Page images
PDF
EPUB

revenues appeared so consideralyle' to Ferdinand, that at the expense of being deemed unjust as well as ungrateful, he had wrested them from Columbus, it is not surprizing that he should withbold them from the son. · Don Diego, after wasting two years in fruitless solicita. tion, brought his suit against Ferdinand, before the council that managed Indian affairs, and that court with that integrity, which reflects honour upon its proceedings, decided against the king, and confirmed Don Diego's claim of the viceroyally, and all the other privileges, stipulated in the capitulation:

The sentence of the council of the Indies, gave him a title to a rank so elevated, and a forcüne so opulent, that he found no difficulty in concluding a marriage with Donna Maria, daughter of Don Ferdinand de Toledo, great commendator of Leon, and brother of the duke of Alva, a grandee of the first rank, and nearly related to the king. The duke and his family so warmly espoused the cause of their new ally, that Ferdinand could not resist their solici. tations. He recalled Ovando, and appointed Don Diego his successor, in 1509 : in conferring this favour, he could not conceal' his jealousy ;- for he allowed him only to assume the title of governor, and not that of viceroy, which had been adjudged to him.'

He soon repaired to Hispaniola, attended by his uncles, his wife, (whom the courtesy of the Spaniards honoured with the title of vice-queen) and a numerous retinue of persons of both sexes, descended of good families. He lived with a splendour and magnificence, hitherto un. known in the New World ; and the family of Columbus seemed now to enjoy the honours and rewards due to his superior genius; and of which he had been cruelly des" frauded, • The colony acquired new lustre by the accession of so many inhabitants of a different rank and character, from those who had hitherto emigrated to America'; and many of the most illustrious families in the Spanish settlements, are descended from the persons who attended Don Diego at that time. Though it was above ten years since Colum. bus had discovered the main land of America, the Spaniards had hitherto made no settlement in any part of it : but Alonzo de Ojeda, who had formerly made two voyages as a discoverer, by which he acquired considerable reputation, but no wealth ; his character for intrepidity and.

conduct, easily procured him associates, who advanced the money requisite lo defray the charges of the expedition.

About the same time, Diego de Nicuessa, who had acquired a large fortune in Hispaniola, revived the spirit of his country men. Ferdinand encouraged both; and, though he refused to advance the smallest sum, was very liberal of titles and patents. He erecied two governmenis on the coniinent ; one extending from the Cape de Vela, to the gulf of Darien ; and the other from that to Cape Gracios. a Dios. The former was given to Ojeda, the latter lo Nicuessa.

Ojeda fiited out a ship and two brigantines, with three hundred men ; Nicuessa, six vessels, with seven lundred and eighty inen.. They siled about the same time from St. Domingo, for their respective governinents. There is not in the history of mankind, any thing more singular or extravagant, than the form and ceremony they made use of in taking possession of the country. They endeavoured to convince the natives of the articles of the Christian faith, and in particular, of the jurisdiction of the pope over all the kingdoms of the earth ; and, that he had granted their couniry to the king of Spain : they required them to submit to his authority, and embrace the Catholic reli. gion. If they refused to comply. Ojeda and Nicuessa, were authorised to attack with sword and fire; to reduce them, their wives, and children, to a state of servitude, and compel them by force to submit to the authority of the king, and jurisdiction of the church. · The Indians of the continent, spurned with indignation at propositions so extravagant; they could not conceive how a foreign priest, of whom they had no knowledge, could have a right to dispose of their country ; or how a prince, altogether a stranger to them, should claim the right of commanding them as his subjects. They turned to ridicule such extravagant proposals, and fiercely opposed the new invaders of their terricories, Ojeda and Nicuessa, endeavoured to effect by force, what they could not accomplish by persuasion,

They found the natives of the continent different from their countrymen in the islands ; they were fierce and brave. Their arrows were dipped in poison so deadly, that every wound was followed with certain death In one encounter, they cut off seventy of Ojeda's followers, and the Spaniards were, for the first time, taugh: to dread the in

habitants of the New World. Nothing could soften their ferocity. Though the Spaniards practised every art to sooth them, and gain their confidence, they refused to hold any intercourse, or exchange any friendly office; they considered them as enemies come lo deprive them of their liberty, and independence. !!

Though the Spaniards received two considerable rein. forcements, the greater part of those engaged in this unhappy enterprize, perished in less than a year. A few who survived, setiled a feeble colony, at Santa Maria el Antigua, on the gulf of Darien, under the command of Vasco Nugnez de Balboa, who, in the most desperate ex. tremities, displayed such courage and conduct, as gained liim the confidence of his countrymen, and marked him out for a leader, in more splendid and successful undertakings. Nor was he the only adventurer, who will appear with lustre in more important scenes.

Francis Pizarro, who was one of Ojeda's companions, afterwards performed many extraordinary actions. Ferdi. nand Cortés, whose name became still more famous, had engaged early in this enterprize, which roused all the active youth of Hispaniola to arms; but the good fortune which attended him in his subsequent adventures, inter. posed to save him from the disasters, to which his com. panions were exposed He was taken ill al St. Domingo, before the departure of the fleet, and there detained

The unfortunate issue of this expedition in 1511, did not deter the Spaniards, from engaging in new schemes of a similar nature Don Diego Columbus proposed to con. quer the island of Cuba, and to establish a colony there. Many persons of distinction in Hispaniola, entered with alacrity into the measure...

The command of the troops sert on this expedition, was given to Diego Velasquez, one of his father's coinpas. mions in his second voyage, whose ample fortune, long residence in Hispaniola, and reputation for probity and pru. dence, qualified him for conducting an expedicion of in. portance: Three: hundred men were decmed sufficient for the conquest of an island, seven hundred miles in length, and filled with inhabitants. But as they were of the same unwarlike people as those of Hispaniola, the une dertaking was not very hazardous.

The only obstruction the Spaniards met with, was from Tatuey, a cazique who had fled from Hispaniola, and taken

possession of the eastern extremity of Cuba. He stood upon the defensive when they first landed, and endeavoured io drive them back to their ships. His feeble troops, were soon broken and disp.rsed ; and he himself made prisoner. He was soon condemned to the flames. While he was fastened to the stake,' a Franciscan friar labouring to convert him, promised him the immediate joys of hea. ven if he would embrace the christian faith ; " are there "any Spaniards," said he aftersome pause" in that region c. of bliss which you describe ?". - Yes, replied the monk, but only such as are worthy and good " The best of them," replied the indignant cazique « have neither worth « nor goodness : I will not go to a place where I shall see " one of that accursed race" With this dreadful example, the natives were so intimidated, that they submitted to their invaders, and Velasquez, without the loss of one man, annexed this large and fertile island to the Spanish monarchy.

Juan Ponce de Leon about the year 1512, discovered Florida ; he attempted to land in different places, but was repulsed with such vigour by the natives, as convinced him that an encrease of force was necessary, to make a settlement with safety. But the primary object which in duced him to undertake this voyage, was a tradition that prevailed among ihe natives of Puerto Rico, that in the island of Bimini, there was a fountain of such wonderful virtue, as to renew youth, and recall the strength and vi. gour of every person who bathed in it. , That a tale so incredible should gain belief, among simple uninstructed Indians is not surprizing ; but that it should make an impression on enlightened people, appears in the present age, altogether incredible. The fact however is certain, and Robertson in his history of America, says, the most authentic Spanish historians mention this extravagant at. tempt of their credulous countrymen

Soon after the expedition to Florida a discovery of much greater consequence was made in another part of America. Balboa having been raised to the government of Santa Maria in Darien, made frequent inroads into the adjacent country. In one of these excursions, the Spaniards con: tended with such eagerness about the division of some gold, that they were upon the point of proceeding to yiolence. A young cazique, astonished at the high value they set upon a thing of which he did not discern the use, !

tumbled the gold out of the balance with indignation ; and turning to the Spaniards, “ Why do you quarrel (said he) about such a trifle ? if you are so fond of gold as to abandon your own country, and to disturb the tranquillity of other nations for its sake, I will conduct you to a region where this metal is in such abundance, that the most common utensils are made of it." Transported with what they heard, Balboa and the rest enquired eagerly where this country lay, and how they might arrive at it. He informed then, that at the distance of six suns, (that is of six days' journey) they should discover another ocean, near to which this wealthy kingdom was situated ; but he told them if they intended to attack that powerful state, they must have forces far superior in number to those with which they now appeared.

Balboa had now before hin objects equal to his boundless ambition, and the ardour of his genius: but previous arrangements and preparations were requisite to ensure success. It was his primary object to secure the friend. ship of the neighbouring caziques ; he sent some of his officers to Hispaniola wih a large quantity of gold. By a proper distribution of this, they secured the favour of the governor, and allured volunteers into the service. A considi rable reinforcement from that island joined him, and with these he attempted a discovery.

The isthmus of Darien is not above sixty miles in breadın ; this neck of land strengthened by a chain of lofty mountains, stretching through its whole extent, binds together the continents of North and South America, and forms a sufficient barrier to resist the impulse of two op. posite oceans. The mountains are covered with forests almost ina cessible. The low lands are marshy and fre. quently overflowed, so that the inhabitants find it necessary, in many places, to build their houses on trues, to avoid the damps from the soil, and the odious reptiles which breed in the putrid waters.

To march across this unexplored country with Indian guides, of whose fidelity they were doubtful, was the boldest enterprize undertaken by the Spaniards, since the first discovery of the New World. But the intrepidity and prudent conduct of Balboa surmounted every obstacle. With only one hundred and ninety men, and some of those fierce dogs, which were no less formidable to their

« PreviousContinue »