History of American Exploration from 1517 to 1520

About the history of American exploration from 1517 to 1520 including voyages of Ferdinand Magellan and Hernando Cortes.


1517 With 110 soldiers, Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba sailed the Gulf of Mexico looking for Indians to enslave. In Indian fights, 50 Spaniards were killed and Cordoba himself was struck by 12 arrows. Their discovery: the wealth of Yucatan.

1518 Juan de Grijalva, sailing for his uncle Diego Velasquez, who was governor of the Antilles, further explored the Mexican coast. The crew cut their hair "thinking they would have little leisure time to comb it." Discoveries: the island of Cozumel, site of a Mayan temple, and Tabasco River, now called the Grijalva.

1518 From the Gulf of Mexico, Alonso Alvarez de Pineda sailed up the Mississippi, naming it Espiritu Santo, then traveled south along the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Rio Panuco (present-day Tampico), where he and his crew fought a savage battle with the Aztecs. Many Spaniards, including Pineda, were killed and eaten, and later their skins were hung as trophies in the Aztec temples. One ship, commanded by Diego de Camargo, survived the voyage. He and the crew arrived back in Vera Cruz "ill and very yellow and with swollen bellies."

1519 Balboa was arrested at the order of Pedrarias Davila, the cruel governor of Darien. As the result of a trumped-up charge of murder and treason, he was beheaded and thrown to the vultures. The arresting officer was Francisco Pizarro, who had accompanied Balboa to the Pacific.

1519 "We Spaniards suffer from a disease that only gold can cure," the Spanish nobleman Hernando Cortes (1485--1547) once said. In 1519, after a career as a planter in Cuba and inspired by tales of Aztec wealth, he set off to conquer the "kingdom to the west." On the way he picked up two interpreters: Jeronimo de Aguilar, who had spent eight years as a Maya captive and knew the language; and Marina, an Indian woman who spoke not only Maya but Nahuatl, or Aztec, and who became the Spanish conqueror's mistress. Cortes landed on the coast of Mexico at the exact time the Aztecs had expected the return of Quetzalcoatl, a white-faced, black-bearded god who was a foil to Huitzilopochtli, then in the ascendancy. Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, sent Cortes gifts, including a huge gold wheel embossed with designs. With his Indian allies and a 400-man Spanish army, Cortes marched to Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire, maiming and killing hostile Indians along the way. He took Montezuma prisoner and so acquired Mexico for Spain.

1519--1520 Ferdinand Magellan (1480?--1521), a Portuguese navigator sailing for Spain on the first round-the-world voyage, headed down the east coast of South America and discovered the Strait of Magellan, which offered passage to the Pacific. Some events of this part of the voyage:

* At the mouth of the river now known as Rio de Janeiro, the crew dallied with native girls, whose favors were bought from their brothers for the price of a "German knife of the worst quality." Sailor Antonio Pigafetta reported that one beautiful girl, believing herself to be unobserved, filched a nail, valued for its iron, from a cabin. "Picking it up, with great skill and gallantry, she thrust it between the lips of her vagina and bending low, departed, the Captain General and I having witnessed this."

* Sighting a mountain, Magellan cried out, "Monte video!" ("I see a mountain!"), and so the capital of Uruguay was named.

* A giant of man--nearly naked, painted all over, and with huge straw-stuffed shoes on his feet--danced on the shore of a land that Magellan called Patagonia. The word means "land of the big-footed ones."

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