Michele da Cuneo


An Italian adventurer and friend of Christopher Columbus, Cuneo accompanied Columbus on his second voyage across the Atlantic in 1493.  The following is part of a letter he wrote after he retuned to Italy in 1495.


[About the search for gold on Hispaniola.] 

                After already having rested many days in our settlement, it seemed to the Lord Admiral (Columbus) time to put into effect his intention to search for gold, which above all had caused him to undertake such a voyage filled with so many dangers, as you will see more fully in the end. Therefore, the Lord Admiral sent two captains with about forty men, in good order, and two Indians familiar with the island, to a place called Cibao, where he believed, according to Ptolemy, there was much gold in the rivers. . .


                . . .We headed in the direction of Hispaniola, which we judged to be approximately forty leagues away from this island, We nearly circled Jamaica completely and did not find anything any better than what we found on other islands . . .On the last day of September, in God's name, we safely reached Isabela, our settlement, where we found all of our men greatly afraid for us, believing us all to be dead. Besides this, there were many men ill and undernourished. Seeing this, the Lord Admiral sent approximately 500 men throughout the island for provisions. But within a few days, as pleased God, four caravels (ships) arrived from Spain, loaded with provisions, which greatly comforted the company. Sailing up and down, we nearly circled Hispaniola and that other island Jamaica; as a result we estimated Hispaniola to have a circumference of 600 leagues and Jamaica 700, and this is for your information. During that time, after we had departed from Hispaniola, our unplanned course, seeking new islands and mainland, was always to the west, or west by south.

                When our caravels were ready to depart for Spain, aboard which I intended to return home, we gathered at our settlement 1,600 Indians, male and female; we loaded 650 of the best--both men and women--aboard those caravels on 17 February 1495. Regarding the rest, it was declared that whoever wanted some of them could take them as he wished, and so it was. When everyone was supplied, approximately 400 still remained who were permitted to go wherever they liked. Among those were many females with nursing infants, who, so as to better escape from us, fearing that we would return to take them, abandoned their children to their fate, leaving them on the ground and fleeing like desperate persons. They fled so far that they distanced themselves seven or eight days from Isabela, our settlement, beyond mountains and great rivers, so that it will be nearly impossible to take them in the future. Among the captives was one of their kings with two principal men; it was decided that they should be executed with arrows the following day. For this purpose they were shackled, but that night they were so adept at gnawing at one another's heels with their teeth that they escaped from the shackles and fled. The news of this capture and the loading of people aboard the caravels came to the notice of King Guacanagari, neighbor to our settlement, who sent an ambassador to King Caonabo, his superior, to inform him of the matter. King Caonabo commanded him to go personally to the Lord Admiral to hear why he had done this, but sent two of his own most wise and eloquent men to the Lord Admiral to inform him of the situation. But the Lord Admiral sent word that Guacanagari himself should come so that he could better explain everything to the king.

                In the meantime I departed for Spain aboard those caravels; we sailed in heavy and contrary weather and it was necessary to turn back three times, so that we passed a month among those islands. For this reason, seeing that we had few provisions, we set our course to the north, and proceeded approximately 600 miles; as pleased God we had such favorable winds that we passed from the island of Boriquen all the way to the island of Madeira in twenty-three days. But by the time we had reached Spanish waters, approximately 200 of the Indians had died--I believe it was because they were unaccustomed to the air which is colder than theirs--and we cast them into the sea. The first land we sighted was Cape Spartel and very soon after we reached Cadiz, where we unloaded the slaves, half of whom were sick. For your information, they are not men made for work, and they fear greatly the cold and do not live long.