Zinn on Columbus and slavery – Rebutted, Part 2

[See Part 1 here.]


Zinn Page 3:

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Zinn misleads the reader when he writes that “gold and slaves” were the only focuses of Columbus’ second voyage. Columbus was an explorer. Exploration was his focus. But these voyages had to be paid for somehow. So slavery was eventually turned to as an option when the new world turned out to be so lacking in gold and spices. To say that Columbus’ plans to enslave people was the reason for so many empty villages is about as close to an out and out lie as we will find in Zinn’s work. Columbus came across all sorts of different natives both on his first and second voyages. The natives were sometimes eager to greet the strange visitors and at other time fled in fear. The reaction of the natives to the arrival of Columbus usually had more to do with the natives own preconceived notions about strangers in general than with any specific knowledge they had about Columbus, especially since they usually didn’t have any specific knowledge about Columbus. It is true the For Navidad was deserted, but it is lost to history what exactly instigated the feud between the Europeans and the natives which ended in the death of the Europeans at the fort. What is clear is that if the Europeans were the instigators, they did so against the wishes of Columbus.


According to Columbus’ son and biographer Hernando Colon (Cohen Page 179):

This second expedition was designed to relieve the men who had remained there, to settle more colonists and to conquer the island together with all the others that had been discovered and those that they hoped remained to be discovered.

Not exactly “slaves and gold.”


First, natives fleeing from strangers most often had nothing to do with Columbus’ established behavior, since they fled even upon first seeing and having never before heard of Columbus and his men. Here are a list – FROM THE FIRST VOYAGE – of instances of Columbus coming across natives and the natives fleeing. Remember, this is before the slave raids of the second voyage.

Cohen Page 70:

After eating a meal I went ashore, but there was no village only one house in which I found nobody. I think they had all run away from fright, for all their things were there. I wouldn’t allow anything to be touched but went with the captains and men to examine the island.

Cohen Page 71:

As soon as the inhabitants saw us they ran away, leaving their houses. They hid their clothing and all that they had in the undergrowth.

Cohen Page 75:

The Admiral got into the boat and went ashore, where he found two houses which he believed to belong to fishermen who had fled in terror. In one of these he found a dog that did not bark, and in both houses there were nets of palm fibre and lines and horn fish-hooks and bone harpoons and other fishing tackle, and there were many hearths. He believed that many people lived in each house. He gave orders that nothing should be touched in either, and his order was obeyed.

Cohen page 75:

When he brought the ships close to shore, two boats or canoes came out, but on seeing the sailors entering the boat and rowing about to take soundings for an anchorage, they fled.

Cohen Page 77:

its banks were thickly peopled. But on seeing the ships the local inhabitants fled to the mountains.

Cohen page 78:

When the Christians thought it was time to return to the ships many Indians wished to accompany them. But they would allow only the king with one of his sons and a servant to come, and the Admiral received them with great honour.

Cohen page 83:

As the Admiral was going upstream in his boats he saw a canoe drawn up on shore under the trees beside the harbour and concealed by the branches. It was hollowed out of a single trunk and as large as a twelve-oared fusta* In some houses near by they found in two baskets hanging from a post a honeycomb and the head of a dead man and later in another house they found the same. Our men concluded that the head belonged to the builder of the house, but they did not find anyone from whom they could gain any information, for as soon as they saw the Christians the people fled from their houses and made for the other side of the harbour. The Spaniards afterwards found another canoe about seventy foot long capable of taking 150 men and also hollowed out of a single trunk.

Cohen page 84:

Since everyone was very eager to know the nature of this island, while the sailors were fishing on the shore three Christians set out through the woods, where they met a group of Indians, naked like all those they had met before. As soon as these natives saw the Christians approaching them they ran in terror to the thickest of the woods unhindered by any cloaks or skirts. The Christians ran in pursuit hoping to have speech with them but were only able to catch one girl, who had a piece of flat gold hanging from her nose. When they brought her to the ships the Admiral gave her a number of small articles – trinkets and little bells. He then had her put ashore unharmed, sending three Indians whom he had brought from other islands and three Christians to accompany her to her village. Next day he sent nine men ashore well armed, who found nine leagues away a village of more than a thousand houses scattered about a valley. When the inhabitants saw the Christians they all rushed out of the village and fled into the woods. But the Indian interpreter from San Salvador, who was with our men, went after them and shouted words of encouragement, saying much in praise of the Christians and affirming that they had come from the sky. The natives then returned reassured, and in awe and wonder they placed their hands on the heads of our men as a mark of honour and took them off to a feast, giving them everything they asked for without demanding anything in return. They begged them to stay that night in the village.


This pattern did not change at the outset of the second voyage. In fact, the first people that Columbus came across on the second voyage were the cannibal, slave trading Caribs on the island of Guadalupe. These people seem to project their own behavior onto the European strangers, fleeing before ever interacting with them (Cohen Page 132):

The caravel went ahead and, on reaching the land, sighted some houses. The captain went ashore in the boat and visited the houses, whose inhabitants fled as soon as they saw him.

Cohen Page 133:

On the seashore there were some small villages, and at the sight of our sails all the people fled.

Cohen Page 138:

Some of those in the boat landed and made their way to a village, whose inhabitants had all gone into hiding. The landing party took some women and boys, most of whom were the people’s captives, for like the inhabitants of the other islands these people were Caribs, as we learnt from the women whom we took with us.

Even if they had heard of Columbus and his men, the slave trade had not started yet, and these were a warring, slave trading people. Most likely they fled because they believed Columbus and his men to be some sort of supernatural beings (Cohen Page 138):

When this boat was about to return to the ships with the captures it had made down the coast below this place, there appeared along the coast a canoe with four men, two women and a boy, and when they saw the fleet they were so amazed that they remained motionless for a full hour about two lombard shots from the ships. The crew of the boat and indeed the whole fleet saw their stupefaction. Soon those in the boats went after them, keeping so close to the shore that these Indians, lost in amazement and wondering what the strange sight might be, failed to see them, until they were almost upon them and consequently could not escape though they tried hard to do so.

Some of Caribs’ slaves actually went to Columbus’ men of their own accord, evidently preferring the strange cloud beings to their Carib slave masters, but we never hear this from Zinn, because it doesn’t fit the narrative (Cohen Page 133):

Certain captains set out in the morning and some returned at dinner-time bringing a boy of about fourteen, who later told us that he was one of these people’s captives. The other captains went in various directions. A few men returned with a boy whom a man had been leading by the hand, but had abandoned at their approach. Only these few were detached to bring him back, the rest remaining behind. These captured some women of the island, and also brought back other women who were prisoners and came of their own accord.

Cohen Page 135:

more than twenty of the women prisoners and some other natives of the island came of their own accord. Some boy prisoners also fled to our men, escaping from the natives of the island who were guarding them.

Another reason some of the islands appeared to be abandoned when Columbus first landed in the Carib islands at the start of his second voyage? The Caribs were off conducting their own slave raids! (Cohen Page 135):

We remained in this harbour for eight days because of the loss of the captain I have spoken of, and landed several times on the island, visiting the dwellings and villages on the coast, where we found great numbers of human bones and skulls hanging in the houses as vessels to hold things. Very few men appeared and the reason was, as we learned from the women, that ten canoes had gone to raid other islands.

We asked the women who were held prisoners on this island what kind of people these were; and they replied that they were Caribs.

The customs of these Carib people are beastly. There are three islands. This one they call Turuqueira; the first that we saw is Ceyre and the third Ayay. The people were all friendly to one another as if of one family. They do not harm each other but all make war against the neighbouring islands. They travel 150 leagues to make raids in their canoes, which are small fustas hewn out of a single tree. Instead of iron weapons they use arrows – for they have no iron. Some of their arrows are tipped with tortoise shell, but others on another island use fish bones which are naturally serrated like very strong saws. For an unarmed people, which they all are, they can kill and do great injury with these weapons, which are not very terrible, however, to men of our nation.

These people raid the other islands and carry off all the women they can take, especially the young and beautiful, whom they keep as servants and concubines. They had carried off so many that in fifty houses we found no males and more than twenty of the captives were girls. These women say that they are treated with a cruelty that seems incredible. The Caribs eat the male children that they have by them, and only bring up the children of their own women; and as for the men they are able to capture, they bring those who are alive home to be slaughtered and eat those who are dead on the spot. They say that human flesh is so good that there is nothing like it in the world; and this must be true, for the human bones we found in their houses were so gnawed that no flesh was left on them except what was too tough to be eaten. In one house the neck of a man was found cooking in a pot. They castrate the boys that they capture and use them as servants until they are men. Then, when they want to make a feast, they kill and eat them, for they say that the flesh of boys and women is not good to eat. Three of these boys fled to us, and all three had been castrated.

In addition to the men who had gone with him, he brought in ten natives, boys and women. But neither this party nor those who had gone in search of them found any men, for they had all fled. But perhaps there were very few men left in the district, because as we learned from the women ten canoes had gone to raid the other islands.

Some other islands had apparently already been depopulated through Carib slave raids (Cohen Page 136):

The women whom we brought with us said that it was uninhabited, because the Caribs had removed the whole population.

Once they moved past the Carib islands, the natives still fled in fear – not at the sight of Columbus’ men, but at the sight of the Caribs, who were, as I have said, well known slave raiders in those parts (Cohen Page 140):

The Caribs have come here on raids and taken many of the people. The natives have no canoes and no knowledge of navigation, but according to the Caribs whom we captured they use bows like their own, and if they manage to capture any of the raiders they eat them in the same way as the Caribs themselves. We stayed in a harbour on this island for two days, and many of our men landed, but we were never able to have speech with the people, for they were terrified of the Caribs and all fled.

One thing that is rather remarkable (though it goes unremarked upon in Zinn’s book) is that as soon as Columbus’ men got away from the Carib islands, the Arawak people were friendly and interactive, not always fleeing into the jungle as the Caribs did (Cohen Page 143):

As we coasted the province of Jamana [a district of Hispaniola], we put ashore one of the Indian captives of the previous voyage, clothed, and with a few small objects which the Admiral had given him. That day a Basque sailor died who had been wounded by the Caribs on the occasion when we surprised them by keeping close to the shore. Since we were near the coast the opportunity was taken of sending a boat ashore to bury him, and two caravels were sent in to escort it. Many Indians came out to meet the boat as it beached, some of whom had gold round their necks or in their ears. They wanted to come out to the ships with the Christians, but the sailors refused to bring them since they had no permission from the Admiral. When they realized that we were not going to row them out, two of them got into a small canoe and went to one of the caravels which had put in towards the shore. They were kindly received and were then conveyed to the Admiral’s ship, where they said through an interpreter that they had been sent by certain king to learn who we were and to beg us to land because they had much gold and would give us some, as well as some food. The Admiral ordered that they should be given a shirt each and a cap and other trifles.

See Part 3 here, which starts with some clarification on WHAT HAPPENED WITH NAVIDAD FORT.

Everything is a Remix

“[Danger Mouse’s] Grey Album is a remix, it is new media created from old media. It was made using these three techniques: copy, transform, and combine. That’s how you remix. You take existing songs, you chop’em up, you transform the pieces, you combine’em back together again. You’ve got a new song, but that new song is clearly comprised of old songs.

But I think these aren’t just the components of remixing. I think these are the basic elements of all creativity. I think everything is a remix and I think this is a better way to conceive of creativity…  

Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made; we are dependent on one another. Admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity, or derivativeness. It’s a liberation from our misconceptions. It’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves, and to simply begin.”

Embrace the remix:

and then get your mind blown:

Part 1: The Song Remains the Same

Part 2: Remix Inc.

Part 3: The Elements of Creativity

Part 4: System Failure