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Expedition of Juan de Grijalva. A.D. 1518.


THE governor Diego Velasquez, encouraged by the accounts of those who returned from the last expedition, now fitted out a second armament consisting of four ships, two of which were employed in the former voyage, and the other two were purchased by himself. These vessels were to be commanded by his relation Juan de Grijalva, (in chief,) Pedro de Alvarado, Francisco de Montejo, and Alonzo de Avila, all persons of valour, and possessed of estates in the islands. The charge of the equipment was divided thus; each captain found provisions and sailors, the arms and some trifling necessaries were provided by the governor. The accounts of the richness of the country, especially those given by the native Melchorejo, created an universal disposition in those who were unprovided in the islands to engage in the expedition. Accordingly, two hundred and forty companions immediately entered themselves, amongst whom I determined to try my fortune a second time.

Each of us deposited a certain sum to provide various necessary articles, both for the vessels and for ourselves in the field. The orders and instructions given by the governor to our chief were, to procure and bring back all the gold and flyer that he could, and he gave him discretionary power to act as he thought best, in regard to colonization or establishments. The veedor appointed by us was named Penalosa, and our chaplain was named Juan Diaz. We had the same pilots who had gone the former voyage, and a fourth whose name I do not recollect. Our rendezvous was at the port of Matanzas, which was convenient for victualling, as the colonists had their plantations and stores of hogs in that neighbourhood.

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The name of Matanzas was given to this place on the following account. Before the island was conquered, a Spanish vessel was wrecked on this coast, in her voyage from St. Domingo to the Lucayan Islands to procure slaves. Thirty men and women escaped to the land, and were met by a number of Indians who offered them an hospitable reception, and proposed to take them in their canoes. Our people being embarked, when they were in the middle of the river the Indians upset the canoes, and killed or drowned them all except three men and one woman who was handsome; she was taken by one of their principal caciques, and the three men were allotted to others. After the conquest of the island was effected, the and the Indian chief parted, and I afterwards knew her married in the city of Trinidad to one Pedro Sanchez Farfan. I was also acquainted with the three men; one was named Gonzalo Mexia, another Juan de St. Estevan, and the third Cascorro. This last mentioned had married the daughter of the cacique to whose lot he fell, and had his ears and nose bored like the Indians.

On the fifth day of April 1518, after having heard mats with great devotion, we set sail, and in ten days passed the point of Guaniguanico, called by the pilots St. Anton. In eight days more we came in sight of the Island of Cozumel, whither we were driven in part by the currents, which forced us farther down than when we came with Cordova. Codling along the island by the South, we perceived a landing place at which our captain Grijalva went on shore with a considerable body of soldiers. The natives of an adjacent town fled at the sight of the ships, but our people found two old men who could not follow them concealed in some maize. Our interpreters, Julianillo, and Melchorejo, understood these Indians very well, for that island is distant but four leagues from their native country. Grijalva treated them well, and made them some presents, in hopes to be thereby able to induce the inhabitants to return to their town, for which purpose they were then dismissed. Some time after, an Indian girl of a good person and countenance joined us, and addressed us in the language of the Island of Jamaica, which is the same with that of Cuba. The account she gave of herself was, that

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she had sailed from Jamaica two years before in a large canoe with ten of her countrymen, to fish at certain small Islands, and that the current had driven them hither, where the natives had killed and sacrificed her husband and all her companions. Our captain thought that this woman might be serviceable in inducing the natives to return; he therefore sent her on a message to that effect, for which he allowed them a period of two days; but on the ensuing one she came back and informed us that she could not prevail on any of them to do so. We named this place Santa Cruz, having discovered it on the day of that holy festival. In the town we found a quantity of honey in hives, vegetables, such as boniatos and potatoes, and droves of hogs of the species of the country with the navel on the back. There were two smaller towns in the Island which we did not visit, Grijalva perceiving further stay to be loss of time.

Pursuing the route of F. H. de Cordova, in eight days we arrived at Champoton, and casting anchor at the distance of a league from the shore, on account of the height of the tides, we disembarked one half of our soldiers, landing them close to the town. The natives, proud of their former success, attacked us immediately on our landing in great bodies, and with much military parade. Experience had taught us to go well prepared, and accordingly we brought falconets in our boats. Half our number was wounded before we reached the land, but when we formed, and had received a reinforcement by a second embarkation, we soon drove them to the marshes, with the loss however of three of our soldiers, and our captain received three arrows, and had two of his teeth beaten out. When we entered the, town after the defeat of the natives, we found that they had removed all their effects. Three of them whom we had taken prisoners we thought by kind usage to have made friends of, and that they would have induced their countrymen to return, but after we had dismissed them they never came back to us, and we suspected that our interpreters had treacherously spoken to them in opposition to our intentions. The field where we fought with these people was very stony, and there was on it a prodigious swarm of locusts. These animals during the action sprang up and struck us in

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the faces, so that we hardly knew when to put up our shields to guard us, or whether they were arrows or locusts which flew round us, they came so mixed together.

After four days stay in Champoton we re-embarked, and pursuing our voyage arrived at what appeared to be the entrance of a large river; but our pilot Alaminos insisted that what we saw before us was an Island, and that he saw the termination of it. These circumstances caused us to name the bay, Boca de Terminos. Captain de Grijalva with many officers and soldiers went to examine the bay and neighbouring country; on the shore they found some adoratories or temples, built of lime and stone, and containing idols made of clay and wood, some in the figures of women, others of serpents, and many horns of deer. These were the occasional offerings of traders or hunters, who frequented those parts, for they were entirely uninhabited, but abundantly stocked with deer and rabbits. We killed ten of the former with one greyhound, and many rabbits. The dog was left behind us on our embarking, but when we returned with Cortes we found him on the shore, and he seemed to have fared well in our absence for he was very fat and sleek.

From the harbour of Boca de Terminos we coasted westward, and in three days arrived at another inlet, which being discovered by sounding to be shallow, was entered by the vessels of the lightest burthen, in which, together with the boats, we embarked our whole force, as we perceived numbers of armed Indians in canoes. We therefore judged that we were near some populous town or district, and the more so, as we found, and took fish out of nets, which were laid in the track of our vessels. This River was called Tabasco from a native chieftain; but it was from this time named in honor of our Captain, de Grijalva, and it is so put down in the maps. When we approached the shore we heard the noise occasioned by the falling of timber, which was a preparation of defence, for they were very well acquainted with the transactions of Pontonchan. We disembarked at a point of land which was distant about half a

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league from the town, where was a grove of palm trees, and the natives advanced against us here, painted and prepared for battle, in about fifty canoes; but fortunately it was determined on our part, to address them through our interpreters, who declared to them our pacific intentions, and invited their chiefs to an interview. Upon this, about thirty Indians landed, to whom we presented beads and coloured glass. Our captain then caused to be explained to them how we had come from a distant country, and were the vassals of a great prince to whom we recommended them to submit, and further, that in exchange for those beads and glasses, we expected that they should give us a supply of provisions. Two of them, a chief and priest made answer to us by saying that they would barter, and give us provisions: that as to a sovereign, they already had one, and that our demand was so unseasonable that they advised us to be cautious how we repeated that, or any fimilar one, lest they should attack us as in Pontonchan, they having two xiquipils (eight thousand men each,) of warriors ready for the purpose, adding, that though confident of their force, they had come to treat with us amicably, and would repeat to their chiefs our proposal, and return to us with their decision for peace or war. Grijalva embraced them in token of peace, and presenting them with strings of beads, required their speedy return with an answer, which they promised and fulfilled, assuring us on the part of their chiefs, of the most pacific conduct; and as it is the custom of that country in amicable treaties to make presents, thirty Indians shortly afterwards came to us loaded with broiled fish, fowls, fruit, bread of maize, and vessels with lighted coals to fumigate us with incense, and spreading a mat upon the ground and a mantle over it, they laid thereon some toys of gold made in the form of birds, and lizards, and three necklaces of gold call like beads, with some other trifles not altogether worth two hundred crowns; they also produced some cotton mantles and other articles of clothing used by them, saying, that we should receive their present kindly, it being the whole of the gold that they were able to collect. But they added, that more to the West there was abundance thereof, repeating several times, “Mexico,” and “Culua,” words which we at that time did not understand.

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We were satisfied however by this proof that there was gold in the country, and we hastened to quit our station, where a gale of wind from the North, such as was to be hourly expected, might prove fatal to us.

In two days sail from this place, we arrived opposite to a town on the coast, named Aguayaluco, where we observed the inhabitants parading, armed with shields of the shell of the turtle, which being polished and shining in the sun our soldiers insisted were of gold. This place we named La Rambla. We next came to an inlet where the river Farole discharges itself: this we named the river of St. Anthonio. Continuing our route by the mouth of the great river Guacayalco, and the high chain of mountains which are covered with perpetual snow, as also others nearer the sea and which we named the ridge of St. Martin, because they were first described by one of our soldiers of that name, Alvarado discovered and entered the river called by the natives Papalohuna, but by us afterwards the river of Alvarado, where the natives of a place named Tlatocalpa presented him with some fish. Our chief was much displeased with the conduct of this officer, for whole return we were obliged to wait during three days, and gave orders that in future no ship should ever separate from the squadron, lest an accident should happen where it might not be possible to afford assistance. As loon as Alvarado had rejoined us we proceeded on our voyage until we came to the river Vanderas, so called by us on account of the white banners which we observed upon the shore, and which were borne by numbers of Indians, who waved them as a signal of invitation to us.

It is now well known through most of Christendom, that Mexico is a city as large as Venice, and built in the same manner upon the water, alto that the numerous and extensive provinces of that empire were ruled by a great monarch named Montezuma, whose thirst for conquest induced him to extend his views to the utmost limits of possibility. This monarch had received information of our first expedition under Cordova, of the battle of Champoton, that we were very few in number, and that we came to procure gold in exchange for certain 

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articles which we brought with us. All these particulars had been faithfully reported to him by painted representations transmitted by expresses to his court. Montezuma therefore on our arrival coming to his knowledge, issued orders to his officers to procure from us in exchange for gold, our green glass beads, on which they set great value, not knowing thetas to be artificial, and he had also given them instructions, to endeavour to make particular enquiry, both as to our persons and intentions. We also understood that he was much influenced by an ancient prophecy which is said to have declared, that men were to come from where the sun rises to rule that country. In compliance with these orders, his officers were now upon the coast and making signs of invitation to us. This induced our general to send a party to the shore under the command of Capt. F. de Montejo; the weather was favorable, an unusual circumstance on that coast; we therefore landed without difficulty, and found the governor of that district, under Montezuma, attended by many natives with provisions of fowls, bread, and fruit, such as pines, and sapotes. They were reposing upon mats under the shade of some trees, and invited us by signs to do the same, for our, Indians of Cotoche did not understand their language; they also, as on former occasions, presented us with incense. Our reception being reported to our chief, Grijalva, he immediately landed with the whole of the soldiers, and as soon as his rank was made known to the Indians, they treated him with the greatest respect, which he returned with equal courtesy, and ordered beads and cut glass to be distributed to them, signifying his with to procure gold in return; in consequence of which, we obtained pieces of gold of various workmanship, to the value of fifteen thousand crowns. It must be this gold that Gomara and Oviedo mean, when they say in their histories that so much was obtained in Tabasco, a country in which that metal is not to be found at all, or but in very small quantity. We at this time took possession of these territories under the Governor of Cuba, and in his Majesty’s name; and after distributing some shirts of European manufacture among the natives, we re-embarked, taking with us one of them, who was baptized and named Francisco. I saw him after the conquest of Mexico, settled 

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and married at a place called Santa Fe. After slaying here six days we now re-embarked and sailed along the coast, passing a low Island distant three leagues from the main, called by us Isla Blanca. Farther on we came to a large one, distant about a league and a half therefrom, where a party commanded by our captain went on shore. Our people found on this last mentioned Island two buildings of lime and stone, well constructed, each with steps, and an altar placed before certain hideous figures, the representations of the Gods of these Indians. They found also here the bodies of five unfortunate persons who had been sacrificed on the preceding night, their hearts cut out, their limbs separated from the bodies, and the walls and altars stained with their blood. This Island was named Isla de Los Sacrificios. Opposite to it on the continent we landed, and constructing huts, remained some time in expectation of trading with the natives for gold. Many Indians came thither, but brought very little of that metal, and appeared shy and timorous; in consequence of which we re-embarked, and proceeded.

On our arrival at that part of the coast where the town of St. Juan de Ulua is now built, we lodged ourselves in huts which we constructed upon the sand hills, and having sounded the harbour we found good anchorage, and it was secure to the North. A party of thirty of us commanded by our captain then proceeded to examine the Island, where we found a temple containing a very large and hideous image intended to represent a God, the name given to which was Tezcatepuca. Here were sour Indians in long black mantles resembling the habit of the Dominicans; these were priests, and they had that day sacrificed two boys, and offered their hearts to that cursed idol. On our entering they came to us with their pots of incense, but we could not endure it, being disgusted and grieved at the fight, and the horrid cruelty of their sacrifices. Our interpreter who shewed some marks of intelligence being questioned as to the cause of those victims being put to death in that manner, made answer as well as he could, that it was done by the Indians of Culva or Culchua, meaning the Mexicans; but he pronounced this word, Ulua, a name which ever after distinguished the place. It was called St. John,

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partly because this was the day of St. John, and partly in compliment to our chief, Juan de Grijalva. The neighbouring Indians brought us some gold, but in so trifling a quantity as not to be worth mentioning, and here we remained seven days desperately annoyed by the mosquitos. Our bread now growing very bad, and our wounded men declining, being alto convinced that the land where we were was a part of the continent, and our number having been so reduced as to be insufficient for colonization, it was determined to send P. de Alvarado to Cuba for a reinforcement, which was accordingly done, for our chief was very anxious to establish a settlement, and always shewed himself a most valiant officer, the very reverie of what would be supposed, from the aspersions cast upon him by Gomara.

From the time of our sailing the Governor of Cuba had always been pensive and uneasy as to our fate; at length he determined to send a vessel in search of us, commanded by a valiant soldier named Christoval de Oli: but after De Oli had sailed for some time in our track, he met with a gale of wind which so shattered his vessel that he was obliged to return to Cuba, without having gained in any degree the intelligence he was sent for. This was a great disappointment to Velasquez; however he was soon relieved by the arrival of Alvarado. The display of the gold struck the governor and all who saw it with astonishment; and Velasquez thought he never could sufficiently shew his favor to one who had brought such agreeable intelligence; Alvarado was feasted and honored, and the fame of the newly discovered and wealthy country was diffused and enhanced through the Islands, and soon reached Castille.

We determined now to extend our discoveries as far as circumstances would permit, and passing by the mountains of Tusta and Tuspa, we approached the province of Panuco, thickly set with populous towns, about three or four leagues from the coast; and advancing further, arrived at the river de Canoas, so named by us on account of what I am going to relate. We were here suddenly attacked while at anchor by ten canoes filled with Indians; they fell violently on the smallest chip

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which was commanded by Alonzo de Avila, and it seems as if their intention was to have carried her off, for they cut the cable, notwithstanding the gallant defence made by those on board; but we sent them speedy assistance, whereby the enemy were forced to retreat with a considerable lots. We then weighed anchor and pursued our route, until we arrived at a very bold point of land, which the violence of the current, according to the report of our pilot, did not allow us to double; whereupon it was determined in council to return to the Island of Cuba, contrary to the opinion of Grijalva who was anxious to establish a settlement, but was opposed for several reasons, such as the lateness of the season, want of provisions, and hardships already sustained by the troops.

We therefore set sail upon our return, in which, aided by the current, we made way rapidly, and entering the river of Tonala, were obliged to delay, in order to repair one of our ships. This vessel struck three times in crossing the bar, on which the water is shallow. The natives came to us here very amicably, and brought provisions of bread, fish, and fruits. We presented them with beads and cut glass, desiring gold in return, and this being made known in the neighbourhood, the inhabitants of Guacacualco and other places brought to us what gold was in their possession.

It was a custom of the Indians of this province invariably, to carry small hatchets of copper, very bright, and the wooden handles of which were highly painted, as intended both for defence and ornament. These were supposed by us to be gold, and were of course eagerly purchased, insomuch that within three days we had amongst us procured above six hundred, and were while under the mistake as well pleased with our bargain, as the Indians with their green beads. One mariner thought he had made his fortune, having purchased seven of them. I recollect also that a soldier named Bartholome Pardo entered a temple which was on the summit of a high mount, and there found in a chest some diadems and collars of gold, and two figures of idols. The gold 

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he kept for himself, and presented the idols to our commandant. The story however came to the ears of the latter, who insisted on having the gold, but was induced to leave it with the poor man on his paying his Majesty’s fifth, and the whole was not worth eighty crowns.

As this country is infested by mosquitos, in order to avoid them I went to sleep in a large temple, near which I at this time sowed seven or eight seeds of oranges, which I had brought from Cuba. They grew very well, for the priests of the temple took care of them when they saw that they were uncommon plants. This I mention, because they were the first trees of the kind that ever grew in New Spain. After the conquest of Mexico, this province being considered as offering the greatest advantages, was chosen by most of the principal persons amongst the conquerors, of which number I was one; and on my arrival there I went in search of, and found my young trees flourishing, and having transplanted them, they all did very well.

We now embarked, leaving the natives very well satisfied with us, and sailed for Cuba, where we arrived after a voyage of forty-five days. The governor was well pleased with the gold, which amounted in value to twenty thousand crowns: but there was much laughter when the six hundred hatchets were produced, and assayed; the governor however was on the whole contented, though he appeared for a time displeased with Grijalva, which was owing to the unjust aspersions of the two captains, Avila and Montejo.

Velasquez now wishing to convey to his Majesty the first account of his voyages of discovery, and the result of them, sent his chaplain Benito Martinez to Castille with letters to his patron the Bishop of Burgos, and to the licentiate Juan Zapata, and secretary Lope Conchillos, both of whom were employed in the affairs of the Spanish settlements in the West Indies. With all these, who were persons in power, Velasquez had created a strong interest for himself, by giving them rich districts in the islands, preferring thereby his own interest

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to that of his Majesty. Martinez was instructed to obtain for the governor a patent or commission to procure gold, and to make conquests and settlements as he judged expedient, through all the newly discovered countries. This he not only completely effected, but such was the satisfaction of those in power with the conduct of Velasquez, and the proofs which he sent of the wealth of those countries, that Martinez also brought back with him a commission for his employer, of adelantado of the Island of Cuba.