North America 1517: Spanish–Mesoamerican contact
Despite almost 25 years of Spanish colonial expansion in the Caribbean, open contact between the Spanish and the civilizations of Mesoamerica did not occur until 1517, when an expedition under Francisco Hernández de Córdoba encountered Maya boats off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Clashes broke out almost immediately and, after a difficult and violent month of exploration, Hernández limped back to Cuba, dying soon after. Even so, the news he brought back of wealthy and sophisticated Maya kingdoms roused excitement among the Spanish colonies.
Jun 1514–?? 1526 Pedriarias Dávila in Panama▲
In late June 1514 the 73-year-old Pedro Arias de Ávila (a.k.a. Pedrarias Dávila) arrived in Santa María la Antigua, relieving Núñez de Balboa of the governorship of Castilla de Oro. Cruel, suspicious, and unscrupulous—he executed both Balboa (1519) and Francisco Hernández de Córdoba of Nicaragua (1526) on trumped-up charges—Dávila nonetheless entrusted a series of captains in suppressing the local tribes and bringing the Isthmus of Panama and surrounding territories under Spanish control. In 1519 he founded Panama City, establishing it as his capital in 1524.
8 Feb–Apr 1517 Hernández de Córdoba’s expedition▲
In February 1517 the Spanish governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez, dispatched 110 men under Francisco Hernández de Córdoba to explore for lands to the west. After sailing around the north coast of Cuba, Hernández crossed the sea to sight Isla Mujeres and, shortly thereafter, the Yucatán peninsula (“El Gran Cairo”), where he encountered Maya in boats on 4 March. Relations between the two peoples quickly collapsed and, after a month of exploration in the face of continued hostility, Hernández limped back to Cuba, returning in April with just 54 men and dying soon thereafter. However, news of the Maya—the first civilization the Spanish had encountered thus far in the Americas—created excitement in Cuba, spurring further Spanish expeditions to the Yucatán.