Darién, the first Spanish settlement on the North American mainland, was established in 1510 when Martín Fernández de Enciso captured a village on the hot, swampy Caribbean coast of Panama, which he christened Santa María La Antigua de Darién.
Enciso was not an able leader, and one of his lieutenants, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, soon took over control of Darién. Balboa established an agricultural economic base for Darién, worked by native labor, and the settlement thrived. In 1513, Darién served as the base for Balboa's expedition to find the "Southern sea," during which Balboa became the first European to set eyes on the Pacific Ocean.
Although the crown rewarded Balboa with the title of "adelantado of the Southern sea," his own father-in-law, Pedrarias Dávila, contested his control over the settlement. In 1517 Pedrarias beheaded Balboa and assumed control of Darién.
Darién suffered under Pedrarias's administration. In 1519, Pedrarias moved the Spanish population from the swamplands of Darién to the more healthful climate of Panama City. In 1524, Darién was formally abandoned. Darién was also the site of Scotland's failed attempt to establish a colony at the Isthmus of Panama; the colony was abandoned in 1699 after less than a year.
Murdo J. MacLeod, Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1520–1720 (1973).
Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr, Central America: A Nation Divided (2d ed., 1985).
Virginia Garrard Burnett