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Rodrigo de Bastidas

Rodrigo de Bastidas (1460 – July 28, 1527), was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who mapped the northern coast of South America and founded the city of Santa Marta.


Early life

Rodrigo de Bastidas was a well-to-do notary of the town of Triana, Seville, a suburb of Seville. Rodrigo de Bastidas' ancestral lineage can be traced back to the Kings of Asturias and Leon. He was a direct descendant of Don Diego Ruiz de Asturias, Count of Oviedo, whose wife was the Infanta Jimena,daughter of Alfonso V of Leon. Their daughter was Jimena, who married Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known as "El Cid Campeador". and their son was Rodrigo de Asturias, who continued the Bastidas line.


After sailing with Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World about 1494, Bastidas petitioned the Spanish Monarchy to start his own quest to be financed totally with his own money. In exchange for granting Bastidas the right to explore various territories in the New World, the Crown required him to give them one fourth of the net profits he acquired. The King and Queen issued a charter that is still preserved in the National Archives in Spain. He sailed to the New World from Cádiz in October, 1499, with two ships, the San Antón and the Santa Maria de Gracia. He was accompanied on this voyage by Juan de la Cosa and Vasco Núñez de Balboa.

At the South American coast he sailed westward from Cabo de la Vela, Colombia in an attempt to reconnoiter the coastline of the Caribbean basin. He discovered the mouth of a river he named the Magdalena River and the Gulf of Urabá on the Panamanian/Colombian coast. Though the poor condition of his ships, caused by shipworm that ate the wooden hull, forced him to turn back and head to Santo Domingo to effect repairs, he reached La Punta de Manzanillo on Panama's upper Caribbean coast before having to abandon his effort. He is acknowledged to be the first European to have claimed that part of the isthmus, and therefore is credited with the discovery of Panama which includes the San Blas region of the Kuna Indians.

Because of difficulties with the Spanish crown; he was placed under arrest by Governor Bobadilla of Santo Domingo and sent back to Spain for allegedly trading with the Indians without permission. He was acquitted of these charges by the Spanish Crown. Although Bastidas did trade with the natives along the coast of Colombia on at least one of his expeditions, it was for food and supplies for his men and his ship and not for gold or other valuables.

In 1525 he returned to the New World and founded the City of Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. He named the city Santa Marta because it was on Saint Martha's feast day that the city was founded. Bastidas has been call Spain's Noblest Conquistador because he had a policy of respect, humanity and friendship towards the Indians; he maintained pacifistic relations with his neighbors, the Indians Tagangas, Dorsinos and Gairas, although it is said he had slaves too.

On a trip to the interior and the territories of Bonda and Bondigua in present day Colombia, he traded for a substantial amount of gold. Bastidas had a policy prohibiting his troops from brutally using the Indians or robbing them of their goods. His troops, many of whom had gone adventuring in the hopes of obtaining gold, asked Bastidas for a share. He refused to share it with his men, saying that he needed it to help defray the costs of the colony.


Rodrigo de Bastidas tomb in Santa Marta, Colombia

Bastidas' refusal to share the gold that he had acquired greatly angered some of his men, among them his lieutenant Villafuerte, who led a conspiracy of some fifty men to murder Bastidas. One night while Bastidas was a sleep he was attacked and stabbed five times. He was able to cry out, and his men rushed to his aid. Although seriously wounded, he did not die immediately. Owing to a lack of adequate medical facilities in Santa Marta, Bastidas attempted to sail to Santo Domingo, but bad weather forced him to land in Cuba, where he died from his injuries. Later, his only son, the Archbishop Rodrigo de Bastidas, moved his remains to Santo Domingo where he is interred along with his wife and son at the Cathedral Primada of Santo Domingo.

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