Columbus' Death

Columbus Lighthouse, Santo Domingo Columbus Lighthouse, Santo Domingo Library of Congress

During Ovando's administration, the first Admiral Christopher Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain, on May 19th, 1506. He spent his last years fighting for his privileges with the Crown via innumerable letters and documents. He left Diego, his oldest son, his estate, leaving a share to his brothers Bartholomew and Diego, and Hernando, his youngest son, and Beatriz Enríquez de Arana, his mistress of many years, so she could "live an honest life". One of his last wishes was the construction of a church with his name in the valley of the Vega Real in his beloved Hispaniola.

Columbus was buried in Valladolid, being transported, apparently, in 1509, to the chapel of Santa Maria de Las Cuevas, Seville. His brother Bartholomew was buried there in 1514 and his son Diego in 1526. Later, the Crown ordered his remains to be shipped and reburied in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the 1540s. But in 1795, when the Hispaniola fell under French jurisdiction, the Crown ordered the Admiral's remains be taken to Havana, Cuba, where, supposedly, they were shipped back to Seville once more in 1898 after the Cuban independence. However, in 1877, during remodeling, a small urn was discovered in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo; it had two inscriptions with the name "Christopher Columbus" and has remained since in a mausoleum as the official tomb of the Admiral. In October of 1992 they were moved to the Columbus Lighthouse, a monument in honor of the Admiral built on the eastern shores of the Ozama river, location where in 1496, by his orders, the Dominican capital city was founded.

The Admirals' heirs continued, for many year, suing the court through a lengthy process known as the "Columbus Lawsuits". Due to the pressure from Columbus's eldest son and the excesses in decisions and royal powers that Ovando had abused, the Crown had to substitute the Governor for Diego Columbus, who arrived in Hispaniola in 1509 as Admiral and Viceroy of the Indies.

In these moments the exploitation of gold was still at its heights and there were around 12,000 Spaniards living in the island. The village of Santo Domingo was a proper small European city, with a fort, church, hospital and some shelters. Ovando was beginning the construction of the Casa de Contratación, future bureaucratic merchant center with civil and criminal jurisdiction over commerce between the Indies and the mainland.

The ex-governor was tried but came out in good standing, for, although he had problems with neighbors and was criticized for his harsh methods, he had always maintained a position of loyalty towards the interests of the crown.

We owe the Governor of Alcantara for the implementation of the Spanish primaries in the new world, positive or negative, and all in Hispaniola. As his biographer, Professor Ursula Lamb points out, "the system of municipal organization founded by Ovando, and the distribution of law and tradition permeating every step of colonial life, would be fundamental to the Hispanic colonization of the New World."22 Friar Nicolas' labor as administrator was nothing less than excellent, leaving in place the model to follow for the total and definite exploitation of the New World.

tumba colon sevilla lc

Columbus' Tumb in Sevile. Library of Congress.