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Balboa

Balboa

 

 

BalboaLinked insparably with the name of the Pacific Ocean is that of Balboa. His discovery was, in fact, the first sure proof that the New World discovered by Columbus was not, as that navigator believed, merely the other coast of Asia, but was really a separate continent. The picture of this heroic leader, standing on the summit of the isthmus range, waving his flag and encouraging his followers to hasten and greet their eyes with a sight of the new ocean, has been most vividly described in history.

 

Vasco Nunez de Balboa was born in Xeres, Estremadura, Spain, about 1475. Of a family of hidalgos, or Spanish gentlemen, he was poor, yet had expensive habits, which, in the early part of his life, kept him in a state of chronic indebtedness. At first he held some position in the house of Don Pedro Carrero, a Spanish nobleman of consequence but when Rodrigo de Bastidas conceived his great project of discovery and mercantile enterprise in 1501, Balboa became one of the expedition.

 

By the year 1510, Balboa. was well established in Hispaniola (or Hayti), in the settlement of Salvatierra, where he cultivated a farm but, having fallen into debt, he resolved to quit the island and tempt fortune ill another direction. At this time, Enciso was about to make a voyage of discovery to the Mainland, and the hidalgo, not knowing how otherwise to accomplish his purpose, had himself shipped as provisions, and rolled on board in a cask, and joined the expedition as a stowaway. Enciso was much irritated when he discovered the stratagem, because, by a formal order of the Governor of Hispaniola, no commander of a vessel was allowed to carry any debtor pursued by his creditors. On arriving at Cartagena, where Ojeda had tried to found a colony, Enciso found that, on account of the obstinate resistance of the natives, Ojeda had been obliged to sail to Darien. There he bad, with much difficulty, been able to build a few houses on the eastern side of the gulf, which had received the name of San Sebastian, and Ojeda himself was now sailing towards Hispaniola in search of Enciso. Ojeda never returned he died in Hispaniola in extreme poverty.

 

The settlers left at San Sebastian, despairing of their leader's return, sailed in two brigs to Cartagena, where they found Enciso's two vessels in the harbor. Under these circumstances, Enciso claimed command, and took the fleet of four brigs to Darien; but the settlement was in ashes. Despair was on every countenance, when Balboa suggested that they should try the western side of the gulf, where he had seen a town some years before. The suggestion was immediately acted upon. The natives offered the most determined resistance; but the Spaniards succeeded in entering the town and founding the colony of Santa Maria de la Antigua. The part which Balboa took in this successful enterprise affords proof of his capacity as a colonizer.

 

After their settlement, the Spaniards began to carry on trade with the natives, giving Spanish goods and trinkets in unchanged for gold. Enciso forbade this traffic on pain of death. The men revolted, and great difficulty arose about the choosing of a leader. Nionesa, in whose province they were, was sent for, but those who opposed his action set him adrift on a crazy vessel with about seventeen companions they were never heard of again. Ultimately the contest lay between Balboa and Enciso, and Balboa conquered. This victory made him Commandant of his associates. Charges of usurpation were brought against Enciso; he was condemned to imprisonment and the loss of all his property; but Balboa released him on condition that he should at once leave Darien. He did leave Darien, and made his way to Spain, to inform the king of what had taken place.

 

After this Balboa made a successful excursion through the country, conciliating the natives as he went, and made the acquaintance of a powerful cacique, who, besides telling him much that was useful about the country and its inhabitants, gave him also the first information about the great gold country of Peru. Then he sent a report to Columbus of the regions discovered, and requested a reinforcement of 1,000 men and provisions, so that he might be able to stay in the country without harrying the natives. With a brig and a few canoes, he next made his way to the coast of Veragna, where, leaving his vessels, he began a perilous and fatiguing march into the interior. On the 29th of September, 1513, he reached the summit of a mountain from which he had a commanding view of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Like Columbus, falling all his knees, he thanked God for having granted him the favor of this great discovery. Then addressing his men, he requested them to remain faithful as they had hitherto been, and he would promise that none should equal them either in glory or riches. On reaching the sea-shore, Balboa stood knee-deep in the water, and took possession of sea and land around them in the name of the Crown of Castile. A notary registered the act, and the Spanish considered themselves the happy and lawful possessors of all they beheld. The particular part of the sea on the shore of which they stood was called the Gulf of St. Michael, because it was discovered on Michaelmas day.

 

The exploring party, after visiting several islands in the gulf, commenced the return journey; but the fatigue and anxiety of the expedition had proved too much for the physical endurance of even Balboa. He was seized with malignant fever, and had to be carried on a litter a great part of the way. His method of conciliating the natives had been most successful. All chroniclers agree that Balboa was eminently fitted for the function which he had usurped, and of which he proved himself so worthy by his foresight, human sympathy, and, above all, by his tireless energy. Those who had remained in the colony received their full proportion of the proceeds of the enterprise, and in the meantime the untiring discoverer set about doing everything in his power for the improvement and development of the young colony. A report was sent to Spain giving particulars of the discovery but Enciso had not been idle, and had succeeded in stirring up such feeling against Balboa that the Spanish government had already determined not only to supersede him, but to try him for rebellion.

 

This commission was given to a nobleman named Pedrarias Davila, who, an arriving in the colony, in 15I4, found Balboa helping some Indians to roof a house. This was surprising enough to Pedrarias, who, from the reports spread through Spain of the explorer's ambition, expected to find him living in a palace in regal state. Nevertheless, Balboa was put under arrest on a charge of ambitious pretensions, of making a conquest instead of a discovery, and others. Of all these he was acquitted, but had to pay a heavy fine as damages to Enciso, and was set at liberty. Pedrarias, however, managed to keep him in the background and from taking any part in colonial work. The direct consequence of this was that, through mismanagement, the colonists were reduced to such terrible straits that within a short time some seven hundred were reported dead from starvation and sickness. Pedrarias and his party explored the country in every direction in quest of gold, and not finding it in large quantities, as they expected, began to treat the natives with abominable cruelty, and succeeded only in making enemies of many who, through Balboa's conciliatory methods, had been on most friendly terms with the Spaniards. Balboa, however, was not altogether without friends at court. In 15I5 he received the appointment of Governor of Darien and Coiba, under Pedrarias. There were no friendly relations between them i the situation was exceedingly irksome to Balboa, and he tried secretly to found a colony somewhere on the Pacific coast. This so enraged Pedrarias that he had Balboa arrested and imprisoned. The two men, however, became so far reconciled that a marriage was arranged between Balboa and the daughter of his quondam enemy.

 

Still the jealousy of the father-in-law never abated, and probably it was not with the best of motives that he sent Balboa in the direction of Port Careta, with orders to found a colony, and also to build ships with which to explore some of the islands of the Pacific. The first part of the commission was carried out, and the second was in progress, when, through the misinterpretation or the misrepresentation of a messenger sent to Pedrarias, Balboa was put under arrest. He was tried and condemned to death as a traitor and usurper of the dominions of the king. The judge who found him guilty recommended him to mercy all account of his many services but Pedrarias roared out: I f he is a criminal, let him die for his crimes.I He protested his innocence, and died like a hero, in the forty-second year of his age.

 

Balboa is described as a tall and graceful man, with flaxen hair and a pleasant countenance of keen understanding and great courage. He was rigid in his discipline, but when any of his soldiers were sick or wounded, he cared for them and consoled them like a friend and brother.

 

THE DISCOVERY OF THE PACIFIC.

 

It was the first of September that Vasco Nunez embarked with his followers in a brigantine and nine large canoes or pirogues, followed by the cheers and good wishes of those who remained at the settlement. Standing to the north-westward, he arrived without accident at Coyba, the dominions of the cacique Carela, whose daughter he had received as a pledge of amity. That Indian beauty had acquired a great influence over Vasco Nunez, and appears to have cemented his friendship with her father and her people. He was received by the cacique with open arms, and furnished with guides and warriors to aid him in his enterprise.

 

Vasco Nunez left about half of his men at Coyba to guard the brigantine aud canoes, while he should penetrate the wilderness with the residue. 'rite importance of his present expedition, not merely as affecting his own fortunes, but, as it were, unfolding a mighty secret of nature, seems to have impressed itself upon his spirit, and to have given correspondent solemnity to his conduct. Before setting out upon his march, he caused mass to be performed, and offered up prayers to God for the success of his perilous undertaking.

 

It was on the sixth of September that be struck off for the mountains. The march was difficult and toilsome in the extreme. The Spaniards, encumbered with the weight of their armor and weapons, and oppressed by the heat of a tropical climate, were obliged to climb rocky precipices, and to struggle through close and tangled forests. Their Indian allies aided them by carrying their ammunition and provisions, and by guiding them to the most practicable paths.

 

Of the band of Spaniards who had set out with Vasco Nunez in this enterprise, sixty-seven alone remained in sufficient health and spirits for the last effort. These he ordered to retire early to repose, that they might be ready to set off at the cool and fresh hour of day-break, so as to reach the summit of the mountain before the noon-tide heat.

 

The day had scarcely dawned when Vasco Nunez and his followers set forth from the Indian village and began to climb the height. It was a severe and rugged toil for men so way worn, but they were filled with new ardor at the idea of the triumphant scene that was so soon to repay them for all their hardships.

 

About ten o'clock: in the morning they emerged from the thick forests through which they bad hitherto struggled, and arrived at a lofty and airy region of the mountain. The bald summit alone remained to be ascended, and their guides pointed to a moderate eminence from which they said the southern sea was visible.

 

Upon this Vasco Nunez commanded his followers to halt, and that no man should stir from his place. Then, with a palpitating heart, he ascended alone the bare mountain-top. On reaching the summit the long-desired prospect burst upon his view. It was as if a new world were unfolded to him, separated from all hitherto known by this mighty barrier of mountains. Below him extended a vast chaos of rock and forest, and green savannahs and wandering streams, while at a distance the waters of the promised ocean glittered in the morning sun.

 

A t this glorious prospect Vasco Nunez sank upon his knees and poured out thanks to God for being the first European to whom it was given to make that great discovery. He then called his people to ascend "Behold, my friends," said he, "that glorious sight which we have so much desired. Let us give thanks to God that He has granted us this great honor and advantage. Let us pray to Him that He will guide and aid us to conquer the sea and land which we have discovered, and in which Christian has never entered to preach the holy doctrine of the Evangelists. As to yourselves, be as you have hitherto been, faithful and true to me, and by the favor of Christ you will become the richest Spaniards that have ever come to the Indies you will render the greatest services to your king that ever vassal rendered to his lord i and you will have the eternal glory and advantage of all that is here discovered, conquered and converted to our holy Catholic faith.

 

The Spaniards answered this speech by embracing Vasco Nunez, and promising to follow him to death. Among them was a priest, named Andres de Vara, who lifted up his voice and chanted Te Deum laudamus-the usual anthem of Spanish discoverers. The people, kneeling down, joined in the strain with pious enthusiasm and tears of joy and never did a more sincere oblation rise to the Deity from a sanctified altar than from that wild mountain Summit. It was indeed one of the most sublime discoveries that had yet been made in the New World, and must have opened a boundless field of conjecture to the wondering Spaniards. The imagination delights to picture forth the splendid confusion of their thoughts. Was this the great Indian Ocean, studded with precious islands, abounding in gold, in gems, and spices, and bordered by the gorgeous cities and wealthy marts of the East? Or was it some lonely sea locked up in the embraces of savage, uncultivated continents, and never traversed by a bark, excepting the light pirogue of the Indian? 'rite latter could hardly be the case, for the natives had told the Spaniards of golden realms and populous and powerful and luxurious nations upon its shores. Perhaps it might be bordered by various people, civilized in fact, but differing from Europe in their civilization; who might have peculiar laws and customs, and arts and sciences who might form, as it were, a world of their own, inter communing- by this mighty sea, and carrying on commerce between their own islands and continents, but who might exist in total ignorance and independence of the other hemisphere.

 

Such may naturally have been the ideas suggested by the sight of this unknown ocean. It was the prevalent belief of the Spaniards, however, that they were the first Christians who had made the discovery. Vasco Nunez, therefore, called upon all present to witness that he took possession of that sea, its islands, and surrounding lands, in the name of the sovereigns of Castile, and the notary of the expedition made a testimonial of the same, to which all present, to the number of sixty-seven men, signed their names. He then caused a fair and tall tree to be cut down and wrought into a cross., which was elevated on the spot from whence he had at first beheld the sea. A mound of stones was likewise piled up to serve as a monument, and the names of the Castilian sovereigns were carved all the neighboring trees. The Indians beheld all these ceremonials and rejoicings in silent wonder, and, while they aided to erect the cross and pile up the mound of stones, marveled exceedingly at the meaning of all these monuments, little thinking that they marked the subjugation of their land. The memorable event here recorded took place on the 26th of September, 1513.-W. IRVING.

 

 

Balboa

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