Interpreting Primary Source Documents


Columbus reports on his voyage to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.


These people in the Caribbean have no creed and they are not idolaters, but they are very gentle and do not know what it is to be wicked, or to kill others, or to steal...and they are sure that we come from Heaven....So your Highnesses should resolve to make them Christians, for I believe that if you begin, in a little while you will achieve the conversion of a great number of peoples to our holy faith, with the acquisition of great lordships and riches and all their inhabitants for Spain.  For without  doubt there is a very great amount of gold in these lands….  


The people of this island [Hispaniola], and of all the others that I have found and seen, or not seen, all go naked, men and women, just as their mothers bring them forth; although some women cover a single place with the leaf of a plant, or a cotton something which they make for that purpose.  They have no iron or steel, nor any weapons....They have no other weapons than the stems of reeds...on the end of which they fix little sharpened stakes.  Even these they dare not use....they are incurably timid....


I have not found, nor had any information of monsters, except of an island  which is here the second in the approach of the Indies, which is inhabited by a people whom, in all the islands, they regard as very ferocious, who eat human flesh….


They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells.  They willingly traded everything they owned.  They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance.  With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.


Questions to think about:


1.  How accurate do you consider Columbus's description of the New World?


2.  How does Columbus describe the Indians?


3.  Why, according to Columbus, should Spain be interested in colonizing

the New World?






Depopulation of Native Americans in Florida, 1519-1617


Year     Disease                                    Percent             Estimated

                                                            Decline             Population


1517                                                                            722,000

1520                Smallpox                      -50                   361,000

1528                Measles                        -50                   180,500

1545                Bubonic plague             -12.5                158,000

1559                Influenza                       -5                     150,000

1564-70           Influenza                       -10                   135,000

1585                Unidentified                  -10                   121,500

1586                Cape Verde

                        Island fever                   -20                   97,200

1596                Measles                        -25                   72,900

1613-17           Bubonic plague             -50                   36,450


Questions to think about:


1.  How many people were living in the New World when Columbus arrived?


2.  Why did the Native American population rapidly decline after the arrival of Europeans?


3.  What factors may have contributed to the Indians lack of immHANDOUTy to disease?





Date                             Explorer                                   Accomplishment


1492-1504                   Christopher Columbus              Discovered West Indies


1513, 1521                  Juan Ponce de Leon                 First European to explore land in present-day

                                                                                    United States   


1513                            Vasco Nunez de Balboa           First European to see the Pacific



1519-1522                   Ferdinand Magellan                  Led first voyage around the world


1519-1521                   Hernando Cortes                      Conquered Aztec empire in Mexico


1528-1536                   Alva Nunez Cabeza                  First European to explore American

                                    de Vaca                                   Southwest


1531-1533                   Francisco Pizarro          Conquered Inca empire


1539-1542                   Hernando de Soto                    Explored Alabama, Florida, Georgia,

                                                                                    Mississippi, and Oklahoma


 1540-1542                  Francisco Vasquez                   Explored American Southwest as far

                                    de Coronado                            northward as Kansas