This manuscript book, written by the Spanish friar and historian Bartolomé de las Casas (c. 1484-1566), is a fundamental source on Columbus’ first voyage to America in 1492. Written around 1552, this text is, according to Las Casas, a copy of Columbus’ original logbook and diary, although the reliability of the facts narrated in the text has been repeatedly questioned. Be that as it may, this book is one of the most important documents relating the first voyages to America.
The diary of the first journey was probably not copied directly from the original (which is lost), but Las Casas rather used a later summary of the voyage. Nevertheless, the book supplies very important details not only about the first voyage to America, but also about Columbus’ personality and linguistics skills. Thus, a reading of this diary is key to studying the first European voyages to America.
One of the Earliest Accounts of a Historic Journey
This manuscript is written on parchment and measures 31 x 21 cm. It consists of 76 folios, written on both sides, with abundant marginal notes and comments. As Las Casas himself stated, he did not use Columbus’ original logbook, but a summary written perhaps in 1493, which is also lost.
This is one of the two earliest copies of Columbus’ diary. The other one was written by his son Hernando, and was included in the biography he wrote about his father.
Written in Spanish with no illustrations, the diary narrates from August 3rd, 1492, when Columbus and his crew, organized in three ships, departed from the Spanish port of Palos de la Frontera, until March 15th, 1493, when he arrived back from America to Palos de la Frontera after crossing the bar of Saltés (Huelva).
Although we cannot consider this book a completely reliable narration of Columbus’ first voyage to America, the trip is narrated with abundant details, so we can find a series of important clues about the arrival of Europeans to America, as well as for about their first contact with the natives.
This fundamental manuscript is held in the National Library of Spain, under the shelfmark Vitr/6/7.
Bartolomé de las Casas. An Important Source for Columbus’ Voyages
Columbus’ original logbooks of his four voyages to America (1492, 1493, 1498, and 1502) were lost, thus Bartolomé de las Casas’ account has been one of the most valuable tools to reconstruct the facts narrated in the diaries. Las Casas himself included another account of the first voyage in his Historia de las Indias (“History of the Indies”), a three-volume work written between 1527 and 1561.
The manuscript book was once part of the Duke of Osuna’s library, until it was purchased by the Spanish Government and deposited in the National Library of Spain in Madrid.