Manuel José Quintana.

Lives of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, and Francisco Pizarro online

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EVERY writer of a book, from the author of
the Colloquies down to the humble translator of
another s thoughts and words, engages in a task
more or less arduous and toilsome ; we are all
apt to set some value on that which has cost us
labour, and to watch the success of our lucubra
tions with some parental yearnings. With the
conflicts to which the most exalted genius, the
most profound philosophy, the proudest literary
name, may, nay must be liable, you are intimately
acquainted ; though less aware, perhaps, of the
suiferings, anxieties, vexations, and disappoint
ments, which await more ignoble candidates for
fame or profit, but which may be easily guess-


ed, when we admit that no author of medio
crity ever launched a book upon the world, with
out rating its merits at, at least, a hundred times
their value. In the midst, meanwhile, of so
much discomfiture, every writer, however hum
ble, enjoys one precious privilege it is that of
dedication ; it is the power of offering a distinct
and individual homage, of pouring forth a free
and unrestrained tribute of applause and admira
tion to virtue and wisdom ; it is the means where
by every author, however small, is permitted to
place himself in a kindly and sympathetic rela
tion with the greatest. It is likewise the most
unequivocal method whereby an individual may,
without offence or intrusion, avow his own feel
ings, opinions, and principles. It is no trivial
ambition, therefore, which lends me presumption
to select from among the wise and good, the best
and wisest. I know that I thus bespeak myself a
place among the faithful band, who still cling
with heart and soul to the faith of their fore
fathers, and the love of the dear land of their
birth ; for no enemy to the spiritual or temporal
weal of England would willingly lend, even thus


small a mite, to the vast aggregate of renown,
enjoyed by their uncompromising and invincible

I should hardly offer apology, even had I not
previously sought and obtained your permission,
for addressing my translation to you. You are
fond of Spanish associations, you are acquaint
ed with the works of Quintana, and they are
honoured with your approval; besides, I think,
that of all men living, you are the last who would
disdainfully reject an expression of genuine heart
felt esteem. I have, therefore, only to add that
I am,

My dear SIR,
Your obliged Servant,


12th May, 1832. J







TWELVE years had elapsed since the discovery of the
Terra Firma of America by Columbus, yet hitherto
Spain had not formed there any permanent establish
ment. That great navigator, who, in 1498, first visit
ed and surveyed the new continent by the coasts of
Paria and Cumana, intended four years later to fix a
colony in Verag-ua, but the imprudence of his compa
nions, and the invincible ferocity^ of the Indians, de
prived him of this glory, and the colonists forsook the
enterprise from its very commencement, abandoning
its completion to more persevering- adventurers.

Previously, in 1501, Rog-er de Bastidas had visited
the coasts of Cumana and Carthagena, without any
thought of colonizing-, and only intent on a peaceable
traffic with the natives. Afterwards Alonzo de Ojeda,
a more celebrated adventurer than Bastidas, the com
panion of Columbus, and distinguished amongst his


countrymen for his bold and determined character,
likewise visited the same shores, and contracted with
the Indians, though he could not accomplish his ob
ject of establishing- himself in the Gulf of Uraba, which
had been already discovered by Bastidas.* Neverthe
less, the obstacles he experienced in his two first at
tempts, did not damp his resolution, and he tried his
fortune a third time. He and Diego de Nicuesa were
at once authorized by Ferdinand the Catholic to esta
blish colonies and governments on the coast of Ame
rica, appointing, as the limits of their respective juris
dictions, to Ojeda from Cape de la Vela to the middle
of the Gulf of Uraba, and to Nicuesa from thence to the
Cape of Gracias a Dios. The two expeditions sailed
from Spain, and afterwards from St Domingo, nearly
at the same time. Ojeda took the lead, and, on land
ing in Carthagena, lost, in different encounters with
the Indians, several of his companions, which deter-

* Bastidas, of whose voyage a summary relation may be found
in the third volume of the work published by the Seiior Navarrete,
obtained no celebrity, either as a discoverer or as a conqueror ; yet
his memory should be cherished by every friend to justice and
humanity, as having been one of the few who treated the Indians
with gentleness and equity, considering their territory rather as an
object of mercantile speculation between equals, than as a field for
glory and conquest. " He was," says Las Casas, " ever known to
treat the Indians kindly, and is grossly injured by those who say
otherwise." Nor is the opinion of Antonio de Herrera less advan
tageous ; and in his whole voyage he was never known to commit
the slightest violence on the Indians. These principles of modera
tion caused his death. Being governor of Santa Marta, he was
assassinated by his ferocious companions, because he restrained
them from robbing and destroying at their pleasure.


mined him to sail for the Gulf, from whence he endea
voured to discover the river Darien, celebrated already
for the riches it was reported to possess ; but not suc
ceeding-, Ojeda resolved on founding a town, which he
called St Sebastian, on the heights to the east of the
bay, the second which had been raised by the hands of
Europeans on the American continent. Its fate was
but too likely to resemble that of the former. The
Spaniards, without provisions for any long subsistence,
destitute of patience, and unaccustomed to the labours
of cultivation, could only maintain themselves by in
cursions, a resource at once uncertain and hazardous ;
for the Indians of the country, naturally fierce and
warlike, not only defended themselves, in most cases,
with advantage, but, that rendered terrible by their
poisoned arrows, they were continually assailing them,
scarcely leaving- them a moment s repose. Their ne
cessaries were consumed, their numbers diminished by
fatigue and hunger, and the survivors, disheartened
and dejected, foresaw no termination to their miseries
but death, nor any mode of shunning this fatal result,
but flight. Ojeda s sole hope rested on the arrival of
Martin Fernandez de Enciso, a lawyer associated with
the expedition, whom he had left in the Island of His-
paniola, preparing a vessel to follow him. Enciso,
however, did not arrive, and the Castilians, discon
tented and mutinous, insisted on their captain adopt
ing some measure for their relief. He agreed at length
to go himself in search of the expected succour, lea
ving in command during his absence, or until the


arrival of Enciso, that Francisco Pizarro, who became
subsequently so glorious and terrible, by his iscovery
and conquest of the regions of the South. Ojeda gave
hi. word to return within fifty days, and told them,
that if he did not return within that period, they
mig ht disperse and bestow themselves wheresoever
they Pleased. On this agreement, he embarked for
Hispaniola, but lost his way and was driven into Cuba
and by a series of adventures, whose detail does not
belong to this place, he passed at length to St Domin-
go , where, in the course of a few years, he died poor
and miserable.

Meanwhile, the Spaniards of St Sebastian, seemg
the fifty stipulated days elapse without the appearance
of any Lcour, resolved to embark in two brigantines
and return to Hispaniola. The two hundred who fir
set sail with Ojeda, were now reduced to sixty, but
even this number could not be contained in the two
barks, and they were compelled to wait yet, til famine
!*d wretchedness should make a still farther reduction,
md this melancholy object was soon accomplished,
when they immediately embarked. The sea instantly
Twalbwed one of these vessels. The terrified Pizarro
rirrfuge in Carthagena, and had scarcely entered
I port, when he descried at a distance the vessel of
So, accompanied by a bngantine, bearing towards
him - he awaited them, and Enciso, to whom by tltle
^Alcalde Mayor, which he held of Ojeda , the com-
Ind belonged! in the absence of that **
it and resolved on steering mimediately for


but those unhappy men at first refused to face, a second
time, the toils and sufferings from which they had fled.
Enciso, however, partly by authority, partly by dint
of promises and presents, overcame their repugnance.
He carried with him a hundred and fifty men, twelve
mares, some horses, arms, and a good provision of
necessaries, but they only arrived at Uraba, to learn,
by new misfortunes, the enmity of that soil to Euro
peans. The vessel of Enciso ran on a shoal, and was
instantly dashed in pieces, losing, with exception of the
men who escaped naked, nearly the whole of its freight.
They found the fortress and houses they had for
merly built, reduced to ashes. The Indians, rendered
bold by their own advantages and the weakness of
their enemies, awaited and attacked them with such
audacity and arrogance, as left no hope either of peace
or conquest ; the Spaniards renewed their clamours to
return to Spain. " Let us," said they, " leave this
hostile coast, from whence, sea and land, the skies and
the inhabitants, unite to repulse us." No words were
heard but such as were dictated by despondency, nor
any counsels, but those of pusillanimity and flight. A
second time they were on the point of abandoning the
establishment, and, probably, for ever, when, in that
general consternation, a man stepped forth, whose lan
guage rekindled in their hearts new spirits and new
hopes, and who afterwards, by his power and talents,
gave consistency and lustre to the vacillating colony.
" I remember," said Vasco Nunez de Balboa, " that
some years ago, passing by this coast on a voyage of


discovery with Rodrigo de Bastidas, we entered this
gulf, and disembarked on its western shore, where we
found a great river, and saw on its opposite bank a
town, seated in a flourishing and abundant region, and
inhabited by people who do not poison their arrows."
These words seemed to restore them from death to
life, and to inspire them all with new courage ; to the
number of 100 they followed Enciso and Balboa, leap
ed into the brigantines, crossed the Gulf, and explored
the opposite coast for the friendly land, which had been
announced to them. The river, the place, and the
country, appeared such as Vasco Nunez had described to
them ; and the town was immediately occupied by the
adventurers, as the Indians, who had placed their best
effects and their families in safety, did not attempt to
attack them, but took post on a rock, where they cou
rageously awaited them.

The Indians consisted of about 500 warriors, at
whose head was Cemaco,* their Cacique, a resolute

* Father Las Casas, in the 63d chapter of his Chronological
History, says that, in the old memorials in his possession, this war
with the Indians is otherwise related. According to them, the
Spaniards were received in peace by Cemaco, who, knowing their
eager desire for gold, gave them voluntarily 8000 or 10,000 pe
sos. They enquired whence he had that metal. He replied,
" From heaven." But, on their perseverance, he said that the
larger pieces were obtained at a distance of twenty leagues, and the
smaller from the neighbouring rivers. They required him to point
out the places he had mentioned; and he thereupon consulted
his Indians, who cautioned him, that if once the Castilians were
instructed where to find the gold, they would never be got rid of.
The Cacique concealed himself in the village of one of his vassals.
The Spaniards traced him, seized him, and put him to the torture


and intrepid man, disposed to defend his land to ex
tremity, against that horde of invaders. The Spaniards
began to doubt the result of the battle, and commend
ing themselves to Heaven, offered, in case of victory, to
dedicate the town, which they proposed building in that
country, to Santa Maria de la Antigua, a greatly ve
nerated image in Seville. Enciso also made them all
swear to maintain each his post, even to death ; and,
having taken every precaution that circumstances ad
mitted, gave the signal for battle. With loud shouts and
terrible impetuosity they rushed upon the Indians, who
received them with no less spirit, but the Spaniards
combated with the force of desperation, and their su
periority in point of arms prevented the fortune of the
conflict from remaining long in doubt ; it was termi
nated by the slaughter and flight of the terrified In
dians. The Spaniards, elate with their triumph, en
tered the town, where they found many ornaments of
fine gold, abundance of provisions, and a great store
of cotton vestments. They next explored the country,
and discovered, amongst the reeds and canes of the
river, the precious effects which the Indians had hid
den, and having taken captive the few natives who
had not escaped, took tranquil possession of the town.
Enciso next sent for the Spaniards whom he had
left on the eastern side of the Gulf, and, full of hope

to make him surrender his secret. Overcome by pain, he disco
vered what he knew, and being then liberated, collected his people
and his friends, and attacked the Spaniards.


and excitement, his followers betook themselves to
the foundation of the town, which, in fulfilment of
their vow before the battle, was called Santa Maria
del Antigua of Darien.

The conduct of Enciso, at the commencement, did
no discredit to the command and authority he exer
cised; yet 12,000 pieces of gold, the amount of the
spoil taken by the Spaniards, had excited in their
breasts a spirit of covetousness, and an ardent expec
tation and desire of gain; and his imprudent prohibition,
on pain of death, that any one should traffic with the
Indians, most strangely interfered with the strongest
passions of his band of adventurers. " He is a miser,"
said they, " who covets for himself all the fruit of our
efforts, and abuses, to our prejudice, an authority to
which he has no just claim. Placed, as we are, be
yond the limits assigned to Ojeda s jurisdiction, his
command as Alcalde Mayor, is become null, together
with our obligation to obedience." The individual
most distinguished in these murmurs was Vasco
Nunez, for whom the opportune translation of the
colony had gained credit, among the boldest and most
influential of his companions. The majority, there
fore, resolved to deprive Enciso of the command, to
establish a municipal government, to form a chapter,
create magistrates, name judges; and, proceeding to
election, the scales of justice were allotted to Martin
Zamudio and Balboa.

The adventurers, meanwhile, were not entirely con-


tented with this adjustment. Enciso s party continued
to urge that they should never succeed without a head,
and required that he should still be their chief; their
opponents argued, on the other hand, that as they
were then within the jurisdiction of Diego de Nicuesa,
he should be sent for, and that they should place them
selves under his command ; while a third, and yet
more powerful party, insisted that the government
which had been formed was good, and that, in case of
the adoption of a single chief, they could not follow a
better leader than Balboa.

They were engaged in these debates, when they
were suddenly surprised by the repeated sound of guns,
which echoed from the eastern side of the Gulf, and were
succeeded by the appearance of gusts of smoke, such
as are used for signals, and to which they replied in
like manner. Shortly after this arrived Diego En-
riquez de Colrnenares, who, with two vessels freighted
with provisions, arms, and ammunition, and with sixty
men, had quitted Spain in search of Diego de Nicuesa.
Driven by storms on the coast of Santa Marta, where
the Indians had killed several of his companions, he,
with the remainder, descended the Gulf of Uraba, in
hope of gaining intelligence of Nicuesa, and as he
found none of the followers of Ojeda on the spot where
he expected them, he determined, by firing his guns
and making signals by smoke, to endeavour to obtain
an answer ; the return of his signals from the Darien
directed his course to Antigua, where, nobody being
able to satisfy his enquiry into the fate of Nicuesa, he


agreed to remain, and divide amongst the colonists the
provisions and arms he had brought with him. This
act of liberality gained him universal favour, and he
had soon sufficient influence in the town to win over
the majority to the opinion of those, who demanded
Nicuesa for their leader. This was soon afterwards
decreed by the council, and Colmenares himself, toge
ther with Diego de Albitez and Diego de Corral, were
the deputed messengers ; they immediately embarked,
and directed their course to the coast of Veragua, in
pursuit of Nicuesa.

With five ships and two brigantines, and about
800 men, had this discoverer quitted St Domingo,
very soon, as we have said above, after the departure
of Ojeda. On arriving in Carthagena, he assisted the
latter in his conflicts with the Indians, and they after
wards separated, in order to take possession of their
respective governments. The various adventures, and
the fatal disasters, which befell the unfortunate Ni
cuesa, as soon as he began to coast the regions sub
ject to his command, form a narrative, at once most
melancholy and most terrible, and which offers a
dreadful warning to human avarice and rashness.
Those events, however, do not fall within the com
pass of our story, and it suffices to say, that of that
powerful armament, which seemed able to give laws
to the isthmus of America, and to all the neighbour
ing countries, at the end of a few months only sixty
men were left, who, lingering miserably at Nombre
de Dios, six leagues from Portobello, momentarily ex-


pected death, in a state of utter despondency, all hope
of relief having abandoned them. Such was their si
tuation, when Colmenares arrived with the message
he brought from Darien for Nicuesa. They now be
lieved that Heaven, weary of persecuting- them, and
appeased by their sufferings, had opened a way for
their relief, but misfortune or imprudence still oppo
sed their hopes, and this unforeseen summons proved,
in the end, the fatal snare by means of which their
ruin was accelerated.

Those disasters which generally serve to render
men prudent and circumspect, had a different eifect on
the noble temper, for which Nicuesa had been distin
guished. The generosity, gaiety, and moderation,
which had formerly characterised him, had given place
to rashness, recklessness, and even cruelty. Scarcely
had he accepted the authority conferred on him by the
Spaniards of the Darien, when, even previous to quit
ting Nombre de Dios, he already threatened them
with chastisement, and declared he would take from
them the gold, of which without his permission they
had possessed themselves. Colmenares was disgusted,
and still more were Albitez and Corral offended, since
the menaces of the governor more nearly concerned
them as colonists of the Darien. Their arrival in the
Gulf a little preceded that of Nicuesa, who added to
his insane bravadoes, the error of allowing these men
to anticipate his arrival, with such sinister annuncia
tions. The Spaniards of Antigua became furious at
these tidings, and the excitement of their minds was


at the height, when they were joined by Juan de
Caicedo, Nicuesa s inspector, who, likewise provoked
by these inconsistencies, threw fresh fuel on the flame,
by taunting- them with their madness in having-, free
and uncontrolled as they were, submitted themselves
voluntarily to the domination of a stranger.

It was then that the two parties of Enciso and Bal
boa rose and united, as might be expected, determined
on the overthrow of the wretched Nicuesa. On his
arrival in the Darien the inhabitants sallied forth to
receive him, with loud cries and threats, prohibiting
his disembarkation, and ordering him back to his go
vernment. Zamudio the Alcalde, with others of his
party, led this movement, whilst Balboa, who had
secretly excited them to this, in public affected tem
perance and moderation. Nicuesa, on finding himself
so desperately situated, felt as if the heavens were fall
ing upon his head : in vain he entreated, that even if
rejected as their governor, they would admit him at
least as their equal and companion, and, if -even this
were too much to ask, he implored them to cast him
into prison and let him live there confined among them,
since that would be a milder fate than to be sent back
to Nombre de Dios, to perish from hunger or arrow
wounds. He reminded them of the enormous capital
he had sunk in the undertaking, and the deplorable
miseries he had endured. Policy, however, has no
compassion, and avarice no ear ; the general irritation
increased every moment, and could not be appeased,
and Nicuesa, contrary to the secret counsel conveyed to


him by Balboa, not to disembark but in his presence,
suffered himself to be misled, by some treacherous pro
mises, into disembarking 1 , and throwing- himself into
the hands of his infuriated enemies, they seized him,
and forced him into a brigantine, ordering- him to sail
immediately, and present himself at court. He pro
tested ag-ainst the unworthy cruelty with which they
treated him, insisted on his right to claim command
and authority in that land, and finally threatened to
summon them to an answer, before the tribunal of God.
All was fruitless. Embarked in the most ruinous lit
tle vessel they possessed, badly provisioned, and ac
companied by only eighteen men, who desired to share
his fate, he quitted that inhuman colony, and pushed
out to sea, and neither he, his companions, or his ves
sel, were ever seen again.*

Nicuesa being- thus disposed of, there remained only
Enciso, who could counterpoise the authority of Balboa
in the Darien. The party of that lawyer in the town,
however, constituted but a feeble dependence. Vasco
Nunez had him accused of having- usurped the juris
diction, with no better title than he derived from
Alonzo de Ojeda, brought him to trial, confiscated
his property, and at length, allowing himself to be

* Herrera is evidently disposed to acquit Vasco Nunez of the
machinations here imputed to him. He even describes him as
taking the part of Nicuesa in good faith, and punishing Francisco
Benitez with a hundred stripes, for his clamours against the landing
of that unfortunate man. Chap. 8, Dec. 1, Book 8. Translator s


influenced by entreaties, and by the dictates of pru
dence, commanded him to be set at liberty, on condi
tion that he should sail with the first opportunity,
either for St Domingo, or for Europe. It was after
wards agreed to despatch commissioners to each of
those quarters, to report the proceedings of the colony,
to convey an idea of the quality of the soil, and circum
stances of the natives, and implore aid both in provi
sions and men. They chose for this office the Alcalde
Zamudio, and the Magistrate Valdivia, each of whom
was the friend of Vasco Nunez, and charged to pur
chase, by dint of presents, the protection and favour
of Miguel de Pasamonte, treasurer of St Domingo,
and, at that juncture, almost absolute arbitrator of the
affairs of America, from the great credit he enjoyed
with the Catholic King and his Secretary Conchillos.
But either these presents miscarried, or proved insuf

Online LibraryManuel José QuintanaLives of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, and Francisco Pizarro → online text (page 1 of 24)