The earliest written documentation about the Virgin Islands and the indigenous Virgin Islanders was created by three Spaniards who, after returning to Spain, wrote eyewitness accounts of the landing of Christopher Columbus’ fleet at St. Croix on November 14, 1493. A portion of the first of these letters, written in Spanish by Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca of Seville, is printed here. Although frequently biased and unreliable, eyewitness accounts provide onsite information about events and actions that are otherwise undocumented.
In this activity students will use questions to investigate a letter written by a doctor that traveled with Christopher Columbus. Students will discuss what the doctor wrote about the people they encountered on St. Croix. They will define and discuss bias, then identify it in the letter and use it to understand the past. They will use prior knowledge or research to write an essay about an encounter with a different culture from the perspective of the visitor, and from the perspective of a member of the community that was visited.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Letter of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca about Columbus Landing, St. Croix, 1493
Author / Artist:
Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca
Suggested Teaching Instructions
Analyze the Primary Source
Making Connections: Pick a culture that you studied in class, have some knowledge of, or research a culture and pretend you are encountering it today, for the first time. Write a four paragraph essay, include an introduction to the culture and how you came to interact with it, second describe what you observed through your encounter, the third paragraph should be from the perspective of a member of the community that you visited, where they describe their interaction with you, the fourth paragraph should conclude your description of the experience and can include differences and similarities between your culture and the one you encountered.
Related Books & Resources
St. Croix 1493 An Encounter of Two Worlds
Arnold R. Highfield