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OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
Introduction to the discovery of America,
State of the British colonies in 1763,
The Americans unite in a non-importation agreement,
General Washington takes the Hessians prisoners, at Trenton,
HISTORY OF AMERICA.
THE discovery of America has led to events unrivalled in modern history, and we cannot sufficiently admire that steady unconquerable resolution, that amazing force of mind which carried the first bold discoverer through all opposition, and over innumerable obstacles, to the ultimate end of his grand design. The intelligent reader will be agreeably entertained in following this skilful navigator, through unknown seas, in search of a New World: every little incident during the voyage will appear of sufficient magnitude to fix the attention, and excite a strong sympathy with the adventurous chief, in all the various turns of his fortune.
This first volume will contain what Dr. Robertson calls the most splendid portion of the American story: he is undoubtedly right as far as it respects South America, and it is so detached, as to form a perfect whole by itself. Most of the prominent facts are a faithful transcript from that accurate and elegant historian. According to his note, NO. XI. Christopher Columbus was born, A. D. 1447: the place of his birth is not ascertained, but it appears he was a subject of the Republic of Genoa, and was allured into the service of the Portuguese by the fame of their discoveries: he was descended from an honourable family, though reduced to indigence by various misfortunes.
Columbus discovered in his early youth, a strong propensity and talents for a sea-faring life: this propensity his parents encouraged by the education they gave him; after acquiring some knowledge of the Latin tongue, the only language in which science was taught at that time, he was instructed in geometry, cosmography, astronomy, and the art of drawing. To these he applied with such unremitted ardour, as they were so intimately connected with navigation, his favourite object, that he advanced with rapid proficiency in the study of them. Thus qualified, he went to sea at the age of fourteen, and began his career on that element, which conducted him to so much glory. His early voyages were to those ports in the Mediterranean which his countrymen, the Genoese, frequented. This being too narrow a sphere for his active mind, he made an excursion to the northern seas, and visited the coast of Iceland; he proceeded beyond that island, (the Thule of the ancients) and advanced several degrees within the polar circle.
This voyage enlarged his knowledge in naval affairs more
than it improved his fortune; afterwards he entered into the service of a famous sea captain of his own name and family. This man commanded a small squadron, fitted out at his own expense, and by cruising against the Mahometans and the Venetians, the rivals of his country in trade, had acquired both wealth and reputation. Columbus continued in the service of this captain for several years, distinguished both for his courage and experience. as a sailor at length, in an obstinate engagement off the coast of Portugal, with some Venetian caravals, returning richly laden from the low countries, the vessel on board of which he was took fire, together with one of the enemy's ships, to which it was fast grappled.
In this dreadful extremity his intrepidity and presence of mind did not forsake him; for throwing himself into the sea, and laying hold of a floating oar, by his own dexterity in swimming, he reached the shore, though above two leagues distant. Thus was a life saved, reserved for great undertakings.
When he had recovered sufficient strength, he repaired to Lisbon, where many of his countrymen resided, who warmly solicited him to stay in that kingdom, where his naval skill and experience could not fail of procuring him that reward, which his merit entitled him to. Columbus listened with a favourable ear to the advice of his friends: married a portuguese lady, and fixed his residence at Lisbon. By this alliance, the sphere of his naval knowledge was enlarged. His wife was a daughter of Bartholomew Perestrello, one of the captains employed by prince Henry, and who under his protection, had discovered and planted the islands of Forto Santo and Madeira.
Columbus, from the journals and charts of this experienced navigator, learned the course which the Portuguese had held in making their discoveries. The study of these gratified and inflamed his favourite passion; and, while he contemplated the maps and read the descriptions of the new countries which Perestrello had seen, his impatience to visit them became irresistable. In order to indulge it, he made a voyage to Madeira, and continued during several years to trade with that island, with the Canaries, the Azores, the settlements in Guinea, and all the other places which the Portuguese had discovered on the continent of Africa.
He was now become one of the most skilful navigators in Europe, but his ambition aimed at something more. The mind of Columbus, naturally inquisitive, and capable of deep reflection, was often employed in revolving the principles upon which the Portuguese had founded there schemes of discovery, and the mode in which they had carried them on.
The great object in view, at that period, was to find out a passage by sea to the east Indies. From the time that the Portuguese
doubled Cape de Verd, this was a point they were anxiously solicitous to attain; in comparison with it, all discoveries in Africa appeared inconsiderable. But how intent soever the Portuguese were upon discovering a new route to those desirable regions, they searched for it only by steering towards the south, in hopes of arriving at India, by turning to the east, after they had sailed round the utmost extremity of Africa. This course, however, was still unknown; and if discovered, was of such immense length, that a voyage from Europe to India, must have appeared an undertaking extremely arduous, and of very uncertain issue.
More than half a century had been employed in advancing from Cape Non to the Equator; a much longer space of time might elapse before the extensive navigation from that to India could be accomplished. These reflections upon the uncertainty, and the danger of the course which the Portuguese were pursuing, led Columbus to consider, whether a shorter and more direct passage to the East Indies might not be found out. After revolving long and attentively, every circumstance suggested by his superior knowledge in the theory, as well as practice of navigation, after comparing the observations of modern pilots with the conjectures of ancient authors, he at last concluded, that by sailing directly towards the west, across the Atlantic ocean, new countries, which probably formed a part of the vast continent of India, must infallibly be discovered.
The spherical figure of the earth was known, and its magnitude ascertained with some degree of accuracy. From this it was evident, that the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, formed but a small portion of the terraqueous globe. It appeared likewise very probable that the continent on this side the globe was balanced by a proportional quantity of land in the other hemisphere. These conclusions concerning another continent, drawn from the figure and structure of the globe, were confirmed by the observations and conjectures of modern navigators.
A Portuguese pilot having stretched farther to the west than usual at that time, took up a piece of timber artificially carved, floating upon the sea; and as it was driven towards him by a westerly wind, he concluded that it came from some unknown land, situated in that quarter. Columbus's brother-in-law, also had found to the west of the Madeira isles, a piece of timber, fashioned in the same manner, and brought by the same wind; and had seen likewise canes of an enormous size floating upon the waves, which resembled those described by Ptolemy, as productions peculiar to the East Indies. After a course of westerly winds, trees torn up with their roots, were often driven upon the coasts of the Azores, and at one time the dead bodies of two men, with singular features, which resembled neither the inhabitants of Europe, nor of Africa, were east ashore there.