Primary Source – Topic # 1 – Hernán Cortés and Columbus

During this time I walked among the trees, which the most beautiful I have ever seen. I saw as much greenery, in such density, as I would have seen in Andalusia in May. And all of the trees are as differ from ours as day is from night, and so are the fruits, herbage, the rocks, and everything. . . .

This morning I took the small boat and went the river until I reached fresh water, which might be about six miles. I beached the boat and went ashore climbing a slight elevation in order to learn something about this country, but I could not see any because of the thick forest, which was very fresh and fragrant. I have no doubt that there are many aromatic herbs here. Everything is so beautiful that my eyes never weary of seeing such a sight, nor could ever tire of the songs of the birds, both large and small…

There are trees . . . that give a fruit like apricot, which is full of small seeds like the seeds fig, red as scarlet which the inhabitants eat, but to it is none too good. . . . There are also some like the artichoke plant but four times as tall, which gives a fruit in the shape of a pine cone, twice as big, which fruit is excellent, and it can be cut with a knife like turnip and it seems to be very wholesome ….

All the land around the village is cultivated, and a river flows through the middle of the valley. It is very large and wide and could irrigate all the I around. All the trees are green and full of fruit, the plants are in flower and very tall. The roads wide and good, and the breezes are like those in Castile in the month of April. The nightingales other small birds sing as they do in Spain in the month, and it is the greatest pleasure in the world Small birds sing sweetly during the night, and one can hear many crickets and frogs. The fish are the same as in Spain. There are many mastic trees and aloes and cotton trees.

Primary Source # 1:

The Log of Christopher Columbus, trans. Robert H. Fuson International
Marine Publishers, Copyright © Reprinted with permission,1992.

MANIOC: A NEW WORLD STAPLE

Several weeks after arriving in the Bahamas , Columbus tasted a local bread made from manioc (known to the Spanish as yuca and to the English as cassava). Manioc had been under cultivation in the Western Hemisphere for thousands of years and to this day remains a staple for millions of people in the tropics. A fast-growing shrub, the manioc plant produces large tubular roots that provide starch energy on a subsistence level. It is generally made into a paste or a porridge eaten with a sauce or made into a flour. Columbus discusses manioc in his journal .

They [the Amerindians] brought the bread of niamas [rnanioc], which are tubers and look like large radishes. These are planted in all their fields and are their staff of life. They make bread from them and boil and roast them, and they taste like chestnuts. . .

These fields are planted mostly with ajes.

The Indians sow little shoots from which small roots grow that look like carrots. They serve this bread by grating and kneading it, then baking it in the fire. They plant a small shoot from the iaIlle root again in another place, and once more it produces four or five of these roots. They are very palatable and taste exactly like chestnuts. The ones grown here are the largest and best I have seen anywhere. I have also seen them in Guinea, but those that grow there are thick as your leg.

The Log of Christopher Columbus, trans. Robert H. Fuson International Publishers, Copyright © Reprinted with permission, 1992.

Hernan Cortes

The food they [the inhabitants of islands off the Yucatan] eat is maize and some chili peppers, as on the other islands, and patata yuca, just the same as is eaten in Cuba, and they eat it roast, for they do not make bread of it; and they both hunt and fish and breed many chickens [probably turkeys] such as those found on Tierra Firme, which are as big as peacocks.

From Hernan Cortes. Letters from Mexico, trans. and ed. A. R. Pagden Yale University Press, Copyright © 1971.

The Spanish enjoyed wine made from grapes, which Europeans had produced since ancient times. As early as his second voyage in 1493, Columbus brought with him seeds and cuttings from numerous plants, including vines, but Europeans soon discovered that the climate was right only in Peru, Chile, and what is now Argentina. By 1614, one vineyard in Chile produced some 200,000 jugs of wine. The conquistadors found that the Amerindians had their own version of wine made from the maguey plant, a member of the aloe family. When drunk fresh from the plant, the sap is known as aguamiel, or honey water.” When fermented, however, the resulting syrupy liquor becomes
pulque, a beverage still consumed in the region today. When the Europeans distilled pulque, they pro duced a higherproof alcohol liquor known today as Tequila.

This city has many squares where trading is done and markets are held continuously. There is also one square twice as big as that of
Salamanca, with arcades all around, where more than sixty thousand people come each day to buy and sell, and where every kind of merchandise produced in these lands is found; provision!
as well as ornaments of gold and silver, lead, brass, copper, tin, stones, shells, bones, and feathers. They also sell lime, hewn and unhewn stone, adobe bricks, tiles, and cut and uncut woods of various kinds. There is a street where they sell game and birds of every species found in this land: chickens, partridges and quails,
wild ducks, ‘fly-catchers, widgeons, turtledoves, pigeons, cane birds, parrots, eagles and eagle owls, falcons, sparrow hawks and kestrels, and they sell the skins of some of these birds of prey
with their feathers, heads and claws. They sell rabbits and hares, and stags and small gelded dogs which they breed for eating.There are streets of herbalists where all medicinal herbs and roots found in the land are sold. There are shops like apothecaries’, where they sell ready-made medicines as well as liquid
ointments and plasters. There are shops like barbers’ where they have their hair washed and shaved, and shops where they sell food and drink. There are also men like porters to carry
loads. There is much firewood and charcoal, earthenware braziers and mats of various kinds like mattresses for beds, and other, finer ones,’seats and for covering rooms and hallways. There is every sort of vegetable, especially onions, leeks, garlic, common cress and watercress, borage, sorrel, teasels and artichokes;
there are many sorts of fruit, among which are cherries and plums like those in Spain.

They sell honey, wax, and a syrup made from maize canes, which is as sweet and syrup that is made from the sugar cane. They make syrup from a plant which in the islands are called maguey, which is much better than most ~TUp , and from this plant they also make sugar and wine, which they likewise sell. There are many sorts of spun cotton, in hanks of every color, and it seems like the silk market atGranada, except here there is a much greater quantity. They sell as many colors for painters as may be found in Spain and all of excellent hues. They sell deerskins, with and without the hair, and some are dyed white or in various colors, They sell much earthenware, which for the most part is very good; there are both large and small pitchers, jugs, pots, tiles, and many other sorts of vessel, all of good clay and most of them glazed and painted. They sell maize both as a grain and as bread and it is better both in appearance and in taste than any found in the island or on the mainland. They sell chicken and fish pies, and much fresh and salted fish, as well a raw and cooked fish. They sell hens and eggs, and egg of all the other birds I have mentioned, in great number, and they sell tor nuas made from eggs.

From Hernan Cortes, Letters from Mexico, trans. and ed. A. R. Pagden
Yale University Press, Copyright © 1971.

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10 thoughts on “Primary Source – Topic # 1 – Hernán Cortés and Columbus

  1. Primary Source – Topic # 1 – Bernal Diaz
    What purpose did the author have in writing this document?

    When Bernal Diaz Del Castillo came in contact with the Aztec community, he wrote down his experiences in the “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico”. The purpose of this was to let others know the ways of the aztec community. One example is the Aztec markets. The organized system the Aztecs had in relation to selling and buying goods and services. He mentions how “each kind of merchandise was kept by itself and had its fixed place marked out.” Diaz also mentions how well Montezuma was treated by his people. “over thirty-different dishes were prepared by his cooks according to their ways and usage”for one meal alone. After he had eaten, they would sing and dance before him.

  2. What purpose did the author have in writing this document?

    When Bernal Diaz Del Castillo came in contact with the Aztec community, he wrote down his experiences in the “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico”. The purpose of this was to let others know the ways of the aztec community. One example is the Aztec markets. The organized system the Aztecs had in relation to selling and buying goods and services. Diaz also mentions how well Montezuma was treated by his people. After he ate they would dance and sing before him.

  3. #8 Where was the document written and where (and how) was it published or disseminated?

    this document ” letters from Mexico” was published in Seville( a little town in Spain) in 1522 and 1523 by Cortes Herman to Charles V. It took him many years to think and to write all these letters and to be able to publish them.
    “This city has many squares where trading is done and markets are held continuously. There is also one square twice as big as that of
    Salamanca, with arcades all around, where more than sixty thousand people come each day to buy and sell, and where every kind of merchandise produced in these lands is found; provision!” By reading this passage we can see that the author is talking about the place and the area that his in. Salamanca is in northwestern Spain and its the capital of the Castile and León region.

  4. #9 How does evidence from this document fit with your understanding of the period?

    In this document that Hernan Cortes wrote, Letters from Mexico, he describes with great detail about the food, the beauty and the market. This fits our understanding of the period because the political economy of Spain was severely effected by inflation during the 16th century and Cortes advises us about this. “They sell maize both as a grain and as bread and it is better both in appearance and in taste than any found in the island or on the mainland. They sell chicken and fish pies, and much fresh and salted fish, as well a raw and cooked fish. They sell hens and eggs, and egg of all the other birds I have mentioned, in great number, and they sell tor nuas made from eggs.” Cortes states all the things they would sell and the beauty in every item. He gives us an idea on why Spains prices increased over time.

  5. #2 When was it written and what are the historic circumstances of its composition?

    Hernán Cortés’s, Letters from Mexico, were written over a seven-year period, between 1519 and 1525. The letters were addressed to King Charles V of Spain. Cortes is an important historical figure as he was the conquistador who defeated the Aztec empire and claimed Mexico with all of its riches for Spain in the name of the King. In the year 1511, Cortes had joined in an expedition to Cuba under the leadership of Diego Velázquez. After serving as a high ranking civil servant under Velazquez’s leadership, in 1518 Cortés was scheduled to lead a team in the exploration and conquest of Mexico. Velázquez cancelled the mission but Cortes disobeyed his orders and went through with the expedition nevertheless. This was an act of treason and so in 1519 when he reached Mexico, Cortés began writing letters to the King. These letters, outline in great detail the riches that were discovered in the new land and how in some aspects they even surpassed what was available in Spain. He gives various examples that prove this such as “it seems like the silk market at Granada, except here there is a much greater quantity”. His letters were a direct appeal to the King to overlook his treasonous ways given the extent of his successes and the riches and prestige that were due to his actions.

  6. #2 When was it written and what are the historic circumstances of its composition?

    Hernán Cortés’s, Letters from Mexico, were written over a seven year period, between 1519 and 1525. The letters were addressed to King Charles V of Spain. Cortes is an important historical figure as he was the conquistador who defeated the Aztec empire and claimed Mexico with all of its riches for Spain in the name of the King. In the year 1511, Cortes had joined in an expedition to Cuba under the leadership of Diego Velázquez. After serving as a high ranking civil servant under Velazquez’s leadership, in 1518 Cortés was scheduled to lead a team in the exploration and conquest of Mexico. Velázquez cancelled the mission but Cortes disobeyed his orders and went through with the expedition nevertheless. This was an act of treason and so in 1519 when he reached Mexico, Cortés began writing letters to the King. These letters, including the one in the Primary Source, outline in great detail the riches that were discovered in the new land and how in some aspects they even surpassed what was available in the home country of Spain. His letters were a direct appeal to the King to overlook his treasonous ways given the extent of his successes and the riches and prestige that were due to his actions.

  7. Who was the intended audience of “The Log of Christopher Columbus”?

    Usually, ”a log” is a private diary of some one to keep a record of events. However, in this case, the log was written to be read by his financial benefactors, the King and Queen of Spain.The Log of Christopher Columbus was an instrument used by the writer to gain funding and perpetuate his career, all through appeasing his financiers and making the world his discovered more attractive to royal investment.

  8. What form is it written in?
    Firstly, as we see, is written in the form of journal. The author used the subject “I”, so it’s a kind of personal experience’s note. He compared the sight that he saw with the one in Spain, he wrote about the taste of bread made from manioc, and this man also talked about the plants in Amerindians’ fields. Secondly, under the title of written by Hernan Cortes, it is in the form of article and journal which focus on an explanation of squares, such as Salamanca; more than sixty thousand people go there each day to buy and sell, and every kind of merchandise produce-dis found in these lands. Cortes declared the merchants, the goods and the services briefly. He shown an image of the market of local citizens.

  9. What purpose did the author have in writing this document?

    As Columbus navigated the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of reaching Asia from the West, he instead found himself on an unknown land, the New World. In this document, Columbus describes the differences between Europe’s wildlife and this new found one and how beautiful it all was. “Which are the most beautiful I have ever seen”, talking about the trees. The purpose of his log was to share and inform the Europeans of his discoveries. In addition, since he had failed his primary mission which was to get spices from Asia, this log would prove that the money given by the Queen of Spain was not a complete wasted and that they could profit from this amazing land.

  10. Who is the Author, what did s/he do in society?

    Hernan Cortes was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who conquered the great Aztec Empire and claimed Mexico on behalf of Spain. Cortes was born in an area in Western Spain called Medellin and came from a lesser nobler Spanish family. He was originally studying law before he decided to make his way to the New World to seek fortune there. At the age of 19, in 1504, Cortes set sail to Santo Domingo where he stayed for 7 years, until moving to Cuba to help in the conquest of the island alongside Diego Velazquez in 1511. At this time, Mexico, having been very recently discovered by European explorers was rumored to contain great wealth, which sparked a particular interest and desire in Hernan Cortes. In 1518 Cortes sailed to Mexico as commander of the expedition upon where his arrival, he set up settlements and established local allies. Soon enough, Cortes found himself at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan welcomed by Montezuma II, the leader of the Aztecs. After several failed attempts to overthrow the Aztecs, finally in 1521 Cortes reached his goal and a Tenochtitlan fail to Spain. A new settlement was build and became the center of Spanish America. Mexico City was built on the ruins of what had once been the great Aztec Empire.
    Cortes became governor and captain general of New Spain but was soon forced to return to Spain as fears grew that he was becoming too powerful and gaining too much control over Mexico. He later returned to Mexico but did not regain the power and control that he once had. Instead, his natural curiosity brought him to continue exploring Central America and accidentally made it to California, giving it it’s name as we know it today. Hernan Cortes eventually returned to Spain near the end of his life, where he died in December of 1547.

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