Tilri TilIll)\l) HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Publication No. 131.
Letter from Domingo de Vera to /he King.
ISLAND OF TRINIDAD,
27TH OCTOBER, 1597.
Source : -Additional Mss. 36317. British Museum. Published
by courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. Translated
fionm /th Sanish.
1 give thanks to the Grace of God that the time has come
when I can make a report to Your Majesty on the events and
circumstances of this expedition to El Dorado.
1 arrived in this Island after as prosperous and successful
journey as could be wished as I have informed Your Majesty
Before reaching the principal port, I landed at some friendly
villages about ten leagues from the port and spoke with the
Indians who treated us well.
I left there 66 men as well as one with great experience
of this country whom 1 had brought from Castille, with a
quantity of barter, to go to the place where was the Governor,
Antonio de Berrio, and tell the Indians of the country of
my arrival and to bring boats to take all my people across
to El Dorado.
He did this work with great diligence and within six weeks
there came 44 large pirogues in which 1 sent 470 men to
Guavana who arrived there safely. Later there came from
lhe river, 33 pirogues with a large quantity of cassava and
hammocks and other necessary stores which by the Grace
of God, relieved our necessities.
As these pirogues with stores and men were being taken
over to Guayana, six days voyage from this town, they fell
in with a fleet of Caribs from the Islands of Dominica and
Grenada who pretending to be friendly, attacked and killed
them destroying the whole fleet. This was the beginning
of many troubles which I have suffered. I started at once
without loss of time with 1oo men to wait for these Caribs
at the mouth of a river where they are on terms of peace
with other Caribs and where they go to divide their spoil
and offer sacrifices and eat the Indians they have taken alive
It was God's will as a punishment for my sins that on the
passage from this Island to the main'and which is three
leagues, although I had started in fine weather, a hurricane
sprang up in which 40 men were drowned and the provisions
and munitions had to be thrown overboard. I now found
myself without the means of prosecuting my purpose and a
return to the town of Trinidad without provisions would
be very difficult; therefore after deliberation I decided to
go on to see the Governor, Antonio de Berrio as I was half
way there and along the rivers were palms which could
be eaten until we could reach inhabited country. A friar
was sent ahead in a pirogue to announce my coming with
which all who wished success to the expedition, seemed pleased.
The people gathered together and said to the Governor
" Since you have sent into this country 470 men, the Indians
are asking for the Meastro de Campo whom they know and
you should send for him at once to meet the Indians." The
Governor listened and gave the answer that none should
speak to him on this subject as he had nothing to say upon it.
He had despatched Captain Alvaro Jorge, a man of over
6o years of age, in winter and on foot, who went 30 leagues
into the interior of the country. The Indians entertained
him and gave food to all the soldiers but, the Governor told
them, being weak and blinded he had died. Thereupon the
command was shared among the Captains and as each had
particular supporters, they committed outrages and began to
demand gold and to seize the women of the Indians and
maltreat them openly. Consequently the men broke out
into confusion and disorder and the Indians losing all respect
for them, killed over 350 men.
When the death oftaptain Alvaro Jorge became known,
the Governor sent the Sargento Mayor to take command
of the party. Upon his arrival there he found all in confusion
and the remaining men terrified so he brought them away
and led them to San Thome which is the town established
at the entrance to Guayana.
The result of my journey to Guayana was that, for the
three days I remained, he did not even say by way of civility
I will supply His Majesty's requirements or anything
else that was due in consideration of my goodwill and labours.-
Accordingly I said to him Sire, if you will order the pirogues
which are here to go to Trinidad and bring quantities of
provisions and barter and munitions for this expedition and
assemble the men, I will go along the rivers among the friendly
Indians where provisions will be procurable and we will
gather all the men together ready for active service in the
summer." To this he answered If we wish to do so many
things, we shall end by doing none".
On the third day I returned to this town and Island,
having taken prisoner five Flemings whom I found ashore
belonging to a Flemish ship which had come to traffic at
Margarita, Cumana and at this Island. As winter came on,
boats failed me and I had many men ill and dying and other
troubles which I omit for fear of wearying Your Majesty.
For eight months neither letter nor boat passed between
us. Had we undertaken anything we should have lost the
venture because 60 of my men whom I was sending there,
mutinied as many others did at this time. At last being
more secure, I sent a friar who had made this journey for many
years, with a quantity of necessary articles but the soldiers
who were with him bound him, beat him severely and proposed
to throw him into the sea with a weight tied to him but finally
left him in an uninhabited area whence he escaped
miraculously. With this pirogue and goods the soldiers
went to Cumana where they were received and entertained
like the other mutineers who have deserted with their men.
They have been made Captains and given such personal
honours that it is clear that anyone who injures us has only
to go to one of the neighboring governments to be clothed
and welcomed. To destroy us in their eyes a great and
deserving work but God supports his own cause.
The people therefore are leaving this country in fear
and confusion and without reflection. The Governor and
all the rest took no heed of this defection : had our people
been less dispirited and downhearted, this would have been
impossible for there were places which could have been,
fortified and made safe.
However the men began to desert by twenties and thirties
and went away down the river and this practice spread
among those left. They were not skilful at this navigation
which is divided into many streams and as there was little
food, of all these numerous people, very few got through in
these seven months.
Now it seems that the Governor has failed to obtain
cattle and horses from Venezuela, a supply of which was
the real remedy for this distress and the confusions and
misfortunes and had realized that the fulfilment of the
expedition had again failed and the Governor thereupon
fell ill and was in danger of his life. He had recovered a
little when it pleased God, his son Don Fernando de Oruna
arrived. Six days later Don Fernando informed me of his
arrival and said that it would be well to put this Island in
as good order as possible and asked to see me. I at once "set
out for that place where I found that the Governor Antonio de
Verrio was already dead and that his son Don Fernando
had taken possession of the Government.
For three days after my- arrival I was occupied in
considering what was best to be done for Your Majesty's
service. I knew that the Governor, Don Fernando de Oruna,
was aware of the Cedula which Your Majesty had given me,
by which on the death or in the absence of his father, I was
to take over the Government. However, he showed so much
wisdom and consideration and was so careful in setting
guards and other necessary precautions and above all was
so good a Christian and so disposed to act well that I.decided
that I should not take over the control. I did not leave
him during the day and remained at his side and he was
ready always to take advice as to what should be done and
showed that he was master so that I gave him the Royal
Cedula stating that I did not wish to make use of it. Thus
all was settled and it was the greatest service I could do
for Your Majesty under the circumstances.
After this we discussed many questions concerning the
measures to be taken to bring cattle and to use the information
which we had concerning the 300 leagues of sea coast among
the different tribes of Indians.
We attended to the one and the other in this way. We
sent the Sargento-Mayor to Venezuela with 20 men who
explored the road. I went to the River Essequibo where
I had much information of a people wearing clothes and
using the same arms for fighting as the people of New Granada.
He then goes on to describe how Don Diego Osorio
tried to forestall him in the discovery of El Dorado and then,
when the expedition arrived from Castile, how he did
his best to thwart its success. He then bitterly protested
against the appointment of Captain Gonzalo de Pina as
Governor of Venezuela since Pina was the Captain who had
deserted and wrecked Berrio's second journey from Tunja.
Vera declared that he was an enemy and it was he who was
preventing the despatch of cattle and horses from Venezuela
which was the only possible base for any expedition for the
exploration of El Dorado.
Domingo de Vera claims that he is not making these
complaints from personal motives ; indeed he calls God to
witness that he has not appropriated a penny of the capital
invested in the present venture by the people of Castile.
'Moreover, Senor, the events of the last few years clearly
confirm what has already happened from the far off times
of the ancients, whether gentile or christian, that when one
person undertakes an enterprise and it comes within the
power of another to be able to help it, he does not do so
because he envies the glory which redounds to he one who
does it. This is particularly true of this enterprise for
El Dorado, for all speak ill of it and yet each one tries it by
The land is always what has been said of it as regards
grandeur and fertility, for merely in those parts which have
been seen from the coast and the rivers in the interior, there
are more than 500,000 Indians. As a proof of this consider
the great numbers who have died in entering this land and
where there are people there is wealth.
Furthermore in previous times, a great sum of gold
has been obtained by barter, though the Devil now protects
them so well that he has made them understand that they
must not give it in exchange for anything. Consider also
that the way thither is by a cold and lofty region where the
people eat maize and not roots and other foods which produce
effeminate races and that the Indians of this land gave news
of clothed people with abundance of coined gold and of their
fighting with javelins as is done in the New Kingdom.
This is true and corresponds with the accounts given by
the Indians for a hundred, two hundred and three hundred
leagues. It cannot fail nor can there be any doubt of its
being an easy thing and that little profit accrues to me save
in following the direct path of truth.
SUMMARY.-Domingo de Vera again insists that
Don Fernando and himself must be protected in their venture
against the intrusion of rivals such as Diego Osorio and
Pedro de Salazar. The only adequate way is to appoint
Don Fernando de Berrio as Governor of Venezuela for the
period of ten years, by the end of which El Dorado will be
conquered. If he himself, he asserts, had been Governor
for six months, he would now be at the Spanish Court with
the happiest news that had ever come out of the Indies and
His Majesty would have been master of provinces as rich
VERBATIM.-The condition in which we now find ourselves
is as follows; we have 300 or more men at arms, 80 horses
with cattle and a certain number of pigs with which to maintain
the town of San Josef which is in the Island of Trinidad and
that of San Thome which is at the entrance of the districts
bordering El Dorado. We are sufficient to make some
explorations into these lands but not to reach the heart of
this country nor to subdue it. If we had control of Venezuela
we should hold all these lands because they are in the hands
of friends of mine. Indians who come to the Orinoco to see me.
Many of the Indians of this Island are submitting to
Your Majesty's service. They are within Your Majesty's
territory which they plough and make fruitful. All those
on the rivers and the coast have already given their obedience.
I have made a fort in this Island with six swivel guns
and four pieces of ordnance and 8o men who I maintained
for ten months with bread, wine and a ration of oil, vinegar,
chick peas, vegetables and fish. But as a large number of
these men fell ill and the supplies were being consumed
at such a rate, I was obliged to bring the men back to this town.
The injuries which the neighboring Governors have done
me by receiving the mutineers, their behaviour in regard
to the property stolen from me and carried out of the Island
assisting them from Your Majesty's Treasury and giving
them passages and other inventions of the Devil to defeat me,
I say nothing. But the Governor Don Fernando de Oruna
will do so when I go to San Thome which will be within
eight days, leaving this Island in the best order I can.
With such hardships is God served. I find myself with
necessary stores, gun-powder, lead, iron and all other things
useful to our purpose as well as horses for the journey. So
with carefulness and bribing the Indians with things they
covet, I expect to be able to make an expedition into
Wherefore I give thanks to God who gave me this wealth
to enable me to go on this enterprise and to have the fortune
to spend for what I alone have put into this Island was worth
more than a thousand ducats.
Furthermore for the purchase of cattle and other things
the Governor, Don Fernando is rich. I shall not lack until
I have sold the jewels and slaves of my wife and my sons and
the homage due to my house.
What concerns the friars has been kept to the last because
I am not fond of dealing with clerigos beyond what is requisite
in serving and paying them deference. I am sending a letter
for the Commissary of the Order to Your Majesty unsealed.
May it please Your Majesty to read it for thereby you will
understand what is happening.
May God preserve Your Majesty for many long years.
October. 27th, 1597. Your Majesty's Servant,
DOMINGO DE YBARGUEN Y VERA.