Use in Schools – A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Some of the Schools and School Districts around the country using Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in the curriculum:

The School District of Philadelphia Assigns the Book to Highschool students.

Constitution High School assigns the first three chapters to students taking 11th grade AP US History as summer reading ahead of the course.

As part of the school district’s “Read for Your Life” Campaign for Literacy, Bartram High School included A People’s History on a reading ‘Wish List.’

Miami-Dade County Public School System

Ronald W. Reagan/Doral High School Cambridge AICE Social Sciences 2014 Summer Reading List AICE American History (11th Grade)

MAST @ FIU Biscanye Bay Campus AP US History 2015-2016

MAST @ FIU Biscanye Bay Campus AP Government & Politics: US

Miami Northwestern Senior High School United States History

TERRA Environmental Research Institute (Secondary School) Social Sciences and TV Production

Los Angeles Unified School District

East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy at Estaban E. Torres High School 11th Grade History

Abraham Lincoln High School Complex Thematic Units Humanitas

The Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology 11th Grade History

Belmont High School attendance area within the Pico Union community of Los Angeles PERFORMING ARTS AND DESIGN TECHNOLOGY 10th Grade World History, English and Design

Belmont High School attendance area within the Pico Union community of Los Angeles School of Social Justice 11th Grade

Seattle Public Schools lists Zinn’s website among its Global Education Curriculum Resources

Popularity – A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Daniel J. Flynn

Executive director of Accuracy in Academia and author of the newly released, :Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation’s Greatness.”

The New York Times’s reviewer (no doubt a cousin of Jayson Blair) declared that the book should be “required reading” for students. Professors have heeded this counsel. Courses at the University of Colorado-Boulder, UMass-Amherst, Penn State, and Indiana University are among dozens of classes nationwide that require the book. The book is so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history. reports in the site’s “popular in” section that the book is currently #7 at Emory University, #4 at the University of New Mexico, #9 at Brown University, and #7 at the University of Washington. In fact, 16 of the 40 locations listed in A People’s History’s “popular in” section are academic institutions, with the remainder of the list dominated by college towns like Binghamton (NY), State College (PA), East Lansing (MI), and Athens (GA). Based on this, it is reasonable to wonder if most of the million or so copies sold have been done so via coercion, i.e., college professors and high school teachers requiring the book. The book is deemed to be so crucial to the development of young minds by some academics that a course at Evergreen State decreed:

This is an advanced class and all students should have read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States before the first day of class, to give us a common background to begin the class.

Sam Wineburg

Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and a professor of history at Stanford University, and the director of the Stanford History Education Group. He is the author of dozens of scholarly articles and the award-winning book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has few peers among contemporary historical works. With more than 2 million copies in print, A People’s History is more than a book. It is a cultural icon. “You wanna read a real history book?” Matt Damon asks his therapist in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. “Read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. That book’ll… knock you on your ass.”

The book’s original gray cover was painted red, white, and blue for its Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition in 2003, and it is now marketed with special displays in suburban megastores. A week after Zinn’s death in 2010, A People’s History was number 7 on Amazon’s bestseller list – not too shabby for a book first published in 1980.

Once considered radical, A People’s History has gone mainstream. By 2002, Will Hunting had been replaced by A.J. Saprano, of the HBO hit The Sapranos. Doing his homework at the kitchen counter, A.J. tells his parents that his history teacher compared Christopher Columbus to Slobodan Milosevic. When Tony fumes “Your teacher said that?” A.J. responds, “It’s not just my teacher – it’s the truth. It’s in my history book.” The camera pans to A.J. holding a copy of A People’s History.

 In the 32 years since its original publication, A People’s History has gone from a book that buzzed about the ear of the dominant narrative to its current status where, in many circles, it has become the dominant narrative. The book appears on university reading lists in economics, political science, anthropology, cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, Chicano studies, and African American studies, in addition to history. A People’s History remains a perennial  favorite in courses for future teachers, and in some, it is the only history book on the syllabus.

In 2008, the National Council for the Social Studies invited Zinn to address its annual conference – the largest gathering of social studies teachers in the country. Zinn’s speech met with raucous applause, after which copies of A People’s History were given out to attendees courtesy of Harper Collins. Writing in the organization’s newsletter, its president Syd Golston hailed Zinn as “an inspiration to many of us.” Back in 1980, who could have predicted that a book that cast the Founding Fathers as a shadowy cabal who foisted on the American people “the most effective system of national control devised in modern times” would one day be featured on the National History Education Clearinghouse’s website, an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education?

David Green

Professor of journalism and media studies and of history at Rutgers and the author of Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (Norton), among other books.

[Matt] Damon later turned the book into a History Channel series, and in time it also launched a raft of spin-offs. By Zinn’s final years—he died in 2010—the franchise was earning him some $200,000 annually.

Chris Beneke and Randall Stephens

Chris Beneke is an associate professor of history and sports history at Bentley University and the author of Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism. Randall Stephens is the author (with Karl Giberson) of The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

What exactly is it about Barton’s and Zinn’s versions of history that inspire such uncompromising, take-no-prisoners fervor? And how do they manage to wield so much influence, given the widespread skepticism about their accuracy?

Partisanship is the first answer that comes to mind. Barton and Zinn have served as eloquent and vocal supporters of right- and left-wing causes respectively, and both have reworked the past for transparently political purposes. Each has offered conclusions that resonate with his audiences’ beliefs. Whatever the validity of their claims, in other words, many readers apparently think they should be true. (It’s also likely that partisanship accounts for some proportion of votes against Barton and Zinn’s credibility.)

But that’s only part of the explanation. There’s a more insidious mechanism that helps explain both the passionate support these authors inspire and the well-founded suspicion that they are fudging the record. In short, Barton and Zinn have each crafted a sort of Da Vinci Code history. Nearly everyone knows the basic plotline of that bestselling Dan Brown novel, which leads readers via a highly dubious series of clues to the previously undisclosed origin of Christianity while unraveling the malicious web of deception that concealed it for centuries.

Adapting this gripping storytelling approach, Barton and Zinn offer audiences the illusion that they have been hoodwinked by undisclosed authorities — Ivy League academics, textbook authors, the New York Times, eighth-grade social studies teachers, parents. They give readers the intellectual self-assurance that accompanies expertise without the slog of unglamorous study required to attain it.

The message is that you, dear reader, know something that the vast majority of unenlightened chumps do not. For devotees of Barton and Zinn, it’s as though a switch has been flicked and everything in a darkened room illuminated. (Barton compares his labors to those of a soldier who discovers an IED and then alerts others.)

Now, Barton and Zinn aren’t conspiracy theorists exactly, but they press the same psychological buttons. Barton’s hyper-patriotic Christian founding narrative and Zinn’s unmasking of elite white male criminality offer the dual satisfaction of solving a mystery and showing up a teacher. This double-win is so sweet that readers might not wish to entertain any non-complying facts, and so easy that wrestling with more complicated accounts will seem pure drudgery. Read Barton and you see vividly how pointy-headed secularists stole our Christian heritage from us. Read Zinn and you understand how capitalism has robbed us of justice itself. Scales fall from your eyes.


Zinn on Columbus and slavery – Rebutted, Part 3

In Part 3 of Zinn on Columbus and slavery, I briefly summarize the fate of the fort Columbus left on Haiti, La Navidad; I then look at the so-called “great slave raid of 1495” and the gold-mining schemes; then end with an address of Zinn’s claim that Columbus and his men committed genocide against the peoples of the Caribbean. Primary source material for this and most of other posts regarding Columbus come from this translation of Columbus’ log, his biography by his son, and letters from other eye witnesses, The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus translated by J. Cohen.

You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. For a complete list of all my posts about Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, go here.


Zinn writes about the first European fort in the Western Hemisphere being looted and burned, with the whole settlement killed, in retaliation for brutalizing the natives in the area. The trouble is, while many of the settlers may well have done all the things Zinn claims, there is substantial evidence in Columbus’ own logs and second hand accounts written by his son and others to indicate the attack on the fort was actually perpetrated by a rival clan to the one in control of the area where Fort La Navidad was built.

In the opening pages of his book, Zinn states the following:

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.

The facts. The first signs that all was not well at Fort Navidad came a few days before Columbus actually arrived back to the site of the fort. They stopped for a couple days at a harbor called Monte Christi, about seven miles from Fort Navidad, on the north coast of Haiti. While there, Columbus’ men came across four corpses, two of which appeared to have been bound and hanged. At least one of the corpses was so well preserved they saw it had a large beard, noteworthy because the natives of Haiti did not wear beards (Cohen Page 143):

During their inspection of the river and the land some of our men found two corpses at a place near the bank, one with a noose round his neck and the other with his feet tied. This was on the first day. On the next they found two other corpses further upstream, one of which was so well preserved that it was possible to see that he had been heavily bearded. Some of our men suspected the worst and with justification, for the Indians have no beards, as has already been observed.

Upon arriving at Fort Navidad, Columbus then found the place burned to the ground. The whole scene was suspicious for several reasons. One, Columbus had made a mutual protection pact with the king of that region, so that just the Spanish settlement was destroyed and little else was a odd. Next, it did not appear to be an accident, as Columbus’ men found inside the fort evidence of intentional torching of the thatch roof, and third, the king of the region, Guacamari, though apparently alive and aware of Columbus’ arrival, did not come to greet the explorers (Cohen Page 146):

Next morning we were waiting for Guacamari to come, and in the meantime several men landed, on the Admiral’s orders, and went to the place where they had often been in the past. They found the palisaded blockhouse in which the Christians had been left, burnt, and the village demolished by fire, and also some clothes and rags that the Indians had brought to throw into the house.

Also noteworthy, we see the Arawaks in this particular part of Haiti behaving uncharacteristically timid. The Caribs were from the start afraid of explorers, and the few Arawaks Columbus had visited up to this point in his second voyage continued to act with the same friendliness and openness as on his first voyage. But oddly, the Arawaks in the area of Haiti where Fort Navidad was built suddenly were acting different than they had on the first voyage (Cohen Page 146):

The Indians whom they met there went about very warily and did not dare to come near us, but ran away. This seemed a bad sign, for the Admiral had told us that on our arrival so many canoes would put out to come alongside and see us that we should not be able to fend them off, as had been the case on the previous voyage. When we saw that they were now very shy with us, we came to the worst conclusions.

Columbus’ men also began finding many personal effects of the explorers left at Fort Navidad in the homes of villagers in the area, items one would not expect them to trade (Cohen Page 147):

Some of us went with him along the coast, examining the country until we came to a small village of seven or eight houses which the Indians had abandoned when they saw us coming…

In these houses we found many possessions of the Christians, which it was incredible they should have bartered, among them a very fine Moorish cloak, which had not been unfolded since it had been brought from Spain, and also stockings and pieces of cloth and an anchor from the ship which the Admiral had lost there on the previous voyage and other things which greatly strengthened our suspicions. On examining the contents of a wicker basket which they had carefully sewn up and well concealed, we found the head of a man, carefully wrapped.

Columbus was then told a tale about some Arawaks coming from somewhere else and attacking not only Fort Navidad, but all the people of this area, even injuring the king (Cohen Page 146):

Nevertheless that day we made advances to them and threw them some small things, such as hawks’ bells and beads, in order to reassure them. Two or three of them, including Guacamari’s cousin, became sufficiently confident to enter the boat and came aboard the ship. When asked about the Christians, they answered that they were all dead. Although one of the Indians who had come with us from Castile had reported that he had learned this from the two natives who had come to the ship and remained alongside in their canoe, we had not believed the story. Guacamari’s cousin was asked who had killed them. He replied King Caonabo and King Mayreni and that they had burnt down the village. He said that many Indians had been wounded and that Guacamari himself had a wound in the thigh and was at present at another village where he proposed to go immediately and call him. He was given some presents and departed for the place where Guacamari was.

The explorers find out where some more of the settlers bodies are, and continue to suspect it was not an attack by a rival tribe, but was the locals that killed the settlers (Cohen Page 147):

That day we again visited the place where the village had been and found many Indians there who had gained confidence and were bartering gold. They had bartered almost a mark’s worth. We learnt that they had pointed out where eleven Christians lay covered with grass that had grown over them. They all told us through an interpreter that Caonabo and Mayreni had killed them, but complained at the same time that the Christians had taken three or four women apiece, from which we concluded that they had been murdered out of jealousy.

Eventually they found the king of the area. Though he lay in bed with his legs wrapped as if injured, and telling just such a story, when they unwrapped the wound to attempt to help him, they found no wound at all and suspected it was all a made up story (Cohen Page 147-150). Here is Dr. Chanca’s – one of the Queen official physicians who was present on the second voyage – summary (Cohen Page 150):

What had occurred remained uncertain, for the facts were still not known, though there were many undoubted signs that some hostile people had attacked Guacamari. Consequently the Admiral could not decide what to do. He and many others thought that for the present and until the facts were better known it would be best to dissemble. When they learned the truth they could demand whatever reparation they chose from him.

A couple days later, Columbus took all his ships a few miles up the coast, though staying within the area controlled by the tribe of Guacamari, to look for a good spot for a new settlement. They continued to find contradictory evidence of the fate of La Navidad (Cohen Page 151):

On arriving we discovered that the inhabitants of the village had all fled, but we found an Indian hidden in the undergrowth with a gaping dart wound in his back which had prevented him from escaping any further. The Indians of this island fight with darts which they shoot from slings like those with which small boys shoot in Castile. They can shoot both far and accurately, and for a people without iron weapons they can certainly do great damage. This man said that he had been wounded by Caonabo and his people and that they had burned Guacamari’s houses. Since we understood them so little and their equivocal statements were so obscure, we have not yet been able to determine the truth about the death of our men, nor did we find a suitable site for a settlement near that harbour.

In the Spring of 1494, Columbus took an expedition to find the Cibao region, which was purportedly rich in gold. Columbus established the fort of Santo Tomas (present day Janico in the Dominican Republic) in the region controlled by one of the chiefs claimed by Guacamari to have raided La Navidad. Just a couple weeks later a report came in that seemed to reinforce the story that is was not the locals led by Guacamari that killed the settlers at La Navidad (Cohen Page 165):

On Tuesday, 1 April, however, there came a messenger sent by Pedro Margarit from the fort of Santo Tomas, where he had been left as captain, with news that the Indians of the district were fleeing from their villages and that a cacique called Caonabo was preparing to come and burn the fort. But the Admiral, knowing that these Indians were cowards, did not make much of this rumour, especially as he trusted in the horses, of which the Indians were much afraid, fearing that they would eat them.

It was not until a year later, in March 1495, that Columbus finally learned the fate of La Navidad (Cohen Page 189):

Caonabo confessed to the murder of twenty of the Christians who had remained with Arana in the town of Navidad on the Admiral’s first voyage, when he discovered the Indies, and that afterwards, under pretence of friendship, he had come to spy out the town of Isabela, though the Christians had suspected his purpose in doing so: which was to see how best he could attack it and repeat what he had previously done at Navidad.


This is the part where the most legitimate criticism of Columbus can be levied. He did things which even by the standards of his own country in his own time were frowned upon, and he would later pay a price for the crimes committed under his Admiralty. These legitimate criticisms of a flawed man get obscured in a book where every single action of Columbus is made to look evil, with the over all aim of ascribing guilt for Columbus’ faults to all the pale skinned men of modern America.

However, it is critical to note before I go any further, I have not yet been able to find any original source for Zinn’s claim of a “great slave raid” taking place in 1495. There are many references to this event across the internet. However, the references seem invariably to lead me back to Zinn’s own book. There is even a reference to this raid on wikipedia, however, the citation is for a children’s book of all things. Once (or should I say if) I find the actual source for this account, I will update this section. Until then, this section focuses on the subjugation of the people of Hispaniola and the force labor in the Cicao region.

Zinn Page 4:

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

In Columbus’ biography written by his son, Hernando Colon, there is a reference to several chiefs being sent back to Spain in 1495. Columbus returned to Hispaniola after several months exploring Cuba and Jamaica. He returned to find the new fort Santo Thomas in the Cibao region of the island (present day Dominican Republic) to be in chaos, with the man he appointed to lead gone back to Spain, the men there restless and committing crimes against the natives, and the natives retaliating with brutality in kind (Cohen Page 187):

As a result every Spaniard went out among the Indians robbing and seizing their women wherever he pleased, and doing them such injuries that the Indians decided to take vengeance on any Spaniards they found isolated or unarmed.

The cacique of Magdalena, whose name was Guatigana, killed ten Christians and secretly ordered the firing of a house in which forty men lay sick.

On the Admiral’s return, this cacique was severely punished. Although it was impossible to lay hands on him, some of his chieftains were seized and sent to Castile in the four ships which Antonio de Torres took home on 24 February 1495.

Six or seven other caciques were also punished for injuries done to the Christians in various parts of the island. Indeed they had killed a great number, but would have killed many more if the Admiral had not arrived in time to prevent them. He found the island in a bad state: the Christians were committing innumerable outrages for which they were mortally hated by the Indians, and the Indians were refusing to return to obedience. All the caciques and kings had agreed not to resume obedience, and this agreement had not been difficult to obtain. For, as we have said, there were only four principal rulers under whose sovereignty all the rest lived.

According to Hernando Colon, Shortly there after, 3 of the 4 major chiefs on the island began plotting retaliation against Columbus. Tensions built until war broke out (Cohen Page 87):

On 24 March 1495, therefore, the Admiral left Isabela, prepared for war. He took with him as ally Guacanagari, who was most eager to conquer his enemies, although this might have seemed a very difficult undertaking, since they had assembled more than 100,000 Indians and the Admiral had with him 200 Christians, twenty horses and about the same number of hunting dogs.

When the infantry squadrons of both armies [Columbus split his force in two, with half under his brother’s command] had attacked the mass of Indians, and they had begun to break under the fire of muskets and crossbows, the cavalry and hunting dogs charged wildly upon them to prevent them re-forming. The Indians fled like cowards in all directions, and our men pursued them, killing so many and wreaking such havoc among them that, to be brief, by God’s will victory was achieved, many Indians being killed and many others captured and executed.

Having captured Caonabo and one of his brothers, he sent them to Spain, since he did not want to execute justice on so important a person without the knowledge of the Catholic sovereigns.

That must be the “slave raid” to which Zinn refers. Zinn then continues (Zinn Page 4):

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed. Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death.

The passage above is largely accurate, with two caveats.

1) There was plenty of gold on Hispaniola. Per Wikipedia:

Miguel Diaz and Francisco de Garay discovered large gold nuggets on the lower Haina River in 1496. These San Cristobal mines were later known as the Minas Viejas mines. Then, in 1499, the first major discovery of gold was made in the cordillera central, which led to a mining boom. By 1501, Columbus’ cousin Giovanni Colombo, had discovered gold near Buenaventura, the deposits were later known as Minas Nuevas. Two major mining areas resulted, one along San Cristobal-Buenaventura, and another in Cibao within the La Vega-Cotuy-Bonao triangle, while Santiago de los Caballeros, Concepcion, and Bonao became mining towns. The gold rush of 1500-1508 ensued.

Ferdinand “ordered gold from the richest mines reserved for the Crown.” Thus, Ovando expropriated the gold mines of Miguel Diaz and Francisco de Garay in 1504, as pit mines became royal mines, though placers were open to private prospectors. Furthermore, Ferdinand wanted the “best Indians” working his royal mines, and kept 967 in the San Cristobal mining area supervised by salaried miners.

In fact, gold exploiting operations have started and stopped on the island all the way through the present year.

2) The last two sentences in the Zinn passage above appear to refer back to the war between Columbus’ men plus the tribe of Guacamari against the 3 allied tribes in March 1495.

Beyond that, some additional context is in order. The people of Hispaniola were not a homogeneous blob. The natives on the North West coast, where Columbus landed and built a fort during his first voyage turned out to be quite a bit different from the people of the Cibao region. As I have already pointed out, the people of Cibao turned out to be the ones that went over into the territory where La Navidad was located and attacked the natives there and also destroyed the fort left by Columbus and killed all his men.

Later, when Columbus went to establish ties with the people of Cibao in the spring of 1494, and build a fort there, it was not two weeks before rumors began circulating that the chief of Cibao intended to attack the new fort.

The chief of the region also gave permission to his people to trick some of Columbus’ men, pretending to help them ford a river, then actually stealing all their stuff. Columbus ultimately decided against any punishment for the theft (although one of Columbus’ men did cut off the ear of one of the natives during the dispute) (Cohen Page 168).

In retaliation for the arrest of the chief, men from the area then kidnapped five of Columbus’ men, though the men were eventually rescued (Cohen Page 168).

Columbus then left for several months to explore Jamaica and Cuba. While he was gone, the man he left in charge in Cibao at fort Santo Tomas allowed the settlement to deteriorate to the point where many settlers began committing various atrocities against the natives and the natives began retaliating (Cohen Page 187).

When Columbus returned, he found the man he left in charge had taken off for Spain and most of the island in chaos, with 3 of the 4 regions of the island now actively plotting against the Spanish settlers.


Zinn Page 4:

In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.

The encomienda system set up on Hispaniola in last years of the 15th century was certainly immoral, violent, and brutal.

Zinn is fixates on this word. While he never explicitly says “Columbus committed genocide,” he does everything short of that (Zinn Page 7):

In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.

(Zinn Page 17) Was Morison right in burying the story of genocide inside a more important story of human progress? Perhaps a persuasive argument can be made—as it was made by Stalin when he killed peasants for industrial progress in the Soviet Union, as it was made by Churchill explaining the bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, and Truman explaining Hiroshima. But how can the judgment be made if the benefits and losses cannot be balanced because the losses are either unmentioned or mentioned quickly?

Just ask yourself if this passes the bullshit test. 1,200 explorers, many of them sick all the time from exhaustion, starvation, and tropical diseases managed to roam around Haiti hacking people up to the tune of 125,000 people? That is more than 170 deaths per day of the native population. Compare that to estimated U.S. combat deaths in World War 2 averaged just over 200 per day. That is enormous.

Some key points developed below:

1) Columbus’ role is overblown. He died in 1506, and so can not be held in contempt for what took place after his death. During his life, he spent most of his time continuing to explore. He was principally an explorer, and a very poor administrator. The evolution of the settlements on Hispaniola were not part of the grand plan of an evil super villain.

2) The encomienda system was frowned upon by the crown, as well as by many in the church. While an active debate did rage in those days over the legitimacy of slavery in Christian doctrine, that was the exception for the era, with most other parts of the world having no such issues with slavery. The first Bishop of the new world, Las Casas, was a huge advocate for the rights of the native people of the new world, advocating first for the end of their enslavement, then later for the end of slavery as an institution. Again, a position unheard of in the rest of the world at that time. Judge these people by the standards of their time, not yours.

3) Even to the extent the church and the crown can be held liable, the word genocide is hyperbolic, not fitting with the technical legal definition of the word, because no individual, nor the Spanish government or the Catholic church had it as their mission to destroy the Arawak people, if they even thought of them as a distinct people.

4) The numbers reported are highly exaggerated, most likely. It is generally accepted that writers of that time exaggerated their numbers. Many of the deaths were likely from disease. The island is likely to have been deserted by many people as well. And there are passing mentions of this, though these mentions are never then considered in the conclusions. Overall, the number of people killed by the Spanish during this era on Hispaniola is likely greatly exaggerated.

5) The Taino/Arawak are not extinct – culturally or genetically.

Stefan Molyneux:

As far as the guilt religion goes, if you’re on the left, if you’re a cultural Marxist, if you’re a socialist, if you’re on the left, in general you want to push these numbers [pre-Columbian population estimates in the new world] as high as humanly possible so that it makes a stronger case for the population decline… the higher you can get the initial numbers, the more you can make the case for genocide, so, on the left there is incentive to push these numbers up.

Not sure this discussion belongs right here particularly, but I’ll leave it here for the moment. There is a real problem, one that is most often brought up tongue in cheek, about how to deal with the American left being pro-immigration today, but seemingly outraged over the immigration to America by Europeans hundreds of years ago. And the corollary, the American right being generally skeptical of mass immigration today, but finding itself defending against all sorts of attacks by leftists of European migration to the new world as colonial, genocidal and the all the rest.





Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican friar, in 1542 wrote a treatise entitled, “Brief account of the destruction of the Indians.”  This report, along with many personal audiences with King Carlos V, influenced the Royal Court to issue the New Laws of Indies, which forbade enslavement of Native Americans, and theoretically limited labor demands placed on them by Spanish officials.


Genocide is a technical term. Genocide was never official policy of Spain, nor is there any evidence whatsoever to support the proposition that it was the goal or aim of Christopher Columbus. And this matters a great deal. The legal definition of genocide includes intent. Intent must be present for an accusation of genocide to be legitimate. Spain acceded to the genocide convention September 13, 1968. That is more than 462 years after Columbus’ death.

Did Columbus commit genocide? Let us look at the actual definition of genocide in law:

The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide:

1) the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and

2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.”

Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

So, did Columbus commit genocide? Well, did Columbus have the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”? No. Therefore, he did not commit genocide.

Stefan Molyneux:

When it comes to blaming white people for all of this later, it’s completely illogical, immoral and not even remotely in accordance with international law. In fact it’s very much against it. There’s not such thing in international law as collective guilt. The genocide convention has explicitly ruled that only individual people can be charged with genocide and not an entire group, not an entire race.


Disease played a huge role in wiping out the population

Abbot, Elizabeth (1 April 2010). Sugar: A Bittersweet History. Penguin. (Location 455 on Kindle):

They had no immunity to the smallpox, bubonic plague, yellow fever, typhus, dysentery, cholera, measles and influenza that germinated aboard filthy ships laden with sick and sickening sailors and colonists, putrid, maggotriddled food, ailing livestock, flea-ridden dogs and cats and legions of enterprising rats. A single epidemic could kill off more than half of any village. In 1518, smallpox wiped out 90 percent of Hispaniola’s remaining Tainos.

Lord, Lewis (January 21, 2007). “A Conqueror More Lethal Than the Sword”. US News and World Report.

The No. 1 force that conquered the Americas was not a weapon the conquerors from Europe relied on—the likes of guns, swords, or even the holy word. Instead, it was something inadvertent: the cataclysmic loss of native life from smallpox, measles, typhus, and other Old World diseases to which Indians had never been exposed.

“History of Smallpox – Smallpox Through the Ages”Texas Department of State Health Services.

The first recorded smallpox outbreak in Latin America occurred in 1507, when Spanish explorers brought the disease to Hispaniola. The natives lacked immunity to smallpox and entire tribes were extinguished. The population of Hispaniola, estimated to be 300,000 in 1492, had reportedly decreased to less than a 1,000 by 1541.


What had happened to all those people. Well, as we were taught in 4th grade, the Spanish style of conquest included intermarriage with the native population. Women were not even normally allowed to travel on the explorations unless they were married. That meant that men who settled in the new world took native wives. The supposed genocide of Taino people was in many ways more a story of intermarriage, of a melting pot. Census records account for neither a Spaniard nor a Taino when recording a person born to a Taino mother and a Spanish father, but instead record a mestiza. There are different ways to look at this practice. For cultural anthropologists, which I am not, this seeming erasure of a distinct history may be a tragedy, even a “genocide.” For someone who tends to be creeped out the identity politics of the modern American left, there is something very positive is this sort of practice.

A comment from a Puerto Rican that captures this sentiment well:

We as a people don’t consider ourselves “white” “black” or “American Indian”. Me for example, I look white, but my dad and grandfathers were “black”, my mom and grandmothers were “white”. What am I? Neither. Just Puerto Rican. What is Puerto Rican?—-the mix between Spanish, African and Taino races and culture.

The census forms don’t have a proper classification for us. Everybody just goes: “well, I’m light skinned, so I’ll pick white.” Or “I’m dark skinned, so I’ll put black”. A proper classification would be “Mestizo” or mixed. We are joined by tradition, customs, history and culture, not race. That’s why racism is almost non-existent here. Same goes for Cuba and Dominican Republic but not Haiti or Jamaica.


This is from Cuba: Exploring the History of Admixture and the Genetic Basis of Pigmentation Using Autosomal and Uniparental MarkersGot it, Columbus was mainly on Haiti, but we have to use what we’ve got. What they show is that even today, 8% of Cuban genes are Native American.

We carried out an admixture analysis of a sample comprising 1,019 individuals from all the provinces of Cuba. We used a panel of 128 autosomal Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) to estimate the admixture proportions. We also characterized a number of haplogroup diagnostic markers in the mtDNA and Y-chromosome in order to evaluate admixture using uniparental markers. Finally, we analyzed the association of 16 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with quantitative estimates of skin pigmentation. In the total sample, the average European, African and Native American contributions as estimated from autosomal AIMs were 72%, 20% and 8%, respectively.

That study also found the native American women were marrying the European explorer men more than vice versa, which isn’t really all that noteworthy since there weren’t many European women on those first explorations, and certainly not any looking for husbands:

We identified a clear sex-biased pattern in the process of gene flow, with a substantially higher European contribution from the paternal side than the maternal side, and conversely higher Native American and African contributions from the maternal side than the paternal side.


15% of Dominicans has Taino genes not found anywhere else, according to research began in 2006 which also determined that another 15% conserve Euro-Asian genetic characteristics, whereas most of the Dominican population, 70%, has DNA of African origin.

“The study demonstrates that indigenous mitochondrial DNA exists in Dominican society today, that DNA is unique and those genetic variants exclusively Dominican must exist,” said research team leader Dr. Juan Carlos Martinez-Cruzado, head of the Biology Department of Puerto Rico University in Mayaguez.

The results of the “Continental origins of the first populations of the Caribbean islands and the migratory movements which formed them. DNA in Dominican Republic,” were presented Wednesday night by Martínez-Cruzado and Dr. Fermín Mercedes de la Cruz, of the University UCE of San Pedro (east).

According to this website,, the researchers current sample of 45 Haitians shows 0.1% Amerindian DNA. If we apply that to Haiti’s population of 10 million, we are talking about only 10,000 equivalent of Amerindians living in present day Haiti.


The average Puerto Rican individual carries 12% Native American, 65% West Eurasian (Mediterranean, Northern European and/or Middle Eastern) and 20% Sub-Saharan African DNA.


From Discover Magazine:

A friend pointed me to the heated comment section of this article in NatureRebuilding the genome of a hidden ethnicity. The issue is that Nature originally stated that the Taino, the native people of Puerto Rico, were extinct. That resulted in an avalanche of angry comments, which one of the researchers, Carlos Bustamante, felt he had to address. Eventually Nature updated their text:

CORRECTED: This article originally stated that the Taíno were extinct, which is incorrect. Nature apologizes for the offence caused, and has corrected the text to better explain the research project described.

Here’s Wikipedia on the Taino today:

Heritage groups, such as the Jatibonicu Taíno Tribal Nation of Boriken, Puerto Rico (1970), the Taíno Nation of the Antilles (1993), the United Confederation of Taíno People (1998) and El Pueblo Guatu Ma-Cu A Boriken Puerto Rico (2000), have been established to foster Taíno culture. However, it is controversial as to whether these Heritage Groups represent Taíno Culture accurately as some Taino groups are known to ‘adopt’ other native traditions (mainly North American Indian). Many aspects of Taino culture has been lost to time and or blended with Spaniard and African culture on the Caribbean Islands. Peoples who claim to be of native descent in the islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Eastern Cuba attempt to maintain some form of cultural connection with their historic identities. Antonio de Moya, a Dominican educator, wrote in 1993, “the [Indian] genocide is the big lie of our history… the Dominican Taínos continue to live, 500 years after European contact.”


At least 61% of the people of Puerto Rico carry Native American DNA. In the Dominican Republic traditional Taino festivals have become popular events for entire communities.  In all the Greater Antilles Islands, archaeology and architectural preservation have proven to be effective tools for promoting heritage tourism and cultural pride.  During this process, anthropologists have discovered that many cultural traditions long thought to be Spanish or African in origin, were actually Native American, as Richard Thornton reports.

Throughout much of the 20th century, anthropological orthodoxy assumed that the Taino People were extinct.  This belief had no basis in fact, and in recent decades, scientists have found extensive evidence of both Taino DNA and traditions. In 1993 Dominican scholar, Antonio de Moya wrote, “the extinction of the Taino is the big lie of our history . . . Tainos continue to live in Dominica today.”

Much that is unique about the cultural traditions of Puerto Rico, Dominica and Cuba can be traced to their Taino heritage.

Anthropologist Pedro J. Ferbel-Azacarate documented that in rural villagers of Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico retain Taino architecture, words, foods, farming practices, medicine, fishing techniques and oral history.  There is very little Native American influence in Haiti.

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.

Zinn on Columbus and slavery – Rebutted, Part 1

In a previous post, I put together Zinn’s full narrative on Columbus and slavery from Chapter 1 of A People’s History of the United States. Here, I rebut Zinn’s narrative by going through Zinn’s deceits, looking at the bizarre editing and misleading color commentary he uses.

Zinn uses very complicated editing techniques to create an image right away in the readers mind that the defining characteristic of Columbus and his explorations was slavery. Here he appears to directly quote Columbus (Zinn Page 1):

They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

However, the four sentences above – while separated only by ellipses in Zinn’s book – were in fact written sentences, paragraphs, even days apart in Columbus’ log book. Zinn has spliced them together to give the impression that Columbus was writing to his backers, building a case for the enslavement of the natives.

The first five sentences are from a paragraph Columbus starts and ends by emphasizing how he has made an effort to befriend the natives and desires to convert them to Christianity, not endure them. Columbus’ description of their faces and bodies and the unfamiliarity with swords were not part of a persuasive essay on subjugation, but rather part of a descriptive essay for the benefit of readers back in Europe in an era where photographs were relatively rare (Cohen Page 54):

[11 October Thursday 1492] In order to win their friendship, since I knew they were a people to be converted and won to our holy faith by love and friendship rather than by force, I gave some of them red caps and glass beads which they hung round their necks, also many other trifles. These things pleased them greatly and they became marvellously friendly to us. They afterwards swam out to the ship’s boats in which we were sitting, bringing us parrots and balls of cotton thread and spears and many other things, which they exchanged with us for such objects as glass beads, hawks and bells. In fact, they very willingly traded everything they had. But they seemed to me a people very short of everything. They all go naked as their mothers bore them, including the women, although I saw only one very young girl. ‘All the men I saw were young. I did not see one over the age of thirty. They were very well built with fine bodies and handsome faces. Their hair is coarse, almost like that of a horse’s tail and short; they wear it down over their eyebrows except for a few strands at the back, which they wear long and never cut. They are the colour of the Canary Islanders (neither black nor white). Some of them paint themselves black, others white or any colour they can find. Some paint their faces, some their whole bodies, some only the eyes, some only the nose. They do not carry arms or know them. For when I showed them swords, they took them by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. Some instead of an iron tip have a fish’s tooth and others have points of different kinds. They are fairly tall on the whole, with fine limbs and good proportions. I saw some who had wound scars on their bodies and I asked them by signs how they got these and they indicated to me that people came from other islands near by who tried to capture them and they defended themselves. I supposed and still suppose that they come from the mainland to capture them for slaves. They should be good servants and very intelligent, for I have observed that they soon repeat anything that is said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, for they appeared to me to have no religion. God willing, when I make my departure I will bring half a dozen of them back to their Majesties, so that they can learn to speak. I saw no animals of any kind on this island except parrots.’ These are the Admiral’s own words.

In the last sentence Zinn quotes from Columbus above, it appears Columbus is speaking hyperbole about enslaving the entire population of the Caribbean. However, not only is hyperbole not in the style of the day, but from the context of the paragraph in which Columbus wrote that statement, it is clear not only that he was not necessarily advocating for slavery, but that he was referring to a specific group of people he had come across, not the entire Arawak population in the Caribbean (Cohen Page 57):

[14 October Sunday 1492] At dawn I ordered the ship’s boat and the boats of the caravels to be made ready, and coasted the island in a north-easterly direction in order to see the other and eastward part and to look for villages. I saw two or three, whose people all came down to the beach calling to us and offering thanks to God. Some brought us water, others various sorts of food, and others, when they saw that I did not intend to land, jumped into the sea and swam out. We understood them to be asking us if we came from the sky. One old man got into the boat, and all the others, men and women alike, shouted, ‘Come and see the men who have come from the skies; and bring them food and drink.’ Many men and women came, each bringing something and offering thanks to God; they threw themselves on the ground and raised their hands to the sky and then called out to us, asking us to land. But I was afraid to do so, seeing a great reef of rocks which encircled the whole island. Inside there is deep water which would give sufficient anchorage for all the ships in Christendom. But the entrance is very narrow. It is true that there are some shoals within this reef, but the sea is as still as well water. I went to view all this this morning, in order to give an account to your Majesties and to decide where a fort could be built. I saw a piece of land which is much like an island, though it is not one, on which there were six huts. It could be made into an island in two days, though I see no necessity to do so since these people are very unskilled in arms, as your Majesties will discover from seven whom I caused to be taken and brought aboard so that they may learn our language and return. However, should your Highnesses command it all the inhabitants could be taken away to Castile or held as slaves on the island, for with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we wish. Moreover, near the small island I have described there are groves of the loveliest trees I have seen, all green with leaves like our trees in Castile in April and May, and much water.

Next, Zinn covers several years’ worth of interactions with the natives into a couple of paragraphs, seemingly laser focused on instances of Columbus and his men taking natives prisoner. Zinn’s goal is to give the impression of Columbus not as an explorer but as a slave hunting marauder, who blew through Caribbean, spending only as much time there as necessary to fill his ships with slaves before returning to Europe (Zinn Page 1):

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force.

They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears. This was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold… On Hispaniola… He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die.

Columbus was a man of his times no doubt. The use of force to get people to comply was not unique to Columbus (it is not even unique today, we still spank our kids and arrest you if you don’t pay your taxes). However, throughout his logs we see Columbus making a conscious effort to build diplomatic relations with the natives – to seek out and pay homage to the native chiefs and to build positive relations with the natives that they may be more willing to trade and more receptive to conversion to Christianity. The few natives Columbus took back after his first voyage were not slaves. They were brought to learn Spanish, and eventually return to their homes.

Here is Columbus’ log regarding the taking of prisoners on first arriving in the Carribean (Cohen Page 55):

“I believe that they would easily be made Christians, for they appeared to me to have no religion. God willing, when I make my departure I will bring half a dozen of them back to their Majesties, so that they can learn to speak. “

Here is his recount of that event written while en route back to Europe (Cohen Page 118):


As soon as I came to the Indies, at the first island I discovered I seized some natives, intending them to inquire and inform me about things in these parts. These men soon understood us, and we them, cither by speech or signs and they were very useful to us. I still have them with me and despite all the conversation they have had with me they are still of the opinion that I come from the sky and have been the first to proclaim this wherever I have gone. Then others have gone running from house to house and to the neighbouring villages shouting: ‘Come, come and see the people from the sky,’ so, once they were reassured about us, all have come, men and women alike, and not one, old or young, has remained behind. All have brought us something to eat and drink which they have given with a great show of love. In all the islands they have very many canoes like oared fustas.

The following are various quotes of instances in which Columbus interact with the natives without enslaving them. I shouldn’t have to do this, but Zinn’s lies of omission are so great as to demand it. In his log, Columbus recounts numerous instances of diplomacy and goodwill towards the natives.

Cohen Page 54:

In order to win their friendship, since I knew they were a people to be converted and won to our holy faith by love and friendship rather than by force, I gave some of them red caps and glass beads which they hung round their necks, also many other trifles. These things pleased them greatly and they became marvellously friendly to us.

Cohen Page 56:

They came to the ship in boats which are made from tree-trunks,… I watched carefully to discover whether they had gold and saw that some of them carried a small piece hanging from a hole pierced in the nose. I was able to understand from their signs that to the south, either inland or along the coast, there was a king who had large vessels made of it and possessed a great deal. I tried hard to make them go there but saw in the end that they had no intention of doing so… Now when night fell they all went ashore in their boats.

Cohen Page 61:

A large canoe happening to lie alongside the Niña, a little before midnight one of the men from San Salvador who was in the caravel jumped overboard and went off in it. A few minutes later another threw himself overboard also and swam after the canoe, which went so fast that no boat could overtake it, for it had a considerable start. So they came to land and left the canoe. Several members of my crew went ashore after them and they ran off like frightened hens. We took the canoe they had abandoned aboard the caravel Niña; it was approached by another small canoe with a man who had come to barter a ball of cotton. Since he would not board the caravel some sailors jumped down and seized him. Having seen all this from the forecastle where I was standing, I sent for him and gave him a red cap and some green glass beads which I put on his arm and two hawk’s bells which I put in his ears. I told the sailors to give him back his canoe which they had taken on to the ship’s boat, and sent him ashore. I then raised sail for the other large island which I saw to the west and ordered that the second canoe which the Niña was towing astern should be set adrift. Shortly afterwards I saw the man to whom I had given these gifts come ashore. I had not taken the ball of cotton from him, although he wished to give it to me. The people gathered round him and he appeared astonished. It seemed to him that we were good people and that the man who had escaped in the canoe must have wronged us or we should not have carried him off. It was to create this impression that I had him set free and gave him presents. I was anxious that they should think well of us so that they may not be unfriendly when your Majesties send a second expedition here. All I gave him was worth less than four maravedis.

Cohen Page 62:

I found a man alone in a canoe crossing from the one to the other. He was carrying a lump of their bread, about the size of a fist, and a gourd of water and a bit of red earth which had been powdered and then kneaded; also some dried leaves which they must value very highly since they gave me a present of them. He also carried a native basket containing some glass beads and two blancas, by which I knew that he had come from San Salvador to Santa Maria and was now on his way to Fernandina. He came alongside and I let him come aboard as he asked. I had his canoe hauled aboard also and all that he carried kept safe. I ordered that he should be given bread and honey and something to drink. I shall carry him to Fernandina and restore all his possessions to him so that he may give a good account of us. Then when, God willing, your Highnesses send others here, we shall be favourably received and the natives may give us of all they possess.

Cohen Page 63:

[TUESDAY, 16 OCTOBER]… canoes swarmed round the ship all that night. They brought us water and something of all they had. I ordered presents to be given to all of them, that is to say, strings of ten or a dozen small glass beads and… when they came aboard I had them given molasses to eat… And afterwards at nine in the morning I sent a ship’s boat ashore for water and they most gladly showed our men where it could be found and themselves carried the full casks back to the boat. They were delighted to give us pleasure.

Cohen Page 66:

They met one man who wore in his nose a piece of gold about half the size of a castellano on which they saw letters. I was angry with them because they had not bargained for it and given as much as they were asked, so that we could examine it and see where the coin came from. They answered that they did not dare to bargain for it.

Cohen Page 70:

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. I allowed nothing to be taken, not even to the value of a pin. Afterwards a few of the men approached us and one of them came quite close. I gave him hawk’s bells and some small glass beads, and he was very pleased and happy. In order to foster this friendship and ask for something from them, I asked them for water, and after I had returned to the ship they came down to the beach with their gourds full and gave it to us with delight.

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:

[On Cuba] Here the Indians hid everything they could carry with them, and their timidity prevented the Admiral from learning the nature of the island. Considering that if he were to land with many men the people’s fear would increase, he chose two Christians, one of the Indians whom he had brought from the island of San Salvador and another, a native of Cuba, who had boldly rowed up to the ships in a small canoe. He gave them orders to go into the interior of the island and discover its character, treating any of its inhabitants they might meet on their way with friendship and courtesy.

Cohen page 80:

He gave orders that a native of the island should be taken aboard, since he wished to bring to Castile one inhabitant of each country to give an account of its nature and products. So a dozen persons – men, women and children – were taken in a peaceful way, without noise or trouble. When the time came to sail away with them the husband of one of the women captives, and father of her two children who had been taken aboard with her, came to the ship in a canoe and begged by signs that he should be taken to Castile also, so as not to be separated from his wife and children. The Admiral was highly delighted by this man’s action and ordered that the whole family should be well treated and entertained.

Cohen Page 81:

[some were prisoners apparently] DURING that voyage [from Cuba to Hispaniola] Martin Alonso Pinzón received information from some Indians whom he was carrying as prisoners in his caravel.

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.

Cohen page 86:

On Sunday, 16 December, therefore, they beat about between Hispaniola and Tortuga, and found a solitary Indian in a small canoe and were surprised that he had not sunk for the winds and seas were very high. They picked him up in the ship and took him to Hispaniola, where they put him ashore with many presents.

Cohen page 89:

‘When it was late and he wished to return I sent him most ceremoniously ashore in the boat and ordered many lombards to be fired. When he came to the beach he mounted his litter and went off with more than 200 men, and one of his sons was carried on the shoulders of a very important chief. He gave orders that food should be given to all the sailors and to other men from the ships whom he found ashore, and that they should be treated with great kindness.

Cohen page 91:

I had lost my ship on a reef a league and a half offshore. On hearing the news the king wept, showing great sorrow at our disaster… After this, he himself, with his brothers and relations, did everything they could both in the ship and on shore to arrange things for our comfort. And from time to time he sent various of his relatives to implore me not to grieve, for he would give me everything he had… I assure your Highnesses that nowhere in Castile would one receive such great kindness or anything like it. He had all our possessions brought together near his palace and kept them there until some houses had been emptied to receive them. He appointed armed men to guard them and made them watch right through the night.

Cohen page 93:

He then complained about the Caribs, who captured his people and took them away to be eaten, but he was greatly cheered when the Admiral comforted him by showing him our weapons and promising to defend him with them. But he was much disturbed by our cannon, which so frightened all the Indians that they fell down like dead men when they heard them fired.

Cohen page 94:

…leave some Christians behind to trade and gather information about the country and its inhabitants, learning their language and entering into relations with the people.

Cohen page 94:

When the Admiral was on the point of departure, he made a treaty with the king regarding the Caribs, of whom he complained so much and was in such real terror. In order that he should be pleased to have the Christians’ company and also to inspire him with fear of our weapons, lombard fired at the side of the Santa Maria, the ball passed right through the ship and fell in the water, and the king was both horrified and amazed. The Admiral also showed him our other weapons, how wounds were made with some and others used for defence, and told him that with such weapons to protect him he need no longer fear the Caribs, because the Christians would kill them all.

Cohen page 97:

[Sunday 13 January 1493] In the Gulf of Samana in Hispaniola the first brush takes place between Indians and Christians.

Cohen page 117:

All the weapons they have are canes cut at seeding time, at the end of which they fix a sharpened stick, but they have not the courage to make use of these, for very often when I have sent two or three men to a village to have conversation with them a great number of them have come out. But as soon as they saw my men all fled immediately, a father not even waiting for his son. And this is not because we have harmed any of them; on the contrary, wherever I have gone and been able to have conversation with them, I have given them some of the various things I had, a cloth and other articles, and received nothing in exchange. But they have still remained incurably timid.

Columbus began writing his final report of his first voyage to deliver to the queen upon his return while En route to Spain. Zinn gives the impression that the potentially lucrative slave trade was a key selling point in his report, when in fact it reads in the original text as more of an afterthought. Zinn then makes it appear that Columbus’ religiosity helped him justify his support for slavery. In fact, slavery always ran at odds with Christianity for Columbus, as conversion of the natives was a principle goal of Queen Isabella, and it was frowned upon to enslave Christians (Zinn Page 3):

Columbus’s report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant…

He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage “as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask.” He was full of religious talk: “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”

This is a misleading compilation of quotes for several reasons. Zinn continues to hammer on the “gold and slaves,” though the full text of Columbus’ words complicates that narrative to say the least (Cohen Page 122):

In conclusion, to speak only of the results of this very hasty voyage, their Highnesses can see that I will give them as much gold as they require,if they will render me some very slight assistance; also I will give them all the spices and cotton they want, and as for mastic,which has so far been found only in Greece and the island of Chios and which the Genoese authorities have sold at their own price, I will bring back as large a cargo as their Highnesses may command. I will also bring them as much aloes as they ask and as many slaves, who will be taken from the idolaters. I believe also that I have found rhubarb and cinnamon and there will be countless other things in addition, which the people I have left there will discover.

Even more problematic is Zinn’s attempt to make it look as if Christianity not only sanctioned the slave trade, but was actively used to justify it. As Cohen writes, it was the prospect of converting people to Christianity, not enslaving in the name of Christianity that helped Columbus sell the trip to the Queen and King of Spain. Cohen calls Columbus’ pitch to the king and queen of Spain “a reasonable trading venture, which he made more attractive to the Catholic sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabela, by offering them the prospect that the inhabitants of the intervening lands, perhaps of China and Japan themselves, might be converted to Christianity on the way” (page 11).

“The royal pair were enthusiasts for the conversion of Jews and Moslems, and Columbus carried on his first voyage a converted Jew with a knowledge of Arabic, who would be able to expound the Christian mysteries to the Chinese, Japanese and Indians, who were presumed to speak Arabic” (Cohen 11).

Here is Columbus describing Spain rationale for approving his voyage (Cohen Page 137):

Your Highnesses decided to send me, Christopher Columbus, to see these parts of India and the princes and peoples of those lands and consider the best means for their conversion. For, by the neglect of the Popes to send instructors, many nations had fallen to idolatry and adopted doctrines of perdition, and your Highnesses as Catholic princes and devoted propagators of the holy Christian faith have always been enemies of the sect of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies.

Even later, when the wealth of gold and spices with which Columbus hoped to fund his exploration never turned up, Christianity made the idea of enslaving the natives more – not less – problematic (Cohen Page 17):

“The only wealth of the country lay in its human inhabitants, who could be made to work as slaves either in Spain or at home. The settlers quickly forced them to dig for nonexistent gold, and Columbus advocated almost at the start their export to Spain as labourers. But these ideas offended the religious fervour of the sovereigns. The natives must be converted, and Christians might not be enslaved. Such was their view, and that of the historian Bartolome de las Casas, the bishop of Chiapa and historian of the Indies, who offended all Spanish settlers by his advocacy of native rights and the tales of oppression he gathered from all parts of the sovereigns’ new dominions. Only criminals and prisoners of war might be enslaved, and the settlers deliberately increased the numbers of these by provoking Indian rebellions and placing the cannibal Caribs outside natural law.”

In Part 2 of the very long post, I will look at Zinn’s coverage of Columbus’ second voyage onward.