James W. (James William) Buel.

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to place and seeking to obtain redress, or a vindication of his
conduct and the re-establishment of his rights and honors.

Dofia Maria, acting as Vice-Oueen of the Indies, remained
with her sons and daughters in San Domingo. Don Diego's
death occurred at the town of Montalvan on the 21st of
February, 1526. His rights and titles and honors were
transmitted by will, and in accordance with the principles
of primogeniture, to his oldest son, Don Luis, who became
his successor under the authority of the mother. At the
time of his father's death Don Luis was but six years of
age, and Doiia Maria deemed it expedient to go to Spain
and have him confirmed in the government which had been
derived from his grandfather. An audience was obtained
from the young Empress, and the rights and titles of the


third Admiral were confirmed, with the exception that the
title of viceroy was refused to Don Luis by the Emperor,

A period of comparative quiet now ensued, covering the
minority of the third Admiral. In 1538 Don Luis brought
suit before the Council of the Indies for the recovery of his
title as viceroy. Institution of these proceedings resulted
in the question being submitted to arbitration, by which it
was declared that henceforth the political honors of Don
Luis should be embraced under the two titles of "Admiral
of the Indies " and " Captain-General of Hispaniola." In
course of time a second compromise was made in which the
young governor accepted as a finality the titles of " Duke
of Veragua" and "Marquis of Jamaica," instead of the
more comprehensive and honorable and significant title of
viceroy of the Indies.

Nor was Don Luis permitted to enjo)^ for any great time
the smaller honors which had been substituted for the greater.
He died about 1542 leaving two legitimate daughters by his
wife, Dona Maria de Mosquera, and one illegitimate son
named Christopher. The younger of the two daughters
entered a convent and became a nun, and the claim of Don
Luis seemed to rest upon his remaining daughter Philippa.
The fact of the death of Don Luis without a legitimate son
terminated the right male line of Christopher Columbus,
and brought in shortly afterwards one of the most compli-
cated and, indeed, important lawsuits of the century.
There were many parties to the cause, each having his own
interests to conserve, and the issue involved the consider-
ation of the whole Columbian generation from the period
before the birth of the great Admiral down to the close of
the sixteenth century.

The three daughters of the late Don Diego had all been
married to important personages. Maria, the eldest, was
wedded to Don Sancho de Cardono ; Juana, the second.


was married to Don Luis de Cueva, and Isabella, the third,
to Don George of Portugal, Count of Gelves. There stood
also in the field of view as a claimant the illegitimate Chris-
topher, son of Don Luis, and in particular his legitimate
daughter Philippa. Moreover, Don Diego Columbus, the
second Admiral, had two sisters, Francisca and Maria, who
came forward and entered their claims in virtue of collateral

Meanwhile a distant and rather factitious figure arose in
the person of Bernardo Columbo, of Cogoleto, who declared
himself to be a natural son of Don Bartholomew. Still
more remotely and strangely appeared the figure of Baltha-
zar Colombo, of the ancient house of Cuccaro, the existence
of which the reader will recall from one of the earlier chap-
ters of the present work. Balthazar came forward with a
family scheme, showing that a certain Domenico Colombo,
who was lord of Cuccaro, was the father of Christopher
Colombo of great fame. The Cuccaro Colombos were de-
scended from Domenico ; therefore they were the collateral
kinsmen of the late Admirals, and they having become ex-
tinct in their male line their rights had passed to the Italian

Such was the vast and peculiar complication which had
now to be settled in a judicial inquiry before the Council of
the Indies. In the first place the decision, which was
rendered on the 2d of December, 1608, declared the legal
extinction of the male line of Christopher Columbus. In
the next place the claims of Balthazar Colombo were under
indubitable proofs put aside as spurious. In the third place
the famil)^ of Dona Isabella, married as above to Don
George of Portugal — she being the sister of Don Luis, the
third Admiral — was selected as the true line of Columbian
descent. At the time of the decision this family was repre-
sented by Don Nuno Gelyes dc Portugallo, grandson of


Doila Isabella above referred to, who according to the de-
cision of the court became Duke of Veragua. The Don
George of Portugal, grandfather of Don Nuno, was himself
one of the collateral princes of the House of Braganga, and
here the political and civil honors, the titles, ranks and privi-
leges granted aforetime to Christopher Columbus by Ferdi-
nand and Isabella were made finally to rest. The issue was
sufficiently strange in the denouement and sufficiently in-
structive to the student of biography.


The first attempt to make a conquest and settlement in
North America must be credited, if there be credit in it, to
the most impetuous desperado that probably ever set foot
upon the New World. The discovery of America naturally
greatly stimulated the ambition for discovery, and it is not
to be disregarded, as a matter of no surprise, that the pur-
pose which actuated Columbus, and which led him by good
fortune to the shores of a new continent, had a still further
result, for to the success of his voyages Europe is indebted
for the discovery of a sea-route to India. Vasco da Gama,
one of the boldest of Portuguese mariners, was commissioned
by his sovereign. King Manoel, to make a quest for the
India described so extravagantly by Marco Polo, and by
doubling Cape Good Hope he brought his vessel to anchor
at Calicut, on the Malibar coast, May 20, 1498. He re-
turned to Lisbon with glorious accounts of the Zamorin
of India, September, 1499, and made a second voyage to
India, from which he returned in September, 1 503, with ships
so laden with gold and rich stuffs that all Europe became
intensely excited and the spirit of discovery was thereby
fostered to the exclusion of almost every other interest.
It was the beginning of that fierce rivalry between Spain
and Portugal for new colonial possessions that raged for a
century and primarily was the cause of piracy, by which the
high sea was ravaged for nearly three centuries.

In her efforts to colonize Cuba, St. Domingo and the
islands of the Caribbean, Spain sent ships, supplies and men



to several points which appeared favorable for settlements,
and over those established in Ilispanioia (St. Domingo)
Ovando, one of Columbus* bravest comrades, was appointed
governor. But Ovando became inimical to the interests of
Columbus, and at the latter's instigation he was recalled,
and Diego, the eldest son of Columbus, was appointed in
his stead. Upon assuming this dignity Diego took the title
of Viceroy and affected such magnificence as is usually re-
served for royalty. But he was not content with an august
and splendid rule on a small island, and scarcely had he
gained the gubernatorial office when he became ambitious
to extend his power over new dominions in the name of
Spain. In pursuance of this desire for greater glory Diego
organized an expedition of 300 men against Cuba, with the
view of annexing that large and most beautiful island, and
gave the command to an adventurous and daring character
named Diego de Velasquez. Such an enterprise, of course,
attracted the attention of all the bold spirits that had
settled in Hispaniola, and among those who sought enlist-
ment under Velasquez was a youthful scapegrace named
Hernando Cortez. This remarkable character was a native
of the little town of Medellin, in Spain, where he was born
to a captain in the Spanish navy in the year 1485. With a
disposition remarkable for recklessness, we are not surprised
that he should be expelled from school, and that he gave
his father no end of trouble by his wild escapades, in which
guilty and shameless amours were most frequent. Unable
to restrain Hernando at home, his father concluded to send
him to St. Domingo, but on the evening of his intended
departure the reckless boy, then but seventeen years of age,
while making an effort to secretly gain the balcony of his
lady-love's room, lost his hold upon the railing and fell so
heavily to the ground below that his life was for a while
despaired of. Recovering at length, however, he sailed





away to the New World and found congenial companionship
with the bold rovers who had preceded him.

Hernando spent seven years with his uncle, Ovando,
governor of St. Domingo, occupying some minor ofificial
positions, but in this time performing no special service be-
yond that of messenger to natives living in the interior of
the island, whose hostility and treachery were such that
no one but a daring character could be engaged to treat
with them.

On account of his bravery and the experience acquired by
his intercourse with the natives of St. Domingo, Hernando
was accepted as a valuable acquisition to the expedition
sent out by Diego Columbus in 1511, under Velasquez, to
accomplish the subjugation of Cuba. This most fertile
island on the globe Avas discovered by Columbus during his
first voyage (Oct. 28, 1492), and in honor of Prince John,
son of Ferdinand and Isabella, was named Juana, but at the
death of the king the name was changed to Fernandina.
Some years later it was designated, in honor of Spain's
patron saint, Santiago, and subsequently it was called, after
the holy virgin, Ave Maria. These several names became
so confusing that it was finally decided to continue the
designation by which it was known to the natives at the
time of its discovery, viz., Cuba. At this time the island was
divided into nine principalities, each preserving its inde-
pendence, and ruled by as many caciques or chiefs. The
people are described as living in an easy, voluptuous and
contented manner, and at peace among themselves because
they appeared to be indifferent to conditions. They were
semi-religious ; that is, they appeared to entertain a belief
in the existence of a supreme being and in the immortality
of the soul, but they practiced no ceremonies, and employed
no rites, nor were their beliefs well defined.

In the several conflicts between the marines who accom-


panicd Columbus and the Cubans the latter had exhibited
little valor, being, as they were, such voluptuaries that they
accepted any harsh conditions rather than engage their foes,
whose severities they had more than once felt. The inva-
sion of Velasquez met with so little opposition that the
march was not once interrupted, the natives fleeing at the
sight of the white invaders, leaving their burning villages to
be plundered at will. Only one cacique offered the slightest
resistance, and for his appeal to his people to repel the
white robbers he was taken by Velasquez and given the
alternative of embracing the Christian religion or being
burned alive. When told, in reply to his inquiry, that
many Spaniards were in heaven he accepted the latter, for,
said he, " I would rather be annihilated by fire than be com-
pelled to associate even in heaven with such fiends as are
the Spaniards." With characteristic malignity and merci-
lessness Velasquez bound the unhappy chief to a stake, and
heaping fagots about him ordered fire to be applied to the
pile, and watched with satisfaction the slow consumption,
and heard with laugh of pleasure the piercing screams of
his helpless victim. This horror brought the natives to
make an acknowledgment of perpetual submission to Spain,
and by this bloody title Cuba has continued to remain a
possession of that country to this day.

Having mastered the island, on July 25th, 15 15, Velasquez
established a settlement on the south coast, at the mouth
of the River Mayabeque, and in honor of Columbus called
the place San Cristobel de la Habana. But the location
proving unhealthy the town was removed to the mouth of
the Rio Almenderes ; but this site being no better than the
first, the settlement was again transferred in 15 19 to its
present location, at the entrance of one of the finest harbors
in the world, and to the new town was given another name,
Havana, by which it has ever since been known. At nearly


the same time that a settlement was formed at San Cristo-
bel another was estabh'shed on the southeast coast and
called Santiago, wliich Velasquez made his capital, while
still another was made on the south central coast and
named Trinidad, both of which flourished and developed
into important ports of commerce, and which they have
continued to be to this day.

The acquisition of Cuba was directly followed by the
appointment of Velasquez as governor, and in recognition
of his valuable services Cortez was chosen his secretary.
But the intimate relations between Velasquez and his secre-
tary were not to remain long undisturbed, for an enmity
was presently engendered by the infamous conduct of
Cortez towards one of four sisters, daughters of a rich
gentleman from Castile, who had come over with hundreds
of other wealthy families to settle in the fair land of Cuba.
Velasquez resented the insult, being deeply attached to one
of the young ladies, and to avenge himself Cortez entered
into a conspiracy to secure the removal of his chief. He
was detected, however, and being arrested was tried and
sentenced to death, but he contrived to break his fetters,
and forcing his way through a window of the prison sought
refuge in a church, where, according to the customs of the
time, he was secure, for the church sanctuary must not be
violated. After remaining for some days in this place of
refuge he attempted to escape in the night, but was again
arrested and taken on shipboard to be sent to St. Domingo,
with a cord, as the badge of a traitor, about his neck. But
for a second time he managed to divest himself of his man-
acles, and slipping out upon the deck plunged into the sea
and swam ashore and regained the sanctuary of the church.
Being badly disabled and exhausted, to end his distress he
offered to marry the girl that he had wronged, and his pro-
posal was accepted. This act reinstated him in the good


opinion and confidence of Velasquez, who soon after
selected him to command an expedition, the results of
which served to establish his fame for all ages.

A year before the incident just related, Velasquez had
dispatched an expedition of three small vessels, and some-
thing more than lOO men, under the command of Francisco
Hernandez, to make an exploration among the adjacent
islands with the view of attaching them to the Spanish
crown. This expedition sailed as far west as Yucatan,
which they discovered, and by trading with the natives the
Spaniards obtained a large number of brightly burnished
hatchets and other articles which they thought were gold.
But they were so avaricious that what they were unable to
secure by barter, they sought to possess by force, which
precipitated a conflict, in which a greater part of the Span-
iards were killed. Only about thirty of the original number
returned, and several of these were so severely wounded
that they died, among these latter being Hernandez, the

The fate of the expedition was, however, forgotten in the
wild excitement produced by reports that the land from
which the remnant of the voyagers returned so abounded
with gold that the natives used it as the commonest of
metals. And even after an assay of the burnished hatchets
had disclosed the fact that they were copper instead of
gold, the excitement did not seem to abate, for the belief
continued that somewhere in the interior of the country
thus discovered there were mines and mountains of the
precious mineral from which the natives procured it in
great abundance. Acting under this belief Velasquez fitted
out another expedition of four ships and 240 men, which,
under the command of Juan de Grijalva, left the port of
Santiago in April, 15 18. After a sail of eight days they
reached the shore of Central America, but found the


natives so hostile that it was not deemed prudent to make
a landing. Continuing along the coast, therefore, the expe-
dition anchored before a Mexican town, which has since
been named St. Juan de Uloa, where they were hospitably
received, and a profitable trade was conducted with the
people. A considerable quantity of gold was here secured
in exchange for glass beads, and information was also ob-
tained of a wondrously rich kingdom and of a magnificent
capital in the interior, where a mighty ruler known as
Montezuma lived in unexampled splendor.

When the expedition under Grijalva returned with its re-
port and with many specimens of gold in verification of the
stories concerning wealth of the Mexican kingdom, excite-
ment was unbounded, not only in Cuba, but also in Spain,
where the news was transmitted by Velasquez with request
for assistance in organizing another expedition for the sub-
jugation of the new countr)'. The help asked for was so
speedily rendered that in a surprisingly short time a fleet of
vessels was provided, and Hernando Cortez was appointed
to the command, but a full complement of men yet remained
to be obtained. Before preparations were fully completed,
with the fear that Velasquez might deprive him of the
honors bestowed, Cortez raised his anchors and sailed away
from Santiago for Trinidad to procure additional troops.
Here, by his impassioned appeals to the people, exciting
both their religious zeal and their cupidity, he succeeded in
enlisting several hundred cross-bowmen, and besides mus-
kets and other weapons he obtained several small cannons.
Having been joined by nearly 200 men in Trinidad, Cortez
collected a large quantity of military supplies, provided
padded coats for some and armor for others of his soldiers,
and set them through a thorough course of drill. Besides
inspiring his followers with promises of large rewards in the
land of gold, Cortez intensified their ardor by declaring that


one of his prime purposes in undertaking the conquest was
to supplant the idol-worsliip of the Mexicans with the cross
of Christianity, and to emphasize this intent in the minds
of his men, he planted before his tent a banner of black
velvet embroidered with gold, on which was a gilt sign of
the cross surrounded with an emblazoned device, " Let us
follow the cross, for under this sign we shall conquer."

Just before his departure from Trinidad, Cortez perceived
two ships with valuable cargoes putting into the harbor,
which he captured under the pretense that the Lord had
made him an instrument for spreading the gospel, and that
as a servant of God he had need for the vessels, which, with
their cargoes, should be devoted to the Lord's service. Sin-
gular enough his eloquence was such that he persuaded the
crews of both vessels, including their owners, to join his
expedition, after which he sailed to Havana, and there com-
pleted his preparations for the enterprise which he had so
auspiciously undertaken. He found his expedition now to
consist of eleven vessels, most of which, however, were only
open barks, with one of lOO, and three of seventy tons, but
into these he embarked no seamen, 553 soldiers, and some-
thing over 200 Indian men and women who acted as serv-
ants. On account of the smallncss of his vessels Cortez
took with him only sixteen horses, but these valuable ani-
mals had not been brought over from Spain in any consid-
erable numbers as yet, and were, therefore, difficult to pro-
cure ; but had he known the important part they were to
play in his expedition he would have taken a larger number
at whatever expense or hazard. Formidable weapons were
also scarce, so that he was able to arm only thirty of his
men with muskets, and thirty-two with cross-bows, the rest
having to be content with swords, spears, and a few battle-

Thus poorly provided in an undertaking to subjugate


millions whose power he had no means of knowing, Cortez
left Havana on the i8th of February, 15 19, for the shores
of Yucatan.

After a stormy passage of a week's duration, the expedi-
tion came in sight of the island of Cozumel, which is a con-
siderable body of land thirty miles from the shores of Yuca-
tan. A large number of natives were assembled upon the
beach, and viewed in terror the sails of the approaching
squadron. They were horror-stricken at the spectacle, in
expectation of the Spaniards coming to avenge the murder
of their comrades under Grijalva whose expedition met with
such a sorry defeat at their hands. After the squ^idron had
made anchor, a large party of Spaniards debarked and en-
tered one of the native temples in which an idol, decorated
with gold, was discovered and was seized as lawful prey by
one of the sub-commanders of the party. Cortez, however,
rebuked this rash and impolitic act, and not only restored
the idol to the sanctuary from which it had been ravaged,
but took every means to assure the natives of his peaceful
intentions, by which efforts he finally obtained their con-
fidence and opened a lucrative traffic, which redounded in
no small benefits to the Spaniards.

On the 4th of March the squadron departed from the
island upon which they had had a pleasant stay, and on
the following day reached the shores of the continent, along
which he sailed a distance of 200 miles, until he reached
the mouth of the River Tabasco, before which he anchored
his ships, and with a well-armed party, in boats, ascended
the shallow stream. After proceeding several miles he
attempted a landing at a beautiful place before which
stretched a wide and inviting meadow. But he was inter-
cepted by a large party of natives, who, flourishing their
weapons, shouted words of defiance, and as the day was
far spent, Cortez prudently decided to w?,it until morning


before engaging the hostiles. He accordingly anchored off
shore, where, for the time, he would be secure, as no canoes
v/ere near in which the natives might reach his boats.

When morning broke on the following day, there was
presented to his startled view an enormous force of savages
who had been rallying the entire night and now stood in
battle array, armed with weapons from which the sun
flashed in blinding brilliancy, and with heads covered with
plumes that gave them both a wild and martial appearance.
The blast of trumpets and the roll of drums, mingled with
shouts from thousands of dark-skinned natives, was quickly
answered by the firing of the few muskets that Cortez had,
and a charge from the entire force of Spaniards. The
natives were armed principally with bows and arrows, and
at the first attack the air seemed filled with these missiles.
But the Spaniards were protected by their helmets and
shields, so that few casualties resulted to the invaders, and
a heroic charge soon put the natives to rout, with a loss of
several hundred. The Indians had believed the thunder of
the cannons and muskets was produced by supernatural
powers, and fled from what they were convinced was the
anger of an enraged god. Only fourteen of the Spaniards
were wounded, and none of these so seriously but they were
able to continue the march. On the following day Cortez
proceeded to Tabasco, which was the capital of a province
in Central America, of which he took possession without
meeting any resistance from the natives, all of whom fled in
dismay upon the approach of the invaders. Cortez' arrival
in the town was the signal for another gathering of the
Indians, who sent out couriers in every direction, and in a
surprisingly short time thousands came flocking to the
standards of their chiefs to repel their white foes. But
anticipating an attack, Cortez sent back to his vessels for
all the arms that were brought over and for every man that


could be spared from the ships, so that he was able to
marshal a force of more than 500 men, splendidly equipped,
and six cannons the thunder of which was more terrible to
the natives than the slaughter which they wrought.

On the 25th of March the great battle which had been

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 37)