C H R I S T O P H E R Columbus, a Genoese by birth, had married a daughter of one of the early Portuguese navigators, and had himself been engaged in many of their voyages to Africa. The mind of this extraordinary individual was thus directed to the solution of the problem of the shortest way to Asia by sea ; and he imagined that the eastern shores of that continent might best be reached by traversing the ocean in a westerly direction. H e offered his services in that view to many of the Courts of Europe. After innumerable disappointments and mortifications he was at length patronised by Isabella of Castile, wife of Ferdinand the Catholic ; and being employed under their auspices in successive voyages, from 1492 to 1497, he discovered the Western Hemisphere, with many of its islands, and gave, in fact, a new world to Spain.*
The island of Hayt i was discovered by Columbus in 1492, and named by him Hispaniola. It was immediately settled by the Spaniards, who began working its mines by
means of the native Indians. The settlement flourished. Columbus himself founded the
1498 capital, St. Domingo, in 1498.* But the constitution of the Indians was so feeble, and their treatment by the Spanish settlers so cruel, that the race rapidly diminished : and already, in
15031503,† a few African slaves were imported from Portugal, to supply the place of the native Indians at the mines. Still , the natives sunk under the harassing tasks assigned to them by their masters ; which were so overwhelming, that the population of the island is said to have been reduced in the short space of fifteen years from one million to sixty thousand souls:£ and in
1511 Ferdinand the Catholic gave a formal 1511 permission to import slaves from Africa in considerable numbers into Hispaniola.*
Cuba, though discovered the same year as Hispaniola, was not ascertained to be an island until 1508, and was not settled by the Spaniards till 151l.-†-
Porto Rico, which was discovered in 1494, was explored and settled in 1508‡.