Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562

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Author: Manuel José Quintana  | Date: 1513

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Balboa Discovers the Pacific

BALBOA was transported by the prospect of glory and fortune which opened before him; he believed himself already at the gates of the East Indies, which was the desired object of the government and the discoverers of that period; he resolved to return in the first place to the Darien to raise the spirits of his companions with these brilliant hopes, and to make all possible preparations for realizing them.

At this time, and after an absence of six months, arrived the magistrate Valdivia, with a vessel laden with different stores; he brought likewise great promises of abundant aid in provisions and men. The succors, however, which Valdivia brought were speedily consumed; their seed, destroyed in the ground by storms and floods, promised them no resource whatever; and they returned to their usual necessitous state. Balboa then consented to their extending their incursions to more distant lands, as they had already wasted and ruined the immediate environs of Antigua, and he sent Valdivia to Spain to apprise the admiral of the clew he had gained to the South Sea, and the reported wealth of these regions….

The tongue of land which divides the two Americas is not, at its utmost width, above eighteen leagues, and in some parts becomes narrowed a little more than seven. And, although from the port of Careta to the point toward which the course of the Spaniards was directed was only altogether six days’ journey, yet they consumed upon it twenty; nor is this extraordinary. The great cordillera of sierras which from north to south crosses the new continent, a bulwark against the impetuous assaults of the Pacific Ocean, crosses also the Isthmus of Darien, or, as may be more properly said, composes it wholly, from the wrecks of the rocky summits which have been detached from the adjacent lands; and the discoverers, therefore, were obliged to open their way through difficulties and dangers which men of iron alone could have fronted and overcome. Sometimes they had to penetrate through thick entangled woods, sometimes to cross lakes, where men and burdens perished miserably; then a rugged hill presented itself before them; and next, perhaps, a deep and yawning preci pice to descend; while, at every step, they were opposed by deep and rapid rivers, passable only by means of frail barks, or slight and trembling bridges; from time to time they had to make their way through opposing Indians, who, though always conquered, were always to be dreaded; and, above all, came the failure of provisions—which formed an aggregate, with toil, anxiety, and danger, such as was sufficient to break down bodily strength and depress the mind….

At length the Quarequanos, who served as guides, showed them, at a distance, the height from whose summit the desired sea might be discovered. Balboa immediately commanded his squadron to halt, and proceeded alone to the top of the mountain; on reaching it he cast an anxious glance southward, and the Austral Ocean broke upon his sight. Overcome with joy and wonder, he fell on his knees, extending his arms toward the sea, and with tears of delight, offered thanks to heaven for having destined him to this mighty discovery. He immediately made a sign to his companions to ascend, and, pointing to the magnificent spectacle extended before them, again prostrated himself in fervent thanksgiving to God. The rest followed his example, while the astonished Indians were extremely puzzled to understand so sudden and general an effusion of wonder and gladness. Hannibal on the summit of the Alps, pointing out to his soldiers the delicious plains of Italy, did not appear, according to the ingenious comparison of a contemporary writer, either more transported or more arrogant than the Spanish chief, when, risen from joy had deprived him, and thus addressed his Castilians: "You behold before you, friends, the object of all our desires and the reward of all our labors. Before you roll the waves of the sea which has been announced to you, and which no doubt encloses the immense riches we have heard of. You are the first who have reached these shores and these waves; yours are their treasures, yours alone the glory of reducing these immense and unknown regions to the dominion of our King and to the light of the true religion. Follow me, then, faithful as hitherto, and I promise you that the world shall not hold your equals in wealth and glory."

All embraced him joyfully and all promised to follow whithersoever he should lead. They quickly cut down a great tree, and, stripping it of its branches, formed a cross from it, which they fixt in a heap of stones found on the spot from whence they first descried the sea. The names of the monarchs of Castile were engraven on the trunks of the trees, and with shouts and acclamations they descended the sierra and entered the plain….

In the meanwhile he sent Francisco Pizarro, Juan de Ezcarag, and Alonzo Martin to discover the shortest roads by which the sea might be reached. It was the last of these who arrived first at the coast, and, entering a canoe which chanced to lie there, and pushing it into the waves, let it float a little while, and, after pleasing himself with having been the first Spaniard who entered the South Sea, returned to seek Balboa.

Balboa with twenty-six men descended to the sea, and arrived at the coast early in the evening of the 29th of that month; they all seated themselves on the shore and awaited the tide, which was at that time on the ebb. At length it returned in its violence to cover the spot where they were; then Balboa, in complete armor, lifting his sword in one hand, and in the other a banner on which was painted an image of the Virgin Mary with the arms of Castile at her feet, raised it, and began to march into the midst of the waves, which reached above his knees, saying in a loud voice: "Long live the high and mighty sovereigns of Castile! Thus in their names do I take possession of these seas and regions; and if any other prince, whether Christian or infidel, pretends any right to them, I am ready and resolved to oppose him, and to assert the just claims of my sovereigns."

The whole band replied with acclamations to the vow of their captain, and expressed themselves determined to defend, even to death, their acquisition against all the potentates in the world; they caused this act to be confirmed in writing, by the notary of the expedition, Andres de Valderrabano; the anchorage in which it was solemnized was called the Gulf of San Miguel, the event happening on that day.

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Chicago: Manuel José Quintana, "Balboa Discovers the Pacific," Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562 in America, Vol.1, Pp.221-225 Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2021, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1ZRRMKULJIIZWPX.

MLA: Quintana, Manuel José. "Balboa Discovers the Pacific." Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562, in America, Vol.1, Pp.221-225, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2021. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1ZRRMKULJIIZWPX.

Harvard: Quintana, MJ, 'Balboa Discovers the Pacific' in Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562. cited in , America, Vol.1, Pp.221-225. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2021, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1ZRRMKULJIIZWPX.