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Considerations on the rights acquired by the discovery of unknown lands, and on the claims advanced by the Spaniards.
THE accounts given by the buccaneers who extended their enterprises to the Pacific Ocean are the best authenticated of any which have been published by that class of adventurers. They are interspersed with nautical and geographical descriptions corroborative of the events related, and more worth being preserved than the memory of what was performed. The materials for this portion of buccaneer history, which it was necessary should be included in a history of South Sea navigations, could not be collected without bringing other parts into view; whence it appeared that, with a moderate increase of labour, and without much enlarging the bulk of narrative, a regular history might be formed of their career, from their first rise to their suppression; and that such a work would not be without its use.
No practice is more common in literature than for an author to endeavour to clear the ground before him by mowing down the labours of his predecessors on the same subject. To do this where the labour they have bestowed is of good tendency, or even to treat with harshness the commission of error where no bad intention is manifest, is in no small degree illiberal. But all the buccaneer histories that hitherto have appeared, and the number is not small, are boastful compositions, which have delighted in exaggeration; and, what is most mischievous, they have lavished commendation on acts which demanded reprobation, and have endeavoured to raise miscreants notorious for their want of humanity to the rank of heroes, lessening thereby the stain upon robbery, and the abhorrence naturally conceived against cruelty.
There is some excuse for the buccaneer who tells his own story. Vanity, and his prejudices, without any intention to deceive, lead him to magnify his own exploits; and the reader naturally makes allowances.
The men whose enterprises are to be related were natives of different European nations, but chiefly of Great Britain and France, and most of them seafaring people, who, being disappointed by accidents or the enmity of the Spaniards in their more sober pursuits in the West Indies, and also instigated by thirst for plunder as much as by desire for vengeance, enrolled themselves, under different leaders of their own choosing, to make predatory war upon the Spaniards. These men the Spaniards naturally treated as pirates; but some peculiar circumstances which provoked their first enterprises, and a general feeling of enmity against that nation on account of their American conquests, procured them the connivance of the rest of the maritime states of Europe, and to be distinguished first by the softened appellations of freebooters and adventurers, and afterwards by that of buccaneers.
Spain, or, more strictly speaking, Castile, on the merit of a first discovery, claimed an exclusive right to the possession of the whole of America, with the exception of the Brazils, which were conceded to the Portuguese. These claims and this division the Pope sanctioned by an instrument, entitled a "Bull of Donation," which was granted at a time when all the maritime powers of Europe were under the spiritual dominion of the see of Rome. The Spaniards, however, did not flatter themselves that they should be left in the sole and undisputed enjoyment of so large a portion of the newly-discovered countries; but they were principally anxious to preserve wholly to themselves the West Indies: and such was the monopolising spirit of the Castilians, that during the life of the Queen Ysabel of Castile, who was regarded as the patroness of Columbus's discovery, it was difficult even for Spaniards, not born subjects of the crown of Castile, to gain access to this new world, prohibitions being repeatedly published against the admission of all other persons into the ships bound thither. Ferdinand, king of Arragon, the husband of Ysabel, had refused to contribute towards the outfit of Columbus's first voyage, having no opinion of the probability that it would produce him an adequate return; and the undertaking being at the expense of Castile, the countries discovered were considered as appendages to the crown of Castile.
If such jealousy was entertained by the Spaniards of each other, what must not have been their feelings respecting other European nations? "Whoever," says Hakluyt, "is conversant with the Portugal and Spanish writers, shall find that they account all other nations for pirates, rovers, and thieves, which visit any heathen coast that they have sailed by or looked on."
Spain considered the New World as what in our law books is called "treasure-trove," of which she became lawfully and exclusively entitled to take possession, as fully as if it had been found without any owner or proprietor. Spain has not been singular in her maxims respecting the rights of discoverers. Our books of voyages abound in instances of the same disregard shown to the rights of the native inhabitants, the only rightful proprietors, by the navigators of other European nations, who, with a solemnity due only to offices of a religious nature, have continually put in practice the form of taking possession of countries which to them were new discoveries, their being inhabited or desert making no difference. Not unfrequently has the ceremony been performed in the presence, but not within the understanding, of the wondering natives; and on this formality is grounded a claim to usurp the actual possession, in preference to other Europeans.
Nothing can be more opposed to common-sense, than that strangers should pretend to acquire by discovery a title to countries they find with inhabitants: as if in those very inhabitants the right of prior discovery was not inherent. On some occasions, however, Europeans have thought it expedient to acknowledge the rights of the natives, as when, in disputing each other's claims, a title by gift from the natives has been pretended.
In uninhabited lands, a right of occupancy results from the discovery; but actual and bonâ fide possession is requisite to perfect appropriation. If real possession be not taken, or, if taken, shall not be retained, the right acquired by the mere discovery is not indefinite and a perpetual bar of exclusion to all others; for that would amount to discovery giving a right equivalent to annihilation. Movable effects may be hoarded and kept out of use, or be destroyed, and it will not always be easy to prove whether with injury or benefit to mankind: but the necessities of human life will not admit, unless under the strong hand of power, that a right should be pretended to keep extensive and fertile countries waste and secluded from their use, without other reason than the will of a proprietor or claimant.
Particular local circumstances have created objections to the occupancy of territory: for instance, between the confines of the Russian and Chinese empires, large tracts of country are left waste, it being held that their being occupied by the subjects of either empire would affect the security of the other. Several similar instances might be mentioned.
There is in many cases difficulty in settling what constitutes occupancy. On a small island, any first settlement is acknowledged an occupancy of the whole; and sometimes, the occupancy of a single island of a group is supposed to comprehend an exclusive title to the possession of the remainder of the group. In the West Indies the Spaniards regarded their making settlements on a few islands to be an actual taking possession of the whole, as far as European pretensions were concerned.
The first discovery of Columbus set in activity the curiosity and speculative dispositions of all the European maritime powers. King Henry VII. of England, as soon as he was certified of the existence of countries in the western hemisphere, sent ships thither whereby Newfoundland, and parts of the continent of North America, were first discovered. South America was also visited very early, both by the English and the French; "which nations," the historian of Brazil remarks, "had neglected to ask a share of the undiscovered world, when pope Alexander VI. partitioned it, who would as willingly have drawn two lines as one; and, because they derived no advantage from that partition, refused to admit its validity". The West Indies, however, which doubtless was the part most coveted by all, seem to have been considered as more particularly the discovery and right of the Spaniards; and, either from respect to their pretensions, or from the opinion entertained of their force in those parts, they remained many years undisturbed by intruders in the West Indian Seas. But their homeward-bound ships, and also those of the Portuguese from the East Indies, did not escape being molested by pirates: sometimes by those of their own, as well as of other nations.CHAPTER 2
Review of the dominion of the Spaniards in Hayti or Hispaniola.
THE first settlement formed by the Castilians in their newly-discovered world was on the island by the native inhabitants named Hayti; but to which the Spaniards gave the name of Espanola or Hispaniola. And in process of time it came to pass, that this same island became the great place of resort and nursery of the European adventurers, who have been so conspicuous under the denomination of the buccaneers of America.
The native inhabitants found in Hayti have been described as a people of gentle, compassionate dispositions, of too frail a constitution, both of body and mind, either to resist oppression or to support themselves under its weight; and to the indolence, luxury, and avarice of the discoverers, their freedom and happiness in the first instance, and finally their existence, fell a sacrifice.
Queen Ysabel, the patroness of the discovery, believed it her duty, and was earnestly disposed, to be their protectress; but she wanted resolution to second her inclination. The island abounded in gold mines. The natives were by degrees more and more heavily tasked to work them; and it was the great misfortune of Columbus, after achieving an enterprise, the glory of which was not exceeded by any action of his contemporaries, to make an ungrateful use of the success Heaven had favoured him with, and to be the foremost in the destruction of the nations his discovery first made known to Europe.
The population of Hayti, according to the lowest estimation made, amounted to a million of souls. The first visit of Columbus was passed in a continual reciprocation of kind offices between them and the Spaniards. One of the Spanish ships was wrecked upon the coast, and the natives gave every assistance in their power towards saving the crew, and their effects to them. When Columbus departed to return to Europe, he left behind him thirty-eight Spaniards, with the consent of the chief or sovereign of the part of the island where he had been so hospitably received. He had erected a fort for their security, and the declared purpose of their remaining was to protect the chief against all his enemies. Several of the native islanders voluntarily embarked in the ships to go to Spain, among whom was a relation of the Hayti chief; and with them were taken gold and various samples of the productions of the New World.
Columbus, on his return, was received by the court of Spain with the honours due to his heroic achievement, indeed with honours little short of adoration. He was declared admiral, governor, and viceroy of the countries that he had discovered, and also of those which he should afterwards discover: he was ordered to assume the style and title of nobility, and was furnished with a larger fleet to prosecute farther the discovery, and to make conquest of the new lands. The instructions for his second expedition contained the following direction: "Forasmuch as you, Christopher Columbus, are going by our command; with our vessels and our men, to discover and subdue certain islands and continent, our will is, that you shall be our admiral, viceroy, and governor in them". This was the first step in the iniquitous usurpations which the more cultivated nations of the world have practised upon their weaker brethren, the natives of America.
Thus provided and instructed, Columbus sailed on his second voyage. On arriving at Hayti, the first news he learnt was, that the natives had demolished the fort which he had built, and destroyed the garrison, who, it appeared, had given great provocation by their rapacity and licentious conduct. War did not immediately follow. Columbus accepted presents of gold from the chief; he landed a number of colonists, and built a town on the north side of Hayti, which he named after the patroness, Ysabel, and fortified. A second fort was soon built, new Spaniards arrived, and the natives began to understand that it was the intention of their visitors to stay, and be lords of the country. The chiefs held meetings, to confer on the means to rid themselves of such unwelcome guests, and there was appearance of preparation making to that end. The Spaniards had as yet no farther asserted dominion than in taking land for their town and forts, and helping themselves to provisions when the natives neglected to bring supplies voluntarily. The histories of these transactions affect a tone of apprehension on account of the extreme danger in which the Spaniards were from the multitude of the heathen inhabitants; but all the facts show that they perfectly understood the helpless character of the natives. A Spanish officer, named Pedro Margarit, was blamed, not altogether reasonably, for disorderly conduct to the natives, which happened in the following manner. He was ordered, with a large body of troops, to make a progress through the island in different parts, and was strictly enjoined to restrain his men from committing any violence against the natives, or from giving them any cause for complaint. But the troops were sent on their journey without provisions, and the natives were not disposed to furnish them. The troops recurred to violence, which they did not limit to the obtaining of food. If Columbus could spare a detachment strong enough to make such a visitation through the land, he could have entertained no doubt of his ability to subdue it. But before he risked engaging in open war with the natives, he thought it prudent to weaken their means of resisting by what he called stratagem. Hayti was divided into five provinces, or small kingdoms, under the separate dominion of as many princes or caciques. One of these, Coanabo, the cacique of Maguana, Columbus believed to be more resolute and more dangerous to his purpose than any other of the chiefs. To Coanabo, therefore, he sent an officer to propose an accommodation on terms which appeared so reasonable that the Indian chief assented to them. Afterwards, relying on the good faith of the Spaniards, not, as some authors have meanly represented, through credulous and childish simplicity, but with the natural confidence which generally prevails, and which ought to prevail, among mankind in their mutual engagements, he gave opportunity for Columbus to get possession of his person, who::aused him to be seized, and embarked in a ship then ready to sail for Spain. The ship foundered in the passage. The story of Coanabo, and the contempt with which he treated Columbus for his treachery, form one of the most striking circumstances in the history of the perfidious dealings of the Spaniards in America. On the seizure of this chief the islanders rose in arms. Columbus took the field with two hundred foot armed with musketry and crossbows, with twenty troopers mounted on horses, and with twenty large dogs!
It is not to be urged in exculpation of the Spaniards that the natives were the aggressors, by their killing the garrison left at Hayti. Columbus had terminated his first visit in friendship; and, without the knowledge that any breach had happened between the Spaniards left behind and the natives, sentence of subjugation had been pronounced against them. This was not to avenge injury, for the Spaniards knew not of any committed. Columbus was commissioned to execute this sentence, and for that end, besides a force of armed men, he took with him from Spain a number of bloodhounds, to prosecute a most unrighteous purpose by the most inhuman means.
Excerpted from History of the Buccaneers of America by James Burney. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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