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Vasco Nunez de Balboa
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    (circa 1475-January 1519)
    Born in Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain
    Spanish conquistador
    Conquered much of Panama
    Founded Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien, the first permanent European settlement on the American mainland (1510)
    Crossed the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean (1513)
    Executed for allegedly trying to usurp Governor Pedrarias Davila and create a separate colony
    He was a failed pig farmer in Hispanola who escaped his creditors by stowing away in a barrel on a ship heading for Panama.
    He plundered native settlements for gold and gems.
    He executed 40 homosexuals by having his dogs tear them apart.
    He is often credited with ‘discovering’ the Pacific Ocean, even though the natives living along its shores obviously knew about it.
    John Keats confused him with another conquistador in ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, when he wrote ‘…like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes he star’d at the Pacific.’
    When the executioner referred to him as a ‘traitor and usurper of the Crown,’ he indignantly replied, ‘I have always loyally served the King, with no thought but to increase his dominions.’
    He had regularly sent to the king a fifth of the treasures he had seized – the Quinto Real (‘Royal Fifth’).
    It required three blows of an axe to decapitate him.
    He is the namesake for Panama’s currency, the port on the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, parks in San Diego and San Francisco, and a crater on the moon.

Credit: C. Fishel

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