Spanish conquest of Yucatán

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{land, century, early}
{son, year, death}
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{god, call, give}
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{island, water, area}
{town, population, incorporate}

The first known Spanish landing[4] on the Yucatán Peninsula was a product of misfortune, when in 1511 a small vessel bound for the island of Santo Domingo from Darién, Panama ran aground on some shoals in the Caribbean Sea, south of the island of Jamaica.[5] The ship's complement of fifteen men and two women set off in the ship's boat in an attempt to reach Cuba or one of the other colonies. However, the prevailing currents forced them westwards until, after approximately two weeks of drifting, they reached the eastern shoreline of the Peninsula, possibly in present-day Belize.[6] Captured by the local Maya, they were divided up among several of the chieftains[7] as slaves and a number were sacrificed and killed according to offeratory practices.[citation needed] Over the succeeding years their numbers dwindled further as others were lost to disease or exhaustion, until only two were left– Gerónimo de Aguilar who had escaped his former captor and found refuge with another Maya ruler, and Gonzalo Guerrero who had won some prestige among the Maya for his bravery and had now the standing of a ranking warrior and noble. These two would later have notable, but very different, roles to play in future conflicts between the Spanish and the Mesoamerican peoples– Aguilar would become Cortés's translator and advisor, with Guerrero instead electing to remain with the Maya and served as a tactician and warrior fighting with them against the Spanish.

These Spanish castaways had unknowingly brought with them an epidemic disease to the region, smallpox, which would kill many people over the next few years.

Early expeditions (1517–19)

The next contact was in 1517 when Francisco Hernández de Córdoba sailed from Cuba in search of slaves to replace the native Cubans who had been dying off in great numbers. The Spaniards were surprised to see stone cities along the coast of Yucatán. Córdoba landed at several towns; some greeted the Spanish with friendship and offered to trade goods with them (the Spaniards acquired a few pieces of gold ornaments this way). The mauling at Cape Cotoche climaxed when the explorers landed at 'the Coast of the Disastrous Battle.' To Córboda and his men, it was an ambush with some 80 Spaniards being wounded by the first volley of stones, arrows, and darts.[8] The Spanish soon learned that the Mayan arrows, while not attaining any distinct force behind them, tended to shatter on impact causing for a slow and painful death. Despite these shortcomings, the failed attempts to gather water and repair the casks that were issued ultimately caused Córdoba to distribute his remaining sailors and abandon his smallest ship, a brigantine paid for on credit.[9] The expedition returned to Cuba to report on the discovery of this new land.

Diego Velázquez, the governor of Cuba, ordered an expedition sent out with four ships supplied with crossbows, muskets, salt pork, and cassava bread for some 240 men[10] led by his nephew, Juan de Grijalva. The Grijalva expedition had similar, mixed experiences with the native Maya and seemed genuinely anxious to fulfil Velázquez' order to explore rather than settle. He repeatedly refused the gratification of vengeance as they sailed along the coasts of Yucatán for months. Except for a few cannon shots, the desire to exchange beads and Spanish wine for food and other necessities were left in readiness. He was disappointed at gathering very little gold, but came back to Cuba with a tale that a rich empire was further to the west.

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