So in our last tour we found out how Jamaica came to be known as the “land of wood and water.” It all began with the Tainos, who gave the island the name “Xaymaca” meaning “land of wood and water.”
In 1494, Christopher Columbus and the Spanish “‘discovered” Jamaica and, while systematically (and not so systematically!) taking over the island from the Tainos, which also involved the annihilation of this race of people, Columbus and the Spanish underscored the physical significance of the name “Xaymaca” by referring to the island as the “Garden of the Indies.”
But how did Columbus end up in this part of the world?
Christopher Columbus’ “Enterprise of the Indies”
It all began with his plan to find a new route to Asia by sailing westward. He called his plan the “Enterprise of the Indies.”
Columbus’ project did not go according to plan and instead of establishing a new route to Asia, he discovered a whole New World. However, up to the day of his death on May 20, 1506, Columbus was convinced he had found this new route, despite the evidence that said otherwise.
Putting his project into action required major capital investment so for years Columbus proposed his plan to several European sovereigns. He first approached Portugal’s king in 1484 but, after much consideration, the king rejected his proposal on the grounds – and correctly so – that Asia was more than twice as distant as Columbus had presented.
Undeterred and even more convinced that his project held merit, Columbus approached the king and queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella.
For the next seven years Columbus courted the Spanish sovereigns and in 1492, after Queen Isabella initially rejected the plan, they consented to fund his expedition at their expense “to discover and acquire lands and mainland in the Ocean Sea.”
So where is the evidence of this contractual agreement? Jamaican Echoes has it right here for you in the form of the Articles of Agreement Between the Sovereigns of Spain and Christopher Columbus, dated April 17, 1492. This transcription comes from E.G. Bourne’s The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985 – 1503 (1906).
This is the first in our series of posts featuring transcriptions of historical documents that provide evidence of the root of Jamaica’s historical echoes. Photos of the actual documents will be provided where these can be found.
Articles of Agreement Between the Sovereigns of Spain and Christopher Columbus, April 17, 1492
The things prayed for, and which Your Highnesses give and grant to Don Cristóbal Colon as some recompense for what he is to discover in the Oceans, and for the voyage which now, with the help of God, he has engaged to make therein in the service of Your Highnesses, are the following :
Firstly, that Your Highnesses, as actual Lords of the said Oceans, point from this date the said Don Cristóbal Colon to be your Admiral in all those islands and mainlands which by his activity and industry shall be discovered or acquired in the said oceans, during his lifetime, and likewise, after his death, his heirs and successors one after another in perpetuity, with all the pre-eminences and prerogatives appertaining to the said office, and in the same manner as Don Alfonso Enriques, your High Admiral of Castile, and his predecessors in the said office held it in their districts. — It so pleases their Highnesses. Juan de Coloma.
Likewise, that Your Highnesses appoint the said Don Cristobal Colon to be your Viceroy and Governor General in all the said islands and mainlands and in the islands which, as aforesaid, he may discover and acquire in the said seas ; and that for the government of each and any of them he may make choice of three persons for each office, and that Your Highnesses may select and choose the one who shall be most serviceable to you; and thus the lands which our Lord shall permit him to discover and acquire for the service of Your Highnesses, will be the better governed. — It so pleases their Highnesses. Juan de Coloma.
Item, that of all and every kind of merchandise, whether pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever, of whatever kind, name and sort, which may be bought, bartered, discovered, acquired and obtained within the limits of the said Admiralty, Your Highnesses grant from now henceforth to the said Don Cristóbal, and will that he may have and take for himself, the tenth part of the whole, after deducting all the expenses which may be incurred therein, so that of what shall remain clear and free he may have and take the tenth part for himself, and may do therewith as he pleases, the other nine parts being reserved for Your Highnesses. — It so pleases their Highnesses. Juan de Coloma.
Likewise, that if on account of the merchandise which he might bring from the said islands and lands which thus, as aforesaid, may be acquired or discovered, or of that which may be taken in exchange for the same from other merchants here, any suit should arise in the place where the said commerce and traffic shall be held and conducted ; and if by the pre-eminence of his office of Admiral it appertains to him to take cognizance of such suit ; it may please Your Highnesses that he or his deputy, and not another judge, shall take cognizance thereof and give judgment in the same from henceforth. — It so pleases their Highnesses, if it appertains to the said office of Admiral, according as it was held by Admiral Don Alfonso Enriques, and others his successors in their districts, and if it be just. Juan de Coloma.
Item, that in all the vessels which may be equipped for the said traffic and business, each time and whenever and as often as they may be equipped, the said Don Cristóbal Colon may, if he chooses, contribute and pay the eighth part of all that may be spent in the equipment, and that likewise he may have and take the eighth part of the profits that may result from such equipment.— It so pleases, their Highnesses. Juan de Coloma.
These are granted and despatched, with the replies of Your Highnesses at the end of each article, in the town of Santa Fe de la Vega of Granada, on the seventeenth day of April in the year of the nativity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. I the King. I the Queen. By command of the King and of the Queen. Juan de Coloma. Registered, Calcena.
Do you think there is anything missing from this contract? As Bourne (1906) rightly observed, the terms of the contract do not cover the finding of a new route to Asia, considering that this was the main aim Columbus had in proposing his plan to the Spanish sovereigns.
Can we conclude that the complete silence of the articles as to the Indies means that Ferdinand and Isabella refused to make any promises if Columbus only succeeded in reaching the known East Indies and could gain for them no new possessions?
What do you think?
We’ve come to the end of our tour for today. Until next time…
Black, Clinton (1983) History of Jamaica. UK: Longman Caribbean Publishing.
Bourne, E.G. (1906) The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot 985-1503. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.