Primary Source: Christopher Columbus, Letter reporting his first voyage on his return to Spain (1493)

European Exploration, Perception of the Other, and the Columbian Exchange

What factors contributed to the European interest in exploration?

Christopher Columbus was a Genoese explorer sent by the Spanish monarchs to discover a western passage to India that could compete with the Portuguese eastern route. He wrote a letter on his return voyage that he sent to his royal patrons in March 1493. He presented his discoveries of Cuba and Hispaniola as islands in the Indian Ocean in an effort to maintain royal support. He claims to have found great wealth there: both natural resources and easily controlled human labor.

In the island, which I have said before was called Hispana, there are very lofty and beautiful mountains, great farms, groves and fields, most fertile both for cultivation and for pasturage, and well adapted for constructing buildings. The convenience of the harbors in this island, and the excellence of the rivers, in volume and salubrity, surpass human belief, unless one should see them. In it the trees, pasture-lands and fruits differ much from those of Juana. Besides, this Hispana abounds in various kinds of species, gold and metals. The inhabitants . . . are all, as I said before, unprovided with any sort of iron, and they are destitute of arms, which are entirely unknown to them, and for which they are not adapted; not on account of any bodily deformity, for they are well made, but because they are timid and full of terror. . . . But when they see that they are safe, and all fear is banished, they are very guileless and honest, and very liberal of all they have. No one refuses the asker anything that he possesses; on the contrary they themselves invite us to ask for it. They manifest the greatest affection towards all of us, exchanging valuable things for trifles, content with the very least thing or nothing at all. . . . I gave them many beautiful and pleasing things, which I had brought with me, for no return whatever, in order to win their affection, and that they might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen and Princes and all the people of Spain; and that they might be eager to search for and gather and give to us what they abound in and we greatly need.