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Columbus’s Outpost among the Taínos

Columbus’s Outpost among the Taínos: Spain and America at La Isabela, 1493-1498

Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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    Columbus’s Outpost among the Taínos
    Book Description:

    In 1493 Christopher Columbus led a fleet of seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men to found a royal trading colony in America. Columbus had high hopes for his settlement, which he named La Isabela after the queen of Spain, but just five years later it was in ruins. It remains important, however, as the first site of European settlement in America and the first place of sustained interaction between Europeans and the indigenous Taínos.Kathleen Deagan and José María Cruxent now tell the story of this historic enterprise. Drawing on their ten-year archaeological investigation of the site of La Isabela, along with research into Columbus-era documents, they contrast Spanish expectations of America with the actual events and living conditions at America's first European town. Deagan and Cruxent argue that La Isabela failed not because Columbus was a poor planner but because his vision of America was grounded in European experience and could not be sustained in the face of the realities of American life. Explaining that the original Spanish economic and social frameworks for colonization had to be altered in America in response to the American landscape and the non-elite Spanish and Taíno people who occupied it, they shed light on larger questions of American colonialism and the development of Euro-American cultural identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13389-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Chapter 1 Columbus and La Isabela
    (pp. 1-6)

    Christopher Columbus’s departure from Cádiz in 1493 on his second voyage to America was a jubilant affair, in striking contrast to the sailing of his first expedition a year earlier. Instead of the three small, meagerly outfitted vessels that left in 1492 under a cloud of public skepticism, in the second fleet he commanded seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred eager men, infused with what Spanish historian Antonio Ballesteros Beretta has called theilusión indiana,dreams of “the wild lands, the exuberant vegetation, the sweet climate, the fragrant flora, the landscape of marvels, the new animals . . ....

  5. Chapter 2 The Historical Setting
    (pp. 7-22)

    The fifteenth century was a period of unprecedented maritime exploration and economic expansion overseas by Iberian powers, not only in the Americas but also in Africa and Asia. Italian and Portuguese merchants expanded their markets throughout the then known world; Spanish internal expansion took place through the reconquest of Iberia from the Moors (thereconquista); and Spain and Portugal extended their domains by establishing colonies in the Canary Islands. The enterprise of La Isabela drew upon all these modes of expansion, combining elements from Columbus’s own mercantile seafaring experience with the reconquest and colonial expansion of the Spanish Crown. The...

  6. Chapter 3 Reluctant Hosts: The Taínos of Hispaniola
    (pp. 23-46)

    Columbus and his companions on the second voyage knew, of course, that they were not entering a cultural vacuum when they came to America. Originally hoping to find Asians subject to the Great Khan, they soon realized that the people they encountered were something very different. Between preconceived notions, and assumptions based on brief observations made during the first voyage, Columbus and his companions gravely underestimated the people they met.

    “American Indians,” the term by which the indigenous people of the Americas have been known in Western literature since 1492 , had occupied the Western Hemisphere for tens of thousands...

  7. Chapter 4 “Hell in Hispaniola”: La Isabela, 1493–1498
    (pp. 47-70)

    Beset by doubt, confusion, and surely some despair, Columbus’s second fleet left the ruined fort of La Navidad in Guacanagarí’s town on 7 December, and sailed eastward along the north coast of Hispaniola, looking for a more hospitable location in which to settle. The journey from La Navidad to La Isabela was terrible.¹ The westerly trade winds made sailing eastward tortuous—as Chanca noted, “The weather was contrary to us, so that it was more labor for us to go back thirty leagues than to come from Castile. As a result of the unfavorable weather and the length of the...

  8. Chapter 5 The Hand of Vandals and the Tooth of Time: La Isabela, 1500–1987
    (pp. 71-94)

    Although La Isabela remained abandoned after 1498, its location was never lost. The site was known and used intermittently by smugglers, woodcutters, fishermen, pig hunters, sailors, Columbus researchers, and treasure hunters for nearly five hundred years, until the village of El Castillo was established there in the mid-twentieth century.

    Through those centuries the site itself suffered countless natural and human depredations that severely compromised its physical and archaeological integrity. The neglect of La Isabela during its first three centuries of abandonment and amnesia had a relatively benign impact on the site. It was ironically the recognition of La Isabela as...

  9. Chapter 6 The Medieval Enclave: Landscape, Town, and Buildings
    (pp. 95-130)

    Before embarking on a rescue archaeology program within the park, José Cruxent took steps to define the larger cultural landscape of the settlement. He knew from earlier research trips to the site that that the area occupied and used by the Spaniards was not restricted to El Castillo.

    During the 1950s, Cruxent, together with engineer Emile Boyrie de Moya and archaeologist Luis Chanlatte, collected bricks, roof tiles, and pottery at the El Castillo site. They strongly suspected that these had been produced locally, but they were unable to locate any ceramic kilns in the area at the time.

    Thirty years...

  10. Chapter 7 A Spartan Domesticity: Household Life in La Isabela’s Bohíos
    (pp. 131-162)

    After the first euphoric months of settlement, La Isabela’s chroniclers wrote of virtually nothing about life in the town other than the starvation, sickness, and misery of its residents. While their focus is understandable, it ignored most of what was happening on a daily basis in the town, and it is the material world of La Isabela that reveals the cultural practices and texture of daily life there in the late fifteenth century.

    La Isabela was clearly different from other fifteenth-century towns in its virtually all-male population and its utterly isolated frontier position. It was nevertheless a community of people...

  11. Chapter 8 God and Glory
    (pp. 163-178)

    Much of what happened at La Isabela was conditioned by the inextricably connected concerns of religion, defense, and personal honor. These were not only important elite cultural ideals held in common with late fifteenth-century Spain but for the community of La Isabela also defined (along with wealth through gold) the purpose and justification of the expedition. Religion and defensive concerns were among the most important elements shaping the cultural practices and social organization at La Isabela.

    Much has been written about the deep religiousness of Columbus himself, which must have influenced the role of religious activity at La Isabela. Archaeological...

  12. Chapter 9 Commerce and Craft
    (pp. 179-200)

    The day to day operation of the colony depended much less on the hidalgos, soldiers, and priests—despite their visibility in the historical record—than it did on the farmers and artisans who accompanied the expedition. Documentary accounts are vague about these men, Las Casas noting only that there were “several men for each of the various trades,”¹ and Ferdinand Colón that his father recruited “artisans of all kinds.”² Regardless of their essential contributions to the functioning and survival of the medieval community (as at La Isabela), artisans were irrevocably relegated to the lower levels of the Spanish social hierarchy....

  13. Chapter 10 Aftermath
    (pp. 201-212)

    The discovery of gold deposits in the south part of the island in 1496 was the beginning of the end for La Isabela. The decision to build a new town on the south coast, near the San Cristóbal gold deposits, had already been made when Columbus returned to Spain that same year to defend himself at court against his critics’ denunciations. It was the rebellion of Roldán and his sacking of La Isabela, however, that most dramatically defined the failure of the Columbian project.

    Roldán’s rebellion and its consequences also marked a new kind of social sensibility for the Spanish...

  14. Chapter 11 Destinies Converged
    (pp. 213-228)

    The genesis of European colonialism in America took place at La Isabela, and any thoughtful analysis of colonial development must take into account the contours of the original Columbian venture, its failure, and the recasting of Spain’s economic and social policies in the Americas in response to that failure. We have maintained throughout this book that the trajectory of this first colony was profoundly shaped by the local experiences and actions of the non-elite residents of the colony, both Europeans and American Indians. We also adhere to the principle that the archaeological record is often the only direct source of...

    (pp. 229-232)
    (pp. 233-236)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 237-258)
    (pp. 259-282)
    (pp. 283-286)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 287-294)