Nicholas Federmann

Birth: 1501


Nicholas Federmann (1501-1550) was a German traveller, b. in Ulm, Swabia, in 1501; d. in Vienna, Austria, in 1550. He early started on a military career, and was engaged in the service of the Welsers, wealthy merchants of Augsburg, to whom Charles V. had granted the province of Venezuela in payment of the sums they had lent him. They were to conquer the country at their own expense, enlist Spanish troops, fit out four vessels, build two cities and three forts within two years after they took possession, and send out 150 German miners.

Federmann was appointed captain of one of the companies of the Spanish soldiers, and, accompanied by the miners, embarked at San Lucar de Barrameda, 2 Oct., 1529. His ship was driven on one of the Canary Islands, and afterward attacked by pirates, who made him prisoner; but after paying a heavy ransom was released again, set sail, and reached Santo Domingo in 1530. He then went to Coro, where he was left in order to acclimate the troops, and received the title of captain-general lieutenant. Having many soldiers for whom he could find no employment, he determined to make a journey into the interior or along the southern coast.

"My preparations being complete," he says, "on the 12th of September I set out with a hundred men on foot and sixteen on horseback, accompanied by a hundred Indians, who carried our provisions and all that was necessary for our subsistence or defence."

It is difficult to determine the point that Federmann and his companions reached, or to identify the tribes through which they passed. It is conjectured that they travelled southwesterly as far as the lesser chains of the Andes, a distance of 500 miles. In some cases the Indians defended themselves fiercely. Federmann lost several of his men, and was seriously wounded. These checks were cruelly avenged on the unfortunate Indians. The Spaniards then turned toward the coast, following it to Coro, which they reached on 17 March, 1531.

Here Federmann was detained by a fever until 9 Dec., when he sailed for Santo Domingo and thence to Spain. He reached Seville on 10 Jan., 1532. After an audience with the emperor he returned to Augsburg, where he wrote a narrative of his travels. Ambrosius Alfinger, captain-general of Venezuela, under whom he had served, having died, Federmann at once sought the emperor and asked for the vacant post. This appointment he received, but soon after it was revoked at the request of the Welsers, and the office given to Georges de Spire.

He determined, however, to return to Venezuela, and, accepting the office of lieutenant under the governor, he reached Coro 22 Dec., 1534, with Spire and 160 soldiers. They were first to attempt discoveries toward the south, and the troops, who were divided into two bodies under the respective commands of the two German officers, were to meet in the neighborhood of Barquisimeto. While Georges de Spire went eastward, Federmann journeyed to the west, with his mind well made up never to rejoin his associate, but to go on a voyage of discovery on his responsibility.

Keeping always to the west, and in a continual struggle with the Indians, he overcame prodigious obstacles on his route, which are well depicted in the pages of the Spanish historians, Piedrahita and Castellanos. Finally he arrived in New Granada, and had the good fortune to reach the plateau of Bogotá at the very time that Quesada and Sebastian de Benalcazar appeared there at the head of their troops. One had got there by following the course of the Magdalena river, the other had come through Ecuador. The meeting was by no means a gratifying one to the three chiefs, and heated discussions followed as to which of the three conquerors this rich province should belong.

It was finally decided to take the question to Spain to be decided by Charles V. Federmann left with regret a region rich in precious metals, and almost as advanced in civilization as Mexico or Peru, to present himself at the court of Charles V., 1538. He now received the reward of his insubordination; the Welsers, indignant at his treatment of Georges de Spire, threatened him with a ruinous lawsuit, which, however, they were induced to discontinue. The bold captain could not face his misfortunes, which he considered the result of sheer injustice, and the courageous spirit, which had dared without flinching all the dangers of the New World, was quelled by grief and mortification.

His work, which he left with his brother-in-law, John Kielhaber, a burgess of Ulm, when he set out on his last trip, was published in German. The title, translated, is "Fine and agreeable narrative of the first voyage of Nicholas Federmann, the younger, of Ulm, to the Indias of the Ocean sea, of all that happened to him in this country up to his return to Spain, written with brevity, and diverting to read" (Haguenau, 1557). This book gives curious details concerning the Indians, their manners, and the means adopted to subdue them. The author expresses himself with a simplicity that wins confidence. A French translation was inserted in Ternaux-Compans', entitled "Voyages, relations et memoires originaux pour servir a l'histoire de la decouverte de l'Amerique, publies pour la premiere fois en francais" (Paris, 1837). The account of Federmann's second voyage is lost, but a summary of it, with his portrait, may be found in the works of Castellanos and Piedrahita.


Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1900) pg. 425

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