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canal at that point, and it began to be talked about. Knowledge of the project no sooner came to the King than he ordered the navigation of the river to be abandoned and the penalty of death to follow disobedience.
For two centuries after the death of Philip II the attitude of the Crown of Spain toward water communication between the two great oceans remained adverse. Discussion of the subject could not, however, be suppressed, and explorers in the Isthmian region could not fail to consider it in connection with the new surveys that were constantly being made. Any new light that may have been cast upon the question in this manner was promptly extinguished. All maps and documents bearing on the point which reached the mother country were jealously guarded from the public, and stowed away in vaults from which the majority of them never emerged.
During the reign of King Philip the activities of English privateers and pirates became a serious detriment to the commerce of Spain. Their attacks upon the vessels carrying treasure from the Isthmus at length led to the temporary abandonment of the Panama-Porto Bello traffic and the substitution of the route by way of Cape Horn. Only brief respite was gained by this measure, however. The free. booters promptly transferred the scene of their operations to the Straits of Magellan and beyond. Sir Francis Drake inflicted on the Spanish fleet in the South Sea a series of blows that practically destroyed it. For a short while a return was made to the Panama line of transit, but that of Nicaragua soon took its place. Little was gained by this change, for in the middle of the seventeenth century English adventurers began to lead raiding parties against the Spanish posts in Nicaragua, and before the end of the century trade in that region was destroyed.
In the meantime the diversion of the Spanish shipping from the lower Isthmus had laid the settlements there peculiarly open to attack. The opportunity thus afforded attracted the attention of Henry Morgan, the most daring and unprincipled buccaneer of his day. In 1671, encouraged by the success of an attack made a few years previous, he reduced Porto Bello and then marched across the isthmus and captured Panama. The city was sacked and burned to the ground. It was never rebuilt on the original site, and Spanish commerce at this point died at the hands of a brutal pirate.
The repeated success of the English in their attacks upon the Spaniards by land and at sea stimulated their aggression. Jamaica had been seized, and attempts were made at settlement in Nicaragua. Just before the close of the seventeenth century a Scotchman named William Paterson, the same who founded the Bank of England, launched an ambitious project, involving a colony in Darien and the ultimate establishment of a trade route between the oceans. The ill-fated enterprise, which was authorized by an act of the Scottish Parliament and sanctioned by King William of England, was known as the Darien Expedition. Three ships carried a party of colonists, numbering one thousand two hundred, from Leith to the New World. The site chosen for the settlement was near the old city of Aclas, where Balboa was executed, and the point from which he began his journey across the Isthmus. The approximity of the oceans in this locality was a decided advantage, but otherwise the situation was ill-chosen. The Indians in that section were implacably hostile to the whites, and have ever remained inimical. The location was very unhealthful and disease attacked the unfortunate colonists as soon as they landed. In eight months' time their number had been reduced to a few hundred, and this remnant of the expedition, which started out with such great promise, abandoned the colony and returned to Scotland. On the way they passed, without being aware of it, two ships bringing a reinforcement of emigrants. These landed at the deserted settlement under discouraging conditions, which rendered them even more ready prey to the climate than had been their predecessors. They were reduced in force and weakened by sickness when the Spaniards sent a military detachment to dislodge them. The settlers made a gallant resistance and repulsed this attack, but they had neither the strength nor the heart to repeat the effort when another body came against them shortly afterwards. They surrendered, and were allowed to embark in their vessels and sail for their native country. Thus the much vaunted Darien Expedition, which its promoter declared would make Great Britain the “ arbiter of the commercial world,” came to an end, with the loss of two thousand lives and much money.
During the century following Paterson's disastrous venture little was done towards promoting interoceanic communication and interest in the question of a ship canal seems to have waned. A royal commission, authorized by the Crown of Spain, surveyed the Nicaraguan route more thoroughly than had been done before. The report was decidedly unfavorable, but two British agents who had accompanied the expedition represented to their government that a waterway in that region was quite feasible, and that the undertaking would not be attended by extraordinary difficulties. This secret report no doubt influenced Great Britain, when war was declared against her by Spain in 1780, to send an invading force into that part of the Spanish possessions. Horatio Nelson, then a post captain, had charge of the naval operations in connection with this expedition. In a despatch from the scene he made the following statement, which betrays the purpose of his superiors and shows his own appreciation of the importance of a trans-Isthmian waterway: “ In order to give facility to the great object of government I intend to possess the Lake of Nicaragua, which, for the present, may be looked upon as the inland Gibraltar of Spanish America. As it commands the only water pass between the oceans, its situation must ever render it a principal post to insure passage to