Roldán’s Revolt


It was only a matter of time before Francisco Roldán, or someone like him, appeared on the scene to bedevil Columbus’s Enterprise of the Indies. The conditions in Hispaniola were so extreme and uncertain, the temptations so alluring and numerous, the vision of a Spanish empire so vague and unrealistic, and the men who participated in the voyages so casually selected, that discipline was bound to break down during Columbus’s prolonged absences, when any kind of mischief was not only possible but also consequence-free.

For a time, his son related, Santo Domingo had remained “fairly peaceful.” The settlers expected Columbus’s early return from Spain with supplies, weapons, and news from home. “But after the passage of a year, with their provisions running short and suffering and sickness growing, they became disoriented with their present lot and despaired of the future.” Appointed by Columbus as the mayor, or chief official, of the colony, Roldán had enjoyed the cooperation of Spaniards and Indians alike, or as Ferdinand put it, “he was obeyed as if he were the Admiral himself.” But this eminence led to conflict with Bartholomew Columbus, who, as governor, considered himself the supreme arbiter. As the Admiral’s absence stretched on, and it began to seem that he would never return to this little outpost of empire, “Roldán began to dream of making himself master of the island.” His scheme was profoundly disloyal: he intended to execute both Bartholomew and Diego. With Columbus’s brothers out of the way, Roldán would rule. And he had a plan for bringing Spain to his side.

When Bartholomew traveled to Xaraguá to quell an Indian rebellion and exact tribute, fortune appeared to favor Roldán’s plan. Xaraguá, a sprawling, mostly level expanse carpeted with thick shrubs, and bordered by a beach of glistening, powdery sand, occupied a promontory extending to the south of the island. Its serene aspect proved deceptive; Xaraguá became synonymous with the rebel Spanish forces occupying it, with wicked and dissolute behavior, and with indolence. For those seeking shelter, it held strategic advantages, for it was two hundred miles from Santo Domingo, and the sails of approaching ships could be seen for miles. Las Casas paid tribute to the Indians of the district. They were “not to be equaled for fluency of speech and politeness of idiom or dialect by any inhabitants of the other kingdoms” of Hispaniola. They “excelled in stature and habit of body. Their king was Behechio by name and who had a sister called Anacaona”—the “Golden Flower”—who treated the rude, rapacious Spaniards with “civility, and by delivering them from the evident and apparent danger of death, did signal services to the Castilian Sovereigns.” A Taíno cacique, Anacaona was also the wife of Caonabó, who had both challenged and joined forces with Columbus.

Bartholomew Columbus placed his brother Diego in charge, with Roldán serving beneath him, secretly seething and fomenting a mutiny. Bartholomew’s attention alighted on a caravel lying on the beach at La Isabela; he planned to use the vessel as an escape from the island, if necessary.

Roldán and his supporters insisted that they wanted to launch the caravel as soon as possible, and when they reached Spain they would announce “the news of their distress.” Diego Columbus was having none of it; the caravel lacked tackle and supplies. Defying his superior, Roldán ordered the ship to make ready to sail, telling his followers that the Columbus brothers wanted to block their mission, keep them all under their control, and prevent Spain from learning of the evil and corrupt Columbus regime in Hispaniola. Roldán stirred resentment by recalling how callously the three Columbus brothers had treated the settlers, who had toiled in the suffocating heat, erected forts against their will, and exposed themselves to unnecessary dangers. Columbus and his brothers were foreigners, Roldán reminded like-minded Spaniards, and worse, foreigners who had never paid them even though they had made them all work like donkeys. Now it seemed that the Admiral was unlikely ever to return with the supplies and reinforcements.

To remedy their predicament, Roldán proposed that they divide “all the wealth of the island” among themselves, and, just as important, “they should be allowed to use the Indians as they pleased, free from interference,” in Ferdinand’s words. Many Spaniards had already taken one or more Indian women for pleasure or companionship, despite restrictions. Now anything was possible, even if the men had to suffer the symptoms of syphilis for their excesses.

Bartholomew attempted to restrain this licentiousness, insisting that his men “observe the three monastic vows,” as Ferdinand phrased it: obedience, stability (observing the vows indefinitely), and fidelity to the monastic way of life, including the renunciation of private property and strict celibacy. Roldán, in contrast, held out the promise of a commune teeming with easy riches and plentiful women. The riches remained elusive, but, Las Casas reported, “each one had the woman that he wanted, taken from their husbands, or daughters from their fathers, by force or willingly, to use as chambermaids, washerwomen, and cooks, and as many Indian men as they thought necessary to serve them.” He reminded the men of the severe rations imposed by Columbus and his brothers, the barbaric floggings, the heartless and humiliating punishments and confinement for the slightest infraction, real or perceived. In contrast to this reign of tyranny under which they had all suffered, Roldán promised that if they followed his leadership, he would protect them from harm. His pandering, combined with his resolute manner, proved effective, and he attracted many, and eventually most, of the disaffected Spaniards to his camp.

By the time Bartholomew Columbus, “the Advancer,” returned from his pacification mission in Xaraguá, Roldán’s followers had concocted a scheme to stab him and string him up with a rope. Acting on hints of a conspiracy, Bartholomew hastily jailed one of the rebels, Barahona, and condemned him to death, but later changed his mind. “If God had not inspired the Adelantado not to carry out Barahona’s death sentence,” Ferdinand maintained, “they doubtless would have killed him then and there.” Instead, Bartholomew uncovered the full extent of Roldán’s plot, in which the rebels would convert a fort named Concepción into a bastion from which they could launch attacks at will across Hispaniola.

Roldán was already familiar with this fort, having once been assigned there by Diego Columbus to pacify surrounding Indians, and while in attendance, he pretended to follow orders. However, the fort’s commander, Miguel Ballester, was not taken in by the deception and warned the Adelantado of the mutiny-in-the-making. Bartholomew then sequestered himself in the fortress, thinking his presence would repel Roldán. But the unpredictable rebel went straight to the fort and, as if he had every right to do so, insisted on readying the caravel to carry him and his men away to the relative safety of a voyage to Spain. Although Roldán was better off in his kingdom in exile, he pursued his conflicting strategies at the same time, much to the confusion of his superiors.

Impossible, Bartholomew said on hearing the demand. Roldán was not capable of sailing the caravel to Spain, nor were his followers. They might be able to launch her, but they did not know the sea, and they would perish. Bartholomew spoke as an experienced navigator, “but they were landlubbers who knew nothing,” said Ferdinand.

Bartholomew ordered Roldán to resign his office as the mayor; predictably, Roldán refused to comply until King Ferdinand himself so commanded. He declared that he could “expect no justice from the Adelantado,” that is, Bartholomew, who would only find some way to kill or harm him. Enraged, Roldán insisted he was a “reasonable man,” and to prove it, he would postpone sailing off in the beached caravel and instead coexist peacefully on the island at a place of Bartholomew’s choosing, but Roldán expected concessions in exchange for the offer. When he learned the Adelantado wanted to install an Indian who had converted to Christianity and was loyal to Columbus, Roldán rejected the idea, claiming the settlement lacked sufficient supplies. Instead, they would live somewhere else, of Roldán’s choosing.

The contest of wills between the two adversaries ended only when the rebel leader stomped off.

Despite his angry demands for a safe haven on Hispaniola, Roldán still yearned for the caravel and the promise of escape to Spain. He returned to La Isabela to take possession of the vessel, but even with sixty-five men at the ready—more than enough to operate the ship—Roldán could not launch it. Instead, they looted the crown’s arsenal, equipping themselves with weapons, and the storehouse, commandeering food, clothing, and anything else they desired. While they raided the storehouse, Bartholomew looked on, powerless to stop them. Fearing for his life, he went into seclusion within the fortress, taking a few servants as bodyguards, but not before Roldán tried to lure him to his side to take a stand against the Admiral himself. That, of course, Bartholomew would not do.

Learning that Bartholomew had dispatched armed men to protect Diego from further abuse, Roldán summoned his rebel force, and left La Isabela, and for the time being, the plan to return to Spain. They moved steadily through the thick tropical undergrowth, slaughtering cattle for food as they went, and taking other beasts as needed for the long trek to Xaraguá, the province that Bartholomew had recently pacified. They had their reasons for selecting this remote location as their destination. “It was the pleasantest and most fertile part of the island,” Ferdinand explained, “with the most civilized natives and especially the best-looking and best-natured women in the country: This last was their strongest motive for going there.” With these seductive promises Roldán, the Lucifer of the Enterprise of the Indies, offered the men everything Columbus withheld: wealth, women, a life of ease, and a sense of control over their own destiny. Roldán’s way offered no promise of redemption, no official recognition, and no titles, only a pleasurable limbo.

On their way to Xaraguá, Roldán’s men planned one last, murderous scheme. They would overrun the little hamlet of Concepción, and, if they found Bartholomew, the Adelantado, they would kill him. If he was absent, they would lay waste to the town. When word of the plot reached Bartholomew, he countered with a strategy of his own, promising his men “two slaves apiece,” said Ferdinand, in exchange for their support. It was a desperate maneuver, but he realized that even those who nominally supported him were tempted by Roldán’s offer. Bartholomew summoned his willpower and kept his followers’ loyalty. If he could not maintain his rule by the power of logic, he was prepared to fight.

He assembled his men, and set off with determined swagger to face the forces of Francisco Roldán, who, intimidated by this convincing show of force, retreated to Xaraguá, dispensing anti-Columbus propaganda as he went. With some justification, Roldán claimed that Bartholomew was cruel and greedy in his treatment of both Indians and Christians; he demanded impossible tributes and broke the spirit and drained the resources of everyone with whom he came into contact. Even if the Indians complied with the onerous tributes, the vicious Adelantado would only demand more, despite the Sovereigns’ objections—an unlikely scenario. Roldán, in contrast, proclaimed himself the Indians’ champion; if they were unable or unwilling to stand up for their rights, he and his supporters would take up their cause. His unjustified promises persuaded the Indians to defy the tribute system. In reality, Bartholomew received nothing from distant villages, and he was afraid to demand it from those nearby and so push the Indians even deeper into Roldán’s camp.

Roldán found a potent ally in the chieftain Guarionex, who formed clandestine alliances with the other caciques and pledged to kill the Spanish invaders. The Indians felt confident that they could exterminate the outsiders who had come from the ships in a series of coordinated surprise uprisings. “Their only way of reckoning time or anything else being their fingers,” Ferdinand explained, “the Indians agreed to launch the attack on the first day of the next full moon.”

All was ready, until one of the chieftains decided to attack prematurely, either to portray himself as a hero to his people, or, less likely, because he was “too poor an astronomer to know for sure the first day of the full moon.” The attack failed miserably. Seeking safety, the disgraced chieftain skulked back to Guarionex, who had him executed for carelessness.

The reversal of fortune reached all the way to Roldán, whose men had expected the Indians to do the slaughtering. Scuttling the pact with Guarionex, they retreated once again to Xaraguá, where they maintained the pretense that they, the Spanish rebels, protected the Indians from the predatory colonial policies of Columbus. “Actually, they were naught but plain thieves,” observed Ferdinand, although much the same thing could be said of many of the men who served under Christopher Columbus, men who had exploited and underestimated the Indians for nearly eight years, and counting.

Roldán’s misstep occurred when he renewed his promise to protect the Indians from Bartholomew’s demands for a tribute, and then seized an even greater tribute for himself. He insisted that the chieftain Manicaotex offer “a calabash filled with gold dust worth three marks every three months,” in Ferdinand’s words. To ensure that Manicaotex obeyed, even though the supply of gold dust was nearly depleted by this time, Roldán took the chieftain’s son and nephew hostage. With characteristic duplicity, he maintained that his gesture demonstrated friendship.

Faced with an impossible situation, Bartholomew and his allies stood by helplessly as their support from their Indian and Spanish allies wilted in the tropical heat. It appeared increasingly likely that either the Spanish rebels or disenchanted Indians, or perhaps an unholy alliance between the two, would wipe out Bartholomew and the loyalists, and claim the island of Hispaniola, bringing a violent end to the Columbian experiment.

Amid the gathering despair, the men at Santo Domingo spotted two Spanish ships on the horizon. They constituted the supply fleet from Spain, carrying food, men, weapons, and provisions needed for survival in the Indies. Roldán and his men intended to plunder the new arrivals as soon as they reached Santo Domingo, but Bartholomew had the advantage of superior intelligence, and he happened to be closer to the port. He placed sentries along the paths leading to the little town to deter Roldán’s men so that he, not the rebels, would welcome the supply ships to the troubled realm. And so he did.

Even then, Bartholomew tried to improvise a fragile, temporary peace with the rebels to present a unified front to the newcomers. He dispatched one of the captains, Pedro Fernández Coronel, reputed to be “a man of worth and honor,” according to Ferdinand. From the moment he confirmed that Christopher Columbus had safely arrived in Spain, where he received an enthusiastic reception from the Sovereigns, he had won Bartholomew’s trust. The Adelantado sent Coronel to convey the situation to Roldán’s rebels, but the newly arrived capitán found himself staring at the tips of crossbows and arrows. His prepared speech went undelivered. Instead, he spoke privately with a few of the insurrectionists, who made no promises and hastened back to their stronghold at Xaraguá to await the Admiral’s return to Hispaniola.

Bartholomew’s men learned that Roldán and others planned to tarnish Columbus’s name in Spain by means of poison-pen letters. Peter Martyr, from his vantage point in Italy, later wrote that “the rebels, complaining seriously about both [Columbus] brothers, called them unjust, impious, enemies of the Spanish blood”—code for their Genoese origins—“and squanderers, because they took delight in torturing over trifles, hanging, slaughtering, and killing in all kinds of ways.” The rebels, he continued, “depicted them as ambitious, arrogant, envious, unbearable tyrants: so they deserted them, being just wild animals thirsty for blood and enemies of the Sovereigns.” Roldán’s men claimed that they had seen Columbus and his two brothers plotting obsessively to take over the islands, and they claimed that the Columbus brothers “would allow no one but their own men to reach the gold mines or gather it.” From the Sovereigns’ perspective, that was precisely what Columbus should have been doing.

The rebels protested that the Admiral resorted to calling them horrible names, “wicked and quarrelsome, pimps, thieves, rapists, kidnappers, outlaws, men deprived of any value or good sense, brainless perjurers, liars either with previous criminal records or escapees fearing being sentenced by judges for crimes.” (The accusations stung because they contained considerable truth.) They had heard that Columbus had characterized them as men “originally brought to dig and provide services,” yet “did not even walk out of the house.” Instead, “they have the poor natives carry them throughout the whole island, like high-ranking magistrates.” Columbus related how the rebels, “so as not to lose their blood-shedding habit and test their strength draw swords and compete with each other in cutting off the heads of those innocent people”—the Indians—“with one blow; the man who more swiftly decapitated an unfortunate native in a single blow was declared the strongest and more worthy of honor among them.” Even the rebels realized that such appalling behavior would destroy their reputation, if not in Hispaniola, then in Spain.

As the controversy swept Hispaniola, several ships belonging to Columbus’s fleet appeared off the coast of Xaraguá, but they were not the ones that Roldán had been expecting.

The three supply ships had made a speedy passage since leaving the Canary Islands in June, too speedy, in fact. When the squadron arrived in the Caribbean, the pilots, said Ferdinand, “were carried so far westward that they arrived on the coast of Xaraguá, where the rebels were.” If they had reached their intended destination, Santo Domingo, they would have enjoyed Bartholomew’s protection. Instead, the ships were overrun with Roldán’s rebels, who falsely claimed that the Adelantado had ordered them to “secure provisions and pacify the countryside.” One captain, Alonso Sánchez de Carvajal, saw through the ruse and attempted to persuade Roldán to end his revolt and declare his loyalty to Bartholomew, but sentiment among the crew, already influenced by Roldán’s men, and their alluring promises, favored the rebels over the loyalists.

Frustrated, Sánchez de Carvajal joined forces with the two other captains to send a small party of salaried workers to the mines near Santo Domingo. The unfavorable weather and currents that had brought the ships to Xaraguá still held sway; it might take months for the ships to reach Santo Domingo, so the workers, forty in all, planned to set out on foot, under the command of Juan Antonio Colombo. Pedro de Arana would take charge of the three ships, and Sánchez de Carvajal resumed negotiating with Roldán’s representatives.

The situation darkened when most of the workers deserted to join Roldán, and Colombo was left with only six or seven men. Furious, Colombo confronted Roldán, insisting that the laborers had come to the Indies to work, not to spend their days drinking Indian wine and their nights with the Indian women. If Roldán refused to cooperate, it would be obvious to all that he had affronted the Admiral and the Sovereigns. Skillful as ever at devising excuses, Roldán pleaded helplessness and ignorance. He could not tell the unruly men how to behave. “His monastery,” he explained, “was governed by rules that denied the habit to no man.”

Juan Antonio Colombo realized he had been defeated, so he and his handful of loyalists returned to the ships to sail back to Santo Domingo. Battling adverse wind and weather, his food supply rotting in the heat, Sánchez de Carvajal ran onto a shoal, which tore away the rudder and ruptured the keel, admitting so much seawater that the afflicted ship barely reached her mooring. After completing the difficult passage from the rebel outpost of Xaraguá, the three captains were gratified to see the Admiral himself, having completed his northerly passage from Trinidad.

More mariner than warrior, Columbus studied the list of grievances against the rebels, as compiled by his brother, and realized that eventually he would have to punish the malefactors, but first he assembled a new catalogue of accusations. Ferdinand recalled that his father initially “resolved to be as moderate as he could in this affair, that the rebels might more easily be reduced to obedience.” To rid the enterprise of troublemakers, he promised, on September 22, free passage to Spain, and food, to anyone who wanted it.

A long voyage westward across an uncharted sea no longer held the terrors that it once did, thanks to Columbus’s mastery of winds, currents, reefs, and harbors. The risk of disaster, while never absent, diminished with every crossing until transatlantic travel from Spain to Santo Domingo had become almost routine.

This accomplishment gave rise to a more baffling challenge: how to manage a far-flung empire and its many constituencies: Spanish, Indian, and the brothers Columbus, to name only the major segments. Then there were the hidalgos, or gentlemen; the hired workers; and the fierce Caribs. The Sovereigns’ monolithic approach—convert or exploit, or, on occasion, convert and exploit—proved tragically ill suited to the varied people of both the “Indies” and Spain, and inadequate to the task of maintaining an empire.

Two days later, on September 24, Miguel Ballester reported that Roldán and another rebel, Adrián de Mújica (or Moxica), were to meet, presenting an opportunity for the Admiral’s men to seize the leaders, if Columbus chose to act. As before, he remained idle.

Roldán and his forces, in the meantime, marched to Santo Domingo. Columbus placed the commander, Ballester, in charge of nearby Concepción. Ballester was to deliver a carefully worded message of reconciliation from the Admiral, saying that he “deplored” all that Roldán had suffered, and wished to “bury the past in oblivion, granting a general pardon to all,” in Ferdinand’s depiction. Roldán should feel that he could meet with Columbus “without fear of reprisal” so that they could jointly determine how best to carry out the Sovereigns’ intentions. Columbus would even provide Roldán with safe conduct “in the form he desired.”

Whether Columbus made this offer in good faith is not certain. Ballester reported that he had conveyed the Admiral’s conciliatory message to Roldán and Adrián de Mújica, “but found them very stubborn and brazenly defiant,” with Roldán loudly insisting that he had no interest in negotiations or finding a path to peace. He had the Admiral “in the hollow of his hand,” as he expressed it, and could either “help him or destroy him as he pleased.” He would not consider negotiations of any kind until Columbus and his brothers released the Indians taken prisoner in the pacification of Concepción: a deeply cynical demand in light of the abuse that his men routinely inflicted on the Indians.

Roldán complicated matters by insisting that he would hold discussions only with Alonso Sánchez de Carvajal, whom he believed to be sensible. The assertion immediately aroused Columbus’s suspicions. According to Ferdinand, the Admiral doubted that Sánchez de Carvajal was an out-and-out traitor; after all, he was a person of standing, a hidalgo, and a thoughtful one at that. More likely he sought to be a diligent conciliator, not a double agent. Columbus polled his aides about the best course of action: Columbus would send Sánchez de Carvajal together with Ballester to negotiate with the slippery Roldán.

Roldán refused to meet with the two, citing Columbus’s failure to release the Indians he held. Sánchez de Carvajal took up the cause and eventually convinced Roldán, accompanied by several of his men, to speak directly with Columbus. But the rebel leader’s own men interfered with the mission, to the point of surrounding him. They did not want their leader making secret arrangements with Columbus; they preferred to convey their “conditions for peace in writing,” said Ferdinand, who characterized the terms as “immoderate and insolent,” and no doubt they appeared that way to Columbus. Even the combined forces of Ballester and Sánchez de Carvajal failed to convince the rebels to negotiate. Running out of strategies for compromise, the loyalist delegation abruptly conceded to the rebels. Ballester in particular justified the capitulation on the basis of the dwindling morale among Columbus’s men, who teetered on the verge of joining the bold and determined rebels. Although Columbus trusted his servants and aides, even they seemed susceptible to Lucifer’s blandishments.

Day by day, the number of rebels increased, and loyalists diminished. Preparing to do battle against the renegades, Columbus had only seventy men at his side, and after eliminating those who feigned illness or injury to avoid service, only forty men, or even less, could be considered entirely loyal.

In this vulnerable condition, he dispatched Sánchez de Carvajal with a surprising message for Roldán: Columbus expressed confidence in his worthy antagonist and promised that he would give a “favorable account” of his actions to Ferdinand and Isabella. None of this was put in writing, Columbus explained, to protect Roldán from “the common people” who might be inspired to harm him. Rather, he should talk directly with Columbus’s representative, Ballester, “as if he were the Admiral himself,” in the words of Columbus’s son.

At about the same time, October 17, 1498, Roldán and his outlaw allies sent an oddly conciliatory letter to the Admiral claiming they had “quit the Adelantado because he had plotted to slay them.” They implored Columbus to consider their actions “a service to him” and buttressed this strange logic by reminding him that they had protected him and his possessions when they could have resorted to violence. They wished only to act “honorably” and to enjoy their idea of “freedom of action.”

The day after this ambiguous negotiation with Roldán, Columbus dispatched five ships to Spain. Those aboard recalled it as a dangerous crossing, filled with “great trials” endured by the six hundred Indians in the convoy. Accompanying them were two emotional letters from Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella about Roldán’s rebels, “of the damage they had done and were continuing to do on the island, plundering and acting violently, killing whomever they pleased for no reason at all, taking other men’s wives and daughters and perpetrating many other evil deeds.” Las Casas was convinced that matters on Hispaniola had degenerated into a state of anarchy in which Spaniards “traveled from village to village and from place to place, eating at their discretion, taking the Indian men that they wanted for their service and the Indian women who looked good to them.” Rather than walking, they commanded Indian men to carry them in hammocks. “They had hunters who hunted for them, fishermen who fished for them, and as many Indians as they wanted as pack animals to carry their loads for them.” All the while, the Indians revered and worshipped the Spaniards who exploited them.

Columbus beseeched the Sovereigns to send “devout religious men,” in his words, to replace these sinners. As he denounced the wicked behavior of the Spaniards, the Admiral praised the land and its possibilities, “abundant in all things,” he wrote, with a biblical cadence, “especially in bread and meat.” No one need go hungry, not with the copious pigs and hens and wild animals resembling rabbits so easy to catch that “an Indian boy with a dog brings in fifteen or twenty daily to his master.” All that was needed was wine and clothing, items easily transported from Spain. The only problem was that the land of plenty attracted “the greatest loafers in the world.”

The lack of dedication among the Spaniards dismayed Columbus. “When I came here I brought many people for the conquest of these lands,” he reminded the idealized Sovereigns of his thoughts. “All of these people importuned me, saying that they would serve very well and better than anybody.” But in reality, “it was the reverse, because they only came believing that the gold and spices that were said to be found could be gathered with shovels, and that the spices already came tied in bundles on the seashore, so that there was nothing more to do than throw them in the ships. Thus, they were blinded by greed.” (As was Columbus, though he refused to acknowledge his own shortcoming.) “I preached all of this to them in Seville. Because so many wished to come, and I realized why, I had to tell them this and all the trials that those who settle in far lands often suffer.” Few believed his warnings, at first. “When they arrived here and saw that I had spoken the truth to them, and that their avarice would not be satisfied, they wished to return right away without seeing whether it were possible to conquer and dominate this land. And because I did not consent to it, they began to hate me. And they had no reason.” They also hated him because he would not allow them to enter the island’s beguiling interior “because the Indians had killed many who had traveled spread out like that, and they would have killed more if I had not prevented it.”

As if disruptive settlers did not pose enough of a problem, he had to contend with stowaways; Columbus estimated that a quarter of his men consisted of such polizones. And there was one other difficulty: the women of Hispaniola “are so beautiful that it is a marvel,” he observed, “even though it should not be said.” But everyone did remark on the island’s women, with their tawny skin and sweet scent, fertile beauties who displayed a taste for sensual abandon surpassing the settlers’ fantasies. To many Europeans, these women, more than any other aspect of Hispaniola, represented the allure of the Indies.

Columbus, as always, tried to calculate the cost, and to make the case to the Sovereigns that his discoveries had given them a historic bargain. “What man of wisdom will say that it was a waste of money?” That was one point of view. Las Casas, in contrast, ruefully observed that Columbus “would have done great things and produced inestimable benefit in this land if he had realized that these people did not owe anything to him or to any other person in the world just because they had been discovered.” Instead, Columbus had fostered a system under which the Indians did all the work for the Spaniards, corrupting them in the process. Month after month, he had assigned property to settlers, many of them Indian farms, and given them plants and vines to cultivate, as many as ten thousand to a single person, complete with certificates indicating the quantity and recipient of the items. He initiated cooperative agricultural enterprises among the Spanish settlers, with the unfortunate result that the settlers forced the Indians occupying the land to leave and search for gold to give to their new masters.

Once a wellborn Spaniard established himself as the lord of an estancia (“I think in Seville they call this a country home or a farm or a property,” Las Casas noted), he treated the local cacique and the Indians as serfs. If they failed to obey him quickly enough to suit his taste, said Las Casas, he whipped them, cut off their ears, or killed them. At the same time, he took the wives and daughters of the caciques as concubines. Indians bold enough to attempt to flee, or, as the Spaniards put it, rise up, were hunted down and killed. Others were sold as slaves, or loaded into ships bound for Spain and further degradation in a distant land.

“What right did the Admiral have to give them lands, farms, or properties of the unfortunate Indians?” Las Casas asked. By divine right and by order of the Sovereigns, Columbus would have replied.

Among the recipients of Columbus’s scandalous bounty was Francisco Roldán, who demanded a settlement known as Ababruco, claiming it already belonged to him. As before, Columbus yielded to Roldán, and soon the estate, the ancestral land of Indians, belonged to the Spanish master, who put the Indians to work for him while he lived a life of indolence. The Indian name was discarded, and the settlement given the name Esperanza (“Hope”), although Robo (“Theft”) would have been more appropriate. “He also gave him two cows, two young bulls, two mares, and twenty sows, all from the king’s stock, so that he could begin raising them, because Roldán asked it of him,” said Las Casas of Columbus. “He did not dare deny him anything.”

Columbus’s lack of decisiveness damaged his credibility and encouraged the Spaniards’ basest instincts. “The Spaniards learned—even the laborers and those who came on salary to dig and work the land and extract the gold from the mines—to loaf and walk proudly, eating from the sweat of the Indians and seizing each by force, three, four, and ten to serve them, because of the gentleness of the Indians, who neither could nor knew how to resist,” Las Casas noted of the arrangement, known as the repartimiento orencomienda system. To Las Casas, Columbus, Roldán, and the other rebels degraded innocent Indians, and in doing so, made “a sacrilege and unpardonable mockery of the Christian religion itself.” Fuming, Las Casas declared those Spaniards to blame “deserved to be quartered not just once but fourteen times.”

Of the five ships sailing that day in October 1498, two conveyed Roldán’s supporters back to Spain. Three others were reserved for Bartholomew to return to the Paria Peninsula and its precious pearls. Roldán remained in Hispaniola, meditating on his next move.

Columbus, meanwhile, reached the lowest point of his career as an explorer. Returning to Hispaniola, he had, once again, been undone by the wily and relentless Roldán. It seemed Columbus had discovered his “other world” only to lose it to a charlatan and thief whose chief aim was the humiliation of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Las Casas imagined that “the pain he suffered because of the anger that would come upon the king and queen tormented him most!” Because of his reverses, Columbus’s adversaries at court would conspire to make him an outcast, not because of his harsh treatment of the Indians, but because the Spanish rebels had outmaneuvered him.

On October 26, Roldán received a safe-conduct pass from Columbus, and the adversaries convened. After repeating his demands, the rebel leader returned to his supporters without an agreement. Still hoping to reconcile, Columbus sent one of his aides, Diego de Salamanca, to accompany Roldán and negotiate an end to the conflict. On November 6, Roldán finally sent his terms for Columbus’s signature, claiming they were “the best he could get from his men,” Ferdinand recorded. “If His Illustrious Lordship approved of it, he should send his acceptance to Concepción.”

Roldán demanded a swift reply from Columbus. In his son’s words, “Having seen this letter and the articles, with their insolent demands, the Admiral would on no account sign them lest he bring justice into contempt and dishonor both himself and his brothers.” Overcoming his frustration, the Admiral nailed an announcement to the fort’s door on November 11, offering amnesty to Roldán’s men. The rebels could safely return to Spain and “the service of the Catholic Sovereigns as if nothing had happened.” Passage was free, and wages would be paid in full. The offer would be valid for thirty days. If the rebels failed to accept, Columbus vowed to “proceed against them as the law required.” Once more, the rebels ridiculed Columbus and boasted that within a short time he would be seeking a reprieve from them.

In reality, there was little Columbus could do with only a handful of trustworthy men at his side. He relied on the power of an empire across the ocean, but as Roldán reminded him, the rebels were genuinely Spanish, while the Columbus brothers were Genoese—outsiders.

As an added provocation, Roldán held the loyalist Ballester hostage without food or water. Sánchez de Carvajal rode to the rescue, Ballester was released, and delegates from the two sides—loyalists and rebels—became embroiled in a marathon argument, from which, miraculously, a written understanding emerged: “The agreement made with the mayor Francisco Roldán and his company for their departure and voyage to Castile.”

According to the document, dated November 16, 1498, by Roldán, and November 21, by Columbus, the Admiral would give the rebels “two good ships,” properly manned, to transport them from Xaraguá “because most of the followers are there because it is the most convenient harbor for securing and getting ready provisions” to Spain. They would receive their wages, as Columbus had offered. And the Admiral would “write to the Catholic Sovereigns attesting to their good service,” incredible as that seemed. The other concessions won by the insurrectionists were even more outrageous. They were to receive slaves “as compensation for the sufferings they have endured on this island,” although they could, if they wished, take “mates who are pregnant or have borne them children” in place of the slaves. They could even take their island-born children, who would go free the moment they set foot in Spain.

Columbus also promised to provide the rebels with sufficient food for their voyage in the form of wheat or cassava, to equip them with safe-conduct passes, to return their confiscated goods, and to arrange with the Sovereigns to repay the returning rebels the price of several hundred large and small “hogs” left behind on the island they were abandoning. The only concession that Columbus managed to wring from Roldán was minor; he and his confederates agreed not to “admit into their company any other Christian on the island,” although Indians could still join their number. Roldán promised to sail for Spain within fifty days.

“The Admiral knew how wicked were these men,” his son explained, “but he did not want to give the rebels any excuse for charging that he did not intend to give them the free passage home he had promised.” He ordered the ships to be readied for the voyage back to Spain, and sent the tireless Sánchez de Carvajal overland to Xaraguá to make certain the rebels got on board their ships and departed, as planned. Placing Santo Domingo in his brother Diego’s hands, Columbus retreated to La Isabela, and respite from the torments inflicted by Roldán’s rebels.

Columbus had demonstrated remarkable patience in his public dealings with the mayor, but in private the Admiral boiled with resentment toward “that ungrateful nobody Roldán.” Starting with nothing, he had gained “so much in so little time that he now had more than a million [maravedís].” Columbus had made him and his cohorts wealthy and confident. “Those people pain me,” the Admiral lamented.

Not until January 1499 did the ships Niña and Santa Cruz, with their roster of rebels, embark. A storm arose, and Niña sought shelter elsewhere—“another port” was all that Ferdinand had to say—for repair. Columbus sent two of his dwindling number of trusted aides, Pedro de Arana and Francisco de Garay, to guide Santa Cruz to Xaraguá. In March, Niña rejoined her sister ship there.

Meanwhile, Roldán’s rebels remained in Xaraguá to enjoy their easy life, slaves, women, and children rather than face the difficulties of reestablishing themselves in Spain. Roldán excused this reversal by claiming that Columbus had violated their agreement by delaying the ships. In reply, the Admiral sent a blunt communiqué to Roldán and Adrián de Mújica, reminding them of their promises. To reinforce the message, Sánchez de Carvajal, still at Xaraguá, went before a notary to state that Columbus had sent two ships as promised, and he urged Roldán to respect the agreement.

It was now April 25, and still the rebels had not sailed from the island. They amused themselves by claiming that the Admiral had intentionally and spitefully delayed the ships (not true), that the caravels were not sufficiently seaworthy to reach Spain (all too true, thanks to shipworms), and that they had run out of provisions amid the island’s plenty (true, but easily put right). So they decided to breach the agreement and stay at Xaraguá indefinitely. Paradoxically, Roldán and his men drew strength from the calamities. The more attention they drew to themselves, and the more anxiety they caused Columbus, the more important they became.

The familiar pattern of defiance followed by conciliatory gestures continued. Roldán sent word through the usual go-between, Sánchez de Carvajal, that he would “gladly confer” with Columbus “to reach a satisfactory agreement,” Ferdinand related, and not until May 21, 1499, did the Admiral reply, followed by a more complete answer on June 24. By delaying, he might have hoped that disease, boredom, internal dissension, or starvation would break the rebels’ spirit, but Roldán maintained his outpost and his resistance. On August 3, he received a delegation of seven loyalists, dispatched by Columbus, offering him safe conduct to a summit with the Admiral. They planned to meet at the port of Azua, partway between Santo Domingo and Xaraguá.

During these negotiations, Roldán’s partner, Adrián de Mújica, revolted once too often and finally was arrested. A brief hearing determined he was guilty of treason, and Columbus ordered him to be hanged. Mújica responded to the sentence with vituperation rather than the expected confession and penance. Las Casas claims that Columbus ordered his loyalists to thrust him to his death from the walls of Concepción, the fort to which he was confined, but it is just as likely that his partisans acted on their own. Columbus evaded the issue by stating, “Our Lord would not permit his evil purpose to be carried into effect.” Furthermore, “I had resolved in my own mind not to touch a hair of anyone’s head, and owing to his ingratitude, I was unable to save him, as I intended to do. I would have not done less to my own brother, if he had desired to kill me.” Troubled by the incident—Mújica was well born and well connected, and his death could not be dismissed—Columbus explained that Roldán’s rival for an Indian woman, Fernando de Guevara, bore responsibility for the execution, “without my having ordered it.”

At month’s end, Columbus’s two caravels arrived as agreed at the neutral port of Azua, where a large rebel delegation greeted them. The leaders energetically boarded his flagship, listened to his entreaties and promises of riches and honors, and replied with their outlandish demands, purely for the sake of argument. They wanted land grants and other entitlements for the rebels who elected to remain on the island, and a restoration of Roldán to his former role as the “perpetual mayor.” Desperate to break the back of the resistance, Columbus agreed to all of these demands, and still one more: he would announce that the misunderstanding was solely the result of “false testimony of a few evil men.”

The rebels added still another demand: if the Admiral failed to meet these conditions, they could use “any means,” including force, to compel him to comply. Sick of the rebels and their demands, which had drained his resources and credibility for over a year, Columbus signed. He appointed his antagonist Roldán mayor for life, approved the demands, and so conferred partial legitimacy on a dangerous rival.

Days later, Roldán wielded his newfound authority. He appointed a judge, Pedro de Riquelme, to sentence criminals, except for “capital offenders,” whom he would try personally. Meanwhile, Riquelme broke ground on a rebel fort in Bonao, but work came to a halt amid squabbles. Heartened by this minor victory, Columbus turned his attention to other segments of his fissured empire. Wishing to flee to the relative safety of Spain after his demoralizing spell in Hispaniola, he charged a captain and a company of men “to patrol and pacify” the island (in Ferdinand’s words), collect tributes from the Indians, and suppress revolts provoked by the rebels—all formidable tasks.

Confronting a storm or a reef, Columbus displayed an intuitive knack for tactics and an ability to learn from experience. But his behavior on land was quite different. No matter how many uprisings he faced on Hispaniola, he failed to adapt and to acquire the skills necessary for leadership, or even survival, in his own empire. He could command the seas, master the winds, and ride the tides, but he could not fathom his fellow man. He had spent his days studying waves, not people, and knew only the crosscurrents and promptings of his own heart. At that dangerous moment, he appeared stagnant, unwilling to recognize that yielding to the rebels’ demands emboldened rather than diminished his enemies.

Then, without warning, four ships appeared on the horizon.

On September 5, the flotilla dropped anchor “in the port that the Christians call ‘Brazil,’ (and the Indians Yaquimo),” Ferdinand explained, with a simple task: to obtain wood for their ships and fires, and to enslave Indians to perform the labor. It was the identity of their leader that alarmed Columbus: Alonso de Ojeda, the reckless aide who had cut off the ears of several Indians while pacifying a settlement in April 1494. And he had been sent by Columbus’s own patrons.

Ojeda’s sudden appearance signaled the end of Columbus’s monopoly on the Enterprise of the Indies. It meant that the Sovereigns and Bishop Fonseca were now commissioning his rivals to perform many of the same tasks Columbus had set out to accomplish. “Alonso de Ojeda was well loved by the bishop,” Las Casas explained, “and after the admiral’s account arrived with the chart, Alonso de Ojeda was inclined to go and discover more land by the route that the admiral had traveled, for once the thread is found and in the hand, it is an easy thing to reach the ball.” From Columbus’s chart, crafty Ojeda learned the basics of the first voyage, what islands the fleet had visited, and other information gleaned from the Indians. Vowing to find the mainland that had eluded Columbus, Ojeda located four ships in Seville, “where he was known as a brave and valiant man,” and obtained the means to outfit them.

Violating their contract with Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella had given Ojeda supplies and instructions; they had appointed him captain and charged him to discover and recover gold and pearls, just as the Admiral of the Ocean Sea had been doing, and on similar terms, giving the fifth part to the king and queen. And, like Columbus, he was ordered to treat the people he encountered in a spirit of peace and friendship. Bolstering his effort, Ojeda induced Columbus’s prized cartographer, Juan de la Cosa, to join the expedition, as well as a respected pilot from Palos, Bartolomé Roldán. According to Las Casas, the Sovereigns hoped that Ojeda would carry out his duties with less strife than his hardheaded predecessor.

In 1499, Ojeda’s fleet sailed to the Guajira Peninsula, the northernmost part of the South American mainland. In Sinamaica Lagoon, located in today’s Zulia state, he encountered Indians dwelling in thatched huts on stilts—palafitos—above gently lapping water. According to legend, he and his men decided to call the region Little Venice, or “Venezuela,” after the sight, and the name began to appear on maps the following year. Proceeding in a generally southerly direction, they entered brackish Lake Maracaibo, fed with seawater, and explored what is now Colombia. On their return to Spain, Ojeda’s men, dazzled by the gold ornaments worn by tribes in the area, circulated fantastic stories about the wealth that could be found inland, in a city called El Dorado—stories that lured one Spanish expedition after another to Venezuela and Colombia. El Dorado and its incredible riches remained forever elusive, and the region became colonized under the spell of this illusion.

Even as Ojeda explored Venezuela, others were challenging Columbus and outdoing his exploits. There seemed to be endless new worlds to discover, conquer, and exploit. In May 1499, Peralonso Niño, who had sailed with Columbus on the first voyage, mounted his own expedition in search of the margaritas—pearls—of Venezuela. He navigated the Atlantic with reasonable efficiency for both the outbound and inbound voyages, returning to Spain with a king’s ransom in pearls. Charged with cheating the Sovereigns of their share of the bounty, he was arrested and his property seized. He died before his trial concluded.

Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, who had sailed with Columbus on the first and second voyages, arrived at the northern boundary of Brazil on January 26, 1500. Pinzón disembarked on the magnificently desolate beach now known as Praia do Paraíso, in the present-day state of Pernambuco. He returned to Spain on June 23, 1500, having lost many men on the voyage, and taking many slaves to replace them.

Pinzón was followed by the Spanish navigator Diego de Lepe, on a copycat mission. He, too, reached Brazil, off-limits to Spain, according to the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

At about the same time, Rodrigo de Bastidas, a wellborn notary from Seville, still in his twenties, sailed with two ships, San Antón and Santa María de Gracía. He was accompanied by Columbus’s mapmaker, Juan de la Cosa, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who was later celebrated as the first European to glimpse the Pacific Ocean. After cruising along the coast of South America, and visiting Panama’s coast, Bastidas was forced to head north to Hispaniola to repair his shipworn fleet. Shipwrecked off the coast of Xaraguá, he was charged with trading with Indians without permission and sent back to Spain for trial. Acquitted, he later became known as the “Noblest Conquistador” in recognition of the respect he accorded the Indians, who were, in any case, rapidly dying out.

Each of these expeditions both validated and threatened Columbus’s voyages of exploration. They demonstrated that it was not so difficult, after all, to sail west from Spain or Portugal across the Atlantic and, thanks to the Gulf Stream and the trade winds, land somewhere in the Americas. Locating a specific island, in this era of primitive navigation, was next to impossible, as even the Admiral of the Ocean Sea learned. With all its promise and challenges, the enterprise he had begun gradually overtook him, like the giant tsunami, irresistible and all-encompassing.

On his voyage, Ojeda brought along a forty-five-year-old Florentine named Amerigo Vespucci, the most enigmatic explorer of his era. By writing or inspiring a letter about a mythical “first voyage” of 1497 preceding his actual debut as an explorer, Vespucci guaranteed himself a controversial reputation. Las Casas, for instance, held him responsible for giving the impression that “Amerigo alone, with no other and before anyone else, had discovered it”—the mainland that came to be known, for no good reason, as America. As a result of Amerigo’s “very great fraud,” Las Casas acidly observed, “it is apparent then how much injustice was done to the admiral Christopher Columbus.” Attempting to right the balance, the chronicler noted, “It was more his due that the mainland be called Columbus, de Colón, or Colombo, after the man who discovered it, or Tierra Santa or Tierra de Gracia, which he himself named it, and not America after Amerigo.” But it was not to be. The name “America” stuck to the continent, beginning with the huge, composite Universalis cosmographia, a printed wall map of the world by Martin Waldseemüller, published in April 1507, the same year that the cartographer made corresponding globe gores—flat, approximately triangular sections designed to wrap around a ball. This is the first map to include the name “America.” For it, Waldseemüller and his assistant, Matthias Ringmann, drew on several sources, including Columbus, for their depiction of the world at the height of the age of exploration, but they decided to award Vespucci preeminence. When it became apparent that Vespucci’s role had been vastly overstated, Waldseemüller revised his map and renamed parts of it Terra Incognita; by this time, about a thousand copies of the original had been distributed, too late to correct the misimpression.

Although he gave his name to the continent that Columbus visited before him, Amerigo Vespucci’s exploits did not obliterate his predecessor’s contribution. Columbus had made such a large impression on the events of his time, and was so well known, if not admired, that the name “America” does not summon the legacy of Vespucci, but the exploits of Columbus.

Amerigo Vespucci began his career not at sea but in finance, working for both Lorenzo de’ Medici and his son Giovanni. In the year Columbus made his first voyage, Vespucci had been detailed to the Medici bank in Seville. Cultivating Portuguese as well as Spanish connections, he received an invitation from King Manuel of Portugal to observe a number of voyages bound for South America between 1499 and 1500. One of them, led by Pedro Alvares Cabral, bound for the Cape of Good Hope and India, visited what is now Brazil in 1500. According to the terms of a modified Treaty of Tordesillas, Portugal was entitled to this land. Then, in a situation parallel to the one in which Columbus found himself with respect to the islands making up the Indies, the Portuguese king wished to learn if this newly discovered land, Brazil, was an island or part of the same continent that Columbus had already visited. Another voyage would be required to obtain the answer.

For now, Vespucci, despite his advanced age, benefited from his prestigious connections and arranged to sail with Ojeda’s fleet, “but I do not know whether as a pilot or as a man trained in navigation and learned in cosmography,” Las Casas confessed. “And even though Amerigo stresses that the king of Castile”—that is, Ferdinand—“put the fleet together, and that they went to discover at his command, it is not so.” Instead, a small group of investors “pestered the king and queen for a license to go discover and trade.” With the tremendous advantage of Columbus’s hard-won chart, his pilots, and sailors, Ojeda stood ready to capitalize on their hunger for empire. He knew about the “Indies,” and he even knew about Columbus’s much more recent discoveries of Paria, Trinidad, and the Dragon’s Mouth. Ojeda took care not to challenge Columbus’s claim to have visited the region first; he wanted to be among the subsequent visitors included in its bounty. Imitation was the shortest route to wealth.

As a competitor supported by the Spanish crown, Ojeda posed a graver threat to Columbus’s legitimacy than the scheming Francisco Roldán. Believing that Columbus could be assailed with impunity, Ojeda resorted to causing “all other mischief he could,” including spreading a false rumor that Queen Isabella “was at death’s door and that on her death the Admiral would be without a protector.” At that point, Ojeda “could do what injury he pleased to the Admiral.”

Treasonous sentiments like these were calculated to inflame Columbus’s old adversary Roldán. To Ojeda’s dismay, Roldán, having made peace with the Admiral, gathered a force of twenty-six men to pursue their new common enemy, Ojeda, who had taken up residence in an Indian village in Hispaniola. Energized, Roldán searched for his prey by night, but word of his mission reached Ojeda, who came out to confront his adversary.

Posing as a supplicant, Ojeda feebly explained that he had taken refuge on Hispaniola only because his supplies had run out; he meant injury to none. He distracted the skeptical Roldán with an account of his voyage, claiming he had explored six hundred leagues of coastline extending from Paria; survived a furious battle with Indians, who wounded twenty Christians; and yet despite these tribulations, he had bagged “stags, rabbits, tiger skins and paws,” examples of which he displayed to Roldán. Refashioning his agenda, Ojeda claimed he would depart immediately to deliver a full report of his exploits to Columbus in Santo Domingo.

Chaos threatened to overwhelm other parts of the island empire. Columbus and his brother crisscrossed the island throughout much of 1499, avoiding peril until the end. “The day after Christmas Day, 1499,” wrote Bartholomew, “all having left me, I was attacked by the Indians and bad Christians, and was placed in such extremity that fleeing death, I took to sea in a small caravel.” In his vulnerable state, Bartholomew sought God’s protection. “Then Our Lord aided me, saying, ‘Man of little faith, do not fear, I am with thee.’ And he dispersed my enemies, and showed me how I might fulfill my vows.”

Ojeda’s encounter with Roldán occurred in late September 1499, but not until February 1500 did Ojeda set sail for Xaraguá, Roldán’s former haunt. On arrival, Ojeda did all he could to supplant Roldán, trying to convince his former supporters that Ferdinand and Isabella had actually appointed him as a minder to Columbus, “lest the Admiral do something harmful to the royal interests.” To make his claim more appealing, he insisted that the Sovereigns had ordered Columbus to pay those who had served the crown, but Columbus had stubbornly refused to comply, or so Ojeda argued, and he offered his services “to lead them to Santo Domingo to force him to pay up immediately; afterward they could throw the Admiral out of the island dead or alive.”

Ojeda’s scheme won the support of many former rebels. Under cover of night, he formed a group of the most insistent, or desperate, to attack the others. Ferdinand Columbus related that “there were dead and wounded on both sides.” Those who emerged from the fray on Ojeda’s side concluded that Roldán had betrayed them. Now loyal only to Ojeda, and his particular brand of mayhem, the misguided insurgents planned to capture Roldán, who learned of the conspiracy and “marched with strong force to punish Ojeda and crush the revolt.” Afraid for his life, Ojeda took refuge aboard his ships, where he negotiated with Roldán, who had retreated to his ship. They bickered farcically about where to anchor the vessels, “each fearing to place himself in the power of the other.”

Ojeda refused to leave his ship. Roldán proposed to parlay there with him, so long as Ojeda sent a boat to take him. After Roldán and his men climbed aboard the vessel, they attacked Ojeda’s loyalists. When they had taken control of the boat, they rowed to shore and safety. Humbled, Ojeda realized he had to negotiate with Roldán as best he could.

When the two adversaries finally met, Ojeda apologized for his excesses and vowed to release several of Roldán’s men who had been taken hostage. In exchange for these concessions, he pleaded for a “boat and crew.” Without it, “he faced certain ruin, having no other boat fit for use,” in Ferdinand’s account. Conscious of his former status as a rebel, Roldán wanted only to rid himself and the island of Hispaniola of Ojeda, without giving him grievances to carry back to Spain and the Sovereigns, and so he agreed to the request, on condition that Ojeda and his men depart by a certain date. And to make certain that Ojeda complied, he “kept a strong guard ashore.”

The leaders and usurpers had changed places. Roldán found himself in the position formerly occupied by Columbus, trying to foil the designs of Ojeda, who played the rebellious role once embraced by Roldán. But none of the men had grown wiser as a result of the conflict, only more cautious and wily. The three-way tussle was symptomatic of the sense of decline afflicting the Enterprise of the Indies; no one even pretended to invoke religious or political ideals anymore.

Roldán and Columbus believed they had rid themselves of Ojeda and other troublemakers. But, Ferdinand observed, “just as a bad weed is not so easily uprooted that it will not grow again, so men of evil habits are with difficulty kept from relapsing into their own old courses after Ojeda had sailed away.” The latest threat came from a troublemaker named Fernando de Guevara, who resented Roldán for preventing Guevara’s marriage to a young woman who happened to be the daughter of Anacaona, “the principal queen of Xaraguá.” With Roldán married to another Indian woman, it became increasingly likely that the affiliations of the women of Hispaniola lay behind this conflict. The longer the Europeans remained on the island, the more their loyalties aligned with their hearts rather than their homeland.

Now Guevara, plotting to supplant Roldán “as lord of misrule,” in Ferdinand’s words, formed an alliance with another hardened rebel, Adrián de Mújica. By June 1500 they were planning to capture or kill their target. Learning of the conspiracy against him, Roldán rounded up the outlaws, informed the Admiral, and waited for instructions.

Columbus, for once, responded decisively. The men posed a threat to the island’s security; they should be punished “as the law required.” So Roldán, in his official capacity as the mayor, tried the group, and ordered the apparent ringleader, Adrián de Mújica, to be hanged. Roldán deported the other conspirators and imprisoned Guevara until June 13, when he was conveyed to the Admiral, then in the island’s interior, for safekeeping.

Peace had come to Columbus’s realm at last.

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