North America 1503: First Spanish attempts on the Mainland
By the beginning of the 16th century Spanish adventurers were on Cubagua island, Venezuela, exploiting native labor to conduct seasonal pearl-fishing expeditions. From here, the first Spanish mission was established on mainland South America in 1501. However, other Spanish settlement attempts by Ojeda in Colombia (1502) and Colombus in Panama (1503)—both part of a bid to establish a Spanish “Kingdom of Tierra Firme” on the continent—quickly collapsed in the face of indigenous opposition.
Oct 1500–?? 1501 Rodrigo de Bastidas’ voyage▲
In late 1500 the well-to-do but seasoned explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas sailed from Cádiz, Castile, with two ships, accompanied by Juan de la Cosa and Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Reaching Cabo de la Vela, Colombia, he sailed westward along the coast to discover the Magdalena River, the Gulf of Urabá, and the eastern part of the Isthmus of Panama. At this point the poor state of his shipworm-ridden ships forced him to return to Santo Domingo, where he was arrested by Governor Francisco de Bobadilla on charges of tax evasion.
1501 African slavery in Santo Domingo▲
In 1501 Spanish colonists began importing enslaved Africans from the Iberian Peninsula to Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, gradually replacing the slave labor of the dwindling Taíno population. These first Africans had been enslaved in Europe before crossing the Atlantic and it would not be until 1526 that the Atlantic slave trade between West Africa and the New World was opened by the Portuguese (who dominated much of the West African coast at the time).
1501 Puerto de las Perlas▲
In 1501 a group of Franciscan friars established a mission at Puerto de las Perlas, Venezuela—the first Spanish settlement on mainland South America. Another expedition arrived later that year, conducting trade with the local peoples. The settlement had varying fortunes until it was finally destroyed by a native attack in 1515, prompting an armed Spanish intervention and the establishment of the town of Cumaná.
3–May 1502 Coquivacoa Governorate▲
In June 1501 the Spanish monarchs commissioned Alonso de Ojeda as Governor of Coquivacoa, granting him the right to found a colony on Colombia’s Guajira Peninsula—a region Ojeda had erroneously named “Coquivacoa Island”—as part of an attempt to establish a Spanish “Kingdom of Tierra Firme” on the mainland of the New World. Arriving back on the peninsula in early May 1502, Ojeda founded the settlement of Santa Cruz (now Bahia Honda) in the face of fierce opposition from the local Indians. Despite the construction of three forts in its defence, the colony quickly collapsed and by late May Ojeda’s partners had had enough. Taking matters into their own hands, they arrested Ojeda and, abandoning the area, shipped him back to Hispaniola in chains.
12 May 1502–7 Nov 1504 Columbus’ fourth voyage▲
In May 1502 Christopher Columbus sailed out of Cádiz, Spain, with four ships on his fourth and final voyage, with the objective of finding a westward passage through the New World to the Spice Islands (Maluku). Passing Martinica (now Martinique) in the Lesser Antilles, Columbus sailed on to land at Honduras and explore the coast of Central America. After abandoning an unsuccessful settlement attempt in Panama, Columbus returned to Spain via Santiago (Jamaica)—where he was stranded for a year after his ships were damaged in a storm—and Santo Domingo.
2 Sep 1502–29 Jun 1520 Reign of Moctezuma II▲
In 1502 Moctezuma II succeeded his uncle Ahuitzotl to become Aztec emperor. Reigning for almost eighteen years, Moctezuma brought the Aztec Empire to its greatest extent in size and power by conquering the Zapotecs and other Mesoamerican peoples. Ultimately, however, he was killed when the Spanish under Hernán Cortés invaded his empire and briefly succeeded by his younger brother Cuitláhuac.
6 Jan–16 Apr 1503 Santa María de Belén▲
In early 1503 Christopher Columbus landed at the Belén River—part of the Governorate of Veragua (Central America) in the Spanish claim of the Kingdom of Tierra Firme—and established trading relations with the Ngäbe people under Quibían. Convinced that there were gold mines inland, Columbus founded the settlement of Santa María de Belén at the mouth of the river, garrisoning it with 80 men. However, friendly relations soon collapsed and in April furious Ngäbe attacks drove the Spanish from the region.