Alonso de Ojeda

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Alonso de Ojeda : biography

1468 – 1515

During the voyage along the Paraguaná Peninsula the flotilla entered into a gulf (Gulf of Venezuela) where there were villages of the Wayuu people with palafito houses built over the water and supported on stilts made from tree trunks. These villages are said to have reminded Amerigo Vespucci of the city of Venice, (), and so the area was given the name Venezuela. p. 177. meaning Little Venice. (However, according to Martín Fernández de Enciso, who supported Ojeda’s 1509 expedition, they found a local population calling themselves the Veneciuela, so "Venezuela" may derive from the local term.) The flotilla arrived at the entrance to Lake Maracaibo on 24 August 1499. The lake was originally named after Saint Bartholomew as this was his saints day. Ojeda also reached Cabo de la Vela, on the Guajira Peninsula, which he named Coquibacoa.

A few days later the expedition left Cabo de la Vela for Hispaniola with some pearls obtained in Paria, a little gold and a number of slaves. The scarcity of goods and slaves resulted in a poor economic return for investors in the expedition. However, the importance of the voyage comes from the fact that it was the first detailed reconnaissance of the coast of Venezuela and that Spanish explorers carried it out. This means that Ojeda is credited with being the first European to have visited Venezuela. The expedition also gave Juan de la Cosa the chance to draw the first known map of the area now known as Venezuela, as well as being possibly the first journey that Vespucio made to the New World.

However, when the expedition arrived in Hispaniola on 5 September the followers of Christopher Columbus were angry because they considered that Ojeda was infringing upon Columbus’ exploring privileges. This resulted in brawls and fights between both groups, which left a number of dead and wounded. Ojeda took many captives back to Spain whom he sold as slaves. Even so the voyage was not financially successful, netting some fifteen thousand maravedis in profit to be divided among the fifty-five crewmembers surviving from the original three hundred. Note, that since forty maravedis per day was an average wage for skilled labour at this time, they could have made more money staying at home. Returning on the heels of Peralonso Nino’s smaller but far more lucrative voyage magnified this disappointment.Dugard, Martin. The Last Voyage of Columbus. Little, Brown and Company: New York, 2005. p85. The date of return is disputed: it is usually stated that Ojeda returned in June 1500 but the historian Demetrio Ramos has suggested the earlier date of November 1499., cited in

Second voyage to Venezuela

Ojeda decided to make another journey and he received a new commission from the Catholic Monarchs on 8 June 1501. He was appointed Governor of Coquibacoa behind the back of Christopher Columbus. This appointment gave him the right to found a colony in this area, although he was advised not to visit Paria. On this occasion he formed a partnership with the Andalusian merchants Juan de Vergara and García de Campos, who were able to charter four caravels: the Santa María de la Antigua, the Santa María de la Grenada, the Magdalena, and the Santa Ana.Irving, Washington. . Carey and Lea, 1831.

Ojeda set sail from Spain in January 1502 and he followed the same route as his first voyage. On this occasion he kept his distance from the Gulf of Paria and made landfall on Margarita Island where, according to some sources, he tried to obtain gold and pearls from the indigenous people using a number of different methods. He sailed along the coast of Venezuela from Curiana to the Paraguaná Peninsula. On 3 May 1502 he founded a colony on the Guajira Peninsula, at Bahia Honda. The colony was called Santa Cruz and it was the first Spanish settlement on Colombian territory and therefore the first on the American mainland.

However, the colony did not last for more than three months, as the new arrivals started attacking the indigenous villages in the area, causing constant conflict with them. In addition to this there were personal difficulties between Ojeda and his men. At this point Vergara and Campos took Ojeda prisoner and abandoned the settlement with the small amount of plunder that had been captured. Ojeda was put in prison in Hispaniola in May 1502, where he was held until 1504. He was released following an appeal made by Archbishop Rodríguez de Fonseca, although he had to pay a costly indemnity, which left him with little money.