Alonso de Ojeda
Ojeda was a ruthless
and cunning explorer who first sailed to the New World on Columbus’
second voyage in 1493. In Hispianola, he was sent on several
reconnaissance missions. During one, he found large gold nuggets, which
Columbus sent back to Spain as proof of the treasures waiting in the New
On Columbus’ third voyage in 1498, Ojeda was with Columbus in the
Caribbean sea when the expedition found women wearing pearl necklaces.
Although Columbus left without pursuing the source of the pearls any
further, Ojeda returned later to track down the pearl fisheries of
Margarita, which later brought him great wealth and honor.
In 1499, the now wealthy Ojeda joined Amerigo Vespucci and Juan de la
cosa in exploring the coast of South America from Suriname to the Gulf
of Venezuela, periodically raiding the Bahamas to capture slaves.
Ojeda sailed to South America in 1505 and explored the strait of Darien.
He was granted rights to establish a colony in the Gulf of Venezuela in
1508. The next year Ojeda sailed from Santo Domingo and to Cartegena.
His expedition of 300 men began a disastrous march south along the
coast, encountering hostile native, harsh conditions, and geographic
obstacles in their path. Most of the men died along the trek, including
Juan de la Cosa. Ojeda and his remaining men founded the settlement of
San Sebastian on the east coast of the Gulf of Darien, in present-day
Colombia, in 1510.
Ojeda’s unwise policies of aggression against the natives further
reduced his company, and after being badly wounded himself was forced to
return to Hispianola. He left the colony temporarily under the care of
Francisco Pizarro, intending to return soon with supplies and
Ojeda’s wounds prevented him from ever returning, however, and San
Sebastian was later moved and renamed ‘Darien’ by the explorer Balboa.
It eventually became the principal Spanish outpost on the American
mainland. Darien was Balboa’s base when he crossed the Isthmus of Panama
to reach the Pacific in 1513.
It is somewhat gratifying to note that Ojeda died in poverty in Santo
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