Alonso de Ojeda bigraphy, stories - Spanish navigator, governor and conquistador

Alonso de Ojeda : biography

1468 - 1515

Alonso de Ojeda (ca.1468 (some sources state 1466) – 1515) was a navigator, governor and conquistador. He travelled through Guyana, Venezuela, Trinidad, Tobago, Curaçao, Aruba and Colombia. He is famous for having named Venezuela, which he explored during his first two expeditions, for having been the first European to visit Guyana, Colombia, and Lake Maracaibo, and later for founding Santa Cruz (La Guairita).

Shipwrecked in Cuba

When Ojeda returned to Santo Domingo he was accompanied by seventy men and he was seeking help. However, the pirate took Ojeda prisoner and would not set him free. At this point a powerful hurricane struck the boat and Talavera had to seek help from Ojeda. Despite their efforts the ship was shipwrecked at Jagua, Sancti Spíritus, in the south of Cuba. Ojeda decided to travel along the coast on foot with Talavera and his men in order to reach Maisí Point from where they would be able to get to Hispaniola.

However, the party faced a number of difficulties on route and half of the men died of hunger, illness or other hardships that they met along the way. The sole possession remaining to Ojeda was an image of the Virgin Mary, which he had carried with him since he left Spain. He made a promise on this image that he would build a church dedicated to her in the first village that he reached where he was given hospitality.

A little later, and with only a dozen men and the pirate Talavera still surviving, he arrived in the district of Cueybá where the chief Cacicaná provided food and shelter. Ojeda was true to his word and he built a small hermitage to the Virgin in the village, which was venerated by the local people. The party was rescued by Pánfilo de Narváez and taken to Jamaica, where Talavera was imprisoned for piracy. From Jamaica Ojeda returned to Hispaniola where he leaned that Fernández de Enciso had been able to relieve the colonists who had stayed in San Sebastián.

Arrival in Hispaniola

In September 1493, thanks to Rodríguez de Fonseca, he accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas, arriving on the island of Hispaniola. In January 1494, Columbus gave him the task of finding the members of a number of crews that were lost in the hinterland of the island. Ojeda only had fifteen men at his command in his search of the Cibao region of the island, which was controlled by the warlike Taíno cacique called Caonabo. Ciboa was an area that contained many gold mines and Ojeda returned to La Isabela to report his findings to the Admiral who he found was suffering from a fever.

In March 1494 Columbus founded Fort Santo Tomás, of which Ojeda was named mayor.

Caonabo and his warriors attacked the fort and Ojeda and his men defeated them. Legend has it that Ojeda personally took Caonabo prisoner using golden shackles by making the cacique believe that they were items of royal clothing.

Alonso de Ojeda also took part in the battle of Vega Real (also called the battle of Jáquimo), in which, under his command, the Spanish were victorious. An account of the battle written by Father Bartolomé de las Casas states that the native army comprised ten thousand warriors, while there were only some four hundred Spanish soldiers. Of course it is possible that these figures have been exaggerated. Ojeda returned to Spain in 1496.

First voyage to Venezuela

On returning to Spain, Ojeda was commissioned by the Catholic Monarchs, without the permission of Columbus, to sail for America again, which he did on 18 May 1499 with three caravels. He travelled with the pilot and cartographer Juan de la Cosa and the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci. This was the first of a series of what have become known as the "minor journeys" or "Andalusian journeys" that were made to the New World.

On leaving Spain the flotilla sailed along the west coast of Africa to Cape Verde before taking the same route that Columbus had used a year before on his third voyage. After making landfall Vespucio decided to separate from the flotilla and he sailed south towards Brazil. The main flotilla arrived at the mouths of the rivers Essequibo and Orinoco in the Gulf of Paria. It also visited the peninsulas of Paira and Araya, the islands of Trinidad and Margarita and travelled along the continental coast, always in search of a passage towards India. The flotilla then sailed along the Paraguaná Peninsula and sighted the island of Curacao, which was named Giants Island as the indigenous people that were seen were thought to be giants. During the same journey, he constructed a ship and visited the islands of Aruba and the Islas Los Frailes archipelago.

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Living octopus

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