Tony Horwitz on Spanish Conquistadors and September 12, 2001

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while, waiting for its moment.

I’ve been reading Tony Horwitz’s A Voyage Long and Strange, about the early settlement of North America. He got the idea for the book during a visit to Plymouth Rock. Horwitz realized that while he knew plenty about the role of the Brittish, but little about the period between Columbus’ discovery of American and the settlement of Jamestown.

When Horwitz chooses a topic, he doesn’t just read everything he can—he visits the sites mentioned and imagines the reactions of those who lived during the historical events. He has a knack for finding bizarre and illuminating anecdotes.

Here’s a quote about the Spanish explorer Menendez de Aviléz, the founder of

“He acted as an excellent inquisitor,” a Spanish historian wrote of Menendez in 1567, lauding his executio of unabashed heretics. “He was very merciful in granting them a noble and honorable death, by cutting off their heads, when he could legally have burnt them alive.”

The Spanish Inquisition affected American conquest as well. They had strict rules about massacring Indians and wrote up an edict called the Requerimiento, or Summons:

Drafted three decades earlier by a Spanish jurist, the document was art of the Crown’s tortured attempt to define “just war” against Indians: a sort of sixteenth-century Geneva Convention. Conquistoadors carried copies of the Requerimeiento all over the Americas and were commanded to read it to Indians before commencing battle.

. . . . After an abridged history of the world, the Spanish offered the Indians a chance to surrender. If the Indians refused, the conquistador promised to “do all the harm and damage to you that I can. I declare that the deaths and injuries that occur as a result of this would be your fault and not His Majesty’s, nor ours . . . .” The document concluded with the chilling legalism of Spanish conquest: a notary, required to be present at the scene, signed an affidavit attesting that the edict had been pronounced.

In a more amusing scene, Horwitz visits the Dominican republic to learn more about Columbus’ arrival. He stops at the Faro Museum, “intended to honor not only Columbus, but also the global network he helped create: a monument . . . to world peace.” The museum contained sixty-two rooms with national displays from around the world: Japan displayed samurai; China, ming vases; Russia, a samovar.” Horwitz “began to wonder how my own country would present tself in this ersatz United Nations.” The US display took up two walls. One contained smal photos of fireworks and flag-waving on July 4. “The other wall, much more prominent, was covered in poster-sized blowups of newspaper front pages. All were dated September 12, 2001. . . ”

Speaking of September 11, Baila reminds us of what we lost that day, and includes a roundup of posts.

Book Review: River of Doubt
Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean
What Plotlines Do You Avoid in Novels?
Books Reviewed for 2009


  1. Great review! I’ll put the book on my “to-read” list.

  2. great post! Very similar subject to the book Lies My Teacher Told Me,

    which I’m also reading at the moment! It delves into the REAL story about the Christopher Columbus Myth, The First Thanksgiving myth, and others in American History.