Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

Sir Walter Raleigh and the Decline of Spain

The great empire of Charles V. began to decay at his death. In 1581 his son Philip II., who had succeeded to the throne of Spain but not the German Empire, lost the Netherlands, which began to develop as the Dutch Republic. At the. same time England under Queen Elizabeth was making progress as a naval and commercial nation. Philip hated Elizabeth and made war on England. He equipped a vast fleet, in 1588, known as the Spanish Armada, for the purpose of invading England and conquering it.

Sir Francis Drake was one of the daring sea captains of England who, with a far inferior squadron, defeated the Armada in a great fight in the English Channel. Thus the commercial supremacy and naval strength of Spain were broken and the ascendency of England as a sea power and commercial nation dates from that time. Sir Francis Drake was now free to prey on Spanish vessels wherever he might find them. He voyaged frequently to the Spanish Main, making rich captures and carrying much of the wealth of South America to England.

The time had at last come for England to establish colonies in the New World, since her great rival was no longer able to oppose her vigorously. Students of United States history will remember how Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to make settlements in what is now North Carolina. At that time England, as well as the other nations of Europe, was not much interested in North America, since little gold had been found in that continent.

Sir Walter Raleigh, after his colony failed in North America, fell into disgrace at the English court. He was also in straits for money. Therefore, he determined to go in search of the far-famed city of Manoa, or El Dorado, in the Amazon country—that fabled city guarded by female warriors, dressed in glittering garments of sheets of gold. The entrance to this golden land was supposed to be by means of the Orinoco River. Columbus had sailed along this coast; Amerigo Vespucci had visited it and written about it; Spanish explorers had entered the river and brought back some gold, but none had found the city which was supposed to be richer than Mexico and Cuzco.

Sir Walter Raleigh determined to make the attempt and if possible retrieve his fortunes and restore himself as court favorite. Consequently, in 1595, he sailed for South America on a voyage of exploration with a view to conquest. He reached the mouth of the Orinoco and spent several months in exploring the river and the coast of Guiana. He was even less successful than the Spaniards in finding gold in this region. However, on returning, he followed the example of Amerigo Vespucci and published an account of his voyage, The Discoverie of Guiana. It was an entertaining narrative, but the people of England did not believe his story.

After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, Raleigh was arrested by her successor, James I., for an alleged conspiracy against the new king. James was friendly to Spain, while Raleigh had always been an enemy of the Spanish. His trial in 1603 ended in a verdict of guilty, and he was sentenced to death, though the execution was delayed for many years. The adventurer still believed the tales of Manoa, the golden city somewhere in Guiana, and he promised King James, who was in great need of money, that, if restored to freedom, he would find it and make the English monarch as rich as the king of Spain.

King James thought enough of the stories circulated in Europe to try the venture. He believed it possible for Raleigh to succeed. However, the Spanish ambassador in England warned James I. that Spain claimed the land Raleigh intended to enter and that an exploring party in the Orinoco region would trespass on Spanish possessions.

James was in want of money, but he had no desire to become involved in difficulties with the king of Spain, who was still a very powerful monarch. He, therefore, assured the Spanish ambassador that if Raleigh should be guilty of piracy or of any hostile acts against Spanish authority Sir Walter would be executed on his return. Raleigh promised King James not to attack Spanish vessels or seize Spanish territory. On March 17, 1617, he set sail a second time for South America, taking his son with him.

It was generally believed that a descendant of the Inca lived in the interior of Guiana near a lake where immense quantities of gold were to be found. On the banks of this lake there was rumored to stand a city whose houses were covered with sheets of gold, while in the royal palace the king and queen had gold dust sprinkled on their bodies, so that they were actually clothed with it. But Raleigh never found Manoa. The ill-fated expedition reached the mouth of the Orinoco River on the last day of 1617. Raleigh had been stricken with fever on the voyage. As he was too ill to proceed, he remained at Trinidad, but sent five small vessels up the Orinoco. His son accompanied the expedition. As they sailed up the river, seeking information from the natives, they found a small Spanish settlement. Now, wherever Spaniards and Englishmen met in the New World a fight was inevitable. When the English expedition came in sight of the Spanish colony, the Spaniards opened fire. The result was that, notwithstanding Raleigh's warning to the party to turn back from Spanish settlements, a fierce fight ensued. The Spaniards were defeated, but Raleigh's son was killed.

Meeting no further resistance, the expedition continued. The natives, who always fed the imagination of explorers, whether in North America or South America, with what explorers liked to hear, told them that a race of people higher up the river had an abundance of gold. The Englishmen, therefore, continued upstream for some distance farther.

All at once they beheld what seemed to be the golden tribe they sought. They saw the natives moving about through the forests, dressed in shining garments apparently of gold or silver, they could not tell which. The English were carried away with joy, for they had at last found the object of their desire. Imagine their disappointment when they learned what the natives really wore!

Investigation showed that the Indians covered their bodies with turtle fat and then stuck thin sheets of mica over them, thus presenting a truly dazzling appearance. This was probably done to protect them from mosquitoes, which were terribly annoying in that region. The insects were so harmful that even the Indians, tough as their hides were, had to devise some means to defend themselves. They hit upon mica.

The expedition met with nothing but failure. No gold was discovered; provisions were running low, and it became necessary to return. When the party reached Trinidad, they found Sir Walter Raleigh still sick and weak. They told him of their fight with the Spaniards and the death of his son. Raleigh reproached them for disobeying orders, realizing that their act had sealed his own doom and possibly that of the entire expedition.



The leader of the expedition up the Orinoco, not caring to return to England, at once committed suicide, and for days it seemed as if there would be a mutiny among the men. Many did not desire to go back to England, fearing what their fate would be. But after much confusion and delay, the English went home.

King James was disappointed because Sir Walter Raleigh had failed to find gold. Moreover, he was infuriated because the expedition had attacked a Spanish colony. As the king was under the influence of the Spanish ambassador, he assured the latter that Raleigh should pay the penalty for his disobedience; shortly after he ordered the execution of the famous explorer. On October 29, 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded. It still appeared that Spain had the power to check the colonial growth of England.

Thus ended the career of the man who first sought to erect England's dominion in the New World. Largely as a result of his ventures, a permanent English colony had been planted on American soil. This was at Jamestown in 1607. Later, the Dutch secured a foothold in South America near the mouth of the Orinoco River. In the same section of the continent, the French and English also occupied land, and English, Dutch, and French Guiana remain as the result of these seizures.

The appearance of the English, French, and Dutch in the New World at the beginning of the seventeenth century marks the decline of the maritime supremacy of Spain and Portugal; the center of interest gradually shifted from South America to North America. What was the purpose of these nations in establishing colonies? It was either to secure gold and other metals, or to set up centers of trade and commerce for the benefit of the mother country. It became the policy of the English to establish trade centers and agricultural settlements rather than to hunt gold.

England, France, and the Dutch Republic all made settlements in America and in India in the seventeenth century. They engaged in the slave trade, just as Spain and Portugal had done in the sixteenth century, in order to secure laborers to cultivate the land. Great commercial companies developed; each nation was ambitious to conquer as much of the world as possible and build up an empire that would increase the wealth of the mother country. Such were the motives that prompted them to found settlements in America, India, Africa, and elsewhere.

This rivalry for commercial supremacy continued throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At length in 1763, England definitely triumphed over France and took nearly all of the French possessions in North America and India. This struggle was known in Europe as the Seven Years' War and in America as the French and Indian War. England emerged as the greatest naval and commercial nation in the world.

But no European nation had yet learned how to govern its colonies. Spain had failed ingloriously. England also failed, as the people of the United States well know, because the thirteen English colonies revolted in 1776 and secured their independence, creating the first independent nation in the New World.

The English colonists in North America did not intermarry with the Indians and negroes as the Spanish colonists had done. Being mainly of one race, they were able to cooperate in a supreme effort to free themselves from the tyranny of English rule, and, after independence had been won, to unite and form a representative government that was successful from the start. The Spanish colonists were composed of a mixture of races, one class hating another class as much as the government itself. Thus, the different groups of colonists of that continent could not unite as readily as the English colonists had done.

Yet a number of South Americans looked with great admiration upon the leaders of the thirteen English colonies. Some of them volunteered their services and fought under George Washington, who became their ideal patriot and military leader. After independence was won, these South Americans began to dream of independence for their own continent and they never ceased to work until their dreams came true.

The revolution begun in North America did not end there. Oppressed peoples in Europe sought to break the tyranny of their rulers, and France became the center of a still fiercer revolution. The king of France was beheaded. Then arose the greatest military leader, perhaps, the world has ever seen, Napoleon Bonaparte. He organized the French armies, took possession of the government, and soon brought Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, and Prussia under his power. Finally, all these nations combined against him, because his tremendous power had disturbed the equilibrium of the world; England, being the strongest of the nations in the alliance against Napoleon, took the lead. Yet for a time it seemed as if no power on earth could overthrow him.

In 1808 he completely humbled Spain, and its king was compelled to abdicate. It was at that moment that the Spanish colonies in South America struck for freedom, when Spain was powerless to check them. The regent of Portugal fled before the armies of Napoleon and established his throne at Rio de Janeiro. This kept Brazil from revolting, because the Brazilians, for the most part, were glad to have their ruler live with them. The combined forces of Napoleon's enemies were able finally to defeat him at Waterloo in 1815, and each nation conquered by him regained its former independence. Great Britain was mistress of the seas and possessed more colonies in North America, Africa, and India than all other nations combined. The Spanish colonies in South America, however, by this time had made so much progress toward freedom that Spain was unable to regain them. This was the final blow that left Spain one of the weaker nations of Europe.

What was the organization of the Spanish colonies when they struck for freedom? The continent of South America, outside of Brazil and Guiana in the northeastern corner of the continent, belonged to Spain and was divided into three vice-royalties. The oldest was the viceroyalty of Peru, which until 1718 embraced all the territory on the continent belonging to Spain. In that year the viceroyalty of New Granada was created. This included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia. In 1776, the viceroyalty of the de la Plata River was created, embracing all of South America south of Brazil and east of the Andes mountains.

At the beginning of the revolt of the Spanish colonies, therefore, there were three viceroyalties, all independent of each other but subject to the king of Spain. The ruler of each was a viceroy, and the territory under him was divided into provinces or captain-generalships, under captain-generals.

It is interesting to note that the revolt began in each viceroyalty in the same year, 1810, and almost at the same time. The first outbreak was in Venezuela, in the viceroyalty of New Granada; the second in Argentine, in the viceroyalty of the de la Plata River; and the third in Chile, in the vice-royalty of Peru.

The chief leader of the revolt was Francisco Miranda, a native of Caracas, in Venezuela. His teachings stirred the young men of South America. Simon Bolivar, the leader of New Granada, Jose San Martin, the leader of Argentina, and Bernardo O'Higgins, the leader of Chile, were students and disciples of Miranda, and the story of the revolution may be told in the life histories of these four patriots. Few men have displayed more heroism and exhibited a finer patriotism than these leaders, all of whom, with the exception of Miranda, lived to see the independence of their countries secured and yet died in exile.