Founding of the Isabela

D. 10 First mass in the Isabela. January 6 of 1494. D. 10 First mass in the Isabela. January 6 of 1494. D: J. Arvelo. Drawing: F. Castro

Abandoning these lands, he went on to establish the first Spanish settlement in America, northwest of where he had found Martin Alonzo the previous year.

The founding of the Isabela was officially celebrated on the January 6th of 1494, the day of Epiphany, with a mass headed by friar Bernardo Boyl.

From the beginning of the Isabela, the Admiral began to show signs of being a great navigator but with little talent for the planning of the colony.

In a territory with abundant water resources, and great and deep bays, as well as regular rain, Columbus settles in a small shallow port, that although near the Cibao like other options, it was nothing more than a dry tropical forest with sandy soil and poor conditions for European farming, and a few kilometers away from the nearest river. Worse, the low and swampy lands surrounding the area were perfect for the incubation of the infectious diseases that soon began to ravage the explorers.

Soon after his arrival to this place, the Admiral ordered two exploring expeditions: one under the command of Alonzo de Ojeda to investigate the location of gold-bearing mines and rivers in the Cibao; the other was made up of five ships that bordered the island and headed south with the task of proving the existence of the mainland.

Ojeda and his men returned a few days later with tangible proof of the gold found by them in the Cibao rivers, and some information about the power and abundance of the gold of the feared cacique Caonabo, whose kingdom included most of the Cibao. The exploration of Mainland, also returned with positive findings they had reached the pearl-bearing region of Cumana in present day Venezuelan coast, following the coast until present day Cartagena de Indias.

In the mean time, while the settlers waited for the return of the explorers, a relief fleet arrived in the Isabela under the command of Antonio de Torres, which left provision supplies and returned to Spain with 12 of the 17 ships loaded with sick and disenchanted men, as well as Indian slaves captured from the more hostile groups. Columbus sent the Monarchs 30,000 ducats (around US$ 70,000), assuring them of the nearby gold and asking for more weapons and ammunition, probably to be able to use what he already had in the next expedition that he would make to the center of Hispaniola to discover, finally, the mines and build a fortress in the gold region of the Cibao.