Hernan Cortes  Part 1

The Early Life of Cortes  

 Cortes in Cuba  

 Cortes chosen to led the Expedition

The Preparations of Cortes  

 Orders of Velasquez  

 The Rushed Departure of Cortes

Cortes in Trinidad

  Cortes seizes Ships

  Cortes in Havana

  Takes stock of his men and arms

speech of Cortes to his men

  Cortes lands on Cozumel

  Searches for shipwrecked Spaniards

Cortes explores Cozumel  

 Smashing the idols at Cozumel

Aguilar found, his amazing tale

  Cortes departs Cozumel

The Early Life of Cortes 


Statue of Cortes in Medellin, Spain


 Hernan Cortes:

The Life of a Spanish Conquistador

(Graphic Nonfiction)

Entertaining full-color comics series aimed at elementary- and middle-graders


Cortes was born in 1485 in Medellin in the Spanish province of Extremadura, where many famous conquistadors came .He caught a ship to seek his fortune in the Indies in 1504 when he was 19 .He had connections with the Spanish governor of Santo Domingo, and received a job as a notary for 6 years . when Velazques went to conquer Cuba in 1511, he asked Cortes to go along as clerk of the treasurer . During the campaign Cortes demonstrated his daring and resourcefulness, and Velazques rewarded him by making him one of his  he was made one of his secretaries .


 The Conquerors - Cortez

Cortes in Cuba 


Home of the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez,  

Santiago de Cuba


Cortes married, raised livestock and had Indians ( from a grant from the governor ) mine gold for him and was a respected member of the community . In a few years, Cortes was able to save up a small fortune .Cortes likely would have ended his days in obscurity . Then Alvarado returned with the tidings of Grijalva's discoveries and news spread like wildfire throughout the island .The governor, as already noticed, resolved to follow up the track of discovery with a more considerable armament ; and he looked around for a proper person to share the expense of it, and to take the command.


Cortes chosen to led the Expedition 


Several hidalgos ( members of Spanish nobility ) presented themselves, whom, from want of proper qualifications, or from his distrust of their assuming an independence of their employer, he, one after another, rejected. There were two persons in St. Jago ( Santiago de Cuba ) in whom he placed great  confidence, Amador de Lares, the contador, or royal treasurer, and his own secretary, Andres de Duero. Cortes was also in close intimacy with both these persons, and he availed himself of it to prevail on them to recommend him as a suitable person to be entrusted with the expedition. It is said, he reinforced the proposal by promising a liberal share of the proceeds of it. However this may be, the parties urged his selection by the governor with all the eloquence of which they were capable.Cortes was popular on the island, and he would be able to finance part of the expedition with his own fortune . Based on these factors, the governor made Cortes captain-general of the armada.


The Preparations of Cortes 


Cortes fully appreciated the importance of the late discoveries, and read in them the existence of the great empire in the far West. He applied at once all the money in his possession to fitting out the armament. He raised more by the mortgage of his estates, and by giving his obligations to some wealthy merchants of the place, who relied for their reimbursement on the success of the expedition ; and, when his own credit was exhausted, he availed himself of that of his friends. The funds thus acquired he expended in the purchase of vessels, provisions, and military stores, while he invited recruits by offers of assistance to such as were too poor to provide for themselves, and by the additional promise of a liberal share of the anticipated profits.


All was now bustle and excitement in the little town of St. Jago. Some were busy in refitting the vessels and getting them ready for the voyage ; some in providing naval stores ; others in converting their own estates into money in order to equip themselves ; every one seemed anxious to contribute in some way or other to the success of the expedition. Six ships, some of them of a large size, had already been procured ; and three hundred recruits enrolled themselves in the course of a few days.


Orders of Velasquez with regard to the Expedition 


By order of Velasquez The first object of the voyage was to find Grijalva, after which the two commanders were to proceed in company together. Reports had been brought back by Cordova, on his return from the first visit to Yucatan, that six Christians were said to be lingering in captivity in the interior of the country. It was supposed they might belong to the party of the unfortunate Nicuessa, and orders were given to find them out, if possible, and restore them to liberty.


But the great object of the expedition was barter with the natives. In pursuing this, special care was to be taken that they should receive no wrong, but be treated with kindness and humanity. Cortes was to bear in mind, above all things, that the object which the Spanish monarch had most at heart was the con- version of the Indians. He was to impress on them the grandeur and goodness of his royal master, to invite them " to give in their allegiance to him, and to manifest it by regaling him with such comfortable presents of gold, pearls, and precious stones as, by showing their own goodwill, would secure his favour and protection."


He was to make an accurate survey of the coast, sounding its bays and inlets for the benefit of future navigators. He was to acquaint himself with the natural products of the country, with the character of its different races, their institutions and progress in civilisation ; and he as to send home minute accounts of all these, together with such articles as he should obtain in his intercourse with them.


Such was the general tenor of the instructions given to Cortes, and they must be admitted to provide for the interests of science and humanity, as well as for those which had reference only to a commercial speculation. It may seem strange, considering the discontent shown by Velasquez with his former captain, Grijalva, for not colonizing, that no directions should have been given to that effect here. But he had not yet received from Spain the warrant for investing his agents with such powers ; and that which had been obtained from the officials in Hispaniola conceded only the right to traffic with the natives. The commission at the same time recognized the authority of Cortes as Captain General of the expedition.


The Rushed Departure of Cortes 



As Cortes began his preparation, Velasquez began to have apprehensions

about the mounting expense of outfitting the armada and growing pretensions of Cortes . Velasquez decided to give command of the expedition to someone else, but Cortes was forewarned by Amador de Lares  and told to lose no time in getting his fleet ready for sea. Cortes had no choice but to leave immediately, he was already heavily in debt because of the enterprise, if he was removed from the expedition he would have been ruined .


He had not yet got his complement of men, nor of vessels ; and was very inadequately provided with supplies of any kind. But ; he resolved to weigh anchor that very night. Great was the amazement of the good citizens of St. Jago, when, it dawn, they saw that the fleet, which they knew was so ill prepared the voyage, had left its moorings and was busily getting under way. Velasquez was told of the departure, and rushed to the quay where the ships were departing . " And is it thus you depart from me ! " exclaimed Velasquez ; " a courteous way of taking leave, truly ! " " Pardon me," answered Cortes, " time presses, and there are some things that should be done before they are even thought of. Has your Excellency any commands ? " But the mortified governor had no commands to give ; and Cortes, politely waved his hand in farewell. And so it was that Cortes departed Cuba in November, 1518 .


Trinidad, Cuba


Cortes in Trinidad 


After stopping briefly in Macaca, Cortes sailed on to Trinidad , a town on the south coast of Cuba .He made proclamation, with liberal offers to all who would join the expedition. Volunteers came in daily, and among them more than a hundred of Grijalva's men, just returned from their voyage, and willing to follow up the discovery under an enterprising leader. The fame of Cortes attracted, also, a number of cavaliers of family and distinction, some of whom, having accompanied Grijalva, brought much information valuable for the present expedition. Among these hidalgos may be mentioned Pedro de Alvarado and his brothers, Cristoval de Olid, Alonso de Avila, Juan Velasquez de Leon, a near relation of the governor, Alonso Hernandez de Puertocarrero, and Gonzalo de Sandoval, all of who took a most important part in the Conquest.


Cortes seizes Ships 


Cortes meanwhile was active in purchasing military stores and provisions. Learning that a trading vessel laden with grain and other commodities for the mines was off the coast, he ordered out one of his caravels to seize her and bring her into port. He paid the master in bills for both cargo and ship, and even persuaded this man, named Secdeno, who was wealthy, to join his fortunes to the expedition. He also dispatched one of his officers, Diego de Ordaz, in quest of another ship, of which he had tidings, with instructions to seize it in like manner, and to meet him with it off Cape St. Antonio, the westerly point of the island.By this he effected another object, that of getting rid of Ordaz, who was one of the governor's house- hold, and an inconvenient spy on his own actions.

While thus occupied, letters from Velasquez were received by the commander of Trinidad, requiring him to seize the person of Cortes, and to detain him, as he had been deposed from the command of the fleet, which was given to another. This functionary communicated his instructions to the principal officers in the expedition, who counseled him not to make the attempt, as it would undoubtedly lead to a commotion among the soldiers, that might end in laying the town in ashes. Verdugo thought it prudent to conform to this advice.


Cortes in Havana 




 Route of Cortes from Cuba to Mexico

 For a larger image click here .

As Cortes was willing to strengthen himself by still further reinforcements, he ordered Alvarado with a small body of men to march across the country to the Havana, while he himself would sail round the westerly point of the island, and meet him there with the squadron. In this port he again displayed his standard, making the usual proclamation.

He caused all the large guns to be brought on shore, and with the small arms and cross-bows, to be put in order. As there was abundance of cotton raised in this neighborhood, he had the jackets of the soldiers thickly quilted with it, for a defense against the Indian arrows, from which the troops in the former expeditions had grievously suffered.


He distributed his men into eleven companies, each under the command of an experienced officer .His principal standard was of black velvet embroidered with gold, and emblazoned with a red cross amidst flames of blue and white, with this motto in

Latin beneath : " Friends, let us follow the Cross ; and under this sign, if we have faith, we shall conquer."


Before the preparations were fully completed at the Havana, the commander of the place, Don Pedro Barba, received dispatches from Velasquez ordering him to apprehend Cortes, and to prevent the departure of his vessels. The captain-general, however, during his short stay had entirely conciliated the good will of Barba. And, if that officer had the inclination, he knew he had not the power, to enforce his principal's orders, in the face of Cortes' soldiers .


On February 1519, the little squadron got under way, and directed its course towards Cape St. Antonio, the appointed place of rendezvous. In all there were 11 ships .The whole was put under the direction of Antoi de Alaminos, as chief pilot ; a veteran navigator, who had acted pilot to Columbus in his last voyage, and to Cordova and Grijalva in the former expeditions to Yucatan.


Cortes takes stock of his men and arms 


Landing on the Cape and mustering his forces, Cortes found they amounted to one hundred and ten mariners, five hundred and fifty-three soldiers, including thirty-two crossbow-men, and thirteen arquebusiers, besides two hundred Indians of the island, and a few Indian

women for menial offices. He was provided with ten heavy guns, four lighter pieces called falconets, and with a good supply of ammunition. He had, besides, sixteen horses. They were not easily procured ; for the difficulty of transporting them across the ocean in the flimsy

craft of that day made them rare and incredibly dear in the islands. But Cortes rightfully estimated the importance of cavalry, however small in number, both for their actual service in the field, and for striking terror into the savages.


The speech of Cortes to his men 



Before embarking, Cortes addressed his soldiers . He told them they were about to enter on a noble enterprise, one that would make their name famous to future ages. He was leading them to countries more vast and opulent than yet visited by Europeans. ' I hold out to you a

glorious prize," continued the orator, " but it is to be won by incessant toil. Great things are achieved only by great exertions and glory was never the ward of sloth.If I have labored hard and staked my all on this undertaking, it is for the love of that renown, which is the noblest compense of man. But, if any among you covet riches more, be at true to me, as I will be true to you and to the occasion, and I will make you masters of such as our countrymen have never dreamed ! You are few in number, but strong in resolution ; and, if this does not falter, doubt not but that the Almighty, who has never deserted the Spaniard

in his contest with the infidel, will shield you, although encompassed by a cloud of enemies ; for your cause is a just cause, and you are to fight under the banner of the Cross. Go forward then," he concluded, " with alacrity and confidence, and carry to a glorious issue

the work so auspiciously begun."


The rough eloquence of the general, touching the various chords of ambition, avarice, and religious zeal, sent a thrill through the his martial audience ; and, received it with acclamation .


Mass was then celebrated with the solemnities usual with

the Spanish navigators, when entering on their voyages of discovery.

The fleet was placed under the immediate protection of St. Peter, the

patron saint of Cortes ; and, weighing anchor, took its departure on

February 18, 1519, for the coast of Yucatan.


Orders were given for the vessels to keep as near together as possible, and to take the direction of the capitana, or admiral's ship, which carried a beacon-light in the stern during the night. But the weather, which had been favorable, changed soon after their departure, and one of those tempests set in, which at this season are often found in the latitudes in the West Indies. It fell with terrible force on the little navy, scattering it far asunder, dismantling some of the ships, and driving them all considerably south of their proposed destination.


Cortes lands on Cozumel 


Spanish trade with the natives of Cozumel


Cortes, who had lingered behind to bring in a disabled vessel, reached the land of Cozumel last. On landing, he learned that one of his captains, I'edro de Alvarado, had availed himself of the short time he had been there to enter the temples, rifle them of their few ornaments, and, by his violent conduct, so far to terrify the natives, that they had fled for refuge into the interior of the island. Cortes, highly incensed at these rash proceedings, contrary to the policy he had proposed, could not refrain from severely reprimanding his officer in the presence of the army. He commanded two Indian captives, taken by Alvarado, to be brought before him, and explained to them the pacific purpose of his visit. This he did through the assistance of his interpreter, Melchorejo, native of the Yucatan, who had been brought back by Grijalva.He then dismissed them loaded with presents, and with an invitation to their countrymen to return to their homes without fear of further annoyance. This humane policy succeeded. The fugitives, reassured, were not slow in coming back . Trade was established, in which Spanish cutlery and trinkets were exchanged for the gold ornaments of the natives


Cortes searches for the shipwrecked Spaniards 


The first object of Cortes was, to gather tidings of the unfortunate

Christians who were reported to be still lingering in captivity on the neighboring continent. He sent Diego de Ordaz with two brigantines to the opposite coast of Yucatan, with instructions to remain there eight days. Some Indians went as messengers in the vessels, who consented to bear a letter to the captives, informing them of the arrival of their countrymen in Cozumel, with a liberal ransom for their release.


Cortes explores Cozumel 


Meanwhile the general proposed to make an excursion to the different parts of the island, that he might give employment to the restless spirits of the soldiers, and ascertain the resources of the country. It was poor and thinly peopled. But everywhere he recognized the vestiges of a higher civilization than what he had before witnessed in the Indian Islands. The houses were some of them large, and often built of stone and lime. He was particularly struck with the temples, in which were towers constructed of the same solid materials, and rising several stories in height


Smashing the idols at Cozumel 


Smashing idols in Cozumel


In the court of one of these he was amazed by the sight of a cross, of stone and lime, about ten palms high. The next object of Cortes was to reclaim the natives from their gross idolatry, and to substitute a purer form of worship. In accomplishing this he was prepared to use force, if milder measures should be ineffectual. There was nothing which the Spanish government had more earnestly at heart, than the conversion of the Indians. It forms the constant burden of their instructions, and gave to the military expeditions in this Western Hemisphere somewhat of the air of a crusade.


There were two ecclesiastics on the expedition , the licentiate Juan Diaz and Father Bartolome de Olmedo. The latter of these godly men afforded the rare example rare in any age of the union of fervent zeal with charity, while he beautifully illustrated in his own conduct the precepts which he taught. He remained with the army through the whole expedition, and by his wise and benevolent counsels was often enabled to mitigate the cruelties of the Conquerors,


Mass after smashing the idols

These two missionaries vainly labored to persuade the people of Cozumel to renounce their abominations, and to allow the Indian idols, in which the Christians recognized the true lineaments of Satan, 4 to be thrown down and demolished. The simple natives, filled with horror at the proposed profanation, exclaimed that these were the gods who sent them the sunshine and the storm, and, should any violence be offered, they would be sure to avenge it by sending their lightning on the heads of its perpetrators.

Cortes preferred action to argument, and thought that the best way to convince the Indians of their error was to prove the falsehood of the prediction. He accordingly, without further ceremony, caused the venerated images to be rolled down the stairs of the great temple, amidst the groans and lamentations of the natives. An altar was hastily constructed, an image of the Virgin and Child placed over it, and mass was performed by Father Olmedo and his reverend companion for the first time within the walls of a temple in New Spain. The patient ministers tried once more to pour the light of the gospel into the benighted understandings of the islanders, and to expound the mysteries of the Catholic faith. The Indian interpreter must have afforded rather a dubious channel for the transmission of such abstruse doctrines. But they at length found favor with their auditors, who, whether overawed by the bold bearing of the in- vaders, or convinced of the impotence of deities that could not shield their own shrines from violation, now consented to embrace Christianity.

Aguilar found, his amazing tale 

Ordaz had returned from Yucatan without tidings of the Spanish captives. Though much chagrined, the general did not choose to postpone longer his departure from Cozumel. The fleet had been well stored with provisions by the friendly inhabitants, and, embarking his troops, Cortes, in the beginning of March, took leave of its hospitable shores. The squadron had not proceeded far, however, before a leak in one of the vessels compelled them to return to the same port. The detention was attended with important consequences ; so much so, indeed, that a writer of the time discerns in it "a great mystery and a miracle.

Soon after landing, a canoe with several Indians was seen making its way from the neighboring shores of Yucatan. On reaching the island, one of the men inquired, in broken Castilian, "if he were among Christians," and, being answered in the affirmative, threw himself on his knees and returned thanks to Heaven for his delivery. He was one of the unfortunate captives for whose fate so much interest had been felt. His name was Geronimo de Aguilar, a native of Ecija, in Old Spain, where he had been regularly educated for the church. He had been established with the colony at Darien, and [on a voyage from that place to Hispaniola, eight years previous, was wrecked near the coast of Yucatan. He escaped with several of his companions in the ship's boat, where some perished from hunger and exposure, while others were sacrificed, on their reaching land, by the cannibal natives of the peninsula. Aguilar was preserved from the same dismal fate by escaping into the interior, where he fell into the hands of a powerful cacique, who, though he spared his life, treated him at first with great rigor .The patience of the captive, however, and his singular humility, touched the better feelings of the chief captain, who would have persuaded Aguilar to take a wife among his people, but the ecclesiastic steadily refused, in obedience to his vows. This admirable constancy excited the distrust of the cacique, who put his virtue to a severe test by various temptations, and much of the same sort as those with which the Devil is said to have assailed St. Anthony. 7 From all these fiery trials, however, like his ghostly predecessor, he came out unscorched. Continence is too rare and difficult a virtue with barbarians, not to challenge their veneration, and the practice of it has made the reputation of more than one saint in the Old as well as the New World. Aguilar was now entrusted with the care of his master's household and his numerous wives. He was a man of discretion, as well as virtue ; and his counsels were found so salutary that he was consulted on all important matters. In short, Aguilar became a great man among the Indians. It was with much regret, therefore, that his master received the proposals for his return to his country men, to which nothing but the rich treasure of glass beads, hawk-bells, and other jewels of like value, sent for his ransom, would have induced him to consent.


On appearing before Cortes, the poor man saluted him in the Indian style, by touching the earth with his hand and carrying it to his head. The commander, raising him up, affectionately embraced him, covering him at the same time with his own cloak, as Aguilar was simply clad in the habiliments of the country, somewhat too scanty for a European eye. It was long, indeed, before the tastes which he had acquired in the freedom of the forest could be reconciled to the constraints either of dress or manners imposed by the artificial forms of civilization. Aguilar's long residence in the country had familiarized him with the Mayan dialects of Yucatan, and, as he gradually revived his Castilian, he became of essential importance as an interpreter. Cortes saw the advantage of this from the first, but he could not fully estimate all the con sequences that were to flow from it.

Cortes departs Cozumel 

The repairs of the vessels being at length completed, the Spanish commander once more took leave of the friendly natives of Cozumel, and set sail on the 4th of March. Keeping as near as possible to the coast of Yucatan, he doubled Cape Catoche, and with flowing sheets swept down the broad bay of Campeachy, fringed with the rich dye-woods which have since furnished so important an article of commerce to Europe.



Early Spanish expeditions

to Mexico




Marina,Verzcruz early 1519