Page images

Velasquez had been informed of the success of the et-terprize by an officer dispatched for that purpose by Grijalva, who immediately sent an account to Spain of the success of the voyage; without waiting for the orders of his sovereign, he prepared for another expedition. This terminated in conquests of greater moment than any they had hitherto achieved, and will be related in the next book. When Grijalva returned to Cuba, he found an armament in readiness to attempt the conquest of that country, which he had discovered. Ambition and avarice urged Velasquez to hasten his preparations; and the alluring prospect of gratifying both, made him cheerfully advance considerable sums from his private fortune, to defray the expense. Sols diers eager to embark in any daring enterprize soon appeared. The difficulty lay in finding a person fit to take the command.

Velasquez was solicitous to choose a commander intrepid, and one who possessed superior abilities; but at the same time from a jealousy natural to little minds, he wisho ed him to be so tame and obsequious, as to be entirely dependant upon his will. But he was soon convinced that it was impossible to unite such incompatible qualities in one person. Those who were conspicuous for courage, were too high spirited to be his passive tools; and those who appeared gentle and tractable, were deficient of the necesa sary qualifications requisite for such an undertaking. He deliberated long, and still continued irresolute until Amado de Lares, the royal treasurer in Cuba, and Andres Duero, his own secretary, in whom he placed great confidence; proposed Fernando Cortes, and supported their recommendation with such address and assiduity as proved successful. Cortes was born at Medellin, a small town in Estremadura, in the year 1485, and descended from a noble family ; but of very moderate fortune. He was sent early by his parents to the university of Salamanca, where he made some progress in learning. An academic life not suiting his ardent and restless genius, he retired to Medellin, where he gave himself up entirely to active 'sports, and martial exercisesi At this period of his life, he was so impetuous and overbearing, and so dissipated, that his father was glad to comply with his inclination, and sent him abroad as an adventurer in arms.

The Spanish youth who courted military glory, had an opportunity to display their valour either in Italy, under

the command of the great captain, or in the New World. Cortes preferred the former, but was prevented by indispasition from embarking with a reinforcement of troops sent to Naples. Then he turned his views towards America, where he hoped to advance himself under the patronage of Ovando, who was at that time governor of Hispaniola, and his kinsman. His reception was such as equalled his most sanguine hopes; and the governor employed him in several honourable and lucrative stations.

But his ambition was not to be satisfied with the moderate means of acquiring wealth or fame. It was in the stormy and active scenes of a military life, that he wished to distinguish himself.

With this view he requested permission to accompany Velasquez in his expedition to Cuba. In this service he acquitted himself so well, that notwithstanding some violent contests, occasioned by trivial causes, with Velasquez, he was at length taken into favour, and received an ample share of lands and Indians.

Though Cortes had not hitherto acted in high command, e he had displayed such abilities in scenes of difficulty and

danger, as raised universal expectation, and turned the :! eyes of his countrymen towards him, as one capable of 7, executing great designs. The turbulence of youth, as soon

aš he found objects suited to the ardour of his mind, graE dually subsided into a regular habit of indefatigable activi

ty. The impetuosity of his temper, when he came to act with his equals, abated, and mellowed into a cordial soldierly frankness. These qualities were accompanied with calm prudence in concerting his schemes, and with persevering vigour in executing them; and what is peculiar to superior genius, the art of gaining the confidence, and governing ihe minds, of men. To all which was added a graceful person, an insinuating address, extraordinarily alert in martial exercises, and a vigorous constitution, capable of enduring the greatest fatigue.

As soon as Cortes was mentioned to Velasquez by his two confidants, he flattered himself that he had found a 3 man with talents for command, but not an object of jealou

sy. He concluded that his rank and fortune were not sufficient to inspire him with the hopes of independence. Several favours he had conferred upon Cortes ; and by this

new and unexpected mark of confidence, Velasquez hoped 9 to attach him forever to his interest.

Cortes received his commission with the warmest ex pression of respect and gratitude to the governor, and immediately erected his standard before his own house, and assumed all the ensigns of his new dignity. He persuaded many of his friends to engage in the service, and to urge forward the preparations for the voyage. He morto gaged all his lands and Indians to procure money, which he expended in purchasing military stores and provisions, or in supplying such of his officers as were unable to equip themselves in a manner suited to their rank.

Inoffensive and laudable as this conduct' was, his disappointed competitors were so malicious as to give it a turn to his disadvantage: they accused him at aiming, with little disguise, to establish an independent authority over his troops, and endeavouring to secure their respect and love, by an ostentatious display of his liberality. They reminded Velasquez of his former dissentions, with the man in whom he now reposed so much confidence ; and predicted, that Cortes would avail himself of the power which he was putting into his hands to avenge past injuries, rather than to requite late obligations. These insinuations made a powerful impression on the jealous mind of Velasquez.

Cortes soon observed a growing alienation, and distrugt in his behaviour, and was advised by his friends Lares and Duero, to hasten his departure, before these should become so confirmed, as to break out into open violence. Cortes, sensible of the danger, hastened his preparations with such rapidity, that he set sail from St. Jago de Cuba on the 18th of November; Velasquez accompanied him to the shore, and took leave of him with apparent friendship, though he had secretly given it in charge to some of his officers, to have a watchful eye upon every part of their commander's conduct.

Cortes proceeded to Trinidad, a small settlement on the same side of the island, where he was joined by several adventurers, and received a further supply of provi. sions and stores. He had hardly left St. Jago, when the jealousy of Velasquez grew so violent, as to be impossible for him to suppress it. Imagination now exaggerated every circumstance which had before excited suspicion : his rivals, by their suggestions, increased his fears, and called superstition to their aid, employing the predictions of an astrologer to complete their designs. All these

[merged small][ocr errors]

united, produced the desired effect. Velasquez repented bitterly of his own imprudence, in committing a trust of such importance to a person, in whose fidelity he could no longer trust; and hastily dispatched instructions to Trini. dad, empowering Verdugo, the chief magistrate there, to deprive Cortes of his commission. But Cortes, secure in the esteem, and confidence of his troops, and finding they were zealous to support his authority: he, by soothing or intimidating Verdugo, was permitted to depart from Trinidad without molestation.

Cortes sailed for the Havanna, in order to raise more soldiers, and complete the victualling of his Aeet. There several persons of distinction entered into his service, and engaged to supply what provisions were wanting.

While this was doing, Velasquez availed himself of the interval, sensible that it would be improper to rely on a man of whom he had openly shewn such distrust, made one attempt more to wrest the command out of the hands of Cortes. Anxious to guard against a second disappointment, he sent a person, in whom he could confide, to the Havanna, with peremptory injunctions to Pedro Barba, his lieutenant governor in that colony, instantly to arrest Cortes, and send him prisoner to St. Jago under a strong guard ; and to countermand the departure of the armament until he should receive further orders.

He also wrote to the principal officers, requiring them to assist Barba in executing what he had given him in charge. Fortunately for Cortes, a Franciscan friar of St. Jago had secretly conveyed an account of this interesting intelligence to Bartholomew de Olmedo, a monk of the same order, and who acted as chaplain to the expedition. This gave Cortes time to take precautions for his safety. He found some pretext to remove from the Havanna, Diego de Ordaz, an officer of great abilities, but whose known attachment to Velasquez, made it unsafe to trust him in this trying and delicate juncture. He therefore gave him the command of, a vessel that was to proceed to a small harbour beyond Cape Antonio, and thus removed him from his presence, without appearing to suspect his fidelity.

When Ordaz was gone, Cortes informed his officers and soldiers who were equally impatient to set out upon the expedition, in preparing for which, most of them had expended all their fortunes. They expressed their astoDishment and indignation at that illiberal jealousy, to which

the governor was about to sacrifice the honour of their general, and all their sanguine hopes of glory and wealth. They all with one voice entreated him, not to abandon them, and depriye them of a leader whom they followed with such unbounded confidence, and offered to shed the last drop of their blood in maintaining his authority. Cortes was easily persuaded to comply with what he so ardently desired. He swore he would never desert soldiers, who had given him such a signal proof of their attachment, and promised instantly to conduct them to that rich country, which had been so long the subject of their thoughts and


- This declaration was received with transports of military applause, accompanied with threats and imprecations against all who should presume to call in question the ju. risdiction of their general, or obstruct the execution of his designs. Every thing was now ready for their departure. The fleet consisted of eleven vessels, the largest was one hundred tons burden, which was dignified with the name of admiral ; three of seventy or eighty tons, and the rest small open barks. On board of these were six hundred and seventeen men; of which, five hundred and eight belonged to the land service, and a hundred and nine were seamen and artificers. The soldiers were divided into eleven companies, to each of which Cortes appointed a captain.

As the use of fire-arms among the nations of Europe, was hitherto confined to a few battalions of disciplined infantry, only thirteen soldiers were armed with muskets, thirty-two were cross-bow men, and the rest had swords and spears. Instead of their usual defensive armour, they wore quilted-cotton jackets; these had been found a sufficient protection against the weapons of the Indians. They had only sixteen horses, ten small field pieces, and four falconets. Begin · With this slender, and ill-provided train, did Cortes set sail to make war upon a monarch, whose dominions were more extensive, than all the kingdoms subject to the Spanish crown. A large cross was displayed on their standards, with this inscription, “ Let us follow the cross, for " under this sign we shall conquer.” Thus, enthusiasm and avarice united in prompting the Spaniards in all their

enterprizes. · So powerfully were Cortes and his companions, animati ed with both these passions, that no less eager to plunder

« PreviousContinue »