The Occupation Of The West Indies
The rule of Columbus in the Indies.—When Columbus discovered a new world for Spain, that country was placed in a new situation, and a settled colonial policy was developed only with experience. A department of Indian affairs was created at once and put in charge of Fonseca, a member of the royal council. A combined interest in commerce, religion, and colonization was shown in all the arrangements for a second voyage by Columbus, but commerce was the primary object. At first it was planned to send a thousand colonists, but so eager were the applicants that fifteen hundred embarked. The expedition was equipped at the queen's expense, and most of the colonists were in her pay.
Reaching Española in November, 1493, Columbus found Navidad destroyed by Indians; he accordingly established a new settlement, named Isabella, at a point farther east. Leaving his brother Diego in charge, Columbus explored the southern coast of Cuba, discovered Jamaica, and circumnavigated Española. Complaints being made against his administration, in 1495 Columbus returned to Spain to defend himself. Shortly after his departure, gold being found in the southern part of Española, the new town of Santo Domingo was founded there and became the capital. Other men were eager for commercial adventure, and, in response to their demands, in 1495 trade in the Indies was opened to all Spaniards, at their own expense. Columbus regarded this an infringement upon his rights, and on his return to Spain he protested, but to little purpose.
In 1498 Columbus sailed on a third voyage, taking some two hundred colonists. On the way he discovered the mainland of South America near the Orinoco River, and, farther west, valuable pearl fisheries. During his absence a civil war had occurred in Española, and, at the end of two years of trouble with the contending factions, Columbus was sent to Spain in chains by Bobadilla, a royal commissioner, who remained to govern in his place. The charges against Columbus were dismissed, but he was not restored to his rule in the Indies. In 1502 Nicolás de Ovando was sent to replace Bobadilla, taking with him 2500 new colonists.
Spread of settlement in the West Indies.—After 1496 Santo Domingo became the chief town of Española and the seat of Spanish rule in America. In rapid succession posts and mining camps were established in various parts of the island, and by 1513 there were seventeen chartered towns in Española alone. Santo Domingo at that time had a population of fifteen hundred persons. It was some fifteen years after the settlement of Española before the other islands began to be occupied, attention being first given to making cruises along the southern mainland. Ovando began the conquest of the other islands, however, and Diego Columbus, his successor, prosecuted the work with more vigor. In 1508 Ponce de León was sent to conquer Porto Rico, and in 1511 the present city of San Juan was founded. The settlement of Jamaica was begun in 1509 by Esquivel, under orders of Diego Columbus. Several towns were soon established, and a shipyard opened. In 1537 Jamaica became a possession of the family of Columbus, with the title of Marquis till 1557, then of Duke of La Vega. In 1508 Ocampo circumnavigated Cuba and in 1511 Velasquez began the conquest of the island. Santiago was founded in 1514 and Havana a year later. Thus the West Indies became the nursery of Spanish culture and institutions in America.
The Development of the West Indies, 1492-1519.
Gold mining was important in Española for a time, but the mines were soon exhausted. In all the islands cotton, sugar, and cattle raising soon acquired some proportions, but the native population rapidly decreased, negro slaves were expensive, and rich profits attracted the settlers to the mainland; consequently, after the first quarter century the islands declined in prosperity and Porto Rico was for a time actually abandoned.
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