THE CONQUERORS OF CENTRAL AMERICA, I

Americus Vespucius made three other voyages. Humboldt identifies the first with that of Vincent Yañez Pinzon, and M. d'Avezac with that of Diego de Lepe (1499-1500). At the close of this latter year, Giuliano Bartholomeo di Giocondo induced Vespucius to enter the service of Emmanuel, King of Portugal, and he accomplished two more voyages at the expense of his new master. On the first of these two voyages, he was no higher in command than he had been in his earlier ones, and only accompanied the expedition as one whose intimate acquaintance with all nautical matters might prove of service under certain circumstances. During this voyage the ships coasted along the American shores from Cape St. Augustine to 52° of south latitude. The fourth voyage of Vespucius was marked by the wreck of the flag-ship off the Island of Fernando de Noronha, which prevented the other vessels from continuing their voyage towards Malacca by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and obliged the crews to land at All Saints' Bay, in Brazil.

This fourth voyage was unquestionably made with Gonzalo Coelho, but we are quite ignorant as to who was in command on the third voyage. These various expeditions had not tended to enrich Vespucius, while his position at the Portuguese court was so far from satisfactory that he determined to re-enter the service of the King of Spain. By him he was made Piloto Mayor on the 22nd of March, 1508. There were some valuable emoluments attached for his advantage to this appointment, which enabled him to end his days, if not as a rich man, at least as one far removed from want. He died at Seville on the 22nd of February, 1512, with the same conviction as Columbus, that he had reached the shores of Asia. Americus Vespucius is especially famous from the New World having been named after him, instead of being called Columbia, as in all justice it should have been, but with this Vespucius had nothing to do. He was for a long time charged, though most unjustly, with impudence, falsehood, and deceit, it being alleged that he wished to veil the glory of Columbus and to arrogate to himself the honour of a discovery which did not belong to him. This was an utterly unfounded accusation, for Vespucius was both loved and esteemed by Columbus and his contemporaries, and there is nothing in his writings to justify this calumnious assertion. Seven printed documents exist which are attributed to Vespucius; they are—the abridged accounts of his four voyages, two narratives of his third and fourth voyages, in the form of letters, addressed to Lorenzo de Pier Francesco de Medici, and a letter addressed to the same nobleman, relative to the Portuguese discoveries in the Indies. These documents, printed and bound up as small thin volumes, were soon translated into various languages and distributed throughout Europe.

It was in the year 1507 that a certain Hylacolymus, whose real name was Martin Waldtzemuller, first proposed to give the name of America to the new part of the world. He did so in a book printed at Saint Dié and called Cosmographia introductio. In 1509 a small geographical treatise appeared at Strasburg adopting the proposal of Hylacolymus; and in 1520 an edition of Pomponius Mela was printed at Basle, giving a map of the New World with the name of America. From this time the number of works employing the denomination proposed by Waldtzemuller increased perpetually.

Some years later, when Waldtzemuller was better informed as to the real discoverer of America and of the value to be placed upon the voyages of Vespucius, he eliminated from his book all that related to the latter, and substituted everywhere the name of Columbus for that of Vespucius, but it was too late, the same error has prevailed ever since.

As to Vespucius himself, it seems very unlikely that he was at all aware of the excitement which prevailed in Europe, nor of what was passing at St. Dié. The testimony that has been unanimously borne to his honourable and upright conduct should surely clear him from the unmerited accusations which have for too long a time clouded his memory.

Three other expeditions left Spain almost at the same time as that of Hojeda. The first of these, consisting of but one vessel, sailed from Barra Saltez in June 1499. Pier Alonzo Nino, who had served under Columbus in his two last voyages, was its commander, and he was accompanied by Christoval Guerra, a merchant of Seville, who probably defrayed the expenses of the expedition. This voyage to the coast of Paria seems to have been dictated more by the hope of lucrative commerce than by the interests of science. No new discoveries were made, but the two voyagers returned to Spain in April, 1500, bringing with them so large a quantity of valuable pearls as to excite the cupidity of their countrymen, who became anxious to try their own fortunes in the same direction.

The second expedition was commanded by Vincent Yañez Pinzon, the younger brother of Alonzo Pinzon who had been captain of the Pinta and had shown so much jealousy of Columbus, even adopting the following mendacious device:—

A Castilla, y a Leon
Nuevo Mundo dio Pinzon
.

Yañez Pinzon, whose devotion to the admiral equalled his brother's jealousy, had advanced an eighth part of the funds required for the expedition of 1492, and had on that occasion been in command of the Nina.