My first impression of Columbus’ letter to Santangel is that he is a very thorough observer. He goes into great detail of what he sees when he discovers the New World. These details include the names of each new island that he finds, the distances that he travels in between each island, his observations of the landscape, the riches that the land has, and his encounters with the natives. Of the latter, he is quite opinionated.
For instance, he provides great description of the island he named “Espanola”. He writes about the trees and how “they are a thousand kinds and tall, so that they seem to touch the sky” (“The Voyages”). He even writes about birds, and how the nightingale sings and how there is honey in the land (“The Voyages”).
He later goes on to write about the water, and how “the majority of which contain gold” (“The Voyages”). One does wonder if he actually saw gold in the water, or merely believed that the rivers had gold in them. It seems like if there was gold in the water, that would have been the first thing he would have written about, instead of waxing poetic about the land.
He then writes about the natives, in somewhat of a condescending tone. He mentions that they are all naked, and in his words, “timorous”, saying that they run away at the first sight of his men, even with fathers fleeing without their sons (“The Voyages”). He does give them some credit for their intelligence. He writes that the people believe
that he and his men came from the heavens, but that is because they have “never seen people clothed or ships of such a kind.” (“The Voyages”). He doesn’t mention if he tried to discourage the people from thinking they were from heaven, rather, it seems like he encouraged them to do so for his own benefit. And while he says that the king of the land considered him a “brother”, he admits that the king might end up changing his mind before long. This shows that Columbus was already planning to do things that might upset the king and the natives. Columbus takes an arrogant attitude about this, also saying that the people are so timid, that, while his men built a fort, they likely wouldn’t need to use it because “they do not know what arms are” (“The Voyages”).
By the end of the letter, the reader can see what Columbus’ true purpose is. He is planning on taking the gold, as well as spices and cotton, and is planning on bringing back the natives as slaves, all in the name of Christianity and the King and Queen. While those beliefs were common back then compared to our modern times, from our perspective today, it seems pretty barbaric to have slaves for religious purposes.
All in all, the letter provides the reader with a good look, albeit biased, towards how life was in the islands when Columbus made his first visit. It tells us what the landscape was like, what the native’s way of life was like, and comes from the perspective of someone making a discovery for the first time. The letter also provides a glimpse of the future of the natives, as Columbus writes about his plans to take the riches, enslave the people, and also convert them to Christianity. One does wonder what his future letters would contain, if he would write about his failures as well as his successes, and if he would write anything sympathetic about the people who he planned on enslaving.