The Crimes Of Christopher Columbus: Why He Was Brought Back To Spain In Chains

By Brian Gilmore
Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons)

He's considered a hero by many for his adventurous voyages and discoveries that are celebrated through his own national holiday in America, but the truth behind Christopher Columbus's crimes reveal his intensely cruel nature, ruthless treatment of natives in the lands he explored, and particular fondness for beheading. Even by Spanish Inquisition standards, he was seen as a vicious colonial governor and suffered consequences for his savagery.

Columbus Enslaved Natives

When Columbus arrived in the Bahamas in 1492, he was greeted by the respectful Arawak natives and wrote in his journal that they'd graciously brought his group parrots, spears, cotton balls, and all the items they were willing to trade. Clearly, the unarmed Arawaks were no threat, but Columbus took advantage of their hospitality and manipulated them into acting as servants. He wrote in one of his journal entries, "As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."

When Columbus traveled home from the Caribbean, he loaded up 17 ships with 1,200 men to return to the islands and capture the natives as slaves. They locked 1,500 Arawaks in cages in 1495, and the "best slaves" were shipped back to Spain, but many of them never reached the country. The harsh conditions of the journey killed 200 of them, and when their slave ships arrived, the Spaniards were often too tired to untie their captives, so they just beheaded them.

After experiencing intense cruelty and genocide, the Arawaks eventually rallied together to fight back against the Spaniards, but each one who wasn't killed by muskets and swords was hanged or burned by Columbus. The persecution was so intense that many Arawaks chose to die by their own hands rather than risk a torturous death, even feeding their babies poison so they could escape the clutches of the Spaniards. Within two years, half of the 250,000 Arawaks in Haiti were dead of murder or suicide. By 1650, the Arawak natives were completely extinct from their island. The natives of Hispaniola experienced a similar fate around the same time.