Panama, country, Central America: Early History and Spanish Control
Early History and Spanish Control
Panama was densely inhabited by different indigenous peoples before the arrival of the Spanish. The first European sighting of Panama was by the Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501, and Columbus dropped anchor off the present-day Portobelo in 1502. Martín Fernández de Enciso and Diego de Niuesa failed in their efforts at colonization in Darién. Vasco Núñez de Balboa established the first successful colony in 1510 and became governor of the region. The indigenous population was soon devastated by the Spanish and by the diseases they carried from Europe.
In 1513, Balboa made his momentous voyage across the isthmus to the Pacific, thus highlighting the dominant factor in the nation's history—the short distance from sea to sea. Under the governorship of Pedro Arias de Ávila, Panama City was founded (1519). Soon the isthmus became the route by which the treasures of the Inca empire were transferred to Spain, attracting the unwelcome attention of English buccaneers—such as Sir Francis Drake, William Parker, Sir Henry Morgan, and Edward Vernon—who swooped down on the gold-bearing galleons and the treasures of Portobelo. Panama was subordinated to the viceroyalty of Peru and remained in this status until 1717, when it was transferred to New Granada.
Attempts at Scottish settlement in the Darién Scheme of the 17th cent. failed wretchedly. With the decline of the Spanish Empire, Panama lost much of its importance in the carrying trade. Panama became a part of independent Colombia in 1821. Its significance as a crossroad was enhanced again when U.S. settlers bound for Oregon and the goldfields of California passed through Panama. W. H. Aspinall built (1848–55) the Panama RR, and the question of a canal across the isthmus became paramount. The project ultimately led to a revolution against Colombian sovereignty and the establishment of Panama as a separate republic (see Panama Canal).
Sections in this article:
- The Noriega Years and Modern Panama
- Independence, the United States, and the Canal
- Early History and Spanish Control
- Land and People
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