The Oatmeal claims that Columbus engaged in sexual slavery. oatmeal extract

Columbus began rewarding his lieutenants with sex slaves -- particularly young girls who had been forced into sexual slavery. In a letter to a friend, Columbus remarked upon how girls between the ages of nine and ten could be used as currency:

By contrast, Why Do Liberals Hate Columbus Day? is skeptical:

3 . Columbus was the pimp of the New World

In 1500, Columbus wrote to a friend: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.” Another letter written by Columbus’ friend Michele de Cuneo (in 1492, before the expedition reached the New World) reads “Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape.”

From these letters it has been deduced that Columbus was something of a New World pimp, auctioning off women to his men for sexual pleasure. Surely this behavior must have occurred to an extent, but was it systemic and carried out with great relish by Columbus? No one can know for sure, yet the charge is leveled at Columbus by his detractors as if it is indisputable fact.

Was Columbus involved in sexual slavery?

  • 5
    The page at DeathAndTaxes doesn't seem to dispute the evidence. It only seems to criticize "liberals" for decrying it, saying in effect "We're all dirty - get over it." Oct 10, 2013 at 23:21
  • Other way round: have there ever been instances of slavery without the right to rape? Surely that is the point of slavery - slaves are regarded as property and you can do what you want with them.
    – RedSonja
    Apr 26, 2018 at 8:10

2 Answers 2


The initial quote that,

A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid.

comes from a letter that Christopher Columbus wrote while prisoner on a ship being sent back to Spain after Francisco de Brobadilla was sent to replace him as governor of Hispaniola. During the time that Christopher Columbus was governor it is well documented that he was involved in the establishment of the slave trade and was criticized by the church for favoring his economic interests over conversion of the natives.

We also have a letter from Michele da Cuneo, a childhood friend of Columbus who wrote,

When I was in the boat, I took a beautiful Cannibal girl and the admiral gave her to me. Having her in my room and she being naked as is their custom, I began to want to amuse myself with her. Since I wanted to have my way with her and she was not willing, she worked me over so badly with her nails that I wished I had never begun. To get to the end of the story, seeing how things were going, I got a rope and tied her up so tightly that she made unheard of cries which you wouldn't have believed. At the end, we got along so well that, let me tell you, it seemed she had studied at a school for whores. The admiral named the cape on that island the cape of the Arrow for the man who was killed by the arrow.

In this case, the admiral that da Cuneo is referring to is Columbus. This letter also provides us with historical documentation that that least one rape took place as a result of Columbus's actions. It is documented that sexual abuse took place at the time with regards to slaves as a general population and later documentation of the the same (e.g. one, two, three, four, etc.) supports the pattern.

I couldn't find any evidence of a historical evidence or consensus that Columbus was involved with sexual slavery with regards to the modern definition of the term; however, the historical record does strongly support his involvement in the slave trade and the one rape by da Cuneo.

  • 3
    Your 'also well documented that sexual abuse took place' link says the opposite: that sexual abuse of slaves by sailors wasn't common, and was not condoned by officers and company directors.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 11, 2013 at 8:51
  • 2
    For sailors yes, but the line before that says -- The line in question begins with (the emphasis is mine), "Incidentally, there is no reason to think that when such slaves were given away, they were expected to provide the new owner with sexual favors." I can only read that as a negative.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 11, 2013 at 12:24
  • 6
    Regardless, the historical record is pretty clear that sexual abuse of slaves was quite common -- That (that there was or is rape and murder) doesn't surprise me. I'm not trying to defend slavery or Columbus: only saying that your current link to "well documented" is documenting the opposite.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 11, 2013 at 12:33
  • 1
    Your four new references are about the 18th and 19th centuries; and, they're abuse by British and French slave-owners.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 11, 2013 at 22:25
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    @AndrewGrimm, would raping a slave be something shameful at that time. He did write it in the letter.
    – SIMEL
    Oct 14, 2013 at 10:10

I thought the quote above was pretty damning too, until I read the context around it. In the letter the quote was taken from was defending himself from charges brought against him, and directly before and after that quote he was criticising the colonists who had come with that only wanted to take what they could get from the land and leave...I'll quote some...

"I should know how to remedy all this, and the rest of what has been said and has taken place since I have been in the Indies, if my disposition would allow me to seek my own advantage, and if it seemed honorable to me to do so, but the maintenance of justice and the extension of the dominion of Her Highness has hitherto kept me down. Now that so much gold is found, a dispute arises as to which brings more profit, whether to go about robbing or to go to the mines. A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid.

I assert that the violence of the calumny of turbulent persons has injured me more than my services have profited me; which is a bad example for the present and for the future. I take my oath that a number of men have gone to the Indies who did not deserve water in the sight of God and of the world; and now they are returning thither, and leave is granted them."

After reading this in context, it seems in stead to be an example Columbus was using of what others were doing, and not an example of how he was perpetuating this. I'm not suggesting that he did not use slaves at all, or did not contribute to the abuse of slave women, who would have been vulnerable to abuse... but this last quote does not seem to be, if you read it in context, praising the idea of selling women slaves as a profitable endevor, but in stead describing what he saw as the moral depravity of the men who he had been governing, and a support for what he had said earlier, that...

"It would be a good thing if people should go from Castile, and also if it were known who and what they are, and if the country could be settled with honest people."

As for the first example, it does seem more troubling, but it is possible that he gave her to him to be a servant, and not to be used/abused in that manner. (Though it does seem unlikely that he would be totally ignorant of this happening...especially if the cabin referred to was one on his ship, not quarters in their encampment). But the second quote, when read in context, seems to say that he was opposed to people doing this, in stead of encouraging it.

I'm not a fan of Columbus, but as a lover of history I'm just trying to get at the truth.

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