Vasco Nunez Balboa


Balboa was one of the most colorful of the Conquistadors, and by most accounts a genuinely talented leader of men. He is most famous for discovering the Pacific Ocean, but his achievement in founding the first permanent settlement on the coast of Panama was also very significant. Up to this time the Spaniards had successfully colonized Hispaniola and several other islands, but had failed repeatedly to establish a permanent foothold on the Continent. The territory was unknown, the tribes were unfriendly, travel over land was very difficult, and the natives could not be easily surrounded and massacred in the customary fashion. In spite of these difficulties, Balboa succeeded by both military means and diplomacy to ally himself with enough friendly tribes to assure his survival.

Balboa was a young man when Columbus returned from discovering America, and as soon as he was able, he gained passage to the New World. After serving as a military hand on an expedition to the coast of Panama, he settled on Hispaniola to try to make his fortune. Instead he ran up terrific debts and had to stow away on a vessel bound for South America in order to escape his creditors. The ship he found himself on was destined for the coast of Venezuela, but when the crew ran into difficulties, they looked to Balboa, who was familiar with the region, for leadership. Balboa suggested relocating to the coast of Darien off the coast of Panama and at that time essentially took control of the expendition.

The problems of establishing a permanent colony were numerous, but by making alliances with some of the native tribes, Balboa was able to provide his settlement with food, water, security and other materials. The colony became his base of operations, and following the advice of friendly tribes, he set forth on an expedition for the legendary great waters to the south. In 1513 he climbed a peak in Darien and was first able to glipse the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Soon after Balboa returned to his colony, he found a new Spanish governor, by the name of Pedrarias, had arrived with a troop of 500 additional men. The village was barely able to sustain such an influx, and Balboa and Pedrarias were deeply distrustful of each other. They attempted to resolve their differences by betrothing the daughter of Pedrais to Balboa. Balboa was allowed to develop a new colony on the Pacific coast with the task of building boats for further exploration of the region. Only a year after setting out on this campaign however, he was recalled by Pedrarias, arrested, tried and executed on trumped up charges of treason.

Key events during the life of Vasco Nunez de Balboa:

Birth of Balboa to a noble family in Badajoz.
Traveled to the new world on and expedition led by Bastidas.
Explored the coast of Panama.
Settled on Hispaniola and attempted to become a planter.
Stowed away on a ship leaving Hispaniola in order to escape his creditors.
Founded the town of Santa Maria on the coast of Darien.
Journeyed accross the Isthmus of Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean.
Balboa replaced as governor by Pedro Arias.
Set up a village on the Pacific and oversaw the building of ships.
Arrested for treason and executed.

Book Links
Vasco Nunez de Balboa  by  Frederick Ober

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Upon a Peak in Darien—First Story  in  Thirty More Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
New Home of Liberty  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
White Tyrant of Darien  in  The Men Who Found America  by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson
Balboa and the Discovery of the Pacific  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Other Great Explorers  in  American History Stories, Volume I  by  Mara L. Pratt
Discovery of the Pacific  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge
Balboa Sees the Pacific Ocean  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Balboa and the Pacific Ocean
 in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold

Balboa . . . engaged in superintending the roofing of a house
 in South American Fights and Fighters

The expedition had to fight its way through tribes of warlike and ferocious mountaineers
 in South American Fights and Fighters

He took possession of the sea in the name of Castile and Leon
 in South American Fights and Fighters

Balboa discovers the South Sea
 in Story of the Thirteen Colonies

Vasco Nunez de Balboa
 in Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Balboa carried on shipboard
 in Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Balboa and the Indian Princess
 in Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Quarrel for the Gold
 in Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Discovery of the Pacific
 in Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Execution of Balboa
 in Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Balboa makes his appearance before Enciso
 in Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru

Balboa looked down on the Pacific.
 in The Discovery of New Worlds

Short Biography
Pedrarias Davila First Governor of the Spanish colony of Darien in Peru. Murderous and unscrupulous rival of Balboa.
Nicholas Ovando Governor of Hispaniola. Responsible for great massacres of the natives.
Francisco Pizarro With only 160 men, conquered six thousand Inca and took control of Peru.
Rodrigo Bastidas Conquistador who led early expeditions to the new world.
Martin Enciso Commander of the ship on which Balboa 'stowed away'.