Spanish Discoveries in America
It was reserved for the people of a sunnier clime than Iceland first to make known to the European nations the existence of a Western continent. Spain was the happy country under whose auspicious patronge a new world was to be added to the old; but the man who was destined to make the revelation was not himself a Spaniard; he was to come from genial Italy, the land of olden valor and the home of so much greatness. Christopher Columbus was the name of that man whom after ages have justly rewarded with imperishable fame.
The idea that the world is round was not original with Columbus. Others before him had held a similar belief; but the opinion had been so feebly and uncertainly entertained as to lead to no practical results. Copernicus, the Prussian astronomer, had not yet taught, nor had Galileo, the great Italian, yet demonstrated, the true system of the universe. The English traveler, Sir John Mandeville, had declared in the very first English book that ever was written (A.D. 1356) that the world is a sphere; that he himself, when traveling northward, had seen the polar star approach the zenith, and that on going southward the antarctic constellations had risen overhead; and that it was both possible and practicable for a men to sail around the world and return to the place of starting; but neither Sir John himself nor any other seaman of his times was bold enough to undertake so hazardous an enterprise. Columbus was, no doubt, the first practical believer in the theory of circumnavigation; and although he never sailed around the world himself, he demonstrated the possibility of doing so.
The great mistake with Columbus and others who shared his opinions was not concerning the figure of the earth, but in regard to its size. He believed the world to be no more than ten thousand or twelve thousand miles in circumference. He therefore confidently expected that after sailing about three thousand miles to the westward he should arrive at the East Indies; and to do that was the one great purpose of his life.
Christopher Columbus was born at Genoa, a seacoast town of Northwestern Italy, probably in 1446. He was carefully educated, and then devoted himself to the sea. His ancestors had been seamen before him. His own inclination as well as his early training made him a sailor. For twenty years he traversed the Mediterranean and the parts of the Atlantic adjacent to Europe; he visited Iceland; then went to Portugal, and finally to Spain. The idea of reaching the Indies by crossing the Atlantic had already possessed him. For more than ten years the poor enthusiast was a beggar, going from court to court, explaining to dull monarchs the figure of the earth and the ease with which the rich islands of the East might be reached by sailing westward. He found one appreciative listener, afterward his consant and faithful friend--the noble and sympathetic Isabella, queen fo Castile. Be it never forgotten that to the faith, and insight, and decision of a woman the final success of Columbus must be attributed.
On the morning of the 3d day of August, 1492, Columbus, with his three ships, left the harbor of Palos. After seventy-one days of sailing, in the early dawn of October 12, Rodrigo Triana, who chanced to be on the lookout from the Pinta, set up a shout of "Land!" A gun was fired as the signal. The ships lay to. There was music and jubilee, and just at sunrise Columbus himself first stepped ashore, shook out the royal banner of Castile in the presence of the wondering natives and named the island San Salvador. During the three remaining months of this first voyage the islands of Concepcion, Cuba, and Hayti were added to the list of discoveries; and on the bay of Caracola, in the last-named island, was erected out of the timbers of the Santa Maria a fort, the first structure built by Europeans in the New World. Early in January, 1493, Columbus sailed for Spain, where he arrived in March, and was everywhere greeted with rejoicings and applause.
In September of the following autumn Columbus sailed on his second voyage. He still believed that by this route westward he should reach, if indeed he hd not already reached, the Indies. The result of the second voyage was the discovery of the Windward group and the islands of Jamaica and Porto Rico. It was at this time that the first colony was established in Hayti and Columbus's brother appointed governor. After an absence of nearly three years, Columbus returned to Spain in the summer of 1496---returned to find himself the victim of a thousand bitter jealousies and suspicions. All the rest of his life was clouded with persecutions and misfortunes. He made a third voyage, discovered the island of Trinidad and the mainland of South America, near the mouth of the Orinoco. Thence he sailed back to Hayti, where he found his colony disorganized; and here, while attempted to restore order, he was seized by Bobadilla, an agent of the Spanish government, put in chains and carried to Spain. After a disgraceful imprisonment, he was liberated and sent on a fourth and last voyage in search of the Indies; but besides making some explorations along the south side of the Gulf of Mexico, the expedition accomplished nothing, and Columbus, overwhelmed with discouragements, returned once more to his ungrateful country. The good Isabella was dead, and the great discoverer found himself at last a friendless old man tottering into the grave. Death came, and fame afterward.
Of all the wrongs done to the memory of Columbus, perhaps the greatest was that which robbed him of the name of the new continent. This was bestowed upon Amerigo Vespucci, a native of Italy and a resident of Seville. Vespucci made at least three voyages, and in one of these, probably in 1501, he sailed down the coast of Brazil. Convinced that a new continent had been discovered, he wrote a brief pamphlet about it on his return to Europe. The pamphlet was translated into various languages and attracted much attention. In 1507 Professor Waldseemuller, of a little college in Lorraine, published a treatise on geography and suggested that the new world be called America, after its discoverer. The suggestion found favor everywhere, and the name America came to be applied, first to Brazil, later to all South America, and about 1541 to all the land area of the New World. Columbus, who had discovered only a few islands, had been almost forgotten. No one meant to defraud him, and the fact that his name was not bestowed on the New World must be classed as an accident born of ignorance.
The discovery of America produced great excitement throughout the states of Western Europe. In Spain especially there was wonderful zeal and enthusiasm. Within ten years after the death of Columbus, the principal islands of the West Indies were explored and colonized. In the year 1510 the Spaniards planted on the Isthmus of Darien their first continental colony. Three years later, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the governor of the colony, learning from the natives that another ocean lay only a short distance to the westward, crossed the isthmus and from an eminence looked down upon the Pacific. Not satisfied with merely seeing the great water, he waded in a short distance, and, drawing his sword after the pompous Spanish fashion, took possession of the ocean in the name of the king of Spain.
Meanwhile, Juan Ponce de Leon, who had been a companion of Columbus on his second voyage, fitted out a private expedition of discovery and adventure. De leon had grown rich as governor of Porto Rico, and while growing rich had also grown old. But there was a fountain of perpetual youth somewhere in the Bahamas--so said all the learning and intelligence of Spain--and in that fountain the wrinkled old cavalier would bathe and be young gain. So in the year 1512 he set sail from Porto Rico; and stopping first at San Salvador and the neighboring islands, he came, on Easter Sunday, the 27th of March, in sight of an unknown shore. He supposed that another island more beautiful than the rest was discovered. There were waing forests, green leaves, birds of song, and the fragrane of blossoms. Partly in honor of the day, called in the ritual of the Church, Pascua Florida, and partly to describe the delightful landscape that opened on his sight, he named the new shore Florida--the Land of Flowers.
The king of Spain rewarded Ponce with the governorship of his Land of Flowers, and sent him thither again to establish a colony. The aged veteran did not, however, reach his province until the year 1521, and then it was only to find the Indians in a state of bitter hostility. Scarcely had he landed when they fell upon him in a furious battle; many of the Spaniards were killed outright, and the rest had to betake themselves to the ships for safety. Ponce de Leon himself received a mortal wound from an arrow, and was carried back to Cuba to die.
The year 1517 was marked by the discovery of Yucatan and the Bay of Campeachy by Fernandez de Cordova. While exploring the northern coast of the country, his company was attacked by the natives, and he himself mortally wounded. In the year 1519, Fernando Cortez landed with his fleet at Tabasco and began his famous conquest of Mexico. These events, however, do not properly belong to the hstory of the United States.
Of all the daring enterprises which marked the beginning of the sixteenth century, that of Ferdinand Magellan--though not immediately affecting the history of the United States--is worthy of special mention. A Portuguese by birth, a navigator by profession, this man, so noted for extraordinary boldness and ability, determined to discover a southwest rather than a northwest passage to Asia. With this object in view, he appealed to the king of Portugal for ships and men. The monarch listened coldly, and did nothing to give encouragement. Incensed at this treatment, Magellan threw off his allegiance, went to Spain--the usual resort of disappointed seamen--and laid his plans before Charles V. The emperor caught eagerly at the opportunity, and ordered a fleet of five ships to be immediately fitted at the public expense and properly manned with crews.
The voyage was begun from Seville in August of 1519. Sailing southward across the equinoctial line, Magellan soon reached the coast of South America, and spent the autumn in explorations, hoping to find some strait that should lead him westward into that ocean which Balboa had discovered six years previously. Not at first successful in this effort, he passed the winter--which was summer on that side of the equator--somewhere on the coast of Brazil. Renewing his voyage southward, he came at last to the eastern mouth of that strait which still bears the name of its discoverer, and passing through it found himself in the open and boundless ocean. The weather was beautiful, and the peaceful deep was called the Pacific.
Setting his prows to the north of west, Magellan now held steadily on his course for nearly four months. In March of 1520 he came to the group of islands called the Ladrones, situated about midway between Australia and Japan. Sailing still westward, he reached the Philippine group, where he was killed in a battle with the natives. A new captain was chosen, and the voyage continued by way of the Moluccas, where a cargo of spices was taken on board for the market of Western Europe. Only a single ship was deemed in a fit condition to venture on the homeward voyage; but in this vessel the crews embarked, and returning by way of the Cape of Good Hope arrived in Spain on the 17th day of September, 1522. The circumnavigation of the globe, long believed in as a possibility, had now become a thing of reality. The theory of the old astronomers, of Mandeville and of Columbus, had been proved by actual demonstration.
The next important voyage undertaken to the shores of America was by De Ayllon in the year 1520. Landing on the coast of South Carolina, he entice a large number of Indians on board his ships, and sailed away, intending to make slaves of them. but many of them were lost in the wrecking of one of his two vessels and most of those remaining pined away and died.
Going at once to Spain, De Ayllon repeated the story of his exploit to Charles V., who rewarded him with a governorship and the privilege of conquest. Returning to his province in 1525, he found the natives intensely hostile. His best ship ran aground in the mouth of the Jordan, and the outraged Indians fell upon him with fury, killing many of the treacherous crew, and making the rest glad enough to get away with their lives. De Ayllon himself returned to St. Domingo humiliated and ruined. Thus ended the first disgraceful effort to enslave the Indians.
In the year 1526, Charles V. appointed the unprincipled Pamphilo de Narvaez governor of Florida, and to the appointment was added the usual privilege of conquest. De Narvaez arrived at Tampa Bay in April, 1528. His force consisted of two hundred and sixty soldiers and forty horsement. The natives trested them with suspicion, and, anxious to be rid of the intruders, began to hold up their gold trinkets and to point to the north. The hint was eagerly caught at by the avaricious Spaniards, whose imaginations were set on fire with the sight of the precious metal. They struck boldly into the forests, expecting to find cities and empires, and found instead swamps and savages. They reached the Withlacoochie and crossed it by swimming, they passed over the Suwanee in a canoe which they made for the occasion, and finally came to Apalachee, a squalid village of forty cabins. This, then was the mighty city to which their guides had directed them.
Oppressed with fatigue and goaded by hunger, they plunged again into the woods, wading through lagoons and assailed by lurking savages, until at last they reached the sea at the harbor of St. Mark's. Here they expected to find their ships, but not a ship was there, or had been. With great labor they constructed some brigantines, and put to sea in the vain hope of reaching the Spanish settlements in Mexico. They were tossed by storms, driven out of sight of land and then thrown upon the shore again, drowned, slain by the savages, left in the solitary woods dead of starvation and despair, until finally four miserable men of all the adventurous company, under the leadership of the heroic De Vaca, first lieutenant of the expedition, were rescued at the village of San Miguel, on the Pacific coast, and conducted to the city of Mexico. The story can hardly be paralleled in the annals of suffering and peril.
But the Spaniards were not yet satisfied. In the year 1527 a new expedition was planned which surpassed all the others in the brilliancy of its beginning and the disasters of its end. The most cavalier of the cavaliers was Ferdinand de Soto, of Xeres. Besides the distinction of a noble birth, he had been the lieutenant and bosom friend of Pizarro, and had now returned from Peru loaded with wealth. So great was his popularity in Spain that he had only to demand what he would have of the emperor that his request might be granted. At his own dictation he was accordingly appointed governor of Cuba and Florida, with the privilege of exploring and conquering the latter country at his pleasure. A great company of young Spaniards, nearly all of them wealthy and high-born, flocked to his standard. Of these he selected six hundred of the most gallant and daring. They were clad in costly suits of armor of the knightly pattern, with airy scarfs and silken embroidery and all the trappings of chivalry. Elaborate preparations were made for the grand conquest; arms and stores were provided; shackles were wrought for the slaves; tools for the forge and workshop were abundantly supplied; bloodhounds were bought and trained for the work of hunting fugitives; cards to keep the young knights excited with gaming; twelve priests to conduct religious ceremonies; and, last of all, a drove of swine to fatten on the maize and mast of the country.
When, after a year of impatience and delay, everything was at last in readiness, the gay Castillian squadron, ten vessels in all, left the harbor of San Lucar to conquer imaginary emires in the New World. The fleet touched at Havana, and the enthusiasm was kindled even to a higher pitch than it had reached in Spain. De Soto left his wife to govern Cuba during his absence; and after a prosperous and exulting voyage of two weeks, the ships cast anchor in Tampa Bay. This was in the early part of June, 1529. During the months of July, August, and September they marched to the northward, wading through swamps, swimming rivers, and fighting the Indians. In October they arrived at the country of the Apalachians, on the left bank of Flint River, where they determined to spend the winter. For four months they remained in this locality, sending out exploring parties in various directions. One of these companies reached the gulf at Pensacola, and made arrangements that supplies should be sent out from Cuba to that place during the following summer.
In the early spring the Spaniards left their winter quarters and continued their march to the north and east. An Indian guide told them of a powerful and populous empire in that direction; a woman was empress, and the land was full of gold. De Soto pressed on through the swamps and woods. It was April, 1540, when they came upon the Ogechee River. Here they were delayed. The Indian guide went mad; and when the priests had conjured the evil spirit out of him, he repaid their benevolence by losing the whole company in the forest. By the 1st of May they had reached South Carolina, and were within a two days' march of where De Ayllon had lost his ships and men. Thence the wanderers turned westward. They seem to have passed across Northern Georgia from the Chattahouche to the upper tributaries of the Coosa, and thence down that river to the valleys of Lower Alabama. Here, just above the confluence of the Alabama and the Tombechee, they came upon the foritified Indian town called Mauville, or Mobile, where a terrible battle was fought with the natives. The town was set on fire, and two thousand five hundred of the Indians were killed or burned to death. Eighteen of De Soto's men were killed and nearly all of the survivors wounded. De Soto was wounded with an arrow in his thigh, which, sticking fast, rendered him unable to sit in his saddle. Not having time to extract the arrow, he stood in his stirrups and fought the remainder of the day. The Spaniards lost all their baggage and medicines on this fateful day and, indeed, they never recovered from the effect of the battle of Mobile.
The ships of supply had meanwhile arrived at Pensacola, but De Soto, in the fear that his men would desert him, refused to go to the ships. He turned his army resolutely to the north; but the country was poor, and their condition grew constantly worse and worse. By the middle of December they had reached the country of the Chickasaws, in Northern Mississippi. They crossed the Yazoo; the weather was severe, and the Spaniards were on the point of starvation. They succeeded, however, in finding some fields of ungathered maize, and them came upon a deserted Indian village which promised them shelter for the winter. After remaining here till February, 1541, they were suddenly attacked in the dead of night by the Indians, who, at a preconcerted signal, set the town on fire, determined then and there to make an end of the desolating foreigners; but the Spanish weapons and discipline again saved De Soto and his men from destruction.
After gathering provisions and reclothing themselves as well as possible, the Spaniards set out again in early spring to journey still farther westward. The guides now brought them to the Mississippi. The point where the majestic Father of Waters was first seen by white men was at the lower Chickasaw Bluff, a little north of the thirty-fourth parallel of latitude; the day of the discovery cannot certainly be known. The Indians came down the river in a fleet of canoes, and offered to carry the Spaniards over; but the horses could not be transported until barges were built for that purpose. The crossing was not effected until the latter part of May.
De Soto's men now found themselves in the land of the Dakotas. Journeying to the northwest, they passed through a country where wild fruits were plentiful and subsistence easy. The natives were inoffensive and superstitious. At one place they were going to worship the woe-begon cavaliers as the children of the gods, but De Soto was too good a Catholic to permit such idolatry. The Spaniards continued their march until they reached the St. Francis River, which they crossed, and gained the souther limits of Missouri, in the vicinity of New Madrid. Thence westward the march was renewed for about two hundred miles; thence southward to the Hot Springs and the tributaries of the Washita River. On the banks of this river, at the town of Atiamque, they passed the winter of 1541-42. The Indians were found to be much more civilized than those east of the Mississippi; but their civilization did not protect them in the least from the horrid cruelties which the Spaniards practiced. No consideration of justice, humanity, or mercy moved the stony hearts of these polite and Christian warriors. Indian towns were set on fire for sport; Indian hands were shopped off for a whim; and Indian captives burned alive because, under the fear of death, they had told a falsehood.
But De Soto's men were themselves growing desperate in their misfortunes. They turned again toward the sea, and passing down the tributaries of the Washita to the junction of that stream with the Red River, came upon the Mississippi in the neighborhood of Natchez. The spirit of De Soto was at last completely broken. The haughty cavalier bowed his head and became a prey to melancholy. No more dazzling visions of Peru and Mexico flitted before his imagination. A malignant fever seized upon his emaciated frame, and then death. The priests chanted a requiem, and in the middle of the solemn night his sorrowful companions put the dead hero's body into a rustic coffin, and rowing out a distance from shore, sunk it in the Mississippi. Ferdinand de Soto had found a grve under the rolling waters of the great river with which his name will be associated forever.
The ragged, half-starved remnant of the once proud Spanish army wandered about for some time longer, after the death of their leader. But at length they descended the Mississippi in seven rude boats which they built. On reaching the Gulf of Mexico, they steered to the southwest; and keeping as close to the shore as possible, after fifty-five days of buffetings and perils along the dangerous coast they came--three hundred and eleven famished and heartbroken fugitives--to the settlement at the mought of the River of Palms; and thus ended the most marvelous expedition in the early history of our country.
The next attempt by the Spaniards to colonize Florida was in the year 1565. The enterprise was intrusted to Pedro Melendez, a Spanish soldier of ferocious disposition and criminal practices. He was under sentence to pay a heavy fine at the very time when he received his commission from the bigoted Philip II. The contract between that monarch and Melendez was to the effect that the latter should within three years explore the coast of Florida, conquer the country, and plant in some favorable district a colony of not less than five hundred persons, of whom one hundred should be married men. Melendez was to receive two hundred and twenty-five square miles of land adjacent to the settlement, and an annual salary of two thousand dollars. Twenty-five hundred persons collected around Melendez to join in the expedition. The fleet left Spain in July, reached Porter Rico early in August, and on the with of the same month came in sight of Florida.
It must now be understood that the real object had in view by Melendez was to attck and destroy a colony of French Pritestants called Huguenots, who, in the previous year, had made a settlement about thirty-five miles above the mouth of the St. John's River. This was, of course, within the limits of the territory claimed by Spain; and Melendez at once perceived that to extirpate these French heretics in the name of patriotism and religion would be likely to restore his shattered character and bring him into favor again. His former crimes were to be washed out in the blood of the innocents.
It was St. Augustine's day when the dastardly Spaniard came in sight of the shore, but the landing was not effected until the 2d of September. The spacious harbor and the small river which enters it from the south were named in honor of the saint. On the 8th dya of the same month, Philip II. was proclaimed monarch of all North America; a solemn mass was said by the priests; and there, in the sight of forest, and sky, and sea, the foundation-stones of the oldest town in the United States were put into their place. This was seventeen years before the founding of Santa Fe by Antonio de Espego, and forty-two years before the settlement at Jamestown.
As soon as the new town was sufficiently advanced to be secure against accident, Melendez turned his attention to the Huguenots. The latter were expenting to be attacked, but had supposed that the Spanish fleet would sail up the St. John's, and make the onset from that direction. Accordingly, knowing that they must fight or die, all the French vessels except two left their covert in the river and put to sea, intending to anticipate the movements of the Spaniards; but a furious storm arose and dashed to pieces every ship in the fleet. Most of the crews, however, reached the shore just above the mouth of the river. Melendez now collected his forces at St. Augustine, stole through the woods and swamps, and falling unexpectedly on the defenseless colony, utterly destroyed it. Men, women, and children were alike given up to butchery. Two hundred were killed outright. A few escaped into the forest, Laudonniere, the Huguenot leader, among the number, and making their way to the coast, were picked up by the two French ships which had been saved from the storm.
The crews of the wrecked vessels were the next object of Spanish vengeance. Melendez discovered their whereabouts, and deceiving them with treacherour promises of clemency, induced them to surrender. They were ferried across the river in boats; but no sooner were they completely in the power of their enemy than their hands were bound behind them, and they were driven off, tied two and two, toward St. Augustine. As they approached the Spanish fort the signal was given by sounding a trumpet, and the work of slaughter began anew. Seven hundred defenseless victims were added to the previous atrocious massacre. Only a few mechanics and Catholic servants were left alive. Under these bloody auspices the first permanent European colony was planted in our country. In what way the Huguenots were revenged upon their enemies will be told in another place.
The Spaniards had now explored the entire coast from the Isthmus of Darien to Port Royal in South Carolina. They were acquainted with the country west of the Mississippi as far north as New Mexico and Missouri, and east of that river they had traversed the Gulf States as far as the mountain ranges of Tennessee and North Carolina. With the establishment of their first permanent colony on the coast of Florida the period of Spanish voyage and discovery may be said to end.
Before closing this chapter, a brief account of the only important voyage made by the Portuguese to America will be given: At the time of the first discovery by Columbus, the unambitious John II. was king of Portugal. He paid but little attention to the New World, preferring the security and dullness of his own capital to the splendid allurements of the Atlantic. In 1495 he was succeeded on the thorne by his cousin Manuel, a man of very different character. This monarch could hardly forgive his predecessor for having allowed Spain to snatch from the flag of Portugal the glory of Columbus's achievements. In order to secure some of the benefits which yet remained, King Manuel fitted out two vessels, and in the summer of 1501 commissioned Gaspar Cortereal to sail on a voyage of discovery. The Portuguese vessels reached America in the month of July, and beginning at some point on the shores of Maine, sailed northward, exploring the coast for nearly seven hundred miles. Just below the fiftieth parallel of latitude Cortereal met icebergs, and could go no farther. He satisfied his rapacity by kidnapping fifty Indians, whom, on his return to Portugal, he sold as slaves. A new voyage was then undertaken, with the avowed purpose of capturing another cargo of natives for the slave-mart of Europe; but when a year went by, and no tidings arrived from the fleet, the brother of the Portuguese captain sailed in hope of finding the missing vessels. He also was lost, but in what manner has never been ascertained. The fate of the Cortereals and their slave-ships has remained one of the unsolved mysteries of the sea.
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