Jiménez de Quesada, Gonzalo (1509–1579)

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Jiménez de Quesada, Gonzalo (1509–1579)

Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada (b. 1509; d. 16 February 1579), Spanish conquistador. Jiménez was born into a Jewish converso family in Córdoba, which had moved to Granada by 1522. Both he and his father were lawyers who practiced before the Audiencia in Granada. His family's subsequent financial ruin, the result of a lawsuit, made emigration inviting. In 1535, Jiménez joined a New World-bound expedition led by Pedro Fernández de Lugo, the experienced governor of the Canaries and at that time governor of the troubled colony at Santa Marta in what is now Colombia. As lieutenant to Governor Fernández, Jiménez was to oversee judicial and administrative procedures, not to command as conquistador.

The situation in Santa Marta was chaotic and grim: too many Spaniards and hostile Indians, and not enough food or gold. An expedition to the interior was an obvious solution, but Governor Fernández's son abandoned the project and returned to Spain. Suddenly, at the age of twenty-seven, unseasoned and inexperienced, Jiménez was given command as captain-general. Leaving Santa Marta on 5 April 1536, his force of 670 Spaniards made the difficult journey up the Magdalena and Opón rivers before reaching the Eastern Cordillera near Vélez in March 1537. The trek had taken its toll; fewer than 200 had survived.

But then their luck changed. They had reached the Chibchas (Muisca), the largest group of Indians in Colombia. Jiménez and his group seized more than 200,000 pesos in gold and 1,815 large emeralds, distributed the Indians in encomienda, founded Santa Fé de Bogotá, and named the rich kingdom New Granada. The sudden appearance of Nicolás Féderman's and Sebastián de Belalcázar's expeditions endangered this success, but Jiménez negotiated astutely. Leaving his brother Hernán in command, Jiménez traveled to Spain with Féderman and Belalcázar. There, however, he faced a hostile and pro-Indian Council of the Indies that ordered his imprisonment. He fled to France, Portugal, and Italy before returning to Spain in 1545. In the interval, the civil war in Peru and chaos in New Granada led the council to reconsider his merits.

Although he was not allowed to govern, Jiménez did return to New Granada in 1551 as adelantado (governor), marshal, senior regidor (alderman) in the Bogotá cabildo, and chief spokesman for the fast-disappearing conquistadores. He wrote at least four or five works, one running to more than 500 folios, of which only El epítome (1547) and Antijovio (1567) survive. The latter is an ambitious and complex work whose importance is still being debated.

In 1560 Jiménez exchanged his 2,000-ducat annual salary for encomiendas of equal value and joined the encomendero class. However, great wealth escaped him. In 1569, at the age of sixty—some say seventy—hounded by debt and lawsuits, still mesmerized by the El Dorado legend, he organized and commanded a disastrous expedition into the llanos. Of 300 Spanish and 1,500 Indians, only 50 Spaniards and 30 Indians returned alive in 1572. Yet, at the request of the Bogotá audiencia, he was pacifying hostile Indians in the Central Cordillera near Mariquita in 1574. He died there in 1579, suffering from what was described as leprosy.

See alsoCouncil of the Indies; El Dorado; New Granada, United Provinces.


Germán Arciniegas, The Knight of El Dorado: The Tale of Don Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, trans. Mildred Adams (1942; repr. 1968).

Victor Frankl, "El Antijovio" de Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, y las concepciones de realidad y verdad en la época de la contrarreforma y del manierismo (1963).

Juan Friede, El Adelantado Don Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, 2 vols. (1979).

John Hemming, The Search for El Dorado (1978).

Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada Antijovio (1952).

Ramos Pérez, Ximénez de Quesada en su relación con los cronistas y el "Epítome de la conquista del Nuevo Reino de Granada" (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Avellaneda Navas, José Ignacio. La expedición de Gonzálo Jiménez de Quesada al mar del sur y la creación del Nuevo Reino de Granada. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1995.

                                 Maurice P. Brungardt

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Jiménez de Quesada, Gonzalo (1509–1579)

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