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SPANIARDS IN THE UNITED STATES.
I HAVE traced the progress of events, which, for a season, gave to France the uncertain possession of Acadia and Canada. The same nation laid claim to large and undefined regions at the southern extremity of our republic. The expedition of Francis I. discovered the continent in a latitude, south of the coast which Cabot had explored; but Verrazzani had yet been anticipated. The claim to Florida, on the ground of discovery, belonged to the Spanish; and was successfully asserted.
Extraordinary success had kindled in the Spanish nation an equally extraordinary enthusiasm. No sooner had the New World revealed itself to their enterprize, than the valiant men, who had won laurels under Ferdinand among the mountains of Andalusia, sought a new career of glory in more remote adventures. The weapons that had been tried in the battles with the Moors, and the military skill that had been acquired in the romantic conquest of Grenada,' were now turned against the feeble occupants of America. The passions of avarice and religious zeal were strangely blended; and the heroes CHAP. of Spain sailed to the west, as if they had been an bound on a new crusade, where infinite wealth was to reward their piety. The Spanish nation had become infatuated with a fondness for novelties; the “chivalry of the ocean” despised the range of Eu rope, as too narrow and offering to their extravagant ambition nothing beyond mediocrity. America was the region of romance, where the heated imagination could indulge in the boldest delusions ; where the simple natives ignorantly wore the most precious ornaments; and, by the side of the clear runs of water, the sands sparkled with gold. What way soever, says the historian of the ocean, the Spaniards are called, with a beck only, or a whispering voice, to any thing rising above water, they speedily prepare themselves to fly, and forsake certainties under the hope of more brilliant success. To carve out provinces with the sword, to divide the spoils of empires, to plunder the accumulated treasures of some ancient Indian dynasty, to return from a roving expedition with a crowd of enslaved captives and a profusion of spoils, soon became the ordinary dreams, in which the excited minds of the Spaniards delighted to indulge. Ease, fortune, life, all were squandered in the pursuit of a game, where, if the issue was uncertain, success was sometimes obtained, greater than the boldest imagination had dared to anticipate. Is it strange, that these adventurers were often superstitious ? The New World and its wealth were in themselves so wonderful, that why should credit
1 In no work of Irving's is his displayed than in the Conquest of peculiar genius more beautifully Grenada.
CHAP. be withheld from the wildest fictions ? Why should * not the hope be indulged, that the laws of nature
themselves would yield to the desires of men so fortunate and so brave?
Juan Ponce de Leon was the discoverer of Florida. His youth had been passed in military service in Spain; and, during the wars in Grenada, he had shared in the wild exploits of predatory valor. No sooner had the return of the first voyage across the Atlantic given an assurance of a New World, than he hastened to participate in the dangers and the
spoils of adventure in America. He was a fellow 1493. voyager of Columbus in his second expedition. In
the wars of Hispaniola he had been a gallant soldier; and Ovando had rewarded him with the government of the eastern province of that island. From the hills in his jurisdiction, he could behold, across the clear waters of a placid sea, the magnificent vegetation of Porto Rico, which distance rendered still
more admirable, as it was seen through the transpa1508. rent atmosphere of the tropics. A visit to the island
stimulated the cupidity of avarice; and Ponce as1509. pired to the government. He obtained the station ;
inured to sanguinary war, he was inexorably severe in his administration; he oppressed the natives; he amassed wealth. But his commission as governor of Porto Rico conflicted with the claims of the family of Columbus ; and policy, as well as justice, required his removal. Ponce was displaced.
Yet, in the midst of an archipelago and in the vicinity of a continent, what need was there for a
brave soldier to pine at the loss of power over a wild CHAP. though fertile island ? Age had not tempered the a love of enterprize; he longed to advance his fortunes by the conquest of a kingdom, and to retrieve a reputation, which was not without a blemish. Besides; the veteran soldier, whose cheeks had been furrowed by hard service, as well as by years, had heard, and had believed the tale, of a fountain, which possessed virtues to renovate the life of those who should bathe in its stream, or give a perpetuity of youth to the happy man who should drink of its ever-flowing waters. So universal was this tradition, that it was credited in Spain, not by all the people and the court only, but by those, who were distinguished for virtue and intelligence.2 Nature was to discover the secrets, for which alchymy had toiled in vain; and the elixir of life was to flow from a perpetual fountain of the New World, in the midst of a country glittering with gems and gold.
Ponce embarked at Porto Rico, with a squadron 1512. of three ships, fitted out at his own expense, for his voyage to fairy land. He touched at Guanahani; he sailed among the Bahamas; but the laws of nature remained inexorable.
On Easter Sunday, Mar.
27. which the Spaniards call Pascua Florida, land was seen. It was supposed to be an island, and received the name of Florida, from the day on which it was discovered, and from the aspect of the forests, which were then brilliant with a profusion of blossoms, and
1 Peter Martyr, d. iii. l. x. Hak- Hakluyt, v. v. p. 422, and d. ii. c. luyt, v. v. p. 307.
x. p. 251, 252. 2 Peter Martyr, d. vii. I. vii. in
CHAP. gay with the fresh verdure of early spring. Bad a weather would not allow the squadron to approach 1512. land ; at length the aged soldier was able to go on April
shore, in the latitude of thirty degrees and eight April minutes; some miles, therefore, to the north of St.
Augustine. The territory was claimed for Spain. Ponce remained for many weeks to investigate the coast which he had discovered; though the currents of the gulf stream, and the islands, between which the channel was yet unknown, threatened shipwreck. He doubled Cape Florida; he sailed among the group, which he named Tortugas; and, despairing of entire success, he returned to Porto Rico, leaving a trusty follower to continue the research. The Indians had every where displayed determined hostility. Ponce de Leon remained an old man; but Spanish commerce acquired a new channel through the gulf of Florida, and Spain a new province, which imagination could esteem immeasurably rich, since its interior was unknown.
The government of Florida was the reward, which Ponce received from the king of Spain; but the dignity was accompanied with the onerous condition,
that he should colonize the country, which he was 1514, appointed to rule. Preparations in Spain and an 1520. expedition against the Carribbee Indians, delayed
his return to Florida. When, after a long interval, 1521. he proceeded with two ships to take possession of
his province and select a site for a colony, his company was attacked by the Indians with implacable fury. Many Spaniards were killed; the survivors