The Second Voyage of Columbus

After his triumphal return from his first voyage, bringing back native Indians, mastic plants, aloe, lots of news and a sample of gold from his discoveries, Columbus had little difficulty in convincing his benefactors in Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, to mount a second voyage.

Second Voyage of Columbus

For the time this was a huge undertaking, 17 ships were secured for the voyage and colonists, livestock, seeds, farm implements, as well as weapons for waging war were all embarked on the vessels. All this was done with remarkable celerity as the ships got under way on 13 October 1493 a bare 7 months after his return from the first voyage. The expedition was initially blessed with "fair winds and following seas" as the transit was effected in only 21 days, a quick journey at that time for so many vessels. He sighted land on the 3rd of November, discovering Dominica. The island was inhabited by the fierce Carib Indians, and the expedition did not stay long.1

Columbus sailed north and west from Dominica, finding many new islands (including Puerto Rico), until he reached familiar ground at Hispañola. On the 22nd of November he found the fort he had established at La Navidad had been destroyed and the garrison killed. This must have been a shock to him, as the natives had been so friendly and helpful when the Santa Maria had foundered and had done everything they could to assist him. It seems to have changed his attitude toward the indigenous peoples somewhat. On his first voyage he had shown kindness to everyone he found and demanded strict good behavior from his own crew. Now he seemed determined that the natives should know that Spain would not tolerate the violence done, whether or not the violence had been justified by the actions of the Spanish garrison in his absence.

Near here, where some gold was thought to be located a settlement was begun. Meanwhile Columbus led an armed expedition into the interior, searching for a source of gold. Nothing promising was found. However, a fort was established in the interior. Columbus marched back to the settlement, which he named Isabella. The large number of colonists (as many as 1200) began to settle here. Columbus himself decided to return to his mission. He took a small squadron of three ships to continue his search for the mainland of China.

The three ships cruised the southern Coast of Cuba in early May of 1494 and shot south for several days to investigate Jamaica. The people there proved hostile. He went back north to explore the south coast of Cuba. He returned to Hispañola about 20 August 1494, where he explored the southern coast of the island. Finally, ill, he returned to the settlement of Isabella. At this time, he sent a request to the King and Queen to allow him to enslave the population. This first arose from his frustration that the natives resisted his rule. He also saw it as a way to get immediate value from his discoveries which had not produced the expected amount of gold and spices. The sovereigns refused his request, but Columbus shipped over 500 slaves to Spain, about 200 of whom died on the voyage. After some legal wrangling, the Queen and King ordered the slaves returned to their homes and freed. Isabella determined there would not be slavery within her realm.

Throughout 1495 there was dissatisfaction by many of the colonists with the way things were going in Isabella on Hispañola. Complaints were sent to the authorities in Spain, many of the complaints singled out Viceroy Columbus. Much of the disappointment stemmed from his optimistic view of how much gold and riches could be easily attained from the island. Yet the colonists found hard work and toil, just to survive. Meanwhile, trouble with the native population continued to boil. All the commotion led the Spanish monarchs to send a commission to Hispañola to investigate the problems being reported. Juan de Aguado, who had been a member of the first expedition, was sent.

Aguado was friendly to Columbus. He found Columbus in ill health. Supplies were dwindling at the new colony, so Columbus, and Aguado, along with 200 of the disaffected colonists returned to Spain. Reaching Cadiz on 11 June 1496, Columbus immediately set about looking for help for his nascent colony.

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The Third Voyage of Christopher Columbus >>


  1. It should be noted that although Columbus kept a close log of this journey as he had the first voyage, most of the manuscript has been lost. Since most of what is known of this voyage is from others were on the voyage as well as second hand, the account is a bit sketchy.

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