Spanish Exploration after Columbus

The discovery made by Columbus was followed up by the Spaniards with an activity in marked contrast to the supineness displayed by other nations in exploring and settling the American continent. Within twenty years from 1492 the four largest islands of the West Indies were the seats of active colonies, while more than a century passed ere any other nation founded a permanent colony on the American shores, with the exception of the small settlements of the Portuguese in Brazil. This was rapidly followed by the conquest of the two great empires of Mexico and Peru, and the exploration of the region of the southern United States, while yet other nations were contenting themselves with occasional voyages of discovery along the coasts of the new continent. The great fertility of the islands first settled by the Spaniards, the mildness of their climates, and, above all, the frequent discovery of gold, pearls, and other rich prizes, were the main causes of the Spanish activity, and served as inducements to repeated exploring expeditions.

Columbus made four voyages in all to the New World, discovering the South American continent near the mouth of the Orinoco in the third, and reaching Honduras and the coast to the south of this region in the fourth. To the day of his death he continued under the delusion that the land he had reached was the eastern extremity of Asia. Other voyagers quickly followed. Ojeda, who had already visited Hispaniola with Columbus, sailed on his own account and explored four hundred leagues of the coast of South America in the region already discovered by Columbus. He was accompanied by Amerigo Vespucci, who made three subsequent voyages to America and wrote the first account of it that was published. This was in a Latin work printed in 1507 and prepared by a German scholar, Martin Waldseemuller, who proposed the name of America for the new continent. The suggestion was universally accepted, and Columbus lost the honor of giving his name to the New World.

Other voyagers were Pedro Alonzo Nigno, who sailed to the same region of South America and passed from the Gulf of Paria to the shores of the present republic of Colombia, and Vincent Yanez Pinzon, who had commanded one of the vessels of Columbus on his first voyage, and who was the first Spaniard to cross the equinoctial line. He discovered the mouth of the Amazon River, and from there sailed north to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. About the same time (1499) Diego Lope reached the coast of South America at Cape St. Augustine, which he doubled and sailed to the southwest for a considerable distance. In 1500, Rodrigo Bastides touched South America at Cape Vela, and coasted to the present seaport of Nombre de Dios, a point which Columbus had reached in sailing south from Honduras.

After Columbus opened up the New world to Europe, the West Indies became centers of exploration. Among others, Ojeda, under a grant from the King of Spain, founded the settlement of San Sebastian, in the Gulf of Uraba. With him had engaged to sail Francisco Pizarro and Hernando Cortez. The latter was detained by illness, but the former thus made the first step in his famous career. The colony left by Ojeda was forced by the Indians to abandon the settlement. One vessel foundered. The other, commanded by Pizarro, reached Carthagena, where was found Enciso, a lawyer of San Domingo, who was conveying men and provisions to the colony. With him was Vasco Nunez de Balboa, an adventurer whose debts made him fly the town, and who managed to smuggle himself on board the ship in what purported to be a cask of provisions. On leaving shore he emerged from his cask, fell on his knees to Enciso, and begged pardon for his trick and permission to accompany the expedition. The colony having been deserted, Balboa proposed that they should sail for Darien, which coast he had already visited with Bastides. This proposal was accepted, and a new town established, which was named Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien. Troubles ensured among the colonists, which ended in the imprisonment of Enciso, and the establishment of Balboa as alcalde of the colony.

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