Cortes and the Burning of the Boats at Vera Cruz

Length: 4 Pages 1070 Words

In 1519, Capitan Hernando Cortes and a small army left the Spanish held island of Cuba and set out on one of the greatest conquests in the history of the world. Cortes was going to accomplish his goals no matter the consequences. He put to death some of those who opposed him, got himself appointed Capitan-General in order to get out from under Diego Velazquez’s authority, and even destroyed his fleet in an attempt to motivate his men to adapt to his at-all-costs attitude. The destruction of the ships has been widely studied and is still debated today. The dispute is not if he destroyed his ships, but how and to what extent. Many sources claim that Cortes had the ships destroyed secretly. Very few state that Cortes told his men of his intent; but Bernal Diaz tells that Cortes was advised by his men to destroy his ships. (Diaz, 131) Diaz states, “. . . we who were his friends advised him . . . not to leave a single ship in port, but to destroy them all immediately, in order to leave no cause of trouble behind.” (Diaz, 130) Diaz goes on to say, “The ships were destroyed with our full knowledge and not . . . in secret.” (Diaz, 131) Salvador De Madariaga suggests that Cortes “planted” some friends to advise him t Continue...


Most everybody agrees that the rigging, sails, and other useful items were brought ashore to be saved and used later. Some sources go into greater detail about the psychological aspects of Cortes's action. that his companions might prevent it, as the doubtless would have done if the realized what he had in mind. (Collis, 72) Cortez himself put it, ". (Thomas, 223) White goes farther in his account about the probable effects of the destruction of the ships. (White, 186) It doesn't really matter how or to what extent Cortes destroyed his fleet; the sheer fact that he was willing to die in this endeavor showed his resolve. Lastly, he was gaining a large number of sailors to serve as infantry or to protect the fledgling city. (Gomara, 90) This story has been legendary, most people know of Cortes "burning his boats. (White, 185) Francisco Lopez de Gomara said that Cortes begged the sailing masters to spread a story about the ships being decayed and no longer seaworthy. (Collis, 72) Abbott simply states that, "they were scuttled and sank, but he goes on to say that a small vessel remained. Maurice Collis wrote that Cortes had the ships ran ashore and were destroyed completely. Did he leave some able to be repaired in an extreme emergency, or did he have them all sunk without the possibility of repair Bernal Diaz does not go into much detail about this part of the destruction. (White, 185) The ships with holes in them could be plugged and drained to sail if needed, but it would take time and manpower to do so.