Who Was Vasco Núñez de Balboa?
Explorer and conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa helped establish the town of Darién on the Isthmus of Panama, becoming interim governor. In 1513, he led the first European expedition to the Pacific Ocean, but news of the discovery arrived after the king had sent Pedro Arias de Ávila to serve as the new governor of Darién. Ávila, reportedly jealous of Balboa, had him beheaded for treason in 1519.
Early Life and Exploration
Born in 1475 in Jerez de los Caballeros, in the province of Extremadura in Castile, Spain, Balboa went on to become the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.
At a time when many people in Spain were seeking their fortunes in the New World, Balboa joined an expedition to South America. After exploring the coast of present-day Colombia, Balboa stayed on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). While there, he got into debt and fled, hiding away on a ship headed for the fledgling colony of San Sebastian.
Once he arrived at the settlement, Balboa discovered that most of the colonists had been killed by nearby ingenious people. He then convinced the remaining colonists to move to the western side of the Gulf of Uraba. They established the town of Darién on the Isthmus of Panama, which is a small strip of land that connects Central America and South America. Balboa became the interim governor of the settlement.
Seeing the Pacific Ocean
In 1513, Balboa led an expedition from Darién to search for a new sea reportedly to the south and for gold. He hoped that if he was successful, he would win the favor of Ferdinand, the king of Spain. While he didn't find the precious metal, he did see the Pacific Ocean and claimed it and all of its shores for Spain.
The news of the discovery arrived after the king had sent Pedro Arias de Ávila to serve as the new governor of Darién. The new governor was reportedly jealous of Balboa and ordered him to be arrested on charges of treason. After a brief trial, Balboa was beheaded on January 12, 1519, in Acla, near Darién, Panama.
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