Ursúa, Pedro De (c. 1516–1561)

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Ursúa, Pedro De (c. 1516–1561)

Pedro De Ursúa (b. ca. 1511–1516; d. 1 January 1561), leader of the search for El Dorado, the "Land of Cinnamon." Born in Navarre, Spain, Ursúa reached Cartagena de Indias on Colombia's coast in 1545. He served as administrator and military leader, pacified the Chitarero and Muso Indians, and founded the cities of Pamplona and Tudela. As justicia mayor (municipal deputy) of Santa Marta in the early 1550s, he brought the Tairona Indians under Spanish domination. Subsequently he undertook the task of subduing runaway slaves on the Isthmus of Panama and succeeded in capturing "King" Bayamo, thus ending a threat to intercolonial trade.

The Peruvian viceroy Andrés Hurtado De Mendoza, marqués de Cañete, authorized Ursúa's search for El Dorado, reputed to be in the upper Amazon basin. Ursúa collected about 370 Europeans, from 20 to 30 blacks, and from 600 to 2,000 Indian auxiliaries from several Andean cities in February 1559. They constructed several brigantines, flatboats, rafts, and canoes on the upper Huallaga River, setting forth in September 1560. Pedro de Ursúa faced discontent from the start: some were bothered by the presence of his mestiza mistress, Inés de Atienza; others chafed at the hard work and difficult conditions en route downriver. Lope de Aguirre was at the head of the mutinous group that assassinated Ursúa as he rested in his hammock near the juncture of the Putumayo and Amazon rivers.

The tale of Aguirre's bloody descent to the Atlantic is one of the most tragic in the era of discovery. Over a hundred of his fellow explorers were killed as Aguirre rebelled against all authority, save that of the sword. Survivors sailed out of the Amazon northwestwardly to the island of Margarita, then headed back toward Peru. Aguirre was finally surrounded by a group of royalists in Venezuela and killed on 27 October 1561.

See alsoAguirre, Lope de; El Dorado.


José Antonio Del Busto Duthurburu, La pacificación del Perú (1984), pp. 142-154.

John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians (1978), pp. 195-197.

Additional Bibliography

Amate Blanco, Juan José. "Ursúa en 'El Dorado': 'El Dorado,' movíl o pretexto para la expedición de Ursúa?" Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 547 (Jan. 1996): 111-118.

Minta, Stephen. Aguirre: The Re-Creation of a Sixteenth-Century Journey Across South America. New York: H. Holt, 1994.

                                   Noble David Cook