Historic Review of the Events and Persons Associated with the
Different Trans-Isthmian Crossings and Routes in Panama
from the Camino Real and Las Cruces Trail, the construction of
the Panama Railroad and the subsequent construction and
operation of the Panama Canal and the Trans-Isthmian Highway
Information Systems, Inc.
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When satellites took
the first photographs of tiny earth from space, the Isthmus of
Panama showed up as a slender thread connecting the North and
South American continents.
Unlike Michelangelo’s almost-but-not-quite touch
between God and Adam in the heavens of the Sistine Chapel,
Panama’s reach between the two continents was solid and
complete for three million years – until humans rendered it in
two with the construction of the Panama Canal.
They had dreamed about an all-water route between the
great seas for 400 years.
The land link between
the continents began as a slow, gradual rise from the ocean
bottom 20 million years ago.
When it finally formed a solid link between the
continents 17 million years later, it had emerged as an
influential focal point in world geography and natural history.
The rise of the isthmus changed the ecology of the
earth’s oceans, continents and climate.
The link also became an important player in human
By virtue of
Panama’s unique geography, a path across the link became key
to transcontinental travel and commerce.
First the Las Cruces Trail, then the Panama Railroad and
the Panama Canal provided the path and, in the process, shaped
five centuries of local, regional, national and international
article focuses on the events and the players that created these
unique pathways, from Fort San Lorenzo and Portobelo on the
Atlantic coast to Panama City on the Pacific shore.
We begin our story three million years ago in geological
Although today Panama
is best known for the Panama Canal, the waterway that links the
Atlantic and Pacific oceans for maritime trade, its first
important link was not as a path between two oceans.
It was as a path between two continents.
When the Isthmus of Panama rose from one great ocean
three million years ago, it connected the North and South
American landmasses and opened the way for a north/south
migration of plants and animals.
Giant anteaters and sloth and 12-foot-tall predatory
birds began moving northward.
Bears, early horses, deer, weasels, dogs, cats and mice
ventured south across the new link.
The isthmus also
blocked a once-immense ocean.
The west-moving equatorial current in the newly formed
Atlantic was forced to turn north, and it eventually developed
into the Gulf Stream. The
northward movement of that warm water triggered rain in northern
latitudes and the water froze and formed new glaciations and ice
ages in the far north; but the Gulf Stream also warmed western
The ocean on the
Pacific side grew cooler, its upwelling currents carrying rich
nutrients and developing abundant fishing grounds.
The Atlantic side grew warmer and nutrient poor; coral
reefs grew in the shallow Caribbean Sea. Marine species that had been separated turned in different
Eons later, humans
arrived from the north. East
Asian peoples crossed the Siberian Peninsula land bridge into
what is now Alaska and made their way south across the North
American Continent toward warmer climates.
Bands of hunters and gatherers arrived in Panama at least
12,000 years ago. A
myriad of separate culture groups developed all over the
isthmus, from the lowland rainforest at the easternmost point to
the highlands at the western end.
Some estimates put Panama’s indigenous population at
the time of European contact at 2 million, just slightly less
than Panama’s modern-day population of 2.8 million in the year
Before the time of
European contact (1500), hierarchical chiefdoms with agriculture
and highly developed art forms had developed in Panama’s
western sector. Their
artisan skills in the highly complex craft of making solid gold
figurines, called huacas, created a demand for Panamanian
art, and the huaca trade reached as far north as the
Mayan culture in Mexico and south into Colombia.
But Panama’s fame
for gold eventually brought downfall for its native residents,
as was true for all New World people who revealed golden
treasures to the Spanish Conquistadors who arrived on their
shores in the 1500s. Gold
drove Spaniards mad with desire;
it drove them right into the heart of Panama and up and
down the length and breadth of Latin America.
Beginning with their arrival, Panama was transformed into
an important link between the two oceans.
The new discovery immediately attracted merchants and
middlemen, experts in extracting their share of the riches that
passed through on their way to other destinations.
The importance of gold
continued to dominate the course of Panama’s history for three
centuries of Spanish rule.
After a brief lull in
activity in Panama, the discovery of gold nuggets in California
in 1848 triggered a rush of people seeking the fastest route
from the east coast of the United States to San Francisco.
Because there was no railroad transportation built across
the United States at that time, many traveled by sea on a route
that required a land-trek across Panama.
The Gold Rush brought thousands of prospectors to Panama,
and the sudden activity brought the Las Cruces Trail and the new
Panama Railroad into the limelight again.
Activities in the 20th
century created a new kind of gold for Panama: an all-water
passage between two oceans.
In the 1500s, explorers had confirmed there was no
all-water westward passage to the Orient; in the 1900s,
industrialists built their own.
The Panama Canal gave the isthmus renewed importance for
maritime commerce and opportunities for the merchants and
middlemen to take advantage of its return to a prominent role in
Throughout the past
five centuries, Panama’s mighty Chagres River played an
important role in the system of trails leading across the
isthmus. From the
Caribbean Sea, the mighty river provided a water route halfway
across, where the Las Cruces Trail continued on land to Panama
City. In the
twentieth century it would provide water for the Panama Canal.
In the sixteenth century, the Spanish recognizing the
strategic importance of the river and built the Castle of San
Lorenzo to guard its entrance.
For almost 300 years the fort remained a symbol of
Spanish control over access to Latin America, and the history of
its rise and fall provides a barometer for the general state of
Spanish dominance in the region.
The discovery of
Panama in 1500 may have changed the significance of the narrow
isthmus, but not its importance.
Its geographical heritage meant that the monarchy that
controlled a path across Panama could dominate the New World.
The Spaniard Rodrigo
de Bastides was the first European to visit the coast of Panama.
He arrived in 1500 by sailing up the Atlantic coast of
South America to what is now called the Darien, which even today
forms a formidable barrier between Panama and Colombia.
On board his ship were two men who would later make
history in their own right, the ship’s chandler, Amerigo
Vespucci (from whom the word “America” evolved), and an
adventurer named Vasco Núñez de Balboa (who would become the
first European to see the Pacific Ocean).
However, the group set sail for Hispaniola, (the island
that today hosts Haiti and the Dominican Republic) before they
reached the Chagres River and the narrow portion of the isthmus.
In October 1502,
Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) and his men were
the first Europeans to see the Chagres River during Columbus’s
fourth and last voyage to the New World.
Columbus was still searching for an ocean passage to the
Orient, working his way south in four caravels along the
Caribbean coast of Costa Rica toward the coordinates that
Bastides had mapped. After
stopping in Bocas del Toro near the border between what is now
Panama and Costa Rica, he proceeded east until reaching a great
river. Seeing a
large number of crocodiles on its banks, Columbus named the
waterway River of Crocodiles.
Later it became known as the Chagres.
accounts of a hill where he could look out to another sea,
Columbus started up the Chagres in longboats, but turned back
after realizing the journey would take him too far from the
safety of his ships. He
explored what is now called Limón Bay, thinking it was perhaps
a strait leading to the Indian Ocean.
He left disappointed, never to know that the bay would
someday become the northern entrance to the Panama Canal.
Eventually, the ships
arrived at an excellent harbor where natives maintained
productive gardens along the banks of a river there.
Columbus and his men stayed a week in this place to
shelter from a storm, and named it Porto Bello (Beautiful Port,
now called Portobelo). Traveling
farther east, they reached the same coordinates charted by
Bastides and realized there was to be no Westward Passage for
their ships. Disappointed,
they named the point of land near the coordinates “Nombre de
Dios” (Name of God). Six
later, the place would have the distinction of becoming one of
the two earliest permanent Spanish settlements on the mainland.
After fighting a storm
for nine days, Columbus re-entered Limón Bay and stopped at
Manzanillo Island. He
looked for a site to establish a settlement on Tierra Firme in
order to solidify his legal claim on the land.
(By order of the Crown, he was entitled to the
viceroyalty of all lands that he charted as well as a tenth of
all the revenue produced by them.)
But Manzanillo Island was too low lying and infested with
insects and crocodiles. Columbus
rejected it. Ironically,
400 years later the island would become the site for two cities,
aptly named Cristobal and Colon, that formed the Caribbean
terminus for the first trans-continental railroad in the
Americas and, subsequently, for the Panama Canal.
But Columbus sought a healthier site and made his way
westward along the Caribbean coast toward Bocas del Toro.
Reaching a grand
river, they chose a settlement site and christened the site.
The first attempt to establish a settlement on the
Americas mainland endured only four months, for hostile Indians
and the lack of food were reason enough for the men to abandon
the settlement and return to Hispaniola.
Columbus died in 1506,
soon after leaving Panama.
His son Diego inherited claims to vast amounts of newly
discovered lands in the New World, claims that hindered King
Ferdinand’s desire to control them.
In a clever maneuver to take the mainland away from
Diego’s jurisdiction, the king awarded Diego the viceroyalty
of Hispaniola in 1508 in exchange for his relinquishing control
over the mainland. The
king divided the newly discovered continent in half, with the
dividing line going right through Panama’s Darien province at
the Gulf of Urubá. He
appointed Alonso De Ojeda ruler of everything south of the line
and Diego de Nicuesa master of everything north.
Included in their jurisdiction were the lands and all
native inhabitants, who instantly had the status of “slave”
bestowed upon them.
Just ten years after
proving the earth was round and discovering the New World, Spain
had claimed the entire – but only partially mapped –
American Continent and placed it under the jurisdiction
of just two men. Europeans
had not even discovered the Pacific Ocean at this time.
By some fluke of luck, Spain chose to establish the first
New World mainland settlements in Panama – ostensibly for the
abundance of gold they believed existed there. Their luck would bring them control over Panama’s
geographic advantage: of the entire continent, Panama was the
narrowest strip of land separating the Pacific and Atlantic
oceans. But by
another, more sinister fluke of luck, the location was also one
of the most disease ridden.
Diego de Nicuesa was
named lord of everything north of the dividing line to include
all of Central and North America (still undiscovered).
Nicuesa chose Portobelo as the first settlement site, but
hostile Indians forced his group to flee.
They headed east to their second choice, Nombre de Dios.
Alonso de Ojeda sent
an envoy, Martín Fernández de Enciso, with a group to settle
Santa María de la Antigua, far down the Darien coast toward
what is now Colombia. Accompanying
Enciso was the young Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, who had seen this
coast before with Bastides.
Balboa had stowed away on one of Enciso’s ships in
order to escape his debtors on Hispaniola.
He joined the settlers at Antigua.
In two years, Balboa
emerged as the leader of the new settlement.
He rallied the group to defend themselves against Indian
attacks and succeeded in establishing friendly relations with
some of the neighboring groups.
Enciso was jealous of Balboa’s natural leadership
skills and spread malicious gossip about Balboa during a trip to
Spain. Understanding what Enciso was up to but left at a
disadvantage in Antigua, Balboa reacted by sending gold that he
had collected from the natives to Diego Colon on Hispaniola.
Colon reacted with goodwill, and approval of Balboa as a
leader. Balboa also
wisely dispatched a ship carrying the king’s royal share of
gold directly to Spain in order to improve his reputation.
As a leader,
Balboa’s policy was to deal fairly but firmly with the
history of Latin America might have been different if he had
remained in charge, for these were the formative years before
the discoveries of Central and South America.
Balboa established good relations with the Indians, but
also collected all the gold he could find.
When the starving and feverish men at Ojeda’s
settlement abandoned Nombre de Dios, Balboa helped them
establish a new settlement at nearby Acla.
After hearing many
tales of a great ocean on the other side of the mountains from
the Indians, Balboa finally embarked on his historic expedition
across the isthmus on September 1, 1513. On September 24th, his Indian guides led the group
to a mountain lookout along the Continental Divide. Balboa walked alone to the summit and became the first
European to see the Pacific Ocean.
Five days later, the expedition reached the Pacific
shore. Wading into the salt water, Balboa claimed all the seas and
lands, coasts, ports and islands there and to the west in the
name of King Ferdinand. Unknowingly,
he had just claimed most of the world for Spain, including all
of the Americas and Asia,
For four months Balboa
explored the new coast. The
expedition returned to Antigua on January 19, 1514, with a
treasure of pearls from the coast and a respectable sum of gold.
Elated, Balboa immediately dispatched samples of the
treasures to King Ferdinand with the great news of the Pacific
However, Balboa was
not destined to reap the benefits he had worked so hard to earn.
Burning to find a Westward Passage, King Ferdinand had
appointed Pedro Arias de Avila (more commonly known as Pedrarias)
the new governor of the isthmus and provided him with 1,500 men
to continue the search.
arrived in Spain just a few days after Pedrarias set sail.
It was too late for Ferdinand to cancel the expedition,
and the bloody future of Latin America began with Pedrarias’s
arrival at Acla.
realized the residents had chosen Balboa as their leader by
popular vote. Seeking
to gain Balboa’s allegiance, Pedrarias offered his eldest
daughter (then living in Spain) in marriage.
father-in-law kept Balboa busy by sending him across the isthmus
to build ships and explore the new coast.
Meanwhile, word arrived from King Ferdinand rewarding
Balboa with the titles of Admiral of the South Sea for Life and
Governor of the Pacific Shores of Castilla
del Oro (“Castle of Gold,” the Spanish name for the
isthmus at that time).
Fearing that these
appointments were encouraging Balboa to be too powerful and
independent, Pedrarias made trumped-up accusations of treason
against Balboa and sent Francisco Pizarro (the future conquerer
of Peru) to arrest Balboa and his supporters.
Balboa, trusting in his personal view of a just world,
accepted his arrest with the conviction that a face-to-face
conversation with Pedrarias would clear up any misunderstanding.
But the entire group, including Balboa, was found guilty.
All were beheaded on January 17, 1517.
History almost took a
different turn at this point, with King Ferdinand’s death
occurring shortly before Balboa’s demise.
Ferdinand’s young son, Charles I of Spain, (also called
Carlos V) replaced Pedrarias with a new governor, Lope de
Sosa. Scrambling to
strengthen his own seat of power before Sosa arrived to kick him
out, Pedrarias sent a soldier named Gaspar de Espinosa to build
a royal road, the Camino Real, across the isthmus.
Espinosa took 4,000 Indian slaves and, starting from
Nombre de Dios, hauled river cobbles to pave the road.
The trail intersected with a trail coming from Portobelo,
continued southwest along the eastern bank of the Pequeñi
River, crossed the Chagres at Venta de Cruces, and turned south
to climb over the Continental Divide.
It descended onto the Pacific shore to a fishing village
called “Panama” by the local fishermen.
Despite his cruel
nature, Pedrarias seemed to be blessed with good fortune.
His replacement, Governor Lope de Sosa died on the trip
to Panama. Pedrarias would remain governor for twelve more years.
With the elimination of Balboa’s fair-minded but firm
conquest methods, Pedrarias was free to proliferate his brutal
ways of treachery and torture of the Indians.
These activities set
the stage for the entire Spanish conquest of Latin America,
including Peru and Mexico. Memoirs written by the historian Oviedo y Valdes, who
traveled the New World during that time, estimated that
Pedrarias caused the death or enslavement of some two million
people. (Howarth, 53) The Spanish spent the decade (1520-1530) exploring the
Pacific coast. Many
conquistadors lived in Panama before leading expeditions to
their destiny and fame.
Balboa had named the
northern area’s provincial department “Chagre,” after a
district in Spain. The
name was soon applied to the River of Crocodiles as well,
becoming the River “Chagres.”
By August 1519, a road at least three feet wide stretched
from Nombre de Dios and Portobelo to the Pacific coast.
On August 15, 1519,
Pedrarias rode his horse across the isthmus on the new road and
officially established Panama City.
He named the loyal Gaspar de Espinosa governor of Panama
City and returned to the Atlantic coast.
These acts marked the beginning of European commerce
across the isthmus.
Some history books
(Anderson, 213) claim it was fortunate coincidence that the
first permanent settlements on the isthmus (Portobelo and Panama
City) were located at the narrowest part and in an almost
directly north-south path crossing one of the easiest
Continental Divide passes.
But the first discoverers of the American Continent,
migrant hunters and gatherers from the Siberian Peninsula, had
occupied these lands for at least 15,000 years before the
Europeans’ arrival. Certainly
the Indians had ample time to identify the best and shortest
trails in their areas. They
graciously shared this information with the Spanish as they led
them on their expeditions.
absolutely amazing is that the early Spanish explorers, without
any idea of how huge the New World land mass actually was,
established the first mainland settlements on the very thread
that connected North and South America.
Santa María la Antigua, Nombre de Dios, Acla and
Portobelo – the first four settlements were all located on
what would later become the Republic of Panama.
They were also located on one of the rainiest and most
Under Pedrarias, Gil
González Davila, the treasurer of Hispaniola, mounted an
expedition north along the Pacific shore as far as Lake
that Pedrarias was plotting to kill him and claim Nicaragua for
himself, Davila quietly left for Hispaniola instead of returning
to Panama. Pedrarias
went on to become governor of Nicaragua in 1529.
Ponce de Leon and
Hernan de Soto had a lucrative contract to deliver slaves to the
isthmus. Later, de
Leon later was the first Spaniard to explore Florida, and de
Soto explored the Mississippi River.
Francisco Pizarro, the
conqueror of Peru, mounted three expeditions from Panama.
On November 14, 1524, Pizarro set sail in one of the
boats that Balboa had built to explore the southern Pacific
coast. Thus Pizarro
instead of Balboa, discovered the Incan Empire.
On his third voyage in 1531, Pizarro succeeded in
conquering the Incas and gaining access to Peru’s rich gold
and silver mines.
immediately began stripping Peru of all its gold and silver.
The vast silver mines of Peru would provide an enormous
amount of treasure for the next 100 years.
Panama was transformed into a conduit for all goods
traveling between Spain and Peru, and the Camino Real trail
system was the only way to cross the isthmus. The gold route to Spain began in Lima, with ships carrying
the treasures to Panama City.
Then the precious metal crossed by mule on Pedrarias’s
road and was registered and cleared in Portobelo for the trip to
This enormous influx
of wealth into Spain helped finance the ongoing Spanish
Inquisition, the Spanish Armada and King Charles’s domination
of Europe (until his abdication in 1556). It also created an extremely wealthy merchant and bureaucrat
class in Panama. Silks,
pearls and spices began arriving on Spanish ships returning from
exploring the western Pacific.
Panama established itself as the middleman for all
maritime trade going to and from the Pacific, supported by the
king’s monopoly on all ships landing in Panama.
Its geographical position, development of the Camino Real
and Spain’s domination of the seas gave Panama a monopoly on
east-west trade. Panama’s
special status also made it a target for thieves, pirates and
Along the Camino Real,
way stations sprang up for the weary traveler.
The most important one was at Venta de Cruces, where the
trail from Panama City crossed the mighty Chagres River.
But during the wet season, from April to December, the
road was muddy and slow. A
new route that included travel along the Chagres River was
This route allowed
boats to enter the Chagres from the Caribbean and follow it
almost halfway across the Isthmus to a landing at Las Cruces,
where goods could continue by mule on the road to Panama City.
Most merchandise followed this combined sea-land route,
but precious metal was seldom sent by river because the short
coastal leg from the Chagres to Portobelo was too exposed to
Because of the danger
of piracy, all the gold, silver, pearls and jewels from Peru,
Bolivia and the Pacific were held in the king’s treasury house
in Panama City or at either Las Cruces or Venta de Cruces until
January, when drier weather allowed easier mule-train passage.
The expedition began after confirmation that the Spanish
caravels had arrived in Cartagena (Colombia) and would soon
appear in Portobelo. The
caravels unloaded manufactured goods, such as furniture and
European foods, and took on the treasures headed for Spain.
Much to the
frustration of the Dutch and English sea traders, Spain enforced
a strict monopoly on ships landing in Portobelo.
The Spanish monarchy sent only its own ships and
collected high taxes on every imported item sold in the streets
of Portobelo. Since
the trade fair was held only once a year, the wealthy citizens
of Panama City were desperate and paid high prices for the
European goods they missed. But they also realized they only had to be in Portobelo for
the fair. They
abandoned the fever-ridden cities of Portobelo and Nombre de
Dios for Panama City, returned once a year for the trade fair.
The Spanish kings
welcomed the arrival of new riches from the New World, but there
was so much gold and silver that it actually disrupted the
European economy and devalued the price of gold. It is estimated that 200,000 tons of silver crossed the
isthmus between 1545 and 1600.
Free spending and devaluation caused the Spanish monarchy
to go bankrupt three times during this time period. (Howarth,
By the 1560’s Panama
had a large merchant population supported by slave labor.
All native peoples of the New World were considered the
property of their Spanish conquerors.
European diseases – such as smallpox – that New World
peoples had never seen and had no natural resistance to, ravaged
their populations. The
Spanish began importing African slaves, who proved to have
natural resistance to malaria and other diseases.
The Africans took every opportunity to escape, however,
and small groups soon banded together in hidden jungle
took their revenge on the Europeans by hiding along the Camino
de Cruces trail system (the Camino Real and the Las Cruces
Trail) and attacking unfortunate travelers and mule trains.
They also allied with pirates who were hungry for a share
of the treasure.
Spain’s good fortune
fostered piracy, some of it sanctioned by England’s royal
court. In 1572 a
young rogue pirate named Francis Drake sailed from Plymouth,
England, with his two brothers and only 70 crew.
They landed along the Darien coast on July 12 that same
year. They attacked
and overcame Nombre de Dios, finding huge piles of silver bars
stacked 12 feet high in storage.
But Drake had been wounded and his men insisted on
leaving the silver and retreating in order to save their leader.
(Anderson, 346; Minter, 128; Howarth, 65)
Drake befriended the Cimarrones, who informed him that no
Spanish gold would cross the isthmus until the rains abated in
decided to wait and attack the mule trains.
To pass the time, the pirates manned two small ships and
began harassing Spanish ships sailing between Cartagena
(Colombia) and Panama. During
this time, Drake gained the reputation of a “gentleman”
pirate because he only stole supplies and cargo and never sank a
ship or executed its crew.
As a result, his victims surrendered almost as soon as
Drake’s ships overtook them instead of risking being wounded
or killed in a fight.
Drake’s skill as an
excellent sailor and navigator gave him much success at sea, but
his skills for land-based attacks were plagued by bad luck,
despite all of his careful planning.
As January approached, the Cimarrones led Drake and his
crew across the isthmus by blazing their own trail.
They kept the group from starving by hunting wild game
and collecting fruit. They
marched to within sight of Panama City, where the pirates were
awestruck upon seeing the legendary city and the Pacific Ocean.
They sent a spy into the city and soon discovered that
the treasurer of Lima (Peru), was in town and planned to cross
the isthmus with a mule train carrying his personal fortune that
very night. The
group retreated to Venta de Cruces to plan their ambush. There they hid along the trail, waiting until they heard the
tinkling bells of the mule train approaching.
Unfortunately, some of
the corsairs passed the waiting time by drinking liquor.
As fate would have it, a lone rider passed the group
first, riding toward Panama City.
Also as fate would have it, one inebriated pirate raised
his head to be the first to spy the treasure.
The rider spotted him but rode on and was able to warn
the treasurer and his entourage, who hurriedly turned back
toward Panama City. However,
a mule train carrying their food continued on toward the
The pirates gleefully
seized the group, but were crestfallen to discover absolutely no
treasure. The Cimarrones were more than glad to take the food, as for
them it was a greater treasure than gold.
With only 31 men left
alive, Drake returned to the Atlantic coast, where he met and
allied with a French pirate named Captain Tetu and 19 of his
men. They planned
another attack on the trail, this time against three mule trains
laden with silver and gold.
With the Cimarrones’s help, they captured about 200
mules carrying almost 30 tons of silver and a quantity of gold
near Nombre de Dios. There
was no way to carry it all, so they began burying the silver.
But the delay gave time for an armed group from Nombre de
Dios to arrive and send them running. Captain Tetu lost his life during the retreat.
A captured Frenchman revealed the buried silver’s
hiding place, and the Spanish set about digging it up.
Meanwhile, the unlucky Drake retreated to the coast, only
to find that his ships had disappeared.
Undaunted, he and three others constructed a log raft
and, using biscuit sacks for a sail, set out to find the boats.
Through sheer tenacity, they finally located them in
Disappointed in the
loss of men and with very little booty to show for their
efforts, some of Drake’s crew risked capture by returning to
the ambush site and digging up a small amount of overlooked
silver and gold. They
ended up with a reported 130,000 pesos, an immense sum of
treasure that they divided 50-50 with the remaining French
corsairs and at last set out for their homeport in Plymouth,
Drake went on to
distinguish himself by being the first Englishman to
circumnavigate the globe (in the ship, the Golden Hind) and then by participating in the defeat the Spanish
Armada. He became
an admiral and was knighted, but seemingly that was not enough.
Panama City’s legendary riches still called to him.
Drake was over 50 years old in 1595 when he set sail once
more for Panama with an immense army – 27 ships and 2,500 men
– to fulfill his dream. But
Drake had lost his fire, and attacks on both Nombre de Dios and
along the Camino de Cruces failed.
Disappointed at their defeat, his ships had just set sail
for Nicaragua when Drake fell ill with fever.
When his conditioned worsened, they returned to the
harbor at Portobelo, where Drake died.
Legend has it that he was buried at sea just outside the
However, as a result
of Drake’s attacks, in 1597 King Philip II ordered the
installations at Nombre de Dios moved to Portobelo, the building
of a fort at Portobelo and reinforcement of fortifications at
the mouth of the Chagres River.
The results were the San Felipe Castle in Portobelo and
Castle San Lorenzo at Chagres.