|Name:||Vasco Núñez de Balboa|
|Death Date:||January 1519 (aged 44)
|Birth Place:||Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain, Spain|
As per our current Database, Vasco Núñez de Balboa died on January 1519 (aged 44)
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In 1500, motivated by his master after the news of Christopher Columbus's voyages to the New World became known, he decided to embark on his first voyage to the Americas, along with Juan de la Cosa, on Rodrigo de Bastidas' expedition. Bastidas had a license to bring back treasure for the king and queen, while keeping four-fifths for himself, under a policy known as the quinto real, or "royal fifth". In 1501, he crossed the Caribbean coasts from the east of Panama, along the Colombian coast, through the Gulf of Urabá toward Cabo de la Vela. The expedition continued to explore the north east of South America, until they realized they did not have enough men and sailed to Hispaniola.
With his share of the earnings from this campaign, Balboa settled in Hispaniola in 1505, where he resided for several years as a planter and pig farmer. He was not successful in this enterprise, however, and ended up in debt. Finally, he was forced to abandon life on the island.
In 1508, the king of Spain, Ferdinand II "The Catholic", launched the conquest of Tierra Firme (the area roughly corresponding to the Isthmus of Panama). He created two new territories in the region between El Cabo de la Vela (near the eastern border of Colombia) and El Cabo de Gracias a Dios (the border between Honduras and Nicaragua). The Gulf of Urabá became the border between the two territories: Nueva Andalucía to the east, governed by Alonso de Ojeda, and Veragua to the west, governed by Diego de Nicuesa.
In 1509, wishing to escape his creditors in Santo Domingo, Balboa set sail as a stowaway, hiding inside a barrel together with his dog Leoncico, in the expedition commanded by the Alcalde Mayor of Nueva Andalucía, Martín Fernández de Enciso, whose mission it was to aid Alonso de Ojeda, his superior.
Cémaco, together with his warriors, abandoned the town and headed for the jungle. The Spanish plundered the houses and gathered a treasure-trove of golden ornaments. Balboa kept his vow, and, in September 1510, founded the first permanent settlement on mainland American soil, and called it Santa María la Antigua del Darién.
When Nicuesa arrived at the city's port, a mob appeared, and the ensuing disturbance prevented the governor from disembarking into the city. Nicuesa insisted on being received, no longer as governor, but as a simple soldier, but still the colonists did not allow him to disembark. He and 17 others were forced to board an unseaworthy boat with few supplies, and were put out to sea on March 1, 1511. The ship disappeared, leaving no trace of Nicuesa and his men. In this way, Balboa became governor (gobernador) of Veragua.
In 1513, Balboa wrote a lengthy letter to the King of Spain, requesting more men (who were already acclimatized) from Hispaniola, weapons, supplies, carpenters versed in shipbuilding, and all the necessary materials for the building of a shipyard. In a subsequent letter, from 1515, saying the "Indians who had been like sheep had become like lions." He would refer to his humanitarian policies regarding the natives, while at the same time recommending extreme severity in dealing with cannibals and violent tribes.
Using information given by various friendly caciques, Balboa started his journey across the Isthmus of Panama on September 1, 1513, together with 190 Spaniards, a few native guides, and a pack of dogs. Using a small brigantine and ten native canoes, they sailed along the coast and made landfall in cacique Careta's territory. On September 6, the expedition continued, now reinforced with 1,000 of Careta's men, and entered cacique Ponca's land. Ponca had reorganized and attacked, but he was defeated and forced to ally himself with Balboa. After a few days, and with several of Ponca's men, the expedition entered the dense jungle on September 20, and, with some difficulty, arrived four days later in the lands of cacique Torecha, who ruled in the village of Cuarecuá. In this village, a fierce battle took place, during which Balboa's forces defeated Torecha, who was killed by one of Balboa's dogs. Torecha's followers decided to join the expedition. However, the group was by then exhausted and several men were badly wounded, so many decided to stay in Cuarecuá to regain their strength.
From there, he crossed the lands of Ponca and Careta, to finally arrive in Santa María on January 19, 1514, with a treasure in cotton goods, more than 100,000 castellanos worth of gold, to say nothing of the pearls. All this, however, did not compare to the magnitude of the discovery of the South Sea on behalf of Spain. Balboa commanded Pedro de Arbolancha to set sail for Spain with news of this discovery. He also sent one fifth of the treasure to the king, as the law required.
Balboa received Pedrarias and his representatives in July 1514 and accepted resignedly his replacement as governor and mayor. The settlers, however, did not like the change and some were planning to take up arms against Pedrarias, even as Balboa showed respect to the new colonial authorities.
In 1519, Balboa moved to Acla with 300 men and, using the manpower of the natives and African slaves, managed to gather the materials necessary to fashion new ships. He traveled up to the Balsas River (Río Balsas), where he had four ships built. He travelled 74 km (46 mi) through the Pacific, surrounding the Pearl Islands and the coasts of Darién, up to Puerto Piñas, so named because of the large amounts of pineapples (piñas) he found there. He then returned to Acla, to continue the construction of sturdier ships.
Balboa's trial began in January 1519 and on the fifteenth of that month, Espinosa sentenced him to death by decapitation. Four of Balboa's friends, Fernando de Argüello, Luis Botello, Hernán Muñoz, and Andrés Valderrábano, accused as accomplices, were sentenced to the same fate. The sentence was to be carried out in Acla, to show that the conspiracy had its roots in that colony.
Gaspar de Espinosa, Pedrarias' underling, sailed the South Sea aboard the very ships that Balboa had commissioned. In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan renamed the sea the Pacific Ocean because of its calm waters.
Although Balboa suffered a premature death, his actions and deeds are remembered by history as the first European to cross America. Several parks and avenues throughout Panama bear the name "Vasco Núñez de Balboa", and a number of monuments honour his discovery of the South Sea. The Panamanian currency is called the Balboa, and his likeness appears on the obverse of most Panamanian coins. His name is also attached to Panama City's main port, Balboa (the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal) and the Balboa District within Panamá Province to which the Pearl Islands that he discovered belong. In San Francisco, California, US, Balboa's name appears among a row of avenues which are named after Spanish conquistadors, in the Balboa Park neighborhood, and Balboa High School in the Excelsior District. There is also a large park (Balboa Park) adjacent to downtown San Diego, California which was named after Balboa in 1910. Balboa's name is also honoured in Madrid with a street and a metro station.
In 2020 Iberdrola commissioned the Núñez de Balboa Photovoltaic Power Plant in Usagre, Badajoz. With 500MW it was the biggest photovoltaic power station in Europe at the time.