On this day, October 12, 1492 – Christopher Columbus's expedition makes landfall in the Caribbean, specifically in The Bahamas. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. Those voyages, and his efforts to establish permanent settlements on the island of Hispaniola, initiated the Spanish colonization of the New World.
The native Taino people of the Hispaniola were systematically enslaved via the encomienda system implemented by Columbus, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe. The combined effects of Columbus' forced labor regime, war, and slaughter resulted in the near-total eradication of 98% of the native Taino of Hispaniola. Bartolome De las Casas (1971) records that when he first came to Hispaniola in 1508, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it...."
Thomas E. Keefe
Assistant Professor of Humanities,