Friday, April 27, 2007

This Day in History

April 27, 1521 : MAGELLAN KILLED IN THE PHILIPPINES. After traveling three-quarters of the way around the globe, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan is killed during a tribal skirmish in the Philippines. Earlier in the month, his ships had dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebu, and Magellan met with the local chief, who after converting to Christianity persuaded the Europeans to assist him in conquering a rival tribe on the neighboring island of Mactan. In the subsequent fighting, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.

In 1494, Portugal and Spain settled disputes over newly discovered lands by dividing the world into two spheres of influence. A line of demarcation was agreed to in the Atlantic Ocean--all new discoveries west of the line were to be Spanish, and all to the east Portuguese. Thus, South and Central America became dominated by the Spanish. Other Portuguese discoveries in the early 16th century, such as the Spice Islands of Indonesia--made the Spanish jealous. Magellan proposed sailing west, finding a strait through the Americas, and then continuing west to the Moluccas, which would prove that the Spice Islands lay west of the demarcation line and thus in the Spanish sphere. On September 20, 1519, Magellan and his crew set sail from Spain. Magellan sailed to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific. At the end of March 1520, the expedition set up winter quarter at Port St. Julian.

On October 21, he finally discovered the strait he had been seeking. The Strait of Magellan, as it became known, is located near the tip of South America. It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait. Magellan was the first European explorer to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic. His fleet accomplished the westward crossing of the ocean in 99 days, crossing waters so strangely calm that the ocean was named "Pacific," from the Latin word pacificus, meaning "tranquil." By the end, the men were out of food and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive. On March 16, 1521, the expedition reached the Philippines--they were only about 400 miles from the Spice Islands. After Magellan's death, the survivors sailed on to the Moluccas and loaded the hulls with spice. One ship attempted, unsuccessfully, to return across the Pacific. The other ship rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at Seville on September 9, 1522, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate the globe.