Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar

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Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar
5th Governor of the Indies
In office
Preceded by Diego Columbus
Succeeded by Hernán Cortés
(as the Governor of New Spain)
1st Governor of Cuba
In office
Succeeded by Manuel de Rojas y Córdova
Personal details
Born1465 (1465)
Cuéllar, Segovia, Crown of Castile
Diedc. June 12, 1524 (aged 5859)
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, New Spain

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar (Spanish:  [ˈdjeɣo βeˈlaθkeθ ðe ˈkweʎaɾ] ; 1465 c. June 12, 1524) was a Spanish conquistador. He conquered and governed Cuba on behalf of Spain and moved Havana from the south coast of western Cuba to the north coast, placing it well as a port for Spanish trade. [1]


Early life

Little is known about the early life of Velázquez. [2] He was born in Cuéllar around 1465, in the Segovia region of Spain. For a time he was a member of the Spanish military and served in Naples. Afterwards he returned to Spain and lived in Seville. In September 1493, Velázquez was one of 1500 men who sailed with Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. Velázquez never returned to Spain. [3]

Velázquez settled on the island of Hispaniola and survived the early hardships which killed many colonists or drove them back home. He was well regarded by Bartholomew Columbus, the younger brother of Christopher and the administrator of the island from 1493 to 1500. When Bartholomew had to leave the island for any length of time, he would make Velázquez acting governor of Hispaniola. [3]

There is no record of Velázquez during Francisco de Bobadilla's brief tenure as governor of the island but when Nicolás de Ovando was appointed to the post in 1501, Velázquez quickly became one of the governor's trusted lieutenants. In 1503 when a Taino revolt broke out in the western provinces of the island, Velázquez was ordered to Jaragua where he quashed the rebellion. [3]

After the revolt Ovando determined that five new towns should be built in the rebellious territory. Velázquez was sent to the western end of the island to establish Salvatierra de la Zabana and perhaps other towns. Velázquez resided in Salvatierra de la Zabana and all five of the new settlements were placed under his administration. By 1511, Velázquez was one of the wealthiest and most respected men on Hispaniola. He held encomiendas at Verapaz, Salvatierra de la Zabana, and Santiago de Caballeros, where he was a partner with an unidentified encomendero in mining enterprises. [3] [4]

He married the daughter of Cristóbal de Cuéllar, who died soon afterwards. [4] :139

Conquest of Cuba

When Diego Columbus became governor in 1509 he was instructed by King Ferdinand to explore and conquer the neighboring island of Cuba in hopes of finding new sources of gold and Indian labor. Miguel de Pasamonte, the king's treasurer in the Caribbean, was influential in seeing that Columbus selected Velásquez to lead the expedition. Velásquez was to finance the project himself and though the Crown assured him that he would be reimbursed later, no money was ever forthcoming. He assembled a small fleet of four ships and three hundred men among whom were several relatives, debt-ridden encomenderos and a few who would later become notable, including Hernán Cortés and Pedro de Alvarado. [5] [6]

Velásquez sailed for Cuba in January, 1511, and landed at a small harbor in the native province of Mayci. The Spaniards were opposed by a Taino force led by Hatuey, formerly a chief from Hispaniola who fled to Cuba and helped the local natives organize resistance to the incursion. The Tainos were outmatched by the superior Spanish weaponry and after two months of intermittent fighting, they were defeated. According to Bartolome de las Casas, who did not arrive on the island until later, Hatuey was captured and burned at the stake. [7] [8]

Baracoa, the first Spanish settlement, was established on the northeast corner of the island by August, 1511. It consisted of a fort surrounded by thatched huts and served as the base of operations for the Spanish conquest of Cuba. Later that year, Velásquez was joined by Panfilo de Narvaez who brought Spanish thirty archers and native auxiliaries from Jamaica. [9]

He founded a number of new Spanish settlements on the island, first Baracoa in 1511 and then most notably Santiago de Cuba in 1514 and Havana in 1515. Velázquez was appointed Governor of Cuba. [10] :16 The new settlers did not wish to be under the personal authority of Diego Columbus, so Velázquez convoked a general cabildo (a local government council) which was duly authorized to deal directly with Spain, and therefore removed Velázquez and the settlers from under the authority of Columbus, their nominal superior. It was a precedent that would come back to haunt him with the Mexican adventures.

Conquest of Mexico

He authorized various expeditions to explore lands further west, including the 1517 Francisco Hernández de Córdoba expedition to Yucatán (see: Spanish Conquest of Yucatán ), and Juan de Grijalva's 1518 expedition. [10] :16,27 He was made the first Adelantado of Cuba with jurisdiction over the former Governorship of the Indies. [10] :126 He initially backed Hernán Cortés's expedition to Mexico, [10] :44–47 but pulled back his support before the expedition was scheduled to launch. Cortés disobeyed Velázquez's orders to disband his expeditionary force and left for Mexico anyway. [10] :56

Later life

Velázquez lost his governorship of Cuba in 1521, for his misuse of indigenous labor,[ further explanation needed ] but he was restored to office in 1523. At the time of his unexpected death in 1524 at age 59, he was "the richest Spaniard in the Americas," despite financial losses on the expedition of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and of Hernán Cortés. He completed the successful conquest of Cuba, founded towns that remain important, made Cuba economically prosperous, and turned it into the staging point for expeditions of conquest elsewhere. [11]

See also

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Since the 16th century the island of Cuba had been under the control of the governor-captain general of Santo Domingo. The conquest of Cuba was organized in 1510 by the recently restored Viceroy of the Indies, Diego Colón, under the command of Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, who became Cuba's first governor until his death in 1524.


  1. Allan J. Kuethe, "Havana" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 3, p. 173. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  2. Jacquelyn Briggs Kent, "Diego de Velásquez" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 5. p. 375. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Florstedt, Robert (1942). Diego Velázquez, first governor of Cuba (MA). Ohio State University.
  4. 1 2 Floyd, Troy (1973). The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492-1526. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 63, 81.
  5. Martinez-Fernandez, 2018
  6. Wright, 1916
  7. Floyd, 1973, p. 114
  8. Florstedt, 1942
  9. Floyd, 1973, p. 114
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Diaz, B., 1963, The Conquest of New Spain, London: Penguin Books, ISBN   0140441239
  11. Kent, "Diego de Velásquez" p. 375.