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Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, a Spanish conqueror and explorer, was the first to see the coast of the Pacific Ocean. He saw the ocean in September of 1513, from the top of a mountain of what is now Panama. On September 29, 1523, Balboa claimed it and all its shores for Spain. His findings opened Spanish explorations and conquests along the western coast of
South America began.
The Spanish called the ocean the South Sea because it lay south of the isthmus of Panama. In 1520 a Portuguese explorer named Ferdinand Magellan sailed through it and named it the Pacific, meaning peaceful, which until this day the name remains the same.
Balboa´s early life was a normal one. He was born in Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain. His father, whom we know little about, did not have influence or wealth.
When he was young, Vasco served in the household of a rich nobleman in Moguer, one of Spain’s main ports.
After Christopher Columbus´ voyage in 1492, more sailors were taken to the New World, and many sailor stories could be heard throughout Spain about the new lands across the ocean.
The opportunities attracted Balboa, who in 1501 joined a Spanish voyage to South America. They explored the north coast of what is now Colombia.
There were not enough people to attempt a settlement.
In 1502 they sailed to the Hispanola, the main Spanish base in America. Vasco had a very rough time making a living on the island. For a time he even raised pigs there.
Balboa´s rise to fame was one that happened little by little. In 1509, the first expedition to colonize the mainland of South America left Hispanola. Balboa wanted to join this expedition, but he had fallen heavily into debt, and he was prevented from leaving Hispanola.
On the mainland, the Spaniards established the settlement of San Sebastian along the eastern coast of Uraba. In 1510, Vasco stowed away on a ship that carried some supplies and new settlers to the colony.
When they reached the mainland, they met some of the San Sebastian settlers who had abandoned the settlement because they lacked food and the Indians were very dangerous there. The two groups united and went back to San Sebastian. Balboa, who had more
experience on the continent than the rest, suggested moving to the western side of the gulf.
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Vasco Nuñez de Balboa became governor of Darien. He led some expeditions to Panama, conquering some Indians and making agreements with others in the same area. In 1511 Indians told Balboa of a land called Tubanama, where he could find a lot of gold and other riches. The Indians said this land was located across the mountain near a great sea.
Even though Balboa had only a weak to claim to the governorship of Darien, he wanted to please Kind Ferdinand of Spain. In September, 1513, Balboa led an expedition from Darien. The group included 190 Spaniards and a large number of Indians. During the
third week of the trip, Balboa´s Indian guides told him the ocean could be seen from a nearby mountain.
Balboa, without his men, advanced to the peak where he sighted the Pacific.
The Spaniards found many riches including gold and pearls on the Pacific coast. Balboa believed his findings would win him an appointment as permanent governor of Darien.
Balboa´s later life was an unexpected one. Before the news of Balboa´s expedition and desoveries reached Spain, Ferdinand appointed Pedrarias Davila, a nobleman, to be the new governor. Pedrarias arrived in Darien in 1514. When Ferdinand finally heard of
Balboa´s findings hi named him to serve under Pedrarias as governor of a new area on the Pacific coast of Panama. Balboa established the town of Acla on the north coast and transported materials across the isthmus to build ships for further conquest and exploration. The Spaniards completedby 1518, and Balboa explored along the Gulf of Panama.
Balboa´s death was an unfair one. Pedrarias grew extremely jealous of Balboa, who had, by then become a powerful figurewith many supporters. In 1518, the governor falsely accused Balboa of treason and had him arrested. Pedrarias arranged for a very quick trial, and Balboa was sentenced to death. In January 1519, Balboa and four of his friends were beheaded in the public square of Acla.
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa had a very interesting life. It is easy to tell that since his late childhood he wanted to be an explorer. He discovered a very important ocean.His life after leaving Hispanola sounds like one without problems, that is until his
extremely unfair execution.