Chronicles of America 

Biography of Martín Alonso Pinzón

Spanish navigator and companion of Columbus on his first voyage to the New World, b. at Palos de Moguer, 1441; d. there at the convent of La Rábida, 1493. Sprung from a family of seamen, he became a hardy sailor and skilful pilot. According to Parkman and other historians, he sailed under Cousin, a navigator from Dieppe, to the eastern coast of Africa, whence they were carried far to the south-west. They there discovered an unknown land and a mighty river. Pinzón's conduct on this voyage was so mutinous that Cousin entered a complaint to the admiralty on their return home, and had him dismissed from the maritime service of Dieppe. Returning to Spain Pinzón became acquainted with Columbus through Fray Juan Perez de Marchina, prior of the convent of La Rábida, and became an enthusiastic promoter of the scheme of the great navigator. Other historians account differently for the origin of Pinzón's interest in Columbus's project. According to these, he heard of the scheme several years after he had retired from active life as a sailor, and established with his brothers a shipbuilding firm in his native town. During a visit to Rome he learned from the Holy Office of the tithes which had been paid from the beginning of the fifteenth century from a country named Vinland, and examined the charts of the Norman explorers. On his return home he supported the claims of Columbus, when his opinion was sought by Queen Isabella's advisers concerning the proposed voyage. It was he who paid the one-eighth of the expense demanded from Columbus as his share, and built the three vessels for the voyage. Through his influence also Columbus secured the crews for the transatlantic journey. Pinzón commanded the "Pinta", and his brother Vicente Yañez the "Niña". On 21 November, 1492, he deserted Columbus off Cuba, hoping to be the first to discover the imaginary island of Osabeque. He was the first to discover Haiti (Hispaniola), and the river where he landed (now the Porto Caballo) was long called after him the River of Martin Alonso. He carried off thence four men and two girls, intending to steal them as slaves, but he was compelled to restore them to their homes by Columbus, whom he rejoined on the coast of Haiti on 6 January, 1493. It was during this absence that the flagship was driven ashore, and Columbus compelled to take to the "Niña". In excuse for his conduct, Pinzón afterwards alleged stress of weather. Off the coast of the Azores he again deserted, and set sail with all speed for Spain, hoping to be the first to communicate the news of the discovery. Driven by a hurricane into the port of Bayonne in Galicia, he sent a letter to the king asking for an audience. The monarch refusing to receive anyone but the admiral, Pinzón sailed for Palos, which he reached on the same day as Columbus (15 March, 1493). Setting out immediately for Madrid to make a fresh attempt to see the king, he was met by a messenger who forbade him to appear at court. Anger and jealousy, added to the privations of the voyage, undermined his health, and led to his death a few months later.

Source: Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913

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