Christopher Columbus established the first Failed Colony in the New World

In January 1493, Christopher Columbus established the first Spanish colony in the New World and named it La Navidad. The colony failed in less than two years.

La Navidad was founded as a result of a near-tragedy. On Christmas Day, 1492, the ship Santa Maria wrecked off the coast of present-day Haiti. Columbus ordered the ship to be dismantled and its timbers brought to shore to use as the foundation of of a permanent colony. Columbus named the colony La Navidad/Villa de la Navidad or City of Christmas because of the fateful Christmas Day shipwreck that lead to the founding of the colony.

The colony was comprised of 39 men, all members of the Santa Maria crew. The colony was designed to trade with the Indians and find a source of gold on the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic).

The Colonists

The names of only three colonists are known – the lieutenants left in charge: Diego de Arana, Pedro Gutierrez, and Rodrigo de Excovedo. The names of the other 36 men are unknown, but certain traded were mentioned by Las Casas (see previous post touching on the authorship of the Columbus log) including: an alguazil or constable, secretary, carpenter, caulker, gunner, cooper, physician, and tailor. It is assumed the remaining 28 colonists were common sailors.

Columbus left his men with:

…arms and artillery, and provisions for more than a year, and a boat, and a (man who is) master of all seacraft for making others; and great friendship with the king of the land, to such a degree that he prided himself on calling and holding me as his brother.

What Happened

When Columbus returned on his second voyage he found La Navidad in ruins, literally burnt to the ground. He spoke with a Taino chieftan named Guacanagarix who claimed the colonists died in varying ways including disease, Spanish-on-Spanish violence, and  an attack carried out by the Caonabo and Mayreni Indians. This Indian violence was caused in part, by the each surviving Spanish man taking captive three or four Indian women each and using them as sex slaves.

Carib Indians pouring gold into a Spaniard’s mouth


No one knows were La Navidad was located within present-day Haiti. Las Casas claimed the site was abandoned to the point that it was unrecognizable and overgrown within a few years. Amateur archaeologists have looked for the fort but have not found definitive proof of its location.

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