North America 1513: Balboa reaches the Pacific
Encouraged by Spanish successes on the Isthmus of Panama (1510), King Ferdinand II created the Governorate of Castilla de Oro to administer the region in 1513. While establishing Spanish rule, Vasco Núñez de Balboa learned from a local chief that a vast “South Sea” lay beyond Panama’s mountains—and a gold-rich empire (the Incas) lay beyond that. Balboa eagerly headed south to confirm these claims, reaching the Pacific Ocean in late September.
1511 Aguilar and Guerrero▲
In 1511 a Spanish caravel traveling from Santa María la Antigua del Darién to Santo Domingo was shipwrecked near the Yucatán Peninsula and the dozen or so survivors captured by the local Maya. Most of the Spaniards died—either through human sacrifice, disease, or overwork—but Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero escaped to be taken in by another chiefdom which was hostile to the first. When, eight years later, Hernán Cortés invaded Mexico, he heard of two bearded men living among the Maya and, correctly believing them to be fellow Spaniards, sent word to them. Aguilar agreed to join him but Guerrero—who had since become a war chief in Chektumal, married a rich Maya woman, and raised a mestizo family—insisted on remaining with the Maya. Both men appear to have died in the 1530s.
3 Mar–15 Oct 1513 La Florida▲
In 1512 King Ferdinand II authorized Juan Ponce de León, the former governor of San Juan Bautista (Puerto Rico), to examine rumors of undiscovered lands to the northwest of Hispaniola, hoping to forestall their discovery by the Columbus family. Ponce de León left Puerto Rico with three ships and at least 200 men in March 1513, sighting the coast of Florida—which he named “La Florida” on account of its flowers and the Easter season (Pascua Florida in Spanish)—in early April. Landing near what is now St. Augustine, Ponce de León claimed the land for Spain, continuing on to explore the east and west coasts of the peninsula before returning to Puerto Rico.
May 1513 Castilla de Oro▲
Following promising reports from Spanish explorers in the Isthmus of Panama, King Ferdinand II of Aragon, then also regent of the Crown of Castile, officially created the Governorate of Castilla de Oro to administer the region. Situated between the Belén River and the Gulf of Urabá, the new governorate included the settlements of Nombre de Dios and Santa María la Antigua del Darién and effectively superseded the Kingdom of Tierra Firme. Veragua—Panama and Central America to the west of the Belén River—was disputed with Diego Columbus’ Viceroyalty of the Indies, owing to Christopher Columbus’ earlier settlement there.
29 Sep 1513 European discovery of the Pacific▲
In 1512–13 Vasco Núñez de Balboa traveled west from Santa María la Antigua del Darién to extend Spanish control over local chiefs Careta and Comagre. Comagre told him of a vast “South Sea”, beyond which was a great kingdom, rich in gold (presumably the Inca Empire). Excited, Balboa set out from Santa María la Antigua on 1 September 1513 with a force of 190 Spaniards, 810 Indian auxiliaries, and a number of war dogs, crossing the Isthmus of Panama to become the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean from the New World on the 25th and reach it four days later. On 17 October Balboa and 70 followers set out onto the ocean in canoes to explore the nearby Pearl Islands, after which he returned back across the isthmus.