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Ever since the death of Columbus, his son, Don Diego, had been employed in soliciting Ferdinand to grant hin the offices of viceroy and admiral, in the New World, together with all the other immunities and profiis, which descended to him by inheritance, in consequence of the original capitulation with his father. But if these dignities and revenues appeared so considerable to Ferdinand, that at the expense of being deemed unjust, as well as un grateful, he had wrested them from Columbus, it is not surprising that he should withhold them from the son.
Don Diego, after wasting two years in fruitless solicitation, 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 viceroyalty, 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 fortune so opuient, that he found no difficulty in concluding a marriage with Doona Maria, daughter of Don Ferdinand de l'oledo, great cominendator 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 couiu not resist their solicitations. He recalled Ovando, and appointed Don Diego his successor, in 1509: in conferring this favour, he could not conceal his jealousy; for he ailowed him only to assume the title of governor, and not that of viceroy, which had been adjudged to hin.
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 unknown 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 defrauded.
The colony acquired new lustre by the accession of so many inhabitants, of a datferent rank and character, from those who bad hitherto emigrated to America; and many of the most illustrious families in the Spanish seitiennents, are descended from the persons who attended Don Diego at that iime. Though it was above ten years since Columbus had discovered the main land of Annerica, 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 consider ble reputation, but no wealth; his character for intrepidity and condact, easily procured him associates, who advanced the money requisite to 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 countrymen. Ferdinand encouraged both; and though he refused to advancé the smallest sum, was very liberal of titles and patents. He erected two governments on the continent; 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 to Nicuessa.
Ojeda fitted out a ship and two brigantines, with three hundred men: Nicuessa, sis vessels, with seven hundred and eighty men. They sailed about the saine time from St. Domingo, for their respective governments. 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 country to the king of Spain: they required them to submit to his authority, and embrace the Catholic religion. If they refused to complý, 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 sub; jects. They turned to ridicule such extravagant proposals, and fiercely opposed the new invaders of their territories. 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, taught to dread the inhabitants of the New World. Nothing could soften their ferocity. Though the Spaniards practised every art to soothe them, and gain their confidence, they refused to hold any intercourse, or exchange any friendly office: they considered them as enemies come to deprive them of their lity and independence.
hough the Spaniards received two considerable reinforcements, the greater part of those engaged in this unhappy enter. prize, perished in less than a year. A few, who survived, set. tled a feeble colony, at Santa Maria el Antigua, on the gulf of Darien, under the command of Vasco Nugnez de Balboa, who, in the inost desperate extremities, displayed such courage and conduct, as gained him the confidence of his countrymen, and marked him out for a leader, in more splendid and succesful undertakings. Nor was he the only adventurer, who will appear with lustre in more important scenes.
Francis Pizzıro, who was one of Ojeda's companions, afterwards performed many extraordinary actions. Ferdinand Cortes, whose name became still more famous, had engaged early in this enterpriże, which roused all the active youth of Hispaniola to arms; but the good fortune which attended him in his subsequent adventures, interpused to save him from the disasters, to which his companions were exposed. He was taken ill at 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 conquer the island of Cuba, and to establish a colony there. Many persons of distinction in Hispaniola entered with alacrity into the measure.
The cognmand of the troops sent on this expedition, was given to Diego Velasquez, one of his father's companions in his second voyage, whose ample fortune, long residence in Hispanivla, and reputation for probity and prudence, qualified him for conducting an expedition of importance. Three hundred men were deemed 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 undertaking was not very hazardous.
The only obstruction the Spaniards met with, was from Hatuey, à 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 endeavoared to drive them back to their ships. His feeble troaps were soon broken and dispersed; and he himself made prisoner. He was soon cuademned to the flames. While he was tastened to the stake, a Franciscan friar, labouring to convert bin, promised him the immediate joys of heaven, if he would embrace the Christian faith; ** Are there any Spaniards," said he, after some pause," in that “sregion 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 bo race. With this dreadíul example, the natives were so intimidated, that they submitted to treir 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 increase of force.was necessary, to make a settlement with safety. But the primary object which induced him to undertake this voyage, was a tradition that prevailed among the 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 vigour of every person who bathed in it. That a tale so incredible should gain belief among simple uninstructed Indians, is not surprising; 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 attempt of their credulous countrymen.
Soon after the expedition of 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 contended with such eagerness about the division of some gold, that they were upon the point of proceeding to violence. 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 tranquility of other nations for its sake, I will conduct
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 inquired eagerly where this country lay, and how they might arrive at it. He informed them, 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 him 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 friendship of the neighbouring caziques; he sent some of his officers to Hispaniola with a large quantity of gold. By a proper distribution of this, they secured the favour of the governor, and allured volunteers into the seryice. A considerable reinforcement from that island joined him, and with these he attempted a discovery.
The isthmus of Darien is not above sixty miles in breadth; 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 opposite oceans. The wountains are covered wish forests almost inaccessible. The low lands are marshy and frequently overflowed, so that the inhabitants find it necessary, in many places, to buiid their houses on trees, 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 Bal. boa surmounted every obstale. With only one hundred and ninety men, and some of those fierce dogs, which were no less formidable to their naked enemies, and one thousand Indians, he set out on this expedition, in the year 1513.
No sooner did he begin to advance, than he was retarded by many obstacles, which he had reason to apprehend, from the nature of the country, and the hostility of its inhabitants. Some of the 'caziques fled at his approach, with all their people, to the mountains. Others collected their subjects in order to oppose his progress.
When they had penetrated a considerable distance into the mountains, a powerful cazique appeared in a narrow pass, with a numerous body of troops, to oppose them. The Spaniards, who had surmounted so many 'obstacles, despised the opposition of such feeble enemies. They attacked them with such impetuosity that ihe Indians gave way at the first onset, and many of them were slain; after which the Spaniards continued their march. Though their guide had told them it was but six days' journey across the isthmus, yet they had nuw been twenty-five days in forcing their way through the woods. Many of them were ready to sink under the fatiguus they had undergone, and all began to be impatient to reach the period of their sufferings: at length the Indians assured them, that from the top of the next mountain they could discover the ocean which was the object of their wishes.
When they had, with infinite toil, ascended the greater part of that steep ascent, Balboa commanded his men to halt, and he alone advanced to the summit, that he might be the first to be. hold a spectacle which he had so long been in quest of. As soon as he beheld the South Sea stretching in endless prospect below him, he fell on his knees, and lifting up his eyes to Heaven, re. turned thanks to God, who had conducted him to a discovery so beneficial to his country, and so honourable to himself. His fol. lowers observing his transports, rushed forward and joined to buig wonder, exultation and gratitudes