Category Archives: Mexico

Item of the Day: The History of the Conquest of Mexico (1724)

Full Title: The History of the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. Done into English from the Original Spanish of Don Antonio De Solis, Secretary and Historiographer to His Catholick Majesty. By Thomas Townsend. London: Printed for T. Woodward at the Half-Moon, and J. Hooke at the Flower-de-Luce, both against St. Dunstan’s Church, in Fleet-Street; and J. Peele at Locke’s-Head in Pater-Noster-Row, M.DCC.XXIV.


Juan de Grijalva prosecutes his Voyage, and enters

the River of Flags, where he has the first Account

 of the Mexican King Montezuma.

Grijalva and his Companions pursued their Voyage, standing the same Course, still discovering new Lands and Towns, without any memorable Accident, until they came to a River, which they call’d the River of Flags; because on the Shore and neighbouring Coasts, they saw a great Number of Indians, with white Flags hanging at the Tops of their Spears, and who, by their Manner of waving them, together with their Signals, Cries, and different Motions, made a Shew of Peace, and seemed rather to invite Passengers than forbid them. Grijalva order’d Francisco de Montejo to advance with some of his Men in two Boats, to try the Entrance of the River, and discover the Intentions of those Indians. This Captain finding a good Anchoring Place, and little to apprehend from the Behavior of the Poeple, gave Notice to the rest to come up. They all landed, and were received with great Admiration and Marks of Joy by the Indians: From amongst them whom, assembled in great Numbers, three advanced, who, by the Ornaments of their Habits, seemed the principal Men of the Country; and stopping so long as was necessary to observe who was the chief Commander, by the Respect the others paid him, they went directly up to Grijalva, whom they accosted with great Reverence, and who received them with equal Courtesy. Our Interpreters did not understand the Language of this Country, so that the Compliments were made by civil Signs, with some Words of more Sound than Signification.

AFTER this they saw a Banquet, which the Indians had provided of different Sorts of Food, plac’d, or rather flung upon Mats of Palm, under the Shade of the Trees; a rustick and disorderly Plenty, but not the less grateful to the Taste of the hungry Soldiers. After which Refreshment, the three Indians commanded their People to shew some Pieces of Gold, which they had concealed till then; and by their Manner of shewing and holding them, it was understood that they did not design to make a Present of them, but to purchase with them the Merchandize of the Ships, the Fame of which had already reach’d their Ears. Presently a Fair was open’d for Strings of Beads, Combs, Knives, and other Instruments of Iron and Alchimy, which in that Country might be called Jewels of great Price, the Fondness of the Indians for those Trifles giving them a real Value. They were exchanged for Implements, and Trinkets of Gold, not of the greatest Fineness, but in such Abundance, that in the six Days the Spaniards stopp’d there, the Ransomes amounted to fifteen thousand Peso’s.

We don’t know with what Propriety they gave the Name of Ransomes to this Kind of Trucking, nor why they called it Ransomed Gold, which in Truth was deliver’d over to a greater Slavery, and had more Liberty where it was less esteemed: But I shall make use of this Expression, because I find it introduced into our Histories, and before them into the History of the East Indies; it being granted that in the Manner of Speaking, whereby Things are explained, the Reason is not so much to be sought after, as the Custom, which according to the Opinion of Horace, is the true Judge of Language, and either gives or takes away, as it pleases, that Harmony which the Ear finds between Sounds and their Signification.

Juan de Grijalva finding that the Ransomes were at an End, and the Ships in some Danger, by being exposed to the North Wind, took his leave of those People, who remained pleased and thankful. He consulted about pursuing his intended Discovery, having understood by Signs that these three Indian Chiefs were Subjects to a Monarch called Motezuma [sic], whose Empire extended over numerous Countries abounding with Gold, and other Riches; and that they came by his Order to examine, after a peaceable Manner, into the Intentions of our People, whose Neighbourhood, in all Appearance, gave him Disturbance. Some Writers run into larger Accounts, but it doth not seem easy to conceive whence they could have gained their Knowledge, nor was it a small Matter to learn so much as we have related, where People were oblig’d to speak with their Hands, and understand with their Eyes.

 They sailed on, without losing Sight of Land, and passing by two or three Islands of small Note, landed on one they called the Island of Sacrifices, because going in to view a House of Lime and Stone, which overlooked the rest, they found several Idols of horrible Figure, and more horrible Worship paid to them; for near the Steps where they were plac’d, were the Carkasses of six or seven Men, newly sacrifice, cut to Pieces, and their Entrails laid open. This miserable Sight struck our People with Horror, and affected them with different Sentiments, their Hearts being filled with Compassion, at the same Time that they were enraged at the Abomination.

They staid but a little while in this Island, because the Inhabitants seemed to be in a Consternation; so that the Ransomes were not considerable. Upon which they pass’d on to another, which was not far from the Main Land, and so situated, that between that and the Coast there was sufficient Room and convenient Shelter for the Ships. They called it the Island of St. Juan, because they arrived there on the Day of the Baptist, and likewise in Respect to the Name of their General, mixing Devotion with Flattery; because an Indian, who was pointing with his Hand towards the Main Land, giving them to understand how it was called, repeated several Times, with a bad Pronunciation, the Word Culua! Culua! This gave Occasion to the Sir name, by which they distinguished it from St. Juan de Puerto Rico, calling it St. Juan de Ulua: A little Island of more Sand than Soil; and which lay so low, that sometimes it was cover’d by the Sea. But from these humble Beginnings, it became the most frequented and most celebrated Port of New Spain, on that Side which is bound by the North Sea.

HERE  they staid some Days; for the Indians of the neighbouring Parts came with their Pieces of Gold, believing they had the Advantage of the Spaniards in changing them for Glass. And Juan de Grijalva finding that his Instructions limited him to discover and ransome without making a Settlement, (which was expresly [sic] forbidden him,) he consulted about giving an Account to Diego Velasquez of the large Countries he had discover’d; that in case he resolv’d to have him settle there he might send him Orders with a Supply of Forces, and such other Provisions as he stood need of. With this Account he dispatch’d Captain Pedro de Alvarado in one of the four Ships, giving him all the Gold, and whatever else they had acquired until that Time; to the End, that the Shew of that Wealth might give his Embassy the more Weight, and facilitate his Proposal of Settling, to which he was always inclined; notwithstanding Francisco Lopez de Gamara denies it, and blames him on the Account as a pusillanimous Person.



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Filed under 1720's, American Indians, History, Mexico, New Spain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel