Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The New Home of Liberty

The news that Christopher Columbus has discovered wonderful lands in the West reaches the old town of Bristol, in England. It was down past this town that the dust of Doctor Wicklif floated to the sea. It was a Bristol trader whose teeth were pulled out by John Lackland for refusing to give up his money. The merchants of Bristol were enterprising men, and were sending their ships to France, to the Mediterranean, and the North Sea.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Two of the sea-captains employed by the merchants were a father and son, John and Sebastian Cabot. The father was born in Venice, a city that stands in the sea, where the people, instead of riding in carriages, glide along the water-ways in gondolas. They were brave, adventurous men, and, hearing of Columbus's discoveries, persuaded the Bristol men to fit out a fleet for the purpose of discovering a new route to the Indies. The merchants can do nothing without first obtaining permission from the king, Henry VII. There is not much liberty in England or anywhere else. The king is supreme. Henry loves money, and when the citizens of Bristol come before him with their petition, he sees an opportunity to impose conditions which possibly may bring money into his pockets at their expense.

"If you discover any countries, they shall be mine," he says.

He is possessed with the idea that he alone can lay claim to all countries discovered, no matter who may be living upon the land. The people of England have few rights which the is bound to respect; much less will the Indians have any rights.

"That we promise," the merchants reply.

"If you make any money, I must have one-fifth of it."

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


This is a hard condition. Not a dollar will he contribute toward fitting out the expedition. The merchants must be at all the expense. They may lose every cent of their investment, their vessels may be wrecked; the king will not share in any loss. But on no other condition will he permit the fleet to sail. Hard as the terms are, the merchants accept them.

In the month of May, 1497, John Cabot commanding one vessel, Sebastian another, with a third to keep them company, set sail from Bristol. The tide wafts them down the Severn River, just as it wafted John Wicklif's dust. They steer westward—out upon a stormy sea, to sail where vessels never have sailed before.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


By the middle of June they find themselves on soundings, and the sea is swarming with fish. They catch all they want. Never before have they seen such myriads of fish.

On the 24th of June they discover land. It is not India, for they are only sixteen hundred miles west of Ireland. They name it Prima Vista. It is new found land. They behold dense forests of pine and cedar, but no sign that it is inhabited.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


They sail north-west, and discover a bleak and rocky shore, where the surf is breaking on cavern ledges—the coast of Labrador. Since the days of the old Northmen, no European eye has seen the Western continent. Columbus has as yet only discovered the West India Islands. Onward the vessels glide, sailing north-west, till at midnight, on the July days, the sun only disappears for a few moments beneath the horizon. They are in the frozen sea, with icebergs around them. Their provisions begin to fail; the ice blocks their farther progress; and the brave sailors, disappointed in not being able to find a way to India, but happy in the thought that they have discovered new lands, return to Bristol.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Although the merchants have spent much money, they resolve to fit out a second expedition. John Cabot is getting to be an old man; but Sebastian is in the full vigor of manhood, and a skilful navigator, and they give the command to him. He sails west to the New-found-land, but, instead of steering north after sighting its wooded shores, turns south, enters the Bay of Fundy, where the tide rushes in with a roar like distant thunder rising sixty feet. Sailing still farther, he comes to Frenchman's Bay, and gazes upon Mount Desert, at whose base the sea breaks upon granite ledges, tossing the spray high in air.

Day after day the vessel glides along, past bluffs and headlands, where the waves have eaten their way into rocky caverns, then past sandy beaches glowing in the summer sun. If a storm comes on, Captain Cabot finds shelter behind some island.

Southward the vessel sails, past 1 Cape Ann, past Cape Cod; then) turning westward, skirts the shores of long Island, and then

the coast of New Jersey, and the low beaches of Delaware and Virginia—sailing till provisions fail, when the hardy captain turns

about, and reaches England, informing the king that the has discovered a fair and virgin land in the west, which he may claim as his Olen.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


As this story unfolds, we shall see that through the enterprise of the Bristol merchants, through the discoveries of Sebastian Cabot, and through the claims of the king to the ownership of all lands discovered by him, the new home of liberty became the heritage of the people of England.

The King of Spain could not at that moment claim possession of the New World by priority of discovery; for while Sebastian Cabot was sailing along the coast of Virginia, Columbus was starting on his third voyage, during which he discovered South America, as we have seen.

Would the United States have been the nation that it is if Spain had first discovered North America, and established its colonies and planted its civilization on the shores of Virginia? Far from it; for the king, who could violate his most solemn promises, as Ferdinand violated his with the Moors—the queen, Isabella, who could sit complacently by while heretics were being roasted to death —the people who could drive out the Jews and Moors, and seize their estates, were not the sovereigns nor the people to establish liberty in the Western World. We shall see that it required such men as those who compelled John Lackland to sign the Magna Charta; such men as John Wicklif, who dared to brave the Pope's authority; such men as Geoffrey Chaucer, who dared to ridicule the monks—me I who were strong hearted enough to resist tyranny, who were ready to sacrifice everything they held dear rather than yield their natural rights—that it required such men to plant the seeds of a new civilization in the western hemisphere. It was not till two years after Cabot's voyage that Amerigo Vespucci sailed on his voyage of discovery; and although the continent of America bears his name, he was far from being the first to discover it.

The intelligence that the sea off Newfoundland is alive with fish is good news to the fishermen of Northern France, for the Pope has decreed that everybody must eat fish on Friday. The fishermen of Honfleur and other towns set sail in their little vessels for the New-found-land, and drop their anchors in a bay, which they call St. John's. They dress their fish, and dry them on the rocks and ledges. They build hurdles of brush, and to lay the fish upon them to dry, pack them in the hold, and go to France with their vessels loaded to the water's edge.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


While the fishermen of France are making these voyages to Newfoundland, the Spaniards are establishing colonies in the West Indies, for they now know that the islands are not the East Indies. They make the Indians slaves, treat them cruelly, making themselves rich on the unrequited labor of the simple-hearted natives.

Adventurers are sailing here and there, establishing colonies and seeking for gold. One of the adventurers is Martin Encisco. He is at Hayti, ready to sail into the unexplored regions of the west. Just before the anchor is hoisted, two men bring a cask on board the ship. The sails are hoisted, and the vessel speeds away over the waters. The sailors hear a pounding inside of the cask; then the head falls out, and, to their amazement, a young man stands before them. It is Vasco Balboa, a young Spanish nobleman, who has led a dissolute life in Spain, who has been trying to recover his fortune at Hayti, but who has been getting deeper in debt. He has taken this method to escape from ins creditors.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"Who are you?" Captain Encisco asks.

"Vasco Nunez de Balboa."

He is young, noble-looking, fearless, and well-dressed.

"I will leave you on the first island I come to," says the captain, in a rage; but he soon sees that Balboa is a man who can be of great use to him.

This man from the cask has already been down to a place called Darien—a rich country, where the Indians have gold in abundance. "I will pilot you there; we shall find gold," says Balboa.

They reach Darien, make an attack upon an Indian village, and collect gold ornaments worth fifty thousand dollars. Encisco makes a settlement; but be forbids the sailors to trade with the Indians. The sailor do not like that; so they mutiny, and elect Balboa to be their leader. The man from the cask sends Encisco back to Hayti a prisoner; but the is careful to send a large amount of gold to the royal treasurer there, who is a great favorite of the king of Spain. He has among his followers a brave but cruel man, Pizarro, who by-and-by will be heard of in Peru.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


One day Balboa is surprised to see two men come into his camp dressed in skins of wild beasts. They are Spaniards, deserters from a colony on the coast, and they have been living with an Indian chief, who has treated them with much kindness. The chief is rich; and the men offer to conduct Balboa to his capital. With one hundred and thirty men he marches to the town. The chief receives them courteously; and Balboa, after seeing how much gold the chief has in his possession, takes his departure, but in the night stealthily returns, falls upon the village, captures the chief and all his family, and plunders the place. The chief complains bitterly of the perfidy. He wishes to be a friend to the Spaniards, and offers his daughter to Balboa in marriage. The commander of the Spaniards sees that it will be better to have the good-will rather than the enmity of the chief, and accepts the girl as his wife, and becomes very fond of her, and she of him. In company with the chief, he visits another chief, who lives in a great palace four hundred and fifty feet long, and two hundred and fifty broad, built of heavy timber. The Spaniards are surprised to hind an immense store of provisions, and spirituous liquors distilled from palm-juice and corn. In another building are the bodies of the dead, which have been dried by fires and wrapped in cloths, and adorned with jewels and precious stones.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The chief's eldest son makes a present to Balboa of four thousand ounces of gold, which the commander distributes among his followers. In the division a quarrel arises between two men, who draw their swords to fight. The young chief steps between them, and kicks the gold-dust contemptuously about, scattering it upon the ground.

"Do you quarrel about such stuff? Is it for this that you make slaves of us, and burn our towns? Beyond those mountains is a great sea, and the rivers that run into it are tilled with gold, and the people who live there drink from golden vessels," says the young chief.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


After many adventures, Balboa determines to cross the high mountains which rise in the west, and see if the stories he has heard are true. One hundred and ninety men volunteer to go with him. They are all armed, and the has a pack of ferocious blood-hounds. On the 6th of September, 1513, leaving half of his men in care of the boats—about twenty miles from the mouth of Caledonia River—with Indians to guide hint, the begins to climb the mountains. They march through dark woods, where in some places the palms are so thick and tall that they shut out the sunlight, and where thick vines run from tree to tree. Monkeys chatter at them. They see venomous snakes. It is a toilsome journey. They march beneath the burning sun. The men are ready to drop by the way, but the adventurous commander sends the weak ones back to the boats, and the rest move on. They come to a tribe of Indians, who dispute their war, armed with slings and war-clubs; but the soldiers fire upon them, and Balboa lets slip the blood-hounds, which rush upon the Indians, leaping at their throats. The flash, the rattle, the smoke of the guns, fill the Indians with astonishment, and they flee to the woods; but the Spaniards pursue them, and do not cease the slaughter till six hundred have been cut in pieces. They move rapidly on, and at noon the next day Balboa and the sixty men with him are at the base of a tall mountain peak.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"From there you will see the Great Water," says the Indian guide.

The Great Water! The explorer has heard of it; now he is to see it.

The men stop while Balboa goes on. He will be the first to behold the great sea.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


There it is! The mightiest ocean of the globe—ten thousand miles wide—its waves rolling upon the shore, fringing it with white foam. Balboa sinks on his knees, and gives thanks to God.

The rest climb the peak and gaze upon it, and fall prostrate upon the ground. A priest chants Te Deum Laudamus, and the whole company join in the thanksgiving. They cut down a tree and rear a cross upon the spot, pile a heap of stones around it, and descend the western slope.

Another tribe of Indians oppose them, but the muskets and the blood-hounds quickly win the victory. The chief sues for peace, and gives Balboa four hundred pounds of gold in exchange for some little tinkling bells, and thinks that he has the best of the bargain.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


They reach the ocean, taste the water to see if it is salt, and then Balboa, with the flag of Spain in one hand, and his sword in the other, wades in and takes possession of the ocean for his master, the King of Spain.

So the Pacific Ocean, which laves the western shore of the continent where Liberty is to have its future abiding-place, is first beheld by a European; and so Balboa takes possession of it for the monarch who is driving the Jews out of his realm, and roasting heretics by the thousand.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Great hardships are endured by the Spaniards before they get back to the little band on the eastern shore. They have many encounters with the Indians. One of the chiefs captured offends Balboa, and he is torn to pieces by the blood-hounds. The Spaniards find gold very abundant, and obtain so much that it becomes a burden. The soldiers cannot carry it. They are forced to climb mountains, wade through swamps, endure terrible hardships. Balboa is taken sick, but his devoted followers carry him on a blanket. After months of toil they reach their boats, astonishing their comrades with the immense amount of gold in their possession—gold in dust, in scales, in nuggets, golden ornaments, cups, and drinking vessels, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Balboa hears of lands rich in gold southward on the Pacific coast, and resolves to visit them. He cuts down trees, hews the timbers and plank, compels the Indians to transport the materials across the mountains. He and his followers endure incredible hardships. One day a new governor arrives from Spain, who hates Balboa, and accuses him of treason, arrests him, and has him executed. Columbus is rewarded for discovering a new world by being sent home in chains; and the man who discovered the Pacific Ocean is executed. That is the gratitude of Spain to her illustrious men.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin