La Navidad

La Navidad was a settlement that Christopher Colombus and his men established in present day Haiti in 1492 from the remains of the Spanish Ship, the Santa María. It was destroyed in the next year.

The wreck of the Santa Maria

The Santa María was Columbus's flagship on his first voyage to the West Indies, and he was accompanied by two other ships, the Niña and the Pinta. In the early morning of December 25 1492, after sailing along Haiti's north coast six weeks after their initial landing in the Bahamas, the Santa María became grounded in a sand bank while the exhausted crew slept. Columbus was on his way to visit a native named Guacanagari, who bore the title of cacique (chief). He was one of five regional and mutually independent rulers of the big island which the Spaniards called Isla Española (Spanish Island) or simply Española.
Despite frantic efforts through the night to work the stricken vessel into deeper water, she only became more firmly entrenched in the sand. By Christmas morning she lay sideways in the surf, and Columbus gave orders to abandon her and carry the cargo ashore. Guacanagari promptly ordered his people to go to Columbus’ assistance, and the Spaniards, along with the help of the natives, unloaded the ship and piled everything that was removable onto the shore, where it was placed under guard.

The building of La Navidad

After hearing from Guacanagari that there was much gold to be had on the island, Columbus decided that he would leave the crew of his wrecked vessel to make a settlement on the island and gather the promised gold, while he returned to Spain to report to the sovereigns and organize a second expedition. To this end he ordered the ship dismantled to provide the building materials for a small fortress. [cite web| author=Maclean, Frances| title=The Lost Fort of Columbus| url=| publisher="Smithsonian Magazine"| date=January, 2008| accessdate=2008-01-24]

“I have ordered a tower and fortress to be constructed and, a large cellar, not because I believe there is any necessity on account of [the natives] ,” he noted in his journal. “I am certain the people I have with me could subjugate all this island … as the population are naked and without arms and very cowardly. [cite book |last= Columbus
first= Christopher
title= Diario de Colón; libro de la primera navegación y descubrimiento de las Indias. |origdate=
origyear= 1962
location= Madrid

Columbus called the colony "La Navidad", Christmas, because it was founded on Christmas day. He appointed Diego de Arana, the cousin of his Córdoba mistress, as governor of the settlement.

On Friday, January 4, 1493, Columbus set sail in the Niña in search of the third ship in the fleet, the Pinta. The Pinta was commanded by Martín Alonzo Pinzón, and had been absent for six weeks. On the night of November 21, the caravel Pinta had vanished into the darkness off the coast of Cuba, and in his journal Columbus accused Pinzón of deliberately having separated the Pinta from the other ships in order to beat the admiral to the rich sources of gold which Columbus imagined were in the immediate area. Even more disquieting was his fear that Pinzón might break for Spain in the fast-sailing Pinta to be the first to bring news of the discovery to the Catholic Monarchs and to “tell them lies” about the admiral’s conduct of the expedition. On Sunday morning, January 6, 1493, the missing Pinta was spotted approaching from the east, and after a heated argument between the two men, the fleet returned to gather people and supplies for a return voyage.

Later years

When Columbus came back from Spain during his second voyage, on November 27, 1493 he arrived hoping to see a bustling village. When he landed, however, he saw eleven corpses of his men on the beach and discovered that La Navidad had been destroyed. He was told by nearby Tainos that the settlers had mistreated the natives, who retaliated by killing all of them.

Columbus decided to build a settlement farther east in the present day Dominican Republic and named it La Isabela after Queen Isabella.


After Columbus sailed away a second time, the site apparently was forgotten until a Haitian farmer led Dr. William Hodges to it in 1977. Hodges, an amateur archaeologist and American medical missionary, received permission from the Haitian government to excavate a tennis-court-size section of the marshland, and he and his helpers found some artifacts of La Navidad.


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