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European Discovery of the New World

Columbus reports on his voyage to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain:

These people in the Caribbean have no creed and they are not idolaters, but they are very gentle and do not know what it is to be wicked, or to kill others, or to steal...and they are sure that we come from Heaven....So your Highnesses should resolve to make them Christians, for I believe that if you begin, in a little while you will achieve the conversion of a great number of peoples to our holy faith, with the acquisition of great lordships and riches and all their inhabitants for Spain. For without doubt there is a very great amount of gold in these lands….

The people of this island [Hispaniola], and of all the others that I have found and seen, or not seen, all go naked, men and women, just as their mothers bring them forth; although some women cover a single place with the leaf of a plant, or a cotton something which they make for that purpose. They have no iron or steel, nor any weapons....They have no other weapons than the stems of reeds...on the end of which they fix little sharpened stakes. Even these they dare not use....they are incurably timid....

I have not found, nor had any information of monsters, except of an island which is here the second in the approach of the Indies, which is inhabited by a people whom, in all the islands, they regard as very ferocious, who eat human flesh….

They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

1. How accurate do you consider Columbus's description of the New World?

2. How does Columbus describe the Indians?

3. Why, according to Columbus, should Spain be interested in colonizing
the New World?

The First Americans

Depopulation of Native Americans in Florida, 1519-1617 
Percent Decline 
Estimated Population 
1517      722,000 
1520  Smallpox  -50  361,000 
1528  Measles  -50  180,500 
1545  Bubonic plague  -12.5  158,000 
1559  Influenza  -5  150,000 
1564-70  Influenza  -10  135,000 
1585  Unidentified  -10  121,500 
1586  Cape Verde Island fever -20  97,200 
1596  Measles  -25  72,900 
1613-17  Bubonic plague  -50  36,450 

1. How many people were living in the New World when Columbus arrived?

2. Why did the Native American population rapidly decline after the arrival of Europeans?

3. What factors may have contributed to the Indians lack of immunity to disease?

Chronology of Spanish Exploration and Conquest 
Date  Explorer  Accomplishment  
1492-1504  Christopher Columbus  Discovered West Indies 
1513, 1521  Juan Ponce de Leon  First European to explore land in present-day United States 
1513  Vasco Nunez de Balboa  First European to see the Pacific Ocean
1519-1522  Ferdinand Magellan  Led first voyage around the world 
1519-1521  Hernando Cortes  Conquered Aztec empire in Mexico 
1528-1536  Alva Nunez Cabeza de Vaca First European to explore American Southwest
1531-1533  Francisco Pizarro  Conquered Inca empire 
1539-1542  Hernando de Soto  Explored Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Oklahoma
1540-1542  Francisco Vasquez de Coronado Explored American Southwest as far north as Kansas


This site was updated on 18-Apr-14.

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