“There was no intention of taking land or enslaving the people of the Khan, ruler of one of the greatest empires at the time,” Delaney said.
On his first return voyage to Spain, Columbus brought several natives who were not enslaved. Rather, they had been baptized and educated.
“One became his ‘adopted son’ and translator on future voyages, two were adopted by the (Spanish) king and queen,” she said.
After Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria ran aground on his first voyage, Columbus left 39 men on an island in the Caribbean with special instructions.
“He told them they should not go marauding, should not kidnap and rape the women, and should always make exchanges for food and gold,” Delaney explained.
“When he returned with more ships and people he found that all of the men whom he'd left behind had been killed. Unlike the priest who accompanied him, Columbus did not blame the natives, but his own men; clearly, they had disobeyed his orders.”
Delaney acknowledged that Columbus on later voyages enslaved some natives who resisted Christianization. At the same time, he also punished his own men who perpetrated misdeeds against the natives.
The scholar has also questioned uncritical treatments of the Spanish friar Bartolomeo de las Casas, who is sometimes compared favorably to Columbus.
While las Casas is now remembered primarily as a defender of the rights of native Americans, she said this came later in life. The friar also owned slaves, endorsed slavery, and operated plantations. He also helped suppress a native rebellion
Columbus never owned slaves and yet is “reviled and blamed for everything that went wrong in the Indies,” Delaney said in her book.
This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 13, 2014.
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