Balboa had named the sea he saw the South Sea, because he saw it from the air of the south, because the Isthmus of Panama in those regions runs in an east-west direction in a wide arc. The name of the Southern Sea is still used by seafarers in practice.
Perhaps due to Davila’s mismanagement, the Spanish government then decided to give Balboa the recognition he deserved. He was named “Governor of the South Sea”, although he was obliged to recognize Davila as his main man. Balboa got the isthmus on the slope of the Pacific, its better and richer side. But Davila, who had greater means, cared little for his fiefdoms, but sent his nephew Morales with Pizarro to conquer the Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama, which were the best part of Balboa’s territory. With a few dozen men, the expedition rowed itself to the largest island, which was captured after a fierce battle. The vanquished chief took the Spaniards to the tower on top of his lodge, and there showed them all the islands in his possession and all the fine pearl beaches. At the same time, he told about a rich country in the south, whose ships he had once seen. He saved his life when he agreed to pay a yearly tax of 100 pounds of pearls. Then the Spaniards returned to the mainland and crossed the isthmus again, horribly ravaging the inhabitants. Even in one scene, which was supposed to be a friendly conversation, the bloodhounds were suddenly set upon the cassocks, which they tore to pieces. Hundreds of natives were murdered, and when the Indians, embittered by this, began to harass the Spaniards, hundreds of wives and children who had been taken as slaves were killed, and the bodies of the victims were mutilated so that the pursuers would be frightened and not dare to follow. Balboa also talks about these atrocities with horror, but the nephew of the lord was allowed to rage unpunished.
In order to reconcile Balboa and Davila, the churchmen persuaded the latter to give Balboa his daughter in marriage. But despite that, Katala Davila was just waiting for the right opportunity to destroy her rival. Balboa had, according to the king’s orders, to build a road across the isthmus and to take ship’s timbers to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. This difficult work took more time than had been calculated, even though the countrymen starved by the hundreds while dragging the heavy ships across the isthmus. A new governor was expected from Spain instead of Davila, — it was a premature rumour, — and in order to escape from their scene to his own province, Balboa had to make such haste that it aroused the suspicion of his father-in-law. Davila allowed Pizarro to take him prisoner and together with four of his trusted men, Balboa was sentenced to death and executed in 1517.
After Balboa’s death, the brutal sub-commanders in a short time destroyed the isthmus to the extent that it was almost empty of people. Slaves were brought from Africa instead. Already at the beginning of the 17th century, there were more Negroes than Indians in Panama. Balboa’s successor, Espinosa, founded the city of Panama in 1519, but in such an unhealthy place that 40,000 people died of fever in the first three decades. The colony was therefore moved to a healthier place. It was the end of the road starting from Puerto Bello on the Atlantic coast, which became increasingly important after the conquest of Peru. Ships built in Panama then began to explore the shores of the Pacific Ocean both northward and southward.
Conquest of Nicaragua.
In 1521, Gonzales Davila sailed north along the coast in small ships and arrived at the village of Nicoya, in present-day Costa Rica, where the chief and all his people agreed to be baptized. Even further north, a fertile and populous country was found, which was named Nicaragua after its prince. Cultivation improved as Ku went further north, as the influence of Mexico began to be felt more and more. Gonzales left his ship and went with his troops to the ruler of Nicaragua, who lived by the lake of the same name. This too allowed himself to be baptized and 9,000 countrymen with him, and willingly allowed a Spanish guest to ride into his lake and let his horse drink its water. But through that going, Gonzales had taken over his land. A lot of gold was caught here as well.
Later, Gonzales, after seeking reinforcements from Haiti, tried to invade Nicaragua from the east and conquer the country permanently. But the situation in Nicaragua had changed quite a bit in the meantime. First he met the adventurers of the Ward who had come from the south on the same errands, attacked them, and mercilessly plundered the weapons and gold they had collected. But on his return to the coast, Gonzales, on his part, ran into a war party, who wanted to rob him of both the treasures and the land; it was sent by Cortes from Mexico.
The detachment defeated by Gonzales belonged to the group that Pedrarias Davila had sent to Nicaragua under the leadership of Francisco de Cordova. Cordova’s company, despite the mentioned small partial loss, was successful. He founded many cities in the country, which have survived to this day, built a ship on Lake Nicaragua and, after consolidating his power, intended to completely free himself from the command of Pedrarias. He then left with his army to Nicaragua, captured his rebellious sub-commander and enthroned him in 1526.
But when Pedrarias Davila returned to Panama in 1527, a successor had finally arrived there. For thirteen years he had oppressed the colony and through his cunning, arbitrariness, cruelty and at the same time his weakness had become subject to public hatred. He had completely destroyed the province he ruled and, despite the immense sacrifices of men and goods, had achieved little.
Ponce de Leon searches for the fountain of youth.
Ever since Columbus, the Spanish sailors had primarily traveled towards the south, because, according to rumor, there were large gold lands on that side. Through it, the shores of the Caribbean Sea south of Yucatan had become well known, before anyone had yet set off on a voyage of discovery to the Gulf of Mexico. The governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon, was the first to travel there. Juan Ponce de Leon, whose family was one of the oldest in Spain, had come to Spain with Ovando in 1502, bravely fought and participated in the conquest of the island, and finally in 1508 usurped Puerto Rico as his own province. But when Diego Colon arrived in the West Indies as governor, de Leon’s position in Puerto Rico became difficult; Diego Colon, as his father’s enemy, demanded that he resign. Ponce de Leon therefore decided to acquire a new dominion. After hearing from some Indians that there was a miraculous spring on the island of Bimini, the water of which gave youth to anyone who drank from it, he decided to go in search of it. Although the knight was not yet fifty years old, he was nevertheless overcome by the desire to find this miraculous source and usurp its fame.
Ponce de Leon equipped three ships at his own expense and set off in March 1513. The Bahama archipelago was carefully explored and the search was extended beyond it, until a completely unknown land was found, which looked extremely wonderful. It got the Florida name because it was first seen on Palm Sunday. Leon sailed a considerable distance north of the east coast of this country, returned and sailed a little to the west coast as well, without being able to find out whether it was an island or a mainland. Finally, he left the continuation of the investigation to his sub-commander and returned to Puerto Rico himself. He had found a new land, but he could not find the fountain of youth, which would probably have been even more precious to him, even though he had sailed from island to island and drunk from all the springs. In Puerto Rico, the knight then had to suffer a lot of ridicule,
However, Ponce de Leon did not throw his discovery away, but went to Spain in 1514 and received permission from the king to conquer both Bimini and Florida, of which he was appointed governor. So he set off in 1521 on a new trip to establish colonies and continue his discoveries, and now seems to have visited the island of Tortugas, which got its name from the turtles, and went ashore in many places. But when a large part of the crew had succumbed to diseases and he himself was badly wounded in the battle with the Indians, he had to go to Cuba, and there Ponce de Leon died.
All attempts to establish colonies in Florida came to naught due to fierce opposition from the inhabitants. The Indians of Florida were a warlike people who would rather allow themselves to be exterminated than be content to be ruled by strangers.
Conquest of Cuba.
Diego Velasquez had conquered Cuba from Haiti, without encountering any resistance from the benevolent and peaceful population of the island; he was appointed in 1511 as the governor of the island. When the island was so vast and its fertility so incomparable, many Spanish adventurers gathered there. However, they were not satisfied with the slow farming for a long time, but after a year or so, an expedition was equipped, the purpose of which was to discover new lands. Gold was the watchword of the time, and as long as there was room for hope that new gold lands would be found, all tour companies received plenty of support.
Yucatan and the Maya.
With the help of Velasquez, three ships were equipped in 1517, which, sailing west from Cuba, arrived on the coast of Yucatan. This expedition was important because it was the first time the Spanish met the natives, who were remarkably advanced. They had handsome temples decorated with sculptures, built of hewn stone on tall blunt pyramids of earth. To a miracle, the hikers there also saw the sign of the cross, but among the idols — it was the symbol of the god of rain. The nation, which called itself Maya, had also invented its own pictograph, of which samples have been preserved, but which cannot be read. The writings were both carved into the walls and stones of the buildings and drawn on the leaves of the agave plant, which were first covered with a fine layer of plaster. The Maya people did not walk naked, like those natives, whom the Spaniards had met until then, but in splendid cotton clothes. However, their civilization was already deteriorating even more. Many temples and palaces had been left deserted, covered by forest and creepers. Apart from temples decorated with images, they had large stone images of deities.
The Spaniards tried to gain a foothold on this coast in many places, but the inhabitants forced them everywhere to retreat to their ships in bloody battles. The expedition sailed round the Yucatan to its western coast, but at last, having lost its chief in a fight, had to turn back.
This trip attracted great attention and Velasquez decided without delay to equip a new expedition to conquer the newly discovered country. In 1518, four ships headed by his nephew Grijalva left for Yucatan. Among other things, the brave Alvarado, who then was one of Cortes’ best men in the conquest of Mexico, was a participant. The well-built white houses of Yucatan reminded the Spaniards of their homeland, which is why the country was named »New Castile«. But the residents were hostile this time too. Only on the Tabasco river, which received the name Grijalva from the leader of the expedition, a more peaceful population was encountered. We then followed Mexico’s dangerous, coral-reefed coast all the way to present-day Vera Cruz. On one island a temple was found where five Indians had just been sacrificed. Closer to Vera Cruz, the black-robed sacrificial priests in a temple had just stabbed a couple of boys with their knives. The higher the civilization, the more common human sacrifices became. Nevertheless, Grijalva went ashore and bartered for himself all kinds of trinkets, gold, precious stones, and vessels of wondrous shape. So we had reached the real gold country, which promised an immense booty. Alvarado was sent back to Cuba to take the message, Grijalva sailed a distance further north, then he too returned across the sea to Cuba. There, the news about the new golden land had created an extraordinary frenzy. Velasquez sent rich presents to the Spanish crown, in order to bring the new countries under his dominion, and at the same time equipped a larger fleet, to proceed to conquer these countries.
Conquest of Mexico.
A more suitable man than Fernando Cortes Velasquez could hardly have been made the head of his company, even though he himself was thereby completely marginalized and lost the power and spoils he had hoped for. Cortes is the only real hero among the adventurers who left Spain to conquer the New World and are known in history as the »conquistadors». that is, under the collective name of the conquerors. His noble great character and brave feats fill us with wonder. Cortes was born in 1485 in Estremadura, had studied for two years at the University of Salamanca and received an education that was rare among adventurer knights of that time. The wonderful stories that were told from across the ocean and the allure of romantic adventures had charmed him as well as all the youth of Spain. Already in In 1504 he had arrived in San Domingo with Ovando. Through his literary education, he became Velasquez’s secretary, and after moving to Cuba and acquiring land there, he was appointed alcalde of Santiago, Velasquez’s capital.
Contemporaries describe Corte as a hunky, large, handsome man, with large dark eyes in his pale face. He was brave and firm in his resolve, shrewd and sharp in planning, skilled in all knightly sports and the use of arms. He always grasped a position quickly, was a good speaker, knew how to inspire his troops, in a word, he was in every way made to be a leader in the strange conditions of the New World. Cortes was barely 33 years old when Velasquez entrusted him with the management of his company. The governor favored him especially because he could cover part of the expedition’s expenses from his own funds. Cortes, on the other hand, used a large part of his property for this purpose, in the sense that he would be more independent through his involvement.