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On his second voyage (September 1493) he took with him men from his mercantile colonisation venture, among whom we find Miguel Ballester, his great childhood friend, Miguel Muliart, his brother-in-law from his first marriage to his Portuguese wife Felipa Muñiz, and Pedro Casaus, father of Bartolomé de las Casas. On his third and fourth voyages, other friends and family also accompanied him from Tarragona, including his cousins, Andreu and Joan Anton.


Another person to accompany Columbus on his second voyage was a monk from the Monastery of Montserrat (Barcelona). He later became Abbot of Los Mínimos de Castile and Aragon and Secretary and Ambassador-Diplomat of King Ferdinand in France. The King had arranged for Boyl to join the second Expedition as Vicar of Rome and the first evangelist in the New World. Another twelve monks from the Catalan monastery of Montserrat were also to make the voyage.


The Genoese historian Paolo-Emilio Taviani in his book I viaggi di Colombo (Novara 1986) under the heading “Eclesiastici ed evangelizzatori” p. 308 writes:



"Padre Boil era nato a Tarragona. Giovanissimo aveva vestito l´abito di monaco a

Montserrat e, alcuni anni dopo, si ritirava in un eremo della stessa montagna . Nel 1482 era superiore dei dodici romitaggi della zona. Nella primavera del 1490, abbandona il ritiro, viene chiamato a Corte con una lettera di re Ferdinando, datada 30 giugno, da Cordoba.  Da allora il monarca gli manifiesta simpatia e gli accorda fiducia affidandogli incarichi dipomatici in Francia.


La carriera del benediettino cambia all´improvisso. I Re hanno pensato a lui per l´evangelizzazzione delle Indie. Compiuta la scelta, scrivono, iin data 7 giugno 1493, da Barcellona una lettera ai loro ambasciatori in Roma per sollecitare del Santo Padre una bolla apostolica per la misssiones che agli dovrà compiere. Il 25 giugno Alessandro VI  spedisce lal bolla richiesta con la quale  padre Boil viene nominato vicario  apostolico delle Indie. La Curia non poteva rispondere con maggiore prontezza al desiderio dei sovrani."


6th January1494, the monk from Tarragona, Bernat Boyle celebrated the first Mass to take place in the New World together with 9 members of the clergy.


1496 - 1498: Coup d’etat in Santo Domingo


On returning from his first voyage, Columbus had appointed his valet, Francisco Roldán, Mayor General of the Island of La Isabella. In March 1496 Roldán, still holding this position, rose up in rebellion against Columbus. Bernat Boyle, and other important men in the so-called King’s party, instigated the revolt. This party constituted a group exerting pressure from Aragon in an attempt to counteract the power and prepotency wielded by Columbus, Admiral-Viceroy and Governor General of the Indies, and his friends and family. Right from the Discovery of La Española, the conquerors and settlers had divided into two bands.


With reference to this situation, Taviani on p. 308 of his work, writes:


"Il piú autorevole era un benedittino, padre Boil, al quale i sovrani affifdarono il compito d´intraprendere e dirigere l´opera di conversione.


Lo incontraremo piú avanti durante le defezioni e le rivolta all ´Hipaniola e vedremo che i suoi rapporti con Colombo degenereranno in aperti  dissidi, facendosi il religioso portavoce della maldicenza e consigliere dei cospiratori"




When the unrest in Roldan’s party became known in Spain a Royal missive arrived naming Bartolomé Columbus representative in the King’s name and assigning him reinforcements. At this the situation became even more serious.


Regarding this revolt, there is a letter from Miguel Ballester, at the time Mayor of Bonao, to the Admiral. Despite his loyalty to the Admiral, Miguel Ballester, had on previous occasions acted as mediator in the disputes with the rebels. The letter reads:


‘I know for sure that the gentlemen that you have in your service together with your servants would die serving you, but of the others, I have many doubts’


In order to recuperate his very dwindled popularity, Columbus sent out a communication on 12th September 1498 announcing that all those who wished to return to Spain, could do so. Certain rebels went to Bonao to talk over the situation with Miguel Ballester, still a firm collaborator and loyal to the Admiral’s authority. However Roldan, as Mayor of Santo Domingo, would not alter his position. Columbus unable to risk returning to Spain to inform the Monarchs of the situation in case a native uprising should occur, decided to send Ballester in his place as delegate, with a report of the situation.


Miguel Ballester together with another emissary from Columbus, Garcia Barrantes, explained the facts and the delicate situation to the Spanish Court, but Roldán also presented a report of his version to the Monarchs who were at the time in Seville. The immediate consequence of the appearance of both reports was that of Judge Bobadilla’s decision to go to the Indies and arrest the Columbus brothers.


When Judge Bobadilla decided to repatriate the Columbus brothers, Miguel Ballester accompanied the Admiral on his compulsory voyage and offered his services as mediator in the negotiations with the Monarchs in an attempt to improve the situation.



Columbus, in chains and under arrest, by order of Judge Bobadilla, is sent from Santo Domingo to the Court of the Catholic Monarchs in Spain.


Columbus, an expert merchant sailor.


The group of friends that accompanied Columbus were part of his mercantile company. The resourceful, organisational, and enterprising qualities of the people from this agricultural and maritime region of the Mediterranean soon became evident.


The Mediterranean Sea seemed to grow smaller after the Turks from Byzantium had closed the passage of vessels to the Orient. It became necessary to find new passages for commercial vessels and this is how the genius of the great sailor emerged. Joan Colom, later known as Christopher Columbus subject of the Kingdom of Aragon, privateer and merchant sailor, later known as Christopher Columbus was to become the man who discovered America.


Descended from a family of sailors, his first contact with the sea was at 14 years old. He received a solid cultural and scholastic preparation, which he continued to cultivate without interruption, throughout his life, as well as the time he spent programming his naval projects or attending to his mercantile or family affairs when on land.


During his voyages, the sailor learned how to communicate with all types and classes of people, ecclesiastics, laymen, Jews, Moors and Christians. He maintained conversations with everyone, enhancing his professional knowledge towards his naval project. On his voyages he sailed thousands of miles, visited hundreds of ports and crossed the Atlantic as navigator of the Norwegian corsairs Pining and Poshort in 1477. On that voyage he had become convinced that by sailing on a lower parallel of latitude, he would reach the East by sailing West. By his marriage to his Portuguese wife he had not only formed a family and begotten an heir but had obtained valuable maps, charts, and documentation for his project belonging to his late father-in-law, former Governor of Porto Santo in the Isles of Madeira, discovered in 1424.


In 1478 Columbus was in Madeira purchasing sugar for the Genoese merchants Paolo de Negro and Ludovico Centurione, and around the year 1481, he was living with his wife Felipa Muñiz and son Diego in Porto Santo. From there he set out on various voyages of discovery and “rescue” along the warm coast of Portuguese Guinea, where he learned about the local crops and their elaboration. We know that on some of these voyages he was accompanied by close friends and family such as his brother Bartolomé and the loyal Miguel Ballester, the first man to plant, cultivate and elaborate sugar cane in the New World.


Sugar cane takes root in the Caribbean.


In the museum “Casas Reales “ of Santo Domingo, there is an inscription, which specifies the following: - ‘1505 - sugar is produced by the residents of La Vega, Ballester and Aguillón or Aguílo.


There is also a plaque on the great monument dedicated to sugar cane in La Vega, which reads, ‘Miguel Ballester, ‘the first man to extract the juice…’ which is exactly what the chronicler of that time Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo wrote on p. 6 of his Historia General y Natural de la Indias: ‘…the Mayor of La Vega, Miguel Ballester, from Catalonia, was the first man to produce sugar’.



Monument to sugar cane in Santo Domingo, which reads, ‘…Miguel Ballestero extracted the juice….’


Map of the Island La Hispaniola (today the Dominican Republic)


In a list of the main sugar cane plantations and mills on La Española in the XVI century, which is to be found in the previously mentioned work of Oviedo, it states


Miguel Ballester’s Plantations

1514 - La Concepción (La Vega) Alcaide (warden) Miquel(sic) Ballester

1516 - San Cristóbal (S. Cristóbal) Alcaide (warden) Miquel(sic) Ballester


Note how Oviedo writes Ballester’s name in Catalan “Miquel)


Miguel Ballester, “the first man to produce sugar


In Repartimientos y Encomiendas en la Isla Española (El Repartimiento de Alburquerque de 1514), (Madrid 1991) written by Luis Arranz Márquez on pages 543 and 567 are the lists of the native territories and those in charge of them in each town. The book states that Miguel Ballester was in charge of 35 workers divided among the four territories in the region of Buena Ventura.


In the above mentioned book, there is also an alphabetical list of chieftains grouped by townships, and the evidence of orders placed by Miguel Ballester and by the dead chieftain, Adrián, as well as other buyers.


The Director of the National Archives of Santo Domingo, Dr. Ramón A. Font Bernard, told us that it was a usual practice among the conquerors to marry a dead chieftain’s wife in order to gain authority over the natives and their territory which was used by mercantile traffic.

One of the first mills or “trapiches” powered by animals force to crush the sugar cane on the Island of La Hispaniola.


Vestiges of the first sugar mill established at Boca del río Nigua in San Cristóbal (Dominican Republic)


The last three decades of his life.


I am very grateful to Father José Luis Sáez s.j. of Santo Domingo for the information he furnished me with on the Dutch historian Harry Hoetink and his work Breve historia del azucar en Santo Domingo, where among other things he says: ‘the warden, that tower of strength, Miguel Ballester would do so much more shortly afterwards in Concepción de la Vega’, The author of Historia de las Indias, Father las Casas, writes that Vellosa ‘managed to make what is called a “trapiche”, which is a mill or device moved by horses, where the cane is crushed or squeezed, and the mellifluous juice with which sugar is made, is extracted. It is obvious, however that before trapiches like those of Vellosa, Ballester and others were brought into use, this new type of farming had to be carried out with milling techniques of a much more primitive nature, such as those originally used in Ancient Egypt, which had been designed as olive presses.’


Hotink presented an annex to his work  “Notas sobre la población de la isla” It was from a historical collection by Alajandro Llenas in Estadística de la Isla de Santo Domingo (Santiago de los Caballeros), 1875) which makes reference to the distribution by Alburquerque -Pasamonte ( Royal tax inspector and later treasurer). It says that 2,824 people arrived on November 23rd. 1514, among whom there were chieftains, Indian slaves and house slaves (nabobs) without counting old people and children. In this list the distribution is as follows:


‘To the King’s estates and mines: the chieftain Diego Enrique Guzman and 92 people in service (47 men and 45 women)., as well as 4 old people and 7 children, not in service.’


 ‘To Miguel Ballester: resident of the township, 2 house slaves (nabobs) were assigned, as well as the chieftain Adrián with 28 people in service and 4 of the chieftain’s children, not in service.’


‘To Pedro and Hernando de Medina: residents of the township, 14 house slaves (nabobs) were assigned, as well as one or more that had belonged to Miguel Ballester.’


‘To Alonso de Moratón: resident of the township and married to a woman of Castile, 3 house slaves (nabobs) were assigned of those registered by Miguel Ballester.’


The natives served as “nabobs” or house slaves. In the New World “nabori” was the free native who worked in domestic service and a slave was a person who was owned like property. According to the documents that we have been able to consult, the people that were assigned to Miguel Ballester, were all nabobs.

Concepcion de la Vega, founded by Columbus in 1494, It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1562, but the 68 years of its existence it had become the first city of bricks and mortar in the New World. The Mayor of the Fortress of Concepción de la Vega, was Miguel Ballester, from Tarragona.

The forgotten remains of the old La Vega.


Photos by F. José Luis Sáez, s.j.

Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic)



From the Mediterranean Sea to the Caribbean Sea.



The Milanese chronicler at the Court of the Catholic Monarchs, Pietro Martyr de Anghiera, wrote in 1514 that ‘twenty years after the Discovery of the New World, there were 28 sugar cane plantations with their corresponding elaboration systems, called “trapiches” or devices’. The writer Carlos Martí, in Los Catalanes en América, edited in La Habana and Barcelona in 1918 makes reference to Miguel Ballester’s first extracting mill or “trapiche”, which was in San Cristóbal in  the Dominican Republic near to Boca del río Nigua.


One of the latest known facts that we have access to regarding Miguel Ballester, is from the same chronicler of the time of the Catholic Monarchs, namely Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, who collected information from the sugar cane plantations and “trapiches” on the Dominican Island of la Española in the year 1516, making mention of the mill at San Cristóbal, and property of the Mayor, Miquel (sic) Ballester, who was then eighty years old.


This man from Tarragona “an honoured and venerated old man”, according to the description by Las Casas, who knew him well, lived on La Española for the last three decades of his life and died on that beautiful Dominican Island caressed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea, far from his birthplace Tarragona, a place also caressed by waters, but those of the Mediterranean Sea, the first that he was to sail on.


Miguel Ballester was the first man to introduce sugar cane to the Caribbean, and the first to extract the honey-sweet juice of which later on the strong, spirited drink of rum would be born.

(c)Ernest Vallhonrat i Llurba