Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/77

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again, was changed by Ovando, the successor of Colombo after his removal from the administration (1502); and the same thing happened at Santiago de los Caballeros. Of the eighteen towns founded in the early years of colonisation a century later only ten survived. A few towns were founded in Puerto Rico by Ovando; Cuba was colonised by Diego Velasquez, and Jamaica by Juan de Esquivel. But the settlements in both were few and unprosperous, Santiago de Cuba having in the course of a few years become almost deserted. Sugar was the only crop yielding profits; gold was procured in the smallest quantities; the best investment was to take over horned cattle, turn them loose to breed, and hunt the savage herd for its hides and tallow, which were shipped for sale to Europe.

By such means, and by mercilessly tasking the Indians as labourers in field and mine, many emigrants in time became rich men, and looked eagerly round for new and wider fields of adventure. Slave-raiding on the continental coasts was a favourite employment, and a certain quantity of gold was readily bartered for trifles by the natives, wherever the Spaniards landed; and by these pursuits the Cuban colonists at length reached the coast pueblos of Yucatan, which were comparatively recent outposts of Nahuatlacan advancement. Velasquez, the governor of Cuba, in 1518 sent a squadron of vessels to reconnoitre this coast more fully; Grijalva, who commanded, traced the shore-line as far as the tierra caliente of Mexico, and reached Vera Cruz, then as now the port of Mexico. Here Carib seamen shipped the surplus tributes and manufactured products of the Lake pueblos for barter in the southern parts of their extensive field of navigation. From Vera Cruz Grijalva coasted northwards as far as the Panuco river. Many large pueblos were descried in the distance; the names of Mexico and of Motecuhzoma, its Tlatohuani ("Speaker," in the sense of "Commander" or Supreme Chief), first fell on Spanish ears; and the description of the great Lake pueblo was listened to with more interest, because in these parts the exploring party obtained by barter an immense quantity of gold. Here, at length, signs of civilised life were found; large hopes of wealth, whether by commerce or plunder, were excited; and on the return of the expedition Velasquez ordered a new one to proceed thither without delay. His design was simply to prosecute the remunerative trade which Grijalva had begun. Others formed bolder schemes; and his secretary and treasurer, probably in collusion with the schemers, persuaded him to entrust the command to Hernan Cortes, who had conceived the plan of employing the whole military force of Santiago de Cuba at his disposal in invading Mexico and subjugating it at one blow. This Cortes accomplished only by fortune's favour; for he knew nothing of the imminent peril he was rashly encountering, and his force barely escaped annihilation.

The landing of Cortes, and his safe progress through a difficult country to the frontier of Tlaxcallan, were facilitated by the circumstance