Pedro de Heredia

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Pedro de Heredia y Fernández
Don Pedro de Heredia - SLAVE Market - Casco Antiquo - Cartagena de las Indias, COLOMBIA (156022450).jpg
Born 1505, circa
Madrid (Spain)
Died 27 January 1554
Zahara de los Atunes, Cádiz (Spain)
Nationality Spanish
Occupation Explorer, Conqueror
Religion Catholic

Pedro de Heredia (Madrid circa 1505, – Zahara de los Atunes, Cádiz January 27, 1554) was a Spanish conqueror, founder of the city of Cartagena de Indias and explorer of the northern coast and the interior of present-day Colombia.

Early life[edit]

Pedro de Heredia was a descendant of a rich family of noble lineage. His parents were D. Pedro de Heredia and Dña Inés Fernandez. The chronicler Juan de Castellanos tells that even in his early years, he showed an adventurous and quarrelsome character. In his youth, Pedro de Heredia was involved in a dig against six men who tried to assassinate him in a dark alley in Madrid.[1] The fight left him with a disfigured nose that required the intervention of a doctor from the Spanish Crown. In retaliation, Heredia hunted down three of his attackers and killed them before fleeing to the New World to evade justice, leaving behind his wife and children.

First travel to the New World[edit]

Heredia traveled to the West Indies with his brother Alonso de Heredia and settled in the Hispaniola island (Santo Domingo) where he eventually inherited a sugar mill and a stay in the Azua Province. Then came news of the death of the governor of Santa Marta, Rodrigo de Bastidas, and the Audience of Santo Domingo decided to send Pedro de Vadillo as interim governor of the province and Pedro de Heredia as his lieutenant.[2] In 1525, Vadillo and Heredia landed in Santa Marta with 200 men and were involved in disputes with Rodrigo Alvarez Palomino (former lieutenant of Bastidas), which were finally solved when the latter was drowned in the river that bears his name. Pedro de Vadillo served some time as an interim governor of Santa Marta but returned to Santo Domingo for an impeachment trial. In the meantime, Heredia continued in office until 1528, gaining extensive experience in the innings against the Indians.[2] He accumulated a considerable booty from exchanges of mirrors, bells and other trinkets with the natives. He returned to Santo Domingo and sailed back to Spain.

First expedition to the New World[edit]

Once in Madrid, Heredia initiated efforts to gain royal approval to secure the conquest and government of the Bay of Cartagena and the New Andalucía, a territory that stretched from the mouth of the Magdalena River to the Darién, which had belonged to Alonso de Ojeda. The capitulation was signed in Medina del Campo on August 5, 1532 by queen Joanna of Castile (also known as Joanna the Mad).[3] Heredia was given a whole new area going inland to the equator, which covered virtually what is now Colombia and more than half of Ecuador up to the equinoctial line. Heredia moved to Sevilla, enlisted a galleon, a caravel and a patache and embarked 150 men and 22 horses with whom he departed from Cádiz in November of 1532.

Heredia landed in Puerto Rico first, where he found the remains of an expedition led by Sebastian Cabot who was on his way back from the Rio de La Plata after six tough and unsuccessful years spent at the south of the New World. Heredia strengthened his army with some of Cabot’s ex-partners, among others, Francisco César, whom he appointed as his lieutenant. He then departed to Santo Domingo, visited his estates and enrolled some Indians and slaves, a few Spanish women and an interpreter, Catalina, a native Indian princess fluent in both the Spanish and Indian tongues who had been kidnapped by Diego de Nicuesa when she was a girl.

Foundation of Cartagena de Indias[edit]

After spending Christmas Day in Santo Domingo, Heredia sailed through the Caribbean Sea and toured the mainland (Santa Marta, Magdalena mouths). He bordered several villages of the Mokaná Indians, until he reached Calamari, the largest village, stood on the sandy inner shore of Cartagena Bay on January 14 of 1533.[4] After fierce combats against natives from the territory of Turbaco, Heredia founded the city of "Cartagena de Poniente" (nowadays Cartagena de Indias), to make it different from Cartagena de Levante, in Spain; both with similar bays. The exact date of the foundation of Cartagena de Indias remains a topic of controversy. Some argue that the date was on the 20 or 21 January of 1533, although the Colombian Academy of History agreed to establish the foundation date of June 1, 1533.[5]

Inland Expeditions and Trials of Residence[edit]

Heredia signed friendship pacts with the Indian chiefs of the nearby islands. With the help of Catalina acting as interpreter, Heredia conquered and ruled the area around Cartagena, including Turbaco and the Magdalena River. He looted Indian graves in the Sinú river area and founded Santiago de Tolú. His spoils from these expeditions included a solid gold porcupine weighing 132 pounds - the heaviest gold object plundered during the Conquest. Heredia returned with a bounty of one and half million ducats in gold. Each soldier received six thousand ducats, much more than the amount gotten by those who conquered Mexico and Peru.[6] Heredia prepared a second expedition to the South Sea and in 1534 he reached the Sinú river, where he ransacked indigenous peoples' tombs for gold. He and his troops then penetrated to Antioquia and returned exhausted to Cartagena. Once there, Heredia met Fray Tomas de Toro, the first bishop of Cartagena sent by the king Carlos I of Spain, and his brother Alonso, who had recently arrived from Guatemala.[7] Heredia rescinded of Francisco Cesar and appointed Alonso as Lieutenant General. His brother Alonso lead two expeditions to the Sinú, in the last he arrived at the Cauca river on 1535. in 1536, Pedro de Heredia mounted an expedition southward on the Atrato river with no results. The irregularities of the Heredia brothers earned them numerous complaints. In 1536, Judge Juan de Vadillo (relative of Pedro de Vadillo) was appointed by the Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo to find out the charges against Pedro de Heredia and his brother on the payment of the real estate and the mistreatment of natives.[8] Badillo found Heredia guilty and imprisoned him, taking for himself the interim government of Cartagena. He was allowed to go to Spain to attend his trial, of which he was acquitted. He returned to Cartagena with some members of his family; a few nieces and his two sons, Antonio, who from then on joined him in all the expeditions and Juan, who later established in Santa Cruz de Mompox. Shortly after, Heredia embarked in a quest of the treasure of Dabaiba, the earliest form of the El Dorado myth.[9] After an unfruitful long trip, Heredia returned to San Sebastián de Urabá where he accused and sent Jorge Robledo imprisoned back to Spain for usurpation of Heredia’s jurisdiction. On March 16 of 1542, Heredia departed to Antioquia to annex the territory to Cartagena. Heredia was taken prisoner by Sebastián de Belalcázar and sent to Panamá to be judged for his attempts to overtake the Antioquia territory.[9] Unable to mediate in such a delicate affaire, the Royal Audience of Panama set Heredia free, who immediately returned to Cartagena in 1544. Right after his arrival in Cartagena, on July 25 of 1544, the city was pillaged by a French Huguenot nobleman Jean-François Roberval, known as "Robert Baal". By the time Roberval arrived, Cartagena de Indias was not yet fortified and was an easy target to the French. Pedro de Heredia fought with his sword at his own house, though the numerous advantage of the enemy forced him to flee and hide nearby with his relatives. The price of the ransom for the city was 200.000 ducats in gold, which were enough to satisfy the greed of Roverbal who would then abandoned the city.[10] Shortly after Roverbal assault, Heredia left to Antioquia to annex the territory under the jurisdiction of Cartagena. He returned to Cartagena in 1548 to attend a trial of residence for abuse of power and authority during his office. The visitador Miguel Diez de Armendáriz found him guilty of all charges; however, Heredia continued in office.


  1. ^ Juan de Castellanos (1857). Elegías de varones ilustres de Indias. Impr. de la Publicidad, á cargo de M. Rivadeneyra. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Nicolás del Castillo Mathieu (1998). Los gobernadores de Cartagena de Indias, 1504-1810. Bogotá, Colombia: Academia Colombiana de Historia. ISBN 978-958-8040-08-0. 
  3. ^ John H. Parry (1984). New Iberian World: A Documentary History of the Discovery and Settlement of Latin America to the Early 17th. Century. New York, USA: Times Books. ISBN 978-0-8129-1070-4. 
  4. ^ Eduardo Lemaitre (1979). Breve historia de Cartagena, 1501-1901. Bogotá, Colombia: Banco de la República. 
  5. ^ Enrique Otero d'Acosta (1983). Comentos críticos sobre la fundación de Cartagena de Indias. Volume 1. Banco Popular. 

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