It was on February 18, 1519, that the little squadron finally set sail from Cuba for the coast of Yucatan. Before starting, Cortes addressed his soldiers in a manner both very characteristic of the man and typical of the tone which he took towards them on several occasions of great difficulty and danger, when, but for his highly courageous spirit and his unquestionably great power of personal influence, the expedition could only have found a most disastrous end.
Part of his speech was to this effect: 'I hold out to you a glorious prize, but it is to be won by incessant toil. Great things are achieved only by great exertions, and glory was never the reward of sloth. If I have laboured hard and staked my all on this undertaking, it is for the love of that renown which is the noblest recompense of man. But if any among you covet riches more, be but true to me, as I will be true to you and to the occasion, and I will make you masters of such as our countrymen have never dreamed of.
'You are few in number, but strong in resolution; and, if this does not falter, doubt not but that the Almighty, who has never deserted the Spaniard in his contest with the infidel, will shield you, though encompassed by a cloud of enemies, for your cause is a just cause, and you are to fight under the banner of the Cross. Go forward, then, with alacrity and confidence, and carry to a glorious issue the work so auspiciously begun.'
The first landing was made on the island of Cozumel, where the natives were forcibly converted to Christianity. Then, reaching the mainland, they were attacked by the natives of Tabasco, whom they soon reduced to submission. These made presents to the Spanish commander, including some female slaves. One of these, named by the Spaniards Marina, became of great use to the conquerors in the capacity of interpreter, and by her loyalty and intelligence became a powerful influence in the fortunes of the Spaniards.
The next event of consequence in the career of the conquerors was the foundation of the first colony of New Spain, the town of Villa Rica de Vera Cruz, on the seashore. Following this came the reduction of the warlike republic of Tlascala and the conclusion of an alliance with its inhabitants which proved of priceless value to the Spaniards in their long warfare with the Mexicans.
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