Luis de Torres
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Luis de Torres (died 1493) was Christopher Columbus's interpreter on his first voyage to America.
After arriving at Cuba, which he supposed to be the Asian coast, Columbus sent de Torres and the sailor Rodrigo de Jerez on an expedition inland on November 2, 1492. Their task was to explore the country, contact its ruler, and gather information about the Asian emperor described by Marco Polo as the "Great Khan". The two men were received with great honors in a village, and returned four days later. They reported on the native custom of drying leaves, inserting them in cane pipes, burning them, and inhaling the smoke: a reference to the use of tobacco.
When Columbus set off for Spain on January 4, 1493, Luis de Torres was among the 39 men who stayed behind at the settlement of La Navidad founded on the island of Hispaniola. Coming back by the end of that year, Columbus learnt that the whole garrison had been wiped out by internal strife and by an Indian attack, which had occurred in retaliation to the Spaniards' abducting native women. The Indians remembered that one of the settlers had spoken "offensively and disparagingly" about the Catholic faith, trying to dissuade anybody from adopting it. According to Gould, this man may well have been de Torres.
De Torres' life has been the subject of various legends. The most widespread one, which can be found in the Encyclopaedia Judaica and similar reference books, is that de Torres was a Jewish converso or convert escaping the banishment of the Jews from Spain and that he became in his latter days a wealthy and honored landowner in the West Indies. This version goes back to Meyer Kayserling's book Christopher Columbus and the participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese discoveries (1894).
The story of de Torres addressing a native tribe in Hebrew after Columbus's first landfall on San Salvador is a product of novelists' imagination. De Torres is also believed to have discovered the turkey and named it after the Hebrew tukki (parrot) of the Bible, though this is deeply unlikely because the bird is referred to as "pavo", not "turkey", in Spanish. Still another legend has him return to Spain and smoke tobacco there, which led to his being accused for witchcraft by the Inquisition.
Some Islamic websites have claimed the participation of "an Arabic-speaking Spaniard" in Columbus's Atlantic crossing as a proof for the antiquity of Arab American history. The legendary San Salvador speech is said here to have taken place in Arabic. These conjectures have been given credentials in an article by Phyllis McIntosh in the U. S. State Department's publication Washington File (August 23, 2004): "It is likely that Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492, charted his way across the Atlantic Ocean with the help of an Arab navigator."
- Columbus’s Diaries in the original Spanish
- Alicia B. Gould y Quincy, "Nueva lista documentada de los tripulantes de Colón en 1492: Luis de Torres", Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia 90 (1927), p. 541-552.
- Luis de Torres Biography