Juan de Cartagena's Mutiny

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Juan Cartagena’s Mutiny was a failed mutiny led by Juan de Cartagena, a Spanish accountant and one of the captains of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet to find a western route to the East Indies to reach the Moluccas or Spice Islands. After having controlled three of the fleet’s five ships with the help of other two captains, Cartagena was eventually subdued by Magellan’s crew. As punishment, he was marooned on a remote island in South America, never to be seen again.

First Signs of Discontent

After a sodomy trial that led to the execution of an Italian boatswain and a suicide of a cabin boy, Magellan's captains challenged his leadership. One of whom was Captain Cartagena, the commander of San Antonio who accused Magellan of risking their ships by his poor naval decision. He had the fiercest hatred towards Magellan and was jealous of him, a Portuguese, for earning the King of Spain his trust. When Cartagena declared that he would no longer follow Magellan's command, Magellan commanded his men to enter the room and arrest Cartagena. Magellan called Cartagena a "rebel" and branded his behavior as mutinous. Cartagena called on the other two Spanish captains (Gaspar de Quesada and Luis de Mendoza) to attack Magellan, but they held back. At the urging of Quesada and Mendoza, Magellan merely relieved Cartagena of his command of the San Antonio, instead of trying him for mutiny and sentencing him to death. Antonio de Coca replaced Cartagena as captain of the San Antonio.

The Mutiny

After having taken a long rest from his Atlantic voyage and provided the ships with necessities, Magellan set sail and skirted the South American coast until they found a wide inlet which was now called the River de la Plata on 11 January. The ships anchored in the river mouth and landed upon an unfamiliar coast, encountering savages and cannibals. On 3 February, the fleet continued and tried to sail as close to the coast as feasible so as not to miss the strait, risking the ships to run aground on shoals or get stuck on reefs. Aside from the danger of shallow waters, the fleet encountered storms and freezing temperatures as winter started to set in. By the third week of March, weather conditions had become so desperate that Magellan decided they should find a safe harbor in which to wait out the winter and resume the search for a passage in spring. On 31 March they found a natural harbor which they called Port St. Julian.  

Immediately after landing on St. Julian, another mutiny occurred, led again by Cartagena, who was now able to get the other two Spanish captains, Quesada and Mendoza, to his side.  The Castilian captains were convinced about Magellan's poor leadership, accusing him of recklessly endangering the fleet's crew and ships.

On 1 April 1520, Cartagena, with the aide of Quesada was able to seize San Antonio, but Magellan got wind of what they did. The next morning, Magellan sent a boat to the two revolted ships and demanded that they should be beached and careened. The boat stayed alongside the San Antonio and pointed guns at its sailors. However, San Antonio’s lieutenant said that they would only take commands from the true admiral of the fleet, that was Cartagena.

As soon as Magellan knew that there was an open mutiny against him, he ordered his chief constable Ambrosio Fernandes to take the necessary measures to repress it. Six well-armed, stalwart men accompanied him to Mendoza's ship Victoria. Fernandes leaped upon the deck and grasped Mendoza tightly in his arms and arrested him. The former’s companions rushed upon the deck, drew their swords, and fell upon those who showed signs of resisting them. Soon, several corpses laid on the deck and the brave fellows were in complete possession of the ship.

Magellan observed how Fernandes killed the traitor Mendoza and ordered the Trinidad to drop down alongside the Victoria. As on as Magellan was on board, he commanded six of the chief offenders to be brought out and hung at yard-arms. Mendoza's body was hoisted by the feet on one of the masts for it to be seen by the crews of other ships.

The chief conspirator Cartagena held out on the San Antonio. As Magellan suspected Cartagena’s force to be too strong for him, he commanded a sailor to pretend as a fugitive to be taken on San Antonio’s board. The sailor was successful on his task and when night came, he cut the cables so that the San Antonio be drifted directly down upon the Victoria. Magellan leaped on board with his men as soon as the ship floated alongside and fiercely attacked Cartagena and the mutineers.

Ending the Mutiny

The ship Concepción, which remained in rebellion, surrendered on 3 April 1520 without a struggle upon seeing the others in the hands of Magellan. Magellan demanded that his prisoners especially the mutiny leaders to be treated with the greatest severity. Quesada was beheaded on 7 April. Cartagena and another conspirator priest Pedro Sanchez de Reina were sentenced to be marooned. On 11 August, the two were taken to a small island off the Patagonian coast and given a small supply of biscuits and drinking water. They were neither seen nor heard of again.

The rest of the mutineers were kept in irons expect at times when their services were needed. Magellan soon released the misguided sailors who had been led into crime by their captains and told them to explore the coast southward and see if they could not espy the ocean on the other side. The mutineers, who were glad to recover their liberty, readily obeyed his orders and returned after several days to tell Magellan that they were not able to make the desired discovery.


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