Alonso de Ojeda

Spanish Explorer

Born: c. 1465

Died: 1515

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 World.

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 re-enforcements.

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 Domingo.

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