Rodrigo de Bastidas
After sailing with Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World about 1494, Bastidas petitioned the Spanish Monarchy to start his own quest to be financed totally with his own money. In exchange for granting Bastidas the right to explore various territories in the New World, the Crown required him to give them one fourth of the net profits he acquired. The King and Queen issued a charter that is still preserved in the National Archives in Spain. He sailed to the New World from Cádiz in October, 1499, with two ships, the San Antón and the Santa Maria de Gracia. He was accompanied on this voyage by Juan de la Cosa and Vasco Núñez de Balboa.
At the South American coast he sailed westward from Cabo de la Vela, Colombia, in an attempt to reconnoiter the coastline of the Caribbean basin. He discovered the mouth of a river he named the Magdalena River and the Gulf of Urabá on the Panamanian/Colombian coast. He reached La Punta de Manzanillo on Panama's upper Caribbean coast before having to abandon his effort. He is acknowledged to be the first European to have claimed that part of the isthmus, and therefore is credited with the discovery of Panama which includes the San Blas region of the Kuna Indians. However, the poor condition of his ships, caused by shipworm that ate the wooden hull, forced him to turn back and head to Santo Domingo to effect repairs. Despite repeated repairs the ships eventually sank in port at Jacaragua, leaving most of the Indian slaves to drown, while some gold and pearls were saved. Bastidas was forced to trek overland to Santo Domingo, trading trinkets for food and supplies with natives along the way. On arrival in Santo Domingo he was placed under arrest by Governor Bobadilla, and sent back to Spain for allegedly trading with the Indians without permission. He was acquitted of these charges by the Spanish Crown, and rewarded with a pension. He returned to Santo Domingo with his family, and became "rich in cattle, at one time possessing 8000 head". In 1504 he undertook another expedition to Tierra Firme, raiding 600 slaves for sale in Espanola.
In 1520 the governorship of Trinidad was granted to Bastidas, but this was opposed by Diego Columbus, and Bastidas waived the grant. He received instead permission to exploit a region from Cabo de la Vela westward to the Magdalena River; however this expedition was delayed for several years. In 1524 he returned to the New World and founded the City of Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. He named the city Santa Marta because it was on Saint Martha's feast day that the city was founded.
Bastidas has been call Spain's Noblest Conquistador because he had a policy of respect, humanity and friendship towards the Indians; he maintained pacifistic relations with his neighbors, the Indians Tagangas, Dorsinos and Gairas, although it is said he had slaves too. He is quoted here during the founding of Santa Marta:
"I assure you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you, and I will make war on you in every place and in every way that I can, and I will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the church and their highnesses, and I will take your persons and your women and your children, and I will make them slaves, and as such I will sell them, and dispose of them as their highnesses command: I will take your goods, and I will do you all the evils and harms which I can, just as to vassals who do not obey and do not want to receive their lord, resist him and contradict him. And I declare that the deaths and harms which arise from this will be your fault, and not that of their highnesses, nor mine, nor of the gentlemen who have come with me here."
On a trip to the interior and the territories of Bonda and Bondigua in present day Colombia, he traded for a substantial amount of gold. Bastidas had a policy prohibiting his troops from brutally using the Indians or robbing them of their goods. His troops, many of whom had gone adventuring in the hopes of obtaining gold, asked Bastidas for a share. He refused to share it with his men, saying that he needed it to help defray the costs of the colony.
Bastidas' refusal to share the gold that he had acquired greatly angered some of his men, among them his lieutenant Villafuerte, who led a conspiracy of some fifty men to murder Bastidas. One night while Bastidas was asleep he was attacked and stabbed five times. He was able to cry out, and his men rushed to his aid. Although seriously wounded, he did not die immediately.
Owing to a lack of adequate medical facilities in Santa Marta, Bastidas attempted to sail to Santo Domingo, but bad weather forced him to land in Cuba, where he died from his injuries. Later, his only son, Archbishop Rodrigo de Bastidas, moved his remains to Santo Domingo where he is interred along with his wife and son (Bishop Bastidas) at The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, the oldest cathedral in the Americas.
- Charles Loftus Grant Anderson (1911), Old Panama and Castilla del Oro, Press of the Sudwarth Company