Bartolomé Colómbo

(1437 - 1514)

When Cristóbal Colón returned from his first voyage, he was awarded many privileges. He was allowed to include the Castile and Lion (Castilla y León), into his coat-of-arms. He also acquired the right to have his brothers, Bartolomeo and Giacomo knighted and be titled, Don. They were not able to make the first trip to the Indies. Bartolomeo was still in France, and missed the second voyage, while Giacomo did go with Cristóbal. When Bartolomeo returned from France, he was ordered to sail to Española with three caravels loaded with supplies, in May, 1494, and arrived at Isabela on June 24, 1494. Within three months of Bartolomeo arriving at Isabela, Cristóbal  got very sick and could not administer his duties as governor. These duties were carried out by Giacomo and Bartolomeo, and they kept most of the problems of the colony from Cristóbal. 

On March 10, 1496, Cristóbal Colón sailed back to Spain, and left Bartolomeo in charge. His suggestion of building a new settlement, on the Ozama River, was taken, and he set out to build the city of Santo Domingo, referred to by Cristóbal while in Spain, as Nueva Isabela, not knowing that it had already been named by Bartolomeo. Bartolomeo named the city in honor of his father, Domenico Colombo. The new city was about 10 leagues from Isabela.

Before he left for Spain, the Admiral, Cristóbal Colón, gave the title of Adelantado to Bartolomeo, making him the second in command person in Española. The title of Adelantado gave Bartolomeo supreme jurisdiction in time of peace and supreme command in time of war. The Sovereigns, confirmed the appointment while Cristóbal was in Spain. 

When Cristóbal Colón returned to the West Indies on his third trip, in 1498, (he set sail from Gomera on June 21), Bartolomeo had been the acting governor for some time. On this trip, Cristóbal spent some time exploring the Islands and the Northern Coast of South America. He was able to secure large quantities of pearls and gold on this trip. He did not arrive in Española until August 19, 1498, and was greeted by Bartolomeo with the bad news that the colony was in bad shape.

In Española, life had been hard for the settlers. Food was scarce and disease had killed many of the colonist. Over 160 of the survivors were suffering from a strange disease, which turned out to be syphilis. Some of the settlers were in open revolt, and were being lead by Francisco Roldán, the Alcalde Mayor of the settlement. By the time Cristóbal landed in Española, Bartolomeo had succeeded in putting down the revolt, and had the ringleaders under arrest.

When Cristóbal returned, he took control of the situation, and proceeded to make a mess of things. The first thing he did, was grant Roldán a pardon, and offered to put at his disposal some ships to take him back to Spain. He also paid him his back wages, and sent a letter to the Sovereigns, informing them of all of the good work that he (along with his cohorts) had done and not mentioning anything of the revolt. Cristóbal proved again to be a poor administrator with no idea on how to govern and control the people. Things just got worse, and the news of Cristóbal's failures reached Spain. Not only were the people and ships returning from Española bring bad news, but Cristóbal was sending letters back to Spain and the Sovereigns, telling them of all of the problems. To add to Cristóbal problems, very little gold was being  found, and the Crown was becoming upset with the little return for their investment.

On August 23, 1500, a fleet from Spain arrived under the command of the newly appointed governor of Española, Francisco de Bodadilla. As he entered into the city, he observed seven Catholics hanging from the gallows. He also saw the terrible shape things were in Santo Domingo, and proceeded to arrest Don Diego Colon who was in charge of the town. He sent word to Cristóbal, who was putting down an uprising of the natives, to return to Santo Domingo. When he arrived, he to was arrested and put in irons. When Bartolomeo heard what was happening, he was at another part of Española, putting down another upraise. He wanted to free his brothers by force of arms, but was convinced by Cristóbal to put down his arms, and obey Bodadilla. When the Adelantado arrived in Santo Domingo, he also was arrested and put in irons. While in jail, Cristóbal wrote long letters to friends in Spain, asking them to talk to the Queen and ask for her support.

During the beginning of October, 1500, Cristóbal, along with his brothers, were sent back to Spain, still in chains, to be judged and sentenced. Once on ship and away from Española, the captain of the caravel La Gorda, who knew the Admiral from previous trips, offered to remove the chains, but Cristóbal refused. He said that if he was in chains by order of Sovereigns, he would remain in chains, until they removed them.

They landed in Cadiz on November 20, 1500, and when the people saw them in chains, became upset with the way Cristóbal was being treated. When the Sovereigns heard that their Admiral was in chains, they became upset, and ordered that they be released. They also sent 2,000 ducats so that they could purchase some decent clothes to appear in Court.

In Court, after much apologies and tears, the Colón brothers were forgiven for any problems they caused. The Sovereigns were upset that Bodadilla has treated Cristóbal so poorly, and offered to restore Cristóbal's titles and treasures confiscated from him.  . He kept demanding the return of his titles and privileges, and although the Sovereigns promised them to him, they never delivered. He also demanded the those who had acted against him, illegally, be punished. The Crown was not about to do this since Bodadilla had returned some order and stability in Española. He was also sending back more gold from Española, due to his enslavement of the natives, and forced labor in the gold mines. Cristóbal was so persistent in his demands, that he was no longer allowed to present himself in Court, and he was being avoided by all of his friends in Court, due to his one track mind.. 

When Cristóbal realized that things were not going the way he wanted in Court, after several years of trying, he petitioned for another chance to go to the West Indies, this time to seek the passage to Cathay, that had eluded him and other explorers. When the Sovereigns agreed and signed the charter for the fourth voyage (March 14, 1502), the ordered him to leave immediately, so that they could finally get rid of him. This was granted, provided that he not stop in Española on his trip out.


By March 16, men and ships had been hired and by April 3, the ships were sent to Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Cadiz to be calked and rigged, and made ready for the voyage, under the supervision of Bartolomeo. They were loaded with the men and supplies and by May 9, 1502, the four caravels set sail on the fourth and final voyage. The Admiral, Don Cristóbal Colón was in the flag ship with his son, young Don Fernando Colón (13 years old), La Capitana, captained by Diego Tristan. Don Bartolomeo Colón was on the second ship, Santiago de Palos, also called the Bermuda, captained by Francisco Porras.

They arrived off the coast of Española on June 29th. Although he was instructed not to stop in Española by the Crown, he did so to try and change one of the ships. The Santiago, proved to be a bad sailor, and they had all kinds of problems with her, sailing across the Atlantic. He also sent a warning that a hurricane was on the way, and request privileges to take his ships into the harbor for protection of the storm. The governor, Bobadilla refused him safe harbor, and they had to take protection from the hurricane at the mouth of a river, some leagues away. They dropped anchor and tied the ships together for protection. The storm came with great fury, and the ships were split up, as the anchor chains were snapped, and the ropes broke, and three of them forced out to sea. The Santiago, the most un-sea worthy of all, almost sank during this storm, but was saved by the skill and courage of the Adelantado. The captain of the Santiago, Porras, was frighten by the storm, and abandoned the helm of the ship, and went to hid in his cabin, while Bartolomeo took command of the ship, to save her.

After making repairs on the ships, the fleet continued their journey passing south of Jamaica and continuing west. At the island of Bonacca, the Adelantado went ashore to explore it. He reported that he found natives, much like those on the other island, but that their forehead, was not as broad. While on shore, they also discovered a large canoe, that was as long as one of their ships and eight feet wide. It was equipped with a water tight cabin, and had 25 men and some women and children. They were on a trading expedition, and offered no resistance to the Spaniards.

They continued their voyage, going east, and then south, in search for the passage to Cathay.  They landed on the coast of present day Panama. On October 6th, 1502, they dropped anchor in Almirante Bay within the confines of the modern Panama. discovered at different times different parts of Panama. Columbus continued eastward past Chiriqui and Veragua until he reached Puerto Bello, to which he gave that name, as his son tells us, because it was "large, well peopled, and encompassed by a well cultivated country." On November 24th, he reached his farthest easterly harbor, to which he gave the name of El Retrete. Unable to contend any longer against the fierce easterly and northeasterly winds, he decided to turn back to Veragua to see for himself whether its mines were as rich as report made them. On December 5th, they start on the journey back to Veragua. He now encountered fierce westerly winds, and it was not until January 6, 1503, the feast of the Epiphany, that he anchored in Veragua, at a place to which he gave the name of Nuestra Señora de Belen, or Our Lady of Bethlehem, because that was the anniversary of the day on which the Wise Men reached Bethlehem of Judaea. In this area there was so much evidences of mineral wealth that Columbus decided to leave a garrison to hold the country, and to go back himself to Spain to bring out reinforcements. To Ferdinand and Isabella he wrote, the following July, a glowing account of the gold in Veragua and of the fertility of its soil and the timidity of its inhabitants. 

The little garrison or colony was to consist of eighty men under the command of the Adelantado, and one of the ships, the Gallego, with all her stores, was to be left for their use. A storehouse was erected and huts of timber roofed with palm leaves were built. And Columbus prepared to go to Spain to get reinforcements and supplies.

Quibian, the cacique of the district, did not liking that the Spanish were taking over and building a settlement on his land. He began to show signs of hostility and threatened the Spaniards. Quibian and several of his warriors were seized and held as prisoners at the settlement. The Adelantado intended to eventually take the natives to Spain. In the mean time, holding them as hostages hopefully would quiet the restless natives. Quibian was able to escape when most of the garrison was busy helping the Admiral's ships, and only about twenty men were at Belen with the Adelantado. 

Quibian organized his warrior, and attack the settlement. The Spaniards were able to beat the natives in their first attack. The men at Belen, gave the credit to their success, to Don Bartolome, and his undaunted courage and leadership, in organizing the men and repelling the superior force of natives. The natives regrouped and got more warriors, for a new attack. This time forcing the handful of Spaniards to abandon their settlement, which was exposed to natives hiding in the jungle, and to entrench themselves on a strip of open beach, where they were out of reach of arrows from the woods. 

Luckily for them, Columbus had not been able to sailed due to unfavorable winds. When the saw what was happening, they tried to help, but, the surf was to rough, and they could not get a boat to the beach. One of the sailors, a man named Ledesma, swam through the surf, and was able to reach the entrenched settlers. They told him what had happened, and he swam back to the ship, to inform Columbus the settlement had been besieged the savages, and they had to abandoned it..

It was clear to Columbus, that the settlement had to be abandoned, and the men picked up. With great difficulty, they transferred all of the supplies and weapons that had been left behind. The were taken onboard, and the colony was abandoned. The only thing left behind, was the Gallego, the caravel that was left for the use by Bartolome The hull of the ship was so badly eaten by sea worms, that she was dismantled and was left as the only memorial of the unfortunate colony.

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June 22, 2002