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[30]

Chapter 2:

Spaniards in the United States.

I have traced the progress of events, which, for a
Chap. II.}
season, gave to France the uncertain possession of Acadia and Canada. The same nation laid claim to large and undefined regions at the southern extremity of our republic. The expedition of Francis I. discovered the continent in a latitude south of the coast which Cabot had explored; but Verrazzani had yet been anticipated. The claim to Florida, on the ground of discovery, belonged to the Spanish, and was successfully asserted.

Extraordinary success had kindled in the Spanish nation an equally extraordinary enthusiasm. No sooner had the New World revealed itself to their enterprise, than the valiant men, who had won laurels under Ferdinand among the mountains of Andalusia, sought a new career of glory in more remote adventures. The weapons that had been tried in the battles with the Moors, and the military skill that had been acquired in the romantic conquest of Granada, were now turned against the feeble occupants of America. The passions of avarice and religious zeal were strangely blended; and the heroes of Spain sailed to the west, as it they had been bound on a new crusade, where infinite wealth was to reward their piety. The Spanish nation had become infatuated with a fondness for novelties; the ‘chivalry of the ocean’ despised the range of Europe, [31] as too narrow, and offering to their extravagant ambition

Chap. II.}
nothing beyond mediocrity. America was the region of romance, where the heated imagination could indulge in the boldest delusions; where the simple natives ignorantly wore the most precious ornaments; and, by the side of the clear runs of water, the sands sparkled with gold. What way so ever, says the historian of the ocean, the Spaniards are called, with a beck only, or a whispering voice, to any thing rising above water, they speedily prepare themselves to fly, and forsake certainties under the hope of more brilliant success. To carve out provinces with the sword; to divide the wealth of empires; to plunder the accumulated treasures of some ancient Indian dynasty; to return from a roving expedition with a crowd of enslaved captives and a profusion of spoils,—soon became the ordinary dreams, in which the excited minds of the Spaniards delighted to indulge. Ease, fortune, life, all were squandered in the pursuit of a game, where, if the issue was uncertain, success was sometimes obtained, greater than the boldest imagination had dared to anticipate. Is it strange that these adventurers were often superstitious? The New World and its wealth were in themselves so wonderful, that why should credit be withheld from the wildest fictions? Why should not the hope be indulged, that the laws of nature themselves would yield to the desires of men so fortunate and so brave?

Juan Ponce de Leon was the discoverer of Florida

1512
His youth had been passed in military service in Spain: and, during the wars in Granada, he had shared in the wild exploits of predatory valor. No sooner had the return of the first voyage across the Atlantic given an assurance of a New World, than he hastened to participate in the dangers and the fruits of adventure in [32] America. He waste fellow voyager of Columbus in his
Chap. II.} 1493.
second expedition. In the wars of Hispaniola he had been a gallant soldier; and Ovando had rewarded him with the government of the eastern province of that island. From the hills in his jurisdiction, he could behold, across the clear waters of a placid sea, the magnificent vegetation of Porto Rico, which distance rendered still more admirable, as it was seen through the transparent atmosphere of the tropics. A visit to the
1508
island stimulated the cupidity of avarice; and Ponce aspired to the government. He obtained the station
1509.
inured to sanguinary war, he was inexorably severe in his administration: he oppressed the natives; he amassed wealth. But his commission as governor of Porto Rico conflicted with the claims of the family of Columbus; and policy, as well as justice, required his removal. Ponce was displaced.

Yet, in the midst of an archipelago, and in the vicinity of a continent, what need was there for a brave soldier to pine at the loss of power over a wild though fertile island? Age had not tempered the love of enterprise: he longed to advance his fortunes by the conquest of a kingdom, and to retrieve a reputation which was not without a blemish.1 Besides; the veteran soldier, whose cheeks had been furrowed by hard service, as well as by years, had heard, and had believed the tale, of a fountain which possessed virtues to renovate the life of those who should bathe in its stream, or give a perpetuity of youth to the happy man who should drink of its ever-flowing waters. So universal was this tradition, that it was credited in Spain, not by all the people and the court only, but by those who were distinguished [33] for virtue and intelligence.2 Nature was to

Chap. II.} 1509.
discover the secrets for which alchemy had toiled in vain; and the elixir of life was to flow from a perpetual fountain of the New World, in the midst of a country glittering with gems and gold.

Ponce embarked at Porto Rico, with a squadron of

1512 Mar. 3.
three ships, fitted out at his own expense, for his voyage to fairy land. He touched at Guanahani; he sailed among the Bahamas; but the laws of nature remained inexorable. On Easter Sunday, which the Spaniards
Mar 27.
call Pascua Florida, land was seen. It was supposed to be an island, and received the name of Florida, from the day on which it was discovered, and from the aspect of the forests, which were then brilliant with a profusion of blossoms, and gay with the fresh verdure of early spring. Bad weather would not allow the
April 2.
squadron to approach land: at length the aged soldier was able to go on shore, in the latitude of thirty degrees and eight minutes; some miles, therefore, to the
April 8.
north of St. Augustine. The territory was claimed for Spain. Ponce remained for many weeks to investigate the coast which he had discovered; though the currents of the gulf-stream, and the islands, between which the channel was yet unknown, threatened shipwreck. He doubled Cape Florida; he sailed among the group which he named Tortugas; and, despairing of entire success, he returned to Porto Rico, leaving a trusty follower to continue the research. The Indians had every where displayed determined hostility. Ponce de Leon remained an old man; but Spanish commerce acquired a new channel through the Gulf of Florida, and Spain a new province, which imagination could esteem immeasurably rich, since its interior was unknown. [34]

The government of Florida was the reward which

Chap. II.} 1513.
Ponce received from the king of Spain; but the dignity was accompanied with the onerous condition, that he should colonize the country which he was appointed to rule. Preparations in Spain, and an expedition against
1514 to 1520.
the Caribbee Indians, delayed his return to Florida. When, after a long interval, he proceeded with two
1521.
ships to take possession of his province and select a site for a colony, his company was attacked by the Indians with implacable fury. Many Spaniards were killed; the survivors were forced to hurry to their ships; Ponce de Leon himself, mortally wounded by an arrow, returned to Cuba to die. So ended the adventurer, who had coveted immeasurable wealth, and had hoped for perpetual youth. The discoverer of Florida had desired immortality on earth, and gained its shadow.3

Meantime, commerce may have discovered a path to

1516.
Florida; and Diego Miruelo, a careless sea-captain, sailing from Havana, is said to have approached the coast, and trafficked with the natives. He could not tell distinctly in what harbor he had anchored; he brought home specimens of gold, obtained in exchange for toys; and his report swelled the rumors, already credited, of the wealth of the country. Florida had at once obtained a governor; it now constituted a part of a bishopric.4

The expedition of Francisco Fernandez, of Cordova,

1517
leaving the port of Havana, and sailing west by south, [35] discovered in 1517 the province of Yucatan and the
Chap. II} 1517.
Bay of Campeachy. He then turned his prow to the north; but, at a place where he had landed for supplies of water, his company was suddenly assailed, and he himself mortally wounded.

In 1518, the pilot whom Fernandez had employed

1518.
conducted another squadron to the same shores; and Grijalva, the commander of the fleet, explored the coast from Yucatan towards Panuco. The masses of gold which he brought back, the rumors of the empire of Montezuma, its magnificence and its extent, heedlessly confirmed by the costly presents of the unsuspecting natives, were sufficient to inflame the coldest imagination, and excited the enterprise of Cortes. The voyage did not reach beyond the bounds of Mexico.

At that time

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