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Juan de La Cosa

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Cosa, JUAN DE LA, navigator and cartographer, according to tradition b. in 1460 at Sta. Maria del Puerto (Santora), on the Bay of Biscay, Spain, and hence called JUAN BISCAYNO, d. on the coast of the Gulf of Uraba, February 28, 1510. He passed his life from earliest childhood on the ocean. From the waters of his native country, which he knew thoroughly, he soon ventured onto the coast of Western Africa, which was at that time the goal of so many Spanish expeditions. When Columbus in 1492 made preparations for his voyage to the west, Juan de la Cosa had attained such reputation, that the great discoverer engaged him, together with his ship Santa Maria, and in spite of a passing estrangement between them, he secured de la Cosa’s services as cartographer for his second expedition in 1493-1496. In 1499 Juan de la Cosa joined as first pilot the expedition of Alonso de Ojeda and Vespucci, and was with them amongst the first to set foot on the South American Continent on the Gulf of Paria. At the same time the coast from Essequibo to the Cape Vela was explored. Immediately after his return he designed his chart of the whole world, which is of the utmost importance for the history of the discovery of America. Later in the same year, or early in 1501, he continued his discoveries along the South American coast to the Isthmus of Panama, and returned in 1502 to Haiti. When the Spanish court found soon afterwards that the Portuguese had made several incursions into the newly discovered country, Queen Isabella sent Juan de la Cosa at the head of a delegation to Portugal, to remonstrate. He was nominated alguazil major, and in 1504-05 was commander of an expedition to the Pearl Islands and the Gulf of Uraba to found settlements there. At the same time he visited Jamaica and Haiti. Another voyage undertaken 1507-08 with Martin de los Reyes and Juan Correa as pilots had the same object in view. In 1509 for the seventh and last time Juan de la Cosa started for the New World. He carried two hundred colonists on three ships and on reaching Haiti he placed himself under the command of Ojeda, who added another ship with one hundred settlers to the expedition. After having decided an old frontier-dispute between Ojeda and Nicuesa, they went with Pizarro into Ojeda’s territory and landed at Cartagena against the warnings of Cosa, who proposed to disembark on the more peaceful coast of the Gulf of Uraba. They were attacked by the natives and de la Cosa was killed.

Juan de la Cosa made several charts of which one, the famous chart of the world is still preserved. It is the oldest representation of the New World. Of special interest is the outline of Cuba, which Columbus never believed to be an island. Walkenaer and Alexander von Humboldt were the first to point out the great importance of this chart. It is now in the Museo Naval in Madrid. Reproductions of it are given by Humboldt in his “Atlas geographique et physique”; by Jomard in his “Collection des Monuments”, tab. XVI; by Winsor, in his “History of America“, III (London, 1888), and by Kretschmer”, “Die Entdeckung Americas” (Berlin, 1892), Atlas, table VII. A facsimile was published in Madrid, 1892.


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