, from an engraving made after a painting purportedly by the famous Florentine painter Bronzino




Italian Navigators Didn't Work for Italians

Mariner's Compass Dial

"It is worthy of remark, that while all the prominent powers of Europe availed themselves of the services of Italian navigators in prosecuting the discovery of new regions, and in acquiring new possessions; not a foot of territory was obtained by any of the governments of that country.

'The skill in nautical science, which the citizens of her republics had acquired, in the course of a long and prosperous career of mercantile enterprise, was rendered entirely useless to them by the petty feuds and factions which occupied the attention of their rulers.

'Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Pisa, though fully awake to the importance of the undertakings which were in progress, and sensible that their success would inevitably be the beginning of ruin to their own commerce, were yet so much engrossed in the unfortunate conflicts of the times, they heeded not the warnings which occasionally reached them." Lester from The Life and Voyages of Americus Vespucius, 1853.



Why Amerigo Went to Spain


King Ferdinand of Spain

"The dominions of Ferdinand and Isabella just then [1490] afforded a fine field for profit in merchandise.  The splendid court of those illustrious sovereigns, and the wars they had for a long time prosecuted against the Moors, had drawn from all quarters of Europe large numbers of chivalrous young nobility of the age, who were anxious to gain reputation and military experience on the field of battle, and regarded the contest with the infidels on the hills of Grenada, in the light of another Christian crusade.

'Italian merchants and bankers were not backward in taking advantage of the wants occasioned by this great influx of foreigners, and such extensive military movements.  A great many of them were to be found in all parts of the Peninsula..."  One was to become Amerigo's associate, Juan [Giovanni] Barnardi.  Lester from The Life and Voyages of Americus Vespucius, 1853

Queen Isabella of Spain



John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto)Discovered North America in 1497 (after the Vikings in 1005)

Giovanni Caboto

In June, 1497, Giovanni Caboto (he was a Venetian citizen) and his English crew landed in Newfoundland, Canada, after sailing from Bristol, England, via Ireland and then a northerly route.  They returned to England safely and were feted.  Caboto set out again in 1498 with more ships but was never heard from again.

In 1005, or so, the Icelander Viking Leif Ericson and his sailors settled the northern tip of Newfoundland and called their settlement Vinland.



Elena Vespucci and the Vespucci Descendents

"An Italian woman named Elena Vespucci, bearing proofs of her lineal descent from the famous navigator, came to America a few years ago, and made application to our Congress for a grant of land, on account of her relationship to the Florentine from whom our continent derived its name.  Subsequently, her brother and two sisters, Amerigo, Eliza, and Teresa Vespucci, made a similar petition to Congress.  They mention the fact that Elena, "possessing a disposition somewhat indocile and unmanageable, absented herself from her father’s house, and proceeded to London.  Hence she crossed the ocean, and landed upon the shores of Brazil, at Rio Janeiro.  From that city she proceeded to Washington, the capital of the United States."  Elena Vespucci was treated with respect.  Possessed of youth and beauty, she attracted much attention at the metropolis, but the prayer in the petition of both herself and her family was denied.  She was living at Ogdensburgh, New York, when I visited that place in 1848."  Lossing, from Fieldbook of the Revolution, 1850 

Elena scandalized the locals and society by living with a man, Parish, out of wedlock.  She may have been already wed in Europe, so to avoid bigamy, she and Parish never married.  When she neared the age of 60, he paid her to move to Paris on her own, and promised her an allowance (alimony of sorts).  Nothing more is known of Elena Vespucci after that time.

Modern accounts of her story are most often written by men, based on writing by men in the past.  They are largely negative, slanderous, and generally unkind.  Elena was an adventurous, independent minded woman, with modern sexual sensibilities, who used her looks and sophistication to gain financial support, attention, and a life-partner.  The rest of her family died in near poverty in Florence.



Thumbnail image of Johann Ruysch's


The voyages of Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and Amerigo Vespucci dramatically changed the world map. One of the earliest printed maps to incorporate this new world view was Johann Ruysch's map which is found in the 1507 reprinting of the 1490 Rome edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, both of which are represented in the division. It is believed that Ruysch, a native of Antwerp, accompanied Bristol seamen on a voyage to the great fishing banks off the coast of Newfoundland in about 1500. (Atlas Collection, U. S. Library of Congress)




Thumbnail image of Martin Waldseemuller's "Cosmographiae introductio" [St. Die, 1507]

Martin Waldseemuller. Cosmographiae introductio [St. Die, 1507]. This collective work of the group around Waldseemuller contains the famous suggestion that the New World be named "America" for Amerigo Vespucci, as well as an account of Vespucci's voyages that credits Columbus with discovery. (John Boyd Thacher Collection)



The development of both the compass (c.1200) and the mariner's astrolabe (c1550) made sailing more accurate, and map-making possible. 

This was fortunate, because changing political and territorial situations in the Near East meant that overland trade caravans were too risky for traders.  Water routes were sought to go to the rich Eastern India and China.

Mariner's Astrolabe

With maps, trade routes were scouted and trade encampments established around Africa, thanks to the voyages of the Portuguese Bartholomew Diaz in 1486, for the Portuguese crown. 

Columbus conducted trade and discovery voyages to the New World, North and Central America, from 1492 onward, for the Spanish crown.

Many other explorers traveled out, sponsored by the French and English crowns too, and later by private corporations.  Some went forth with a benediction from the Pope.

Luckily for us, these voyages coincided with the birth of the printing press, and a new literary age, when writers set out to document the events of their age in letters, pamphlets and books, as did Amerigo Vespucci. 

Vespucci grew up in Florence when she was the center of the New Learning:  the Liberal Arts and Classical education that was inspired by ancient Greek and Arab texts.  Amerigo had a strong grasp of Latin, geometry, mathematics, classical history, cosmography, and had even met the famous cosmographer Toscanelli.


Amerigo Vespucci as a young man in Florence


Amerigo grew up a contemporary of Lorenzo (the Magnificent) de' Medici, and of Piero Soderini, who would later rise to rule Florence.  Soderini would receive letters from his childhood friend, Amerigo, about Vespucci's travels.

In 1490, Amerigo went to Spain to make his business fortune.  His family had suffered a financial setback, so his efforts were needed.  He left Florence specifically as an agent for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, to take care of some pressing business interests Lorenzo had in Spain. 

Lorenzo was Lorenzo the Magnificent's young cousin, educated along with Lorenzo's still younger children, and was later a rival of Lorenzo's son, Pietro, for head of the Medici family interests when Lorenzo the Magnificent died.

Amerigo traveled to Spain with his younger cousin, Giovanni, who later accompanied him on all his voyages, and learned the skill of navigation from his older cousin.  Giovanni was purported to be a witty young man who was good company, an important trait for sailors in any era.  Amerigo also escorted to Spain many children of Florentine nobles, who were sent there solely for the adventure and experience of travel.

Once in Spain, Amerigo worked as a business agent for Florentine families.  He worked together with another agent, Donato Niccollini. 

But by 1492, Amerigo was working with Juan Bernardi, who was soon after contracted by the King and Queen of Spain to equip and maintain a fleet of four ships that were to sail back and forth between Spain and the New World, or the Indies, as it was then believed.  That's how Amerigo became the agent who equipped Columbus's fleet.

Around 1495, Amerigo met Christopher Columbus (Admiral Colon), and the two were said to have discussed their differing theories about what Columbus had discovered on his voyage.  Columbus believed he had seen territory belonging to the Great Khan of Asia, while Vespucci believed Columbus had discovered a new continent that existed somewhere between the Atlantic and the Indian oceans.

Columbus was a well-read and superstitious man.  But Vespucci was a well-studied man who was schooled in the new Liberal Arts, which centered around man and science, not God nor superstition.  So it is no surprise that Vespucci's version of the truth was the most accurate.



In 1497 Amerigo Vespucci set sail with a private expedition to the New World as a representative of the Spanish crown.  Private expeditions were allowed under a General License issued by the Spanish crown, much to the annoyance of Columbus.  Vespucci proved to be an accomplished navigator, and chronicler of their adventures.

In 1498, Columbus, after much frustrating delay, set sail on his third voyage to the New World (the Western Ocean, as Amerigo calls it). 

Amerigo made a second voyage to the New World for the Spanish crown in 1499, together with Columbus's son, Don Diego.

There were a third and fourth voyage by Amerigo Vespucci made in and after 1501 for the King of Portugal to South America (to the South Seas, as Amerigo calls it).

Amerigo Vespucci was a famous letter-writer, and his letters to his one-time employer, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici  and friend Soderini are his most famous.  But it should be understood, that Amerigo wrote his accounts of his voyages, and then sent copies of the accounts to many of his friends and acquaintances, and to prominent persons throughout Europe. 

Some of these people published his accounts (1502, 1504) in the original Latin, and in translations to vernacular.  In 1507, the German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller republished these accounts and proposed the naming of the new continent (north and south) after Amerigo, using the Latin feminized form of America, to follow the example of Europa and Asia.

I report, here below, two of Amerigo's letters.  The others reported in the source book are very repetitive. 

The letters are depressing when read today, with our sensibilities.  Amerigo and his fellow travelers become increasingly jaded and callous to the indigenous people.  Any life that is not a 'Christian' male is not valued.  They enslave locals and ship them back to Europe for profit, or as curiosities.  They scrounge anything of wealth from the local tribes, fight and kill locals sometimes just for the pleasure of fighting, and capture many animals to ship back to Europe just for the fun of it.

Source:  C. Edwards Lester's book of 1853 The Life and Voyages of Americus Vespucius


Thumbnail image of Martin

Waldseemüller's 1513 edition of Ptolemy

Martin Waldseemüller's 1513 edition of Ptolemy was a landmark work that contributed to major advances in both Renaissance geography and map printing. Published by Johann Schott in Strassburg, it depicts for the first time in an atlas format the newly discovered continents of North and South America connected by a coastline. (Atlas Collection, U. S. Library of Congress)


If you wish to remain on my site, here is Martin Waldseemuller's map showing the Islands that Columbus discovered, and coastline from both South, Central and North America.  Everything is certainly not to scale, as the Island of Hispaniola (today's Haiti and the Dominican Republic) is nearly in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!  And Cuba is HUGE!




The first voyage was along the coast of today's Guyana and Venzuela, and then to Hispaniola, the island Haiti and the Dominican Republic share today.

The second voyage was along Brazil's coastline, and depending on the accounts you believe, continuing on to Argentina's coastline, some say to the bottom of the continent.

The First Voyage

First Letter, about the First Voyage, to Piero Soderini, head of Florence’s republican government:



King Ferdinand of Castile had ordered four ships to go in search of new lands, and I was selected by his highness to go in that fleet, in order to assist in the discoveries. We sailed from the port of Cadiz on the tenth day of May, A. D. 1497, and steering our course through the great Western Ocean, spent eighteen months in our expedition, discovering much land, and a great number of islands, the largest part of which were inhabited.





The first land we made was that of the Fortunate Islands, which are now called the Grand Canaries, situated in the Western Ocean, as far as the habitable world was supposed to extend, being located in the third climate, where the North Pole is elevated twenty-seven and a half degrees above the horizon, and distant from the city of Lisbon (where this letter was written) two hundred and eighty leagues.  Having arrived here, with south and southerly winds, we tarried eight days, taking in wood and water and other necessaries, when, having offered up our prayers, we weighed anchor and set sail, steering a course west by south.


We sailed so rapidly, that at the end of twenty-seven days we came in sight of land, which we judged to be a continent, being about a thousand leagues west of the Grand Canaries, and within the Torrid Zone, as we found the North Pole at an elevation of six degrees above the horizon, and our instruments showed it to be seventy-four degrees farther west than the Canary Islands.  Here we anchored our ships at a league and a half from the shore; and, having cast off our boats, and filled them with men and arms, proceeded at once to land.


[ed.  In the Torrid Zone, also known as the Tropics, the sun is directly overhead at least once during the year - at the edges of the tropics this occurs at the summer solstice, and over the equator, at the equinoxes.  This is the hottest part of the earth, and there are two annual seasons: a dry and a wet.  The Torrid Zone includes most of Africa, southern India, southern Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea, northern Australia, southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America, and it is here that Vespucci landed.]





Before we landed we were much cheered by the sight of many people rambling along the shore. We found that they were all in a state of nudity, and they appeared to be afraid of us, as I supposed from seeing us clothed, and of a different stature from themselves. They retreated to a mountain, and, notwithstanding all the signs of peace and friendship we could make, we could not bring them to a parley with us; so, as the night was coming on and the ships were anchored in an insecure place, by reason of the coast being exposed, we agreed to leave there the next day, and go in search of some port or bay where we could place our ships in safety.


We sailed along the coast with a northwest wind, always keeping within sight of land, and continually seeing people on shore; and having sailed two days, we found a very safe place for the ships, and anchored at half a league from the land, and the same day we landed in the boats forty men leaping on shore in good order.  The people of the country, however, appeared very shy of us, and for some time we could not sufficiently assure them to induce them to come and speak with us; but at length we laboured so hard, in giving them some of our things, such as looking- glasses, bells, beads, and other trifles, that some of them acquired confidence enough to come and treat with us for our mutual peace and friendship.  Night coming on, we took leave of them and re turned to our ships.


The next day, as the dawn appeared, we saw on the shore a great number of men, with their wives and children; we landed, and found that they had all come loaded with provisions and materials, which will be described in the proper place.  Before we reached the land, many of them swam to meet us, the length of a bow shot into the sea (as they are most excellent swimmers), and they treated us with as much confidence as if we had had inter course with them for a long time, which gratified us much.


All that we know of their life and manners is, that they go entirely naked, not having the slightest covering whatever; they are of middling stature, and very well proportioned ; their flesh is of a reddish colour, like the skin of a lion, but I think that if they had been accustomed to wear clothing, they would have been as white as we are. They have no hair on the body, with the exception of very long hair upon the head and the women especially derive much beauty from this: their countenances are not very handsome, as they have large faces, which might be compared with those of the Tartars: they do not allow any hair to grow on the eyelids or eyebrows, or any other part of the body, excepting the head, as they consider it a great deformity. Both men and women are very agile and easy in their persons, and swift in walking or running; so that the women think nothing of running a league or two, as we many times beheld, having, in this particular, greatly the advantage of us Christians.


They swim incredibly well, the women better than the men, as we have seen them many times swimming without any support, fully two leagues at sea.  Their arms are bows and arrows beautifully wrought, but unfurnished with iron or any other hard metal, in place of which they make use of the teeth of animals or fish, or sometimes substitute a slip of hard wood, made harder at the point by fire.  They are sure marksmen, who hit wherever they wish, and in some parts the women also use the bow with dexterity.  They have other arms, such as lances and staves, with heads finely wrought.  When they make war they take their wives with them, not that they may fight, but because they carry their provision behind them; a woman frequently carrying a burden on her back for thirty or forty leagues, which the strongest man among them could not do, as we have many times witnessed.


These people have no captains, neither do they march in order, but each one is his own master ; the cause of their wars is not a love of conquest or enlarging their boundaries, neither are they in cited to engage in them by inordinate covetousness, but from ancient enmity which has existed between them in times past; and having been asked why they made war, they could give us no other reason, than that they did it to avenge the death of their ancestors.  Neither have these people kings nor lords, nor do they obey any one, but live in their own entire liberty, and the manner in which they are incited to go to war, is this: when their enemies have killed or taken prisoners any of their people, the oldest relative rises and goes about proclaiming his wrongs aloud, and calling upon them to go with him and avenge the death of his relation.  Thereupon they are moved with sympathy, and make ready for the fight.


They have no tribunals of justice, neither do they punish malefactors; and what is still more astonishing, neither father nor mother chastises the children when they do wrong ; yet, astounding as it may seem, there is no strife between them, or, to say the least, we never saw any. They appear simple in speech, but in reality are very shrewd and cunning in any matter which interests them. They speak but little, and that little in a low tone of voice, using the same accentuation that we use, and forming the words with the palate, teeth, and lips, but they have a different mode of diction. There is a great diversity of languages among them, inasmuch that within every hundred leagues we found people who could not understand each other. Their mode of life is most barbarous; they do not eat at regular intervals and as much as they wish at stated times, but it is a matter of indifference to them, whether appetite comes at midnight or mid-day, and they eat upon the ground at all hours, without napkin or table-cloth, having their food in earthen basins, which they manufacture, or in hah* gourd shells.


They sleep in nets of cotton, very large, and suspended in the air, and although this may seem rather a bad way of sleeping, I can vouch for the fact, that it is extremely pleasant, and one sleeps better thus, than on a mattress. They are neat and clean in their persons, which is a natural consequence of their perpetual bathing.


We are not aware that these people have any laws.  Neither are they like Moors or Jews, but are worse than Gentiles and Pagans, because we have never seen them offer any sacrifice, and they have no houses of prayer.  From their voluptuous manner of life, I consider them Epicureans.  Their dwellings are in communities, and their houses are in the form of huts, but strongly built, with very large trees, and covered with palm leaves, secure from wind and storms; and in some places they are of such great length and breadth that in a single house we found six hundred people, and we found that the population of thirteen houses only amounted to four thousand.  They change their location every seven or eight years, and on being asked why they did so, they said that it was on account of the intense heat of the sun upon the soil, which by that time became infected and corrupted with filthiness, and caused pains in their bodies, which seemed to us very reasonable.


The riches of these people consist in the feathers of birds of the most magnificent colours, of pater nosters, which they fabricate of fish bones, of white or green stones, with which they decorate the cheeks, lips, and ears, and of many other things which are held in little or no esteem with us. They carry on no commerce, neither buying nor selling, and, in short, live contentedly with what nature gives them.  The riches which we esteem so highly in Europe and other parts, such as gold, jewels, pearls, and other wealth, they have no regard for at all, and make no effort to obtain any thing of this kind which exists in their country.  They are liberal in giving, never denying one any thing, and, on the other hand, are just as free In asking. The greatest mark of friend ship they can show, is to offer you their wives and daughters, and parents consider themselves highly honoured by an acceptance of this mark of favour.


In case of death, they make use of various funeral obsequies.  Some bury their dead with water and provisions placed at their heads, thinking they may have occasion to eat, but they make no parade in the way of funeral ceremonies. In some places, they have a most barbarous mode of interment, which is thus: when one is sick or infirm, and nearly at the point of death, his relatives carry him into a large forest, and there attaching one of their sleeping hammocks to two trees, they place the sick person in it, and continue to swing him about for a whole day. and when night comes, after placing at his head water and other pro visions sufficient to sustain him for five or six days, they return to their village. If the sick person can help himself to eat and drink, and recovers sufficiently to be able to return to the village, his people receive him again with great ceremony; but few are they who escape this mode of treatment; most of them die without being visited, and that is their only burial.


They have various other customs which, to avoid prolixity, are not here mentioned. They use in their diseases various kinds of medicines, so different from any in vogue with us, that we were astonished that any escaped. I often saw, for in stance, that when a person was sick with a fever, which was increasing upon him, they bathed him from head to foot with cold water, and then making a great fire around him, they made him turn round within the circle for about an hour or two. until they fatigued him, and left him to sleep. Many were cured in this way. They also observe a strict diet, eating nothing for three or four days ; they practise bloodletting, but not on the arm, unless in the armpit; but generally they take blood from the thighs and haunches, or the calf of the leg. In like manner they excite vomiting with certain herbs, which they put into their mouths, and they use many other remedies, which it would be tedious to relate.


Their blood and phlegm is much disordered on account of their food, which consists mainly of the roots of herbs, of fruit and fish. They have no wheat or other grain, but instead, make use of the root of a tree, from which they manufacture flour, which is very good, and which they call Huca; the flour from another root is called Kazabi. and from another, Ignami.  They eat little meat except human flesh, and you will notice that in this particular they are more savage than beasts, because all their enemies who are killed or taken prisoners, whether male or female, are devoured with so much fierceness, that it seems dis gusting to relate, much more to see it done, as I with my own eyes have many times witnessed this proof of their inhumanity. Indeed, they mar- veiled much to hear us say that we did not eat our enemies.


And your Excellency may rest assured that their other barbarous customs are so numerous that it is impossible herein to describe all of them.  As in these four voyages I have witnessed so many things at variance with our own customs, I pre pared myself to write a collection, which I call "The Four Voyages," in which I have related the major part of the things which I saw, as clearly as my feeble capacity would permit.  This work is not yet published, though many advise me to publish it. In it every thing will appear minutely, therefore I shall not enlarge any more in this letter, because in the course of it we shall see many things which are peculiar.  Let this suffice for matters in general.


In this commencement of discoveries we did not see any thing of much profit in the country, owing, as I think, to our ignorance of the language, except some few indications of gold. In whatever relates to the situation and appearance of the country we could not have succeeded better.  We concluded to leave this place and go onward, and having unanimously come to this resolution, we coasted along near the land, making many stops, and holding discourses with many people, until after some days we came into a harbour, where we fell into very great danger, from which it pleased the Holy Spirit to deliver us.


It happened in this manner. We landed in a port where we found a village built over the water, like Venice.  There were about forty-four houses, shaped like bells, built upon very large piles, having entrances by means of drawbridges [ed. The natives called this place Coquibacoa: it is the modem Venezuela], so that by laying the bridges from house to house, the in habitants could pass through the whole.  When the people saw us, they appeared to be afraid of us, and to protect themselves, suddenly raised all their bridges, and shut themselves up in their houses.  While we stood looking at them and wondering at this proceeding, we saw coming toward us by sea about two and twenty canoes, which are the boats they make use of, and are carved out of a single tree. They came directly toward our boats, appearing to be astonished at our figures and dresses, and keeping at a little distance from us.  This being the case, we made signals of friendship, to induce them to come nearer to us, endeavouring to reassure them by every token of kindness; but seeing that they did not come, we went toward them. They would not wait for us, however, but fled to the land, making signs to us to wait, and giving us to understand that they would soon return.





They fled directly to a mountain, but did not tarry there long, and when they returned, brought with them sixteen of their young girls, and entering their canoes, came to our boats and put four of them into each boat, at which we were very much astonished, as your Excellency may well imagine. Then they mingled with their canoes among our boats, and we considered their coming to speak to us in this manner, to be a token of friendship. Taking this for granted, we saw a great crowd of people swimming toward us from the houses, without any suspicion. At this juncture, some old women showed themselves at the doors of the houses, wailing and tearing their hair as if in great distress. From this we began to be suspicious, and had immediate recourse to our weapons, when suddenly the girls, who were in our boats, threw themselves into the sea, and the canoes moved away, the people in them assailing us with their bows and arrows. Those who came swimming toward us brought each a lance, concealed as much as possible under the water.


Their treachery being thus discovered, we began not only to defend ourselves, but to act severely on the offensive. We overturned many of their canoes with our boats, and making considerable slaughter among them, they soon abandoned the canoes altogether and swam to the shore. Fifteen or twenty were killed and many wounded on their side, while on ours five were slightly wounded, all the rest escaping by favour of Divine Providence, and these five being quickly cured. We took prisoners two of their girls and three men, and on entering their houses found only two old women and one sick man. We took from them many things of little value, but would not burn their dwellings, being restrained by conscientious scruples. Returning to our boats and thence to our ships, with five prisoners, we put irons on the feet of each, excepting the young females, yet when night came, the two girls and one of the men escaped in the most artful manner in the world.


These events having occurred, the next day we concluded to depart from the port and proceed further. Keeping our course continually along the coast, we at length came to anchor at about eighty leagues distance from the place we had left, and found another race of people, whose language and customs were very different from those we had seen last. We determined to land, and while proceeding in our boats, we saw standing on the shore a great multitude, numbering about four thousand people. They did not wait to receive us, but fled precipitately to the woods, abandoning their things. We leaped ashore, and taking the way which led to the wood, found their tents within the space of a bow-shot, where they had made a great fire, and two of them were cooking their food, roasting many animals and fish of various kinds.


We noticed that they were roasting a certain animal that looked like a serpent; it had no wings, and was so filthy in appearance, that we were astonished at its deformity. As we went through their houses or tents, we saw many of these serpents alive. Their feet were tied, and they had a cord round their snouts, so that they could not open their mouths, as dogs are some times muzzled, so that they may not bite. These animals had such a savage appearance, that none of us dared to turn one over, thinking they might be poisonous. They are about the size of a kid. about the length and a half of a man s arm, having long coarse feet armed with large nails. Their skin is hard, and they are of various colours. [ed. Alligators/crocodiles] They have the snout and face of a serpent, and from the nose there runs a crest, passing over the middle of the back to the root of the tail. We finally concluded that they were serpents, and poisonous; and, nevertheless, they were eaten.


We found that this people made bread of small fish which they caught in the sea. by first boiling them, then kneading together and making a paste of them, which they baked upon the hot coals ; we tried it, and found it good. They have so many other kinds of eating, chiefly of fruits and roots, that it would be very tedious to describe them minutely. Seeing, then, that the people did not re turn, we resolved not to meddle with or take away any of their things, in order to reassure them; and, having left in their tents many of our own things, in places where they might be seen, returned to our ships for the night. Early the next morning we saw a great number of people on the shore, and landed. Though they seemed fearful of us, they were sufficiently confident to treat with us, and gave us all that we asked of them. Finally they became very friendly; told us that this was not their place of dwelling, but that they had come there to carry on their fishery. They invited us to go to their villages, because they wished to receive us as friends their amicable feelings toward us being much strengthened by the circumstance of our having the two prisoners with us, who were their enemies. They importuned us so much, that, having taken counsel, twenty-three of us Christians concluded to go with them, well prepared, and with firm resolution to die manfully, if such was to be our fate.


After we had remained here three days, we accordingly started with them for a journey inland. Three leagues from the shore we arrived at a tolerably well-peopled village, of a few houses- there not being over nine where we were received with BO many and such barbarous ceremonies, that no pen is equal to the task of describing them. There was dancing and singing, and weeping mingled with rejoicing, and great feasting. Here we staid for the night, when they offered us their wives, and solicited us with such urgency, that we could not refrain. After having passed the night and half of the next day, an immense number of people visiting us from motives of curiosity the oldest among them begging us to go with them to other villages, as they desired to do us great honour we determined to proceed still further inland. And it is impossible to tell how much honour they did us there. We visited so many villages, that we spent nine days hi the journey; having been so long absent, that our companions in the ships began to be uneasy on our account.


Being now about eighteen leagues inland, we de liberated about returning.  On our return, we were accompanied by a wonderful number, of both sexes, quite to the seashore; and when any of us grew weary with walking, they carried us in their hammocks much at our ease; in passing rivers, which were numerous and quite large, they conveyed us over with so much skill and safety, that we were not in the slightest danger.  Many of them were laden with the presents they had made us, which they transported in hammocks. These consisted in very rich plumage, many bows and arrows, and an infinite number of parrots of various colours. Others brought loads of provisions and animals.  For a greater wonder. I will in form your Excellency, that when we had to cross over a river, they carried us on their backs. 


Having arrived at the sea, and entered the boats which had come on shore for us, we were astonished at the crowd which endeavoured to get into the boats to go to see our ships; they were so overloaded that they were oftentimes on the point of sinking. We carried as many as we could on board, and so many more came by swimming, that we were quite troubled at the multitude on board, although they were all naked and unarmed. They were in great astonishment at our equipments and implements, and at the size of our ships.


Here quite a laughable occurrence took place at their expense. We concluded to try the effect of discharging some of our artillery, and when they heard the thundering report, the greater part of them jumped into the sea from fright, acting like frogs sitting on a bank, who plunge into the marsh on the approach of any thing that alarms them. Those who remained in the ships were so timorous that we repented of having done this. However, we reassured them by telling them that these were the arms with which we killed our enemies. Having amused themselves in the ships all day, we told them that they must go, as we wished to depart in the night. So they took leave of us with many demonstrations of friendship and affection, and went ashore.





I saw more of the manners and customs of these people, while in their country, than I wish to dwell upon here.  Your Excellency will notice, that in each of my voyages, I have noted the most extraordinary things which have occurred, and compiled the whole into one volume, in the style of a geography, and entitled it "The Four Voyages." In this work will be found a minute description of the things which I saw, but as there is no copy of it yet published, owing to my being obliged to examine and correct it, it becomes necessary for me to impart them to you herein.


This country is full of inhabitants, and contains a great many rivers. Very few of the animals are similar to ours, excepting the lions, panthers, stags, hogs, goats, and deer, and even these are a little different in form.  They have neither horses, mules, nor asses, neither cows, dogs, nor any kind of domestic animals.  Their other animals, however, are so very numerous, that it is impossible to count them, and all of them so wild, that they cannot be employed for serviceable uses. But what shall I say of their birds, which are so numerous and of so many species and varieties of plumage, that it is astounding to behold them !


The country is pleasant and fruitful, full of woods and forests, which are always green, as they never lose their foliage. The fruits are numberless, and totally different from ours. The land lies within the Torrid Zone, under the parallel which describes the Tropic of Cancer, where the pole is elevated twenty-three degrees above the horizon, on the borders of the second climate.  A great many people came to see us, and were astonished at our features and the whiteness of our skins.  They asked us where we came from, and we gave them to understand that we came from heaven, with the view of visiting the world, and they believed us. In this country we established a baptismal font, and great numbers were baptized, calling us, in their language, Carabi, which means men of great wisdom.


The natives called this province Lariab. We left the port, and sailed along the coast, continuing in sight of land, until we had run, calculating our advances and retrogressions, eight hundred and seventy leagues towards the north west, making many stops by the way, and having intercourse with many people. In some places we found traces of gold, but in small quantities, it being sufficient for us to have discovered the country and to know that there was gold in it.


We had now been thirteen months on the voyage, and the ships and rigging were much worn, and the men weary. So by common consent we agreed to careen our ships on the beach, in order to calk and pitch them anew, as they leaked badly, and then to return to Spain. When we took this resolution, we were near one of the best harbours in the world [ed. modern port of Mochina, on the coast of Cumana], which we entered, and found a vast number of people, who received us most kindly.* We made a breastwork on shore with our boats and our casks, and placed our artillery so that it would play over them ; then having unloaded and lightened our ships, we hauled them to land, and repaired them wherever they needed it. The natives were of very great assistance to us, continually providing food, so that in this port we consumed very little of our own. This served us a very good turn, for our provisions were poor, and the stock so much reduced at this time, that we feared it would hardly last us on our return to Spain. Having stayed here thirty-seven days, visiting their villages many times, where they paid us the highest honour, we wished to depart on our voyage.





Before we set sail, the natives complained to us, that at certain times in the year there came from the sea into their territory a very cruel tribe, who, either by treachery or force, killed many of them, and eat them, while they captured others, and carried them prisoners into their own country, and that they were hardly able to defend themselves. They signified to us that this tribe were islanders, and lived at about one hundred leagues distance at sea. They narrated this to us with so much simplicity and feeling, that we credited them, and promised to avenge their great injuries; at which they were highly rejoiced, and many offered to go with us. We did not wish to take them, for many reasons, and only carried seven, on the condition that they should come back in their own canoes, for we would not enter into obligations to return them to their own country. With this they were contented, and we parted from these people, leaving them very well disposed toward us.


Our ships having been repaired, we set sail on our return, taking a northeasterly course, and at the end of seven days fell in with some islands. There were a great many of them, some peopled, others uninhabited. We landed at one of them, where we saw many people, who called the island Iti. Having filled our boats with good men, and put three rounds of shot in each boat, we proceeded toward the land, where we saw about four hundred men and many women, all naked, like those we had seen before. They were of good stature, and appeared to be very warlike men, being armed with bows and arrows, and lances. The greater part of them carried staves of a square form, attached to their persons in such a manner that they were not prevented from drawing the bow. As we approached within bow-shot of the shore, they all leaped into the water, and shot their arrows at us, to prevent our landing.


They were painted with various colours, and plumed with feathers, and the interpreters who were with us told us that when they were thus painted and plumed they showed a wish to fight. They persisted so much in their endeavours to deter us from landing, that we were at last compelled to fire on them with our artillery. Hearing the thunder of our cannon, and seeing some of their people fall dead, they all retreated to the shore. We, having consulted together, forty of us resolved to leap ashore, and if they waited for us, to fight with them. Proceeding thus, they attacked us, and we fought about two hours with little advantage, except that our bowmen and gunners killed some of their people, and they wounded some of ours. This was because we could not get a chance to use the lance or the sword. We finally, by desperate exertion, were enabled to draw the sword, and as soon as they had a taste of our arms, they fled to the mountains and woods, leaving us masters of the field, with many of their people killed and wounded. This day we did not pursue them, because we were much fatigued, but returned to our ships, the seven men who came with us being very highly rejoiced.


The next day we saw a great number of people coming through the country, still offering us signs of battle, sounding horns and various other instruments which they use in war, and all painted and plumed, which gave them a strange and ferocious appearance. Whereupon, all in the ships held a grand council, and it was determined that since these people were resolved to be at enmity with us, we would go to meet them, and do every thing to engage their friendship ; but in case they would not receive it, we resolved to treat them as enemies, and to make slaves of all we could capture. Having armed ourselves in the best manner possible, we immediately rowed ashore, where they did not resist our landing, from fear, as I think, of our bombardment. We disembarked in four squares, being fifty-seven men, each captain with his own men, and engaged them in battle.


After a long battle, having killed many, we put them to flight, and pursued them to a village, taking about two hundred and fifty prisoners. We burned the village, and returned victorious to the ships with our prisoners, leaving many killed and wounded on their side, while on ours not more than one died, and only twenty-two were wounded. The rest all escaped unhurt, for which, God be thanked. We soon arranged for our departure, and the seven men. of whom five were wounded, took a canoe from the island, and with seven prisoners, four women and three men that we gave them, returned to their own country, very merry and greatly astonished at our power. We also set sail for Spain, with two hundred and twenty-two prisoners, slaves, and arrived in the port of Cadiz on the fifteenth day of October, 1498, where we were well received, and found a market for our slaves. This is what happened to me, in this my first voyage, that may be considered worth relating!


The Second Voyage

Second Letter about the Second Voyage, to Lorenzo di Pier-Francesco de’ Medici:


Your Excellency will please to note, that, commissioned by his highness the King of Spain, I set out with two small ships, on the 18th of May, 1499, on a voyage of discovery to the southwest, by way of the great ocean, and steered my course along the coast of Africa, until I reached the Fortunate Islands, which are now called the Canaries. After having provided ourselves with all things necessary, first offering our prayers to God. we set sail from an island which is called Gomera, and turning our prows southwardly, sailed twenty-four days with a fresh wind, without seeing any land.


At the end of these twenty-four days we came within sight of land, and found that we had sailed about thirteen hundred leagues, and were at that distance from the city of Cadiz, in a southwesterly direction. When we saw the land we gave thanks to God, and then launched our boats, and, with sixteen men, went to the shore, which we found thickly covered with trees, astonishing both on account of their size and their verdure, for they never lose their foliage. The sweet odour which they exhaled (for they are all aromatic) highly delighted us, and we were rejoiced in regaling our nostrils.


We rowed along the shore in the boats, to see if we could find any suitable place for landing, but after toiling from morning till night, we found no way or passage which we could enter and disembark. We were prevented from doing so by the lowness of the land, and by its being so densely covered with trees. We concluded, therefore, to return to the ships, and make an attempt to land in some other spot.


We observed one remarkable circumstance in these seas. It was, that at fifteen leagues from the land, we found the water fresh like that of a river and we filled all our empty casks with it. Having returned to our ships, we raised anchor and set sail turning our prows southwardly, as it was my intention to see whether I could sail round a point of land, which Ptolemy calls the Cape of Cattegara (which is near the Great Bay.)  In my opinion it was not far from it, ac cording to the degrees of latitude and longitude, which will be stated hereafter. Sailing in a southerly direction along the coast, we saw two large rivers issuing from the land one running from west to east, and being four leagues in width, which is sixteen miles, the other ran from south to north, and was three leagues wide. I think that these two rivers, by reason of their magnitude, caused the freshness of the water in the ad joining sea. Seeing that the coast was invariably low, we determined to enter one of these rivers with the boats, and ascend it till we either found a suitable landing-place or an inhabited village.


Having prepared our boats, and put in provision for four days, with twenty men well armed, we entered the river, and rowed nearly two days, making a distance of about eighteen leagues. We attempted to land in many places by the way, but found the low land still continuing, and so thickly covered with trees, that a bird could scarcely fly through them. While thus navigating the river, we saw very certain indications that the inland parts of the country were inhabited; nevertheless, as our vessels remained in a dangerous place, in case an adverse wind should arise, we concluded, at the end of two days, to return.


Here we saw an immense number of birds, of various forms and colours; a great number of parrots, and so many varieties of them, that it caused us great astonishment. Some were crimson-coloured, others of variegated green and lemon, others entirely green, and others, again, that were black and flesh-coloured. Oh I the song of other species of birds, also, was so sweet and so melodious, as we heard it among the trees, that we often lingered, listening to their charming music. The trees, too, were so beautiful, and smelt so sweetly, that we almost imagined our selves in a terrestrial paradise; yet not one of those trees, or the fruit of them, were similar to the trees or fruit in our part of the world. On our way back we saw many people, of various descriptions, fishing in the river.


Having arrived at our ships, we raised anchor and set sail, still continuing in a southerly direction, and standing off to sea about forty leagues. While sailing on this course, we encountered a current, which ran from southeast to northwest; so great was it, and ran so furiously, that we were put into great fear, and were exposed to great peril. The current was so strong, that the Strait of Gibraltar and that of the Faro of Messina appeared to us like mere stagnant water in comparison with it. We could scarcely make any headway against it, though we had the wind fresh and fair. Seeing that we made no progress, or but very little, and the danger to which we were exposed, we determined to turn our prows to the northwest.


As I know, if I remember right, that your Excellency understands something of cosmography. I intend to describe to you our progress, in our navigation, by the latitude and longitude. We sailed so far to the south, that we entered the Torrid Zone, and penetrated the Circle of Cancer. You may rest assured, that for a few days, while sailing through the Torrid Zone, we saw four shadows of the sun, as the sun appeared in the zenith to us at mid-day. I would say that the sun, being in our meridian, gave us no shadow, and this I was enabled many times to demonstrate to all the company, and took their testimony of this fact. This I did on account of the ignorance of the common people, who do not know that the sun moves through its circle of the zodiac. At one time I saw our shadow to the south. at another to the north, at another to the west, and at another to the east, and sometimes, for an hour or two of the day, we had no shadow at all.


We sailed so far south in the Torrid Zone, that we found ourselves under the equinoctial line, and had both poles at the edge of the horizon. Having passed the line, and sailed six degrees to the south of it, we lost sight of the north star altogether, and even the stars of Ursa Minor, or, to speak better, the guardians which revolve about the firmament, were scarcely seen. Very desirous of being the author who should designate the other polar star of the firmament. I lost, many a time, my night s sleep, while contemplating the movement of the stars around the Southern Pole, in order to ascertain which had the least motion, and which might be nearest to the firmament, but I was not able to accomplish it with such bad nights as I had, and such instruments as I used, which were the quadrant and astrolabe. I could not distinguish a star which had less than ten degrees of motion around the firmament ; so that I was not satisfied within myself, to name any particular one for the pole of the meridian, on account of the large revolution which they all made around the firmament.



It appears to me that the poet [ed. Dante] wished to de scribe in these verses, by the four stars, the pole of the other firmament, and I have little doubt, even now, that what he says may be true. I observed four stars in the figure of an almond, which had but little motion, and if God gives me life and health, I hope to go again into that hemisphere, and not to return without observing the pole [ed. The Southern Cross]. In conclusion. I would remark, that we extended our navigation so far south, that our difference of latitude from the city of Cadiz was sixty degrees and a half, because, at that city, the pole is elevated thirty-five degrees and a half, and we had passed six degrees beyond the equinoctial line. 


… [Ed. astronomical calculations relating to the size of the Earth, very accurate]


It appears to me, most excellent Lorenzo, that by this voyage most of those philosophers are controverted, who say that the Torrid Zone can not be inhabited on account of the great heat. I have found the case to be quite the contrary. I have found that the air is fresher and more temperate in that region than beyond it, and that the inhabitants are also more numerous here than they are in the other zones, for reasons which will be given below. Thus it is certain, that practice is of more value than theory.


Thus far I have related the navigation I accomplished in the South and West. It now re mains for me to inform you of the appearance of the country we discovered, the nature of the in habitants, and their customs, the animals we saw, and of many other things worthy of remembrance, which fell under my observation. After we turned our course to the north, the first land we found to be inhabited was an island, at ten degrees distant from the equinoctial line. When we arrived at it, we saw on the seashore a great many people who stood looking at us with astonishment. We anchored within about a mile of land, fitted out the boats, and twenty-two men, well armed, made for land. The people, when they saw us landing, and perceived that we were different from themselves (because they have no beard and wear no clothing of any description, being also of a different colour, they being brown and we white), began to be afraid of us, and all ran into the woods. With great exertion, by means of signs, we reassured them, and negotiated with them. We found that they were of a race called cannibals, the greater part, or all of whom, live on human flesh.


Your Excellency may rest assured of this fact. They do not eat one another, but navigating with certain barks which they call canoes, they bring their prey from the neighbouring islands or countries inhabited by those who are enemies, or of a different tribe from their own. They never eat any women, unless they consider them outcasts. These things we verified in many places where we found similar people. We often saw the bones and heads of those who had been eaten, and they who had made the repast admitted the fact, and said that their enemies always stood in much greater fear on that account.


Still they are a people of gentle disposition and beautiful stature. They go entirely naked, and the arms which they carry are bows and arrows, and shields. They are a people of great activity and much courage. They are very excellent marksmen. In fine, we held much intercourse with them, and they took us to one of their villages about two leagues inland, and gave us our breakfast. They gave whatever was asked of them, though I think more through fear than affection, and after having been with them all one day, we returned to the ships, still remaining on friendly terms with them.


We sailed along the coast of this island, and saw by the seashore another large village of the same tribe. We landed in the boats, and found they were waiting for us, all loaded with provisions, and they gave us enough to make a very good breakfast, according to their ideas of dishes. Seeing they were such kind people, and treated us so well, we dared not take any thing from them, and made sail till we arrived at a gulf which is called the Gulf of Paria. We anchored opposite the mouth of a great river, which causes the water of this gulf to be fresh, and saw a large village close to the sea. We were surprised at the great number of people who were seen there. They were without arms, and seemed peaceably disposed. We went ashore with the boats, and they received us with great friendship, and took us to their houses, where they had made very good preparations for breakfast. Here they gave us three sorts of wine to drink, not of the juice of the grape, but made of fruits like beer, and they were excellent. Here also we ate many fresh acorns, a most royal fruit. They gave us many other fruits, all different from ours, and of very good flavour, the flavour and odour of all being aromatic.


They gave us some small pearls, and eleven large ones; and they told us by signs, that if we would wait some days, they would go and fish for them, and bring us many of them. We did not wish to be detained, so with many parrots of various colours, and in good friendship, we parted from them. From these people we learned that those of the before-mentioned island were cannibals, and ate human flesh. We issued from this gulf and sailed along the coast, seeing continually great numbers of people, and when we were so disposed, we treated with them, and they gave us every thing we asked of them. They all go as naked as they were born, without being ashamed. If all were to be related concerning the little shame they have, it would be bordering on impropriety, therefore it is better to suppress it.


After having sailed about four hundred leagues continually along the coast, we concluded that this land was a continent, which might be bounded by the eastern parts of Asia, this being the commencement of the western part of the continent. Because it happened often that we saw divers animals, such as lions, stags, goats, wild hogs, rabbits, and other land animals, which are not found in islands, but only on the mainland. Going inland one day with twenty men, we saw a serpent which was about twenty-four feet in length, and as large in girth as myself. We were very much afraid of it, and the sight of it caused us to return immediately to the sea. I oftentimes saw many ferocious animals and large serpents.


Thus sailing along the coast, we discovered every day a great number of people, speaking various languages. When we had navigated four hundred leagues along the coast, we began to find people who did not wish for our friendship, but stood waiting for us with their arms, which were bows and arrows, and with some other arms which they use. When we went to the shore in our boats, they disputed our landing in such a manner that we were obliged to fight with them. At the end of the battle they found that they had the worst of it, for as they were naked, we always made great slaughter. Many times not more than sixteen of us fought with two thousand of them, and in the end defeated them, killing many, and robbing their houses.


One day we saw a great number of people, all posted in battle array to prevent our landing. We fitted out twenty-six men well armed, and covered the boats, on account of the arrows which were shot at us, and which always wounded some of us before we landed. After they had hindered us as long as they could, we leaped on shore, and fought a hard battle with them. The reason why they had so much courage and made such great- exertion against us, was, that they did not know what kind of a weapon the sword was, or how it cuts. While thus engaged in combat, so great was the multitude of people who charged upon us, throwing at us such a cloud of arrows, that we could not withstand the assault, and nearly abandoning the hope of life, we turned our backs and ran to the boats. While thus disheartened and flying, one of our sailors, a Portuguese, a man of fifty-five years of age, who had remained to guard the boat, seeing the danger we were in. jumped on shore, and with a loud voice called out to us, " Children turn your faces to your enemies, and God will give you the victory" Throwing himself on his knees, he made a prayer, and then rushed furiously upon the Indians, and we all joined with him, wounded as we were. On that they turned their backs to us, and began to flee, and finally we routed them, and killed a hundred and fifty. We burned their houses also, at least one hundred and eighty in number. Then, as we were badly wounded and weary, we returned to the ships, and went into a harbour to recruit, where we staid twenty days, solely that the physician might cure us. All escaped except one, who was wounded in the left breast.





After being cured, we recommenced our navigation, and, through the same cause, we often were obliged to fight with a great many people, and always had the victory over them. Thus continuing our voyage, we came upon an island, fifteen leagues distant from the mainland. As at our arrival we saw no collection of people, the island appearing favourably, we determined to attempt it, and eleven of us landed. We found a path, in which we walked nearly two leagues in land, and came to a village of about twelve houses, in which there were only seven women, who were so large, that there was not one among them who was not a span and a half taller than myself. When they saw us, they were very much frightened, and the principal one among them, who was certainly a discreet woman, led us by signs into a house, and had refreshments prepared for us.


We saw such large women, that we were about determining to carry off two young ones, about fifteen years of age, and make a present of them to this king, as they were, without doubt, creatures whose stature was above that of common men. While we were debating this subject, thirty- six men entered the house where we were drinking ; they were of such large stature, that each one was taller when upon his knees than I when standing erect. In fact, they were of the stature of giants in their size, and in the proportion of their bodies, which corresponded well with their height. Each of the women appeared a Pantastiea, and the men Antei. When they came in, some of our own number were BO frightened that they did not consider themselves safe. They had bows and arrows, and very large clubs, made in the form of swords. Seeing that we were of small stature, they began to converse with us, in order to learn who we were, and from what parts we came. We gave them fair words, for the sake of peace, and answered them, by signs, that we were men of peace, and that we were going to see the world. Finally, we held it to be our wisest course to part from them without questioning in our turn ; so we returned by the same path in which we had come they accompanying us quite to the sea till we went on board the ships.





Nearly half the trees of this island are of dye-wood, as good as that of the East. We went from this island to another, in the vicinity, at ten leagues distance, and found a very large village the houses of which were built over the sea, like Venice, with much ingenuity. While we were struck with admiration at this circumstance, we determined to go and see them; and as we went to their houses, they attempted to prevent our entering. They found out at last the manner in which the sword cuts, and thought it best to let us enter. We found their houses filled with the finest cotton, and the beams of their dwellings were made of dye-wood. We took a quantity of their cotton and some dye-wood, and returned to the ships.


Your Excellency must know, that in all parts where we landed, we found a great quantity of cotton, and the country filled with cotton trees. So that all the vessels in the world might be loaded in these parts with cotton and dye-wood. 


At length we sailed three hundred leagues farther along the coast, constantly finding savage but brave people, and very often fighting with them, and vanquishing them. We found seven different languages among them, each of which was not understood by those who spoke the others. It is said there are not more than seventy-seven languages in the world, but I say that there are more than a thousand, as there are more than forty which I have heard myself.


After having sailed along this coast seven hundred leagues or more, besides visiting numerous islands, our ships became greatly sea-worn, and leaked badly, so that we could hardly keep them free with two pumps going. The men also were much fatigued, and the provisions growing short. We were then, according to the decision of the pi lots, within a hundred and twenty leagues of an island called Hispaniola, discovered by the Admiral Columbus six years before. We determined to proceed to it, and as it was inhabited by Christians, to repair our ships there, allow the men a little repose, and recruit our stock of provisions; because from this island to Castile there are three hundred leagues of ocean, without any land intervening.


In seven days we arrived at this island, where we staid two months. Here we refitted our ships and obtained our supply of provisions. We after wards concluded to go to northern parts, where we discovered more than a thousand islands, the greater part of them inhabited. The people were without clothing, timid and ignorant, and we did whatever we wished to do with them. This last portion of our discoveries was very dangerous to our navigation, on account of the shoals which we found thereabouts. In several instances we came near being lost. We sailed in this sea two hundred leagues directly north, until our people had become worn down with fatigue, through having been already nearly a year at sea. Their allowance was only six ounces of bread for eating, and but three small measures of water for drinking, per diem. And as the ships became dangerous to navigate with much longer, they remonstrated, saying that they wished to return to their homes in Castile, and not to tempt fortune and the sea any more. Whereupon we concluded to take some prisoners, as slaves, and loading the ships with them, to return at once to Spain. Going, there fore, to certain islands, we possessed ourselves by force of two hundred and thirty-two, and steered our course for Castile. In sixty-seven days we crossed the ocean, and arrived at the islands of the Azores, which belong to the King of Portugal, and are three hundred leagues distant from Cadiz. Here, having taken in our refreshments, we sailed for Castile, but the wind was contrary, and we were obliged to go to the Canary Islands, from there to the island of Madeira, and thence to Cadiz.


We were absent thirteen months on this voyage, exposing ourselves to awful dangers, and discovering a very large country of Asia, and a great many islands, the largest part of them inhabited. According to the calculations I have several times made with the compass, we have sailed about five thousand leagues. To conclude we passed the equinoctial line six and a half degrees to the south, and afterwards turned to the north, which we penetrated so far, that the north star was at an elevation of thirty-five degrees and a half above our horizon. To the west, we sailed eighty-four distant from the meridian of the city and port of Cadiz. We discovered immense regions, saw a vast number of people, all naked, and speaking various languages. On the land we saw numerous wild animals, various kinds of birds, and an infinite quantity of trees, all aromatic. We brought home pearls in their growing state, and gold in the grain ; we brought two stones, one of emerald colour and the other of amethyst, which was very hard, and at least half a span long, and three fingers thick. The sovereigns esteem them most highly, and have preserved them among their jewels. We brought also a piece of crystal, which some jewellers say is beryl, and, according to what the Indians told us, they had a great quantity of the same ; we brought fourteen flesh- coloured pearls, with which the queen was highly delighted; we brought many other stones which appeared beautiful to us, but of all these we did not bring a large quantity, as we were continually busied in our navigation, and did not tarry long in any place.


When we arrived at Cadiz, we sold many slaves, finding two hundred remaining to us, the others, completing the number of two hundred and thirty- two, having died at sea. After deducting the expense of transportation, we gained only about five hundred ducats, which, having to be divided into fifty-five parts, made the share of each very small. However, we contented ourselves with life, and rendered thanks to God, that during the whole voyage, out of fifty-seven Christian men, which was our number, only two had died, they having been killed by the Indians. …


I have had two quartan agues [Ed. Fevers, malaria-like] since my return, but I hope, by the favour of God, to be well soon, as they do not continue long now, and are without chills. I have passed over many things worthy of being remembered, in order not to be more tedious than I can help, all which are re served for the pen and in the memory.


They are fitting out three ships for me here, that I may go on a new voyage of discovery; and I think they will be ready by the middle of September. May it please our Lord to give me health and a good voyage, as I hope again to bring very great news and discover the island of Trapobana, which is between the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Ganges. Afterwards I intend to return to my country, and seek repose in the days of my old age.


I shall not enlarge any more at present, though many things have been omitted, in part from their not being remembered at all, and in part that I might not be more prolix than I have been.


I have resolved, most excellent Lorenzo, that as I have thus given you an account by letter of what has occurred to me, to send you two plans and descriptions of the world, made and arranged by my own hand and skill. There will be a map on a plane surface, and the other a view of the world in spherical form, which I intend to send you by sea, in the care of one Francesco Lotti, a Florentine, who is here. I think you will be pleased with them, particularly with the globe, as I made one not long since for these sovereigns, and they esteem it highly. I could have wished to have come with them personally, but my new departure, for making other discoveries, will not allow me that pleasure. There are not wanting in your city persons who understand the figure of the world, and ^ho may, perhaps, correct something in it. Nevertheless, whatever may be pointed out for me to correct, let them wait till I come, as it may be that I shall defend my self and prove my accuracy.


I suppose your Excellency has learned the news brought by the fleet which the King of Portugal sent two years ago to make discoveries on the coast of Guinea. I do not call such a voyage as that a voyage of discovery, but only a visit to discovered lands; because, as you will see by the map, their navigation was continually within sight of land, and they sailed round the whole southern part of the continent of Africa, which is proceeding by a way spoken of by all cosmographical authors. It is true that the navigation has been very profitable, which is a matter of great consideration here in this kingdom, where inordinate covetousness reigns. I understand that they passed from the Red Sea, and extended their voyage into the Persian Gulf, to a city called Cali cut, which is situated between the Persian Gulf and the river Indus. More lately the King of Portugal has received from sea twelve ships very richly laden, and he has sent them again to those parts, where they will certainly do a profitable business if they arrive safely.


May our Lord preserve and increase the exalted state of your noble Excellency as I desire. July 18th, 1500.


Your Excellency s humble servant,




Here are some more images from the same source, illustrating events from other letters about other voyages.