Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Invading Florida

Apalachee Council House
Mission San Luis
Talahassee Florida

"Long before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans developed sophisticated cultures in what is now Florida, producing complex and impressive sites like the Crystal River Mounds. By the time of the  first European contact, a wide variety of tribal groupings occupied the area, including Apalachee, Timucuans, Calusa, and Tequesta.

Commander K and Spanish Soldier
Mission San Luis
Talahassee, Florida
Hard now to know whether Juan Ponce de León was actually the first European ever to set foot in what is now Florida, but he’s the first that we definitely know about. Sometime in early April 1513, he landed somewhere in northeast Florida and, in fact, named it La Florida, after the Pascua Florida, the Feast of Flowers. In 1521, he returned with a couple hundred colonists,  fifty horses, and other kit. Ponce de León was back, and this time it was serious. Serious for Ponce de León, that is.  The Calusa weren’t keen on the idea of being colonized. Not keen at all, in fact.  They attacked, and the colonists and a wounded Ponce de León made for Cuba, where he died.

It hadn’t been a great start from the Spanish point of view, and things wouldn’t improve much for them anytime soon.

Pánfilo de Narváez
1478 -1528
In 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez turned up unexpectedly on Florida’s west coast and took a look at the Tampa and Tallahassee areas. He marched inland a bit looking for gold, didn’t find any, alienated the local population, got attacked, tried to use rafts to escape, and failed to do so. Only four of his men managed to escape in the end. As disastrous expeditions go, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

Hernando de Soto
1495 1542

Another Spanish disaster occurred in 1539. Hernando de Soto arrived in Florida also looking for gold. After four years of wandering around, slaughtering, and stealing from the locals, he died somewhere near the Mississippi, still not having found any gold.

You’d think it could only get better for the Spanish, but you’d only be half right. Next came another disaster, but in some senses, not quite as comprehensive a one. In 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano arrived with settlers in Pensacola Bay.  They weren’t, however, to remain settled for very long, as a combination of bad weather and logistical and personnel problems rapidly brought the venture to an end.

Then, when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse for the Spanish in Florida, suddenly they did. In 1562, Frenchman Jean Ribaullt turned up looking for a site for a French Huguenot colony; and in 1564, Frenchman René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline, near what is now Jacksonville.
Castillo de San Marcos
St. Augustine, Florida

But the situation for the Spanish in Florida was finally about to take a turn for the better. And the situation for the French was about to take a turn, very much so, for the worse. In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established San Augustine, a permanent settlement that, as St. Augustine is still permanent, is in fact the first permanent European settlement in the territory that became the United States. Not content with that, however, he then went on to turn Fort Caroline into San Mateo after slaughtering a bunch of French.  e French returned the compliment two years later, when Dominique de Gourgue slaughtered a bunch of Spanish. But Spain had made its mark, and Spanish control would soon expand substantially. Catholic missionaries started getting active.

However, another European power was about to take a serious interest in Florida. Yes, it’s England. Already in 1586, Sir Francis Drake was dropping in on St. Augustine, not for a bit of sightseeing, but for a bit of burning and stealing. It was the first of a number of English attacks on the town. Gradually, the English colonists farther north expanded their area of control southward. Queen Anne’s War of 1702–1713 saw extensive  fighting between the English forces in Carolina and Spanish forces in Florida, with assorted expeditions headed in both directions. In 1702, for instance, English forces under James Moore, governor of colonial Carolina, burned the town of St. Augustine but failed to take the fort.

The local Native American population had already been having a tough time. A number of rebellions against the Spanish had been crushed; and now with the arrival of extensive land warfare between two European powers, they were dragged into that as well, both as fighters and as victims. Since the late seventeenth century, the English had been trading with and arming some Native Americans, particularly the Creek, who used their weapons against Spanish missions. In 1704, Moore launched another raid, with his own and Creek forces targeting Spanish missions and killing or displacing a large number of Apalachees.

Meanwhile, approaching from the west was yet another European competitor for power, the French. For instance, in 1698 they tried to enter Pensacola, and Spanish ships had to prevent them. In 1719, though, they took the town and held it until 1722, when they abandoned it.

Between 1727 and 1729, Britain and Spain were at war again, and there was more fighting in the region.

Britain and Spain went to war yet again in 1739, in, yes, the War of Jenkins’ Ear. An unusual name for a war, and one that refers to a certain British merchant captain who claimed to have lost his ear in an encounter with a Spanish coast guard prior to the war.

This time it was the British governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, who marched on Florida. Again, St. Augustine was attacked. At Fort Mose, the northern defense of St. Augustine, the British came up against free African militiamen, many of them slaves who had escaped from Carolina, and were defeated at the Battle of Bloody Mose on June 26, 1740. Eventually, the British forces gave up and retreated. Spanish forces then invaded Georgia, but they were defeated.

Not long after, another round of hostilities took place between Britain and Spain, but this one ended more decisively. In the 1763 peace deal, Spain handed over Florida to Britain.

Though, to be fair, decisively might be too strong a word, since yet another war was coming. When Spain handed over Florida, it largely evacuated its people from there, and the new settlers who came in under British rule stayed mainly loyal to the British Crown. During the American Revolution, American forces made a number of attempts to invade Florida, but without much success. A 1777 attempt ended with an ambush and disaster for the American forces at the Battle of Thomas Creek; and the 1778 attempt led to the Battle of Alligator Bridge, which wasn’t exactly a success for the American forces either.
Bernardo de Gálvez
1746 -1786
However, things weren’t going so well for Britain elsewhere in the war.  The Spanish got involved on the American side and took Pensacola from the British in 1781 after bitter and prolonged fighting.  The siege lasted just under two months and was the longest siege of the American Revolution.  The city of Galveston in Texas was later named in honor of the Spanish commander at Pensacola—Bernardo de Gálvez.

In 1784, as part of the peace deal that ended the War of Independence, the Spanish got Florida back—although they did have to hand over some territory elsewhere in exchange, and they did have to sort out a border dispute with the new United States.

The Count of Aranda, a Spanish minister, declared soon after the peace was signed that “the day will come when it [the United States] will grow into a giant, even a fearsome colossus in the hemisphere.  then it will forget the assistance it received from [us] and will think only of its own exaltation.  The first step of this power ... will be to seize upon the Floridas, in order to dominate the Gulf of Mexico."

The count’s prediction would come true, but the initial conflict would be with the Native Americans. In the last decades of the eighteenth century, a new tribe developed, formed by Creek Native Americans who had moved south into Florida and other groups.  They became known as Seminoles.

The British, by now, had a long tradition of working with the Creek, and with the start of the War of 1812, they saw an opportunity to use their Creek and Seminole contacts against the United States.  They even sent troops back into Florida to help develop this mission and a fort that was known, reasonably enough, as the British Post on the Apalachicola River at Prospect Bluff. Here they recruited Native Americans and escaped slaves to fight the United States.  The war ended before the British mission could achieve very much. What it did, however, was point to a coming conflict between the United States and forces in Florida that were beyond the control of the Spanish authorities who were, in theory, supposed to be in charge. And the disappearance, largely, of the British from the equation did not end the tensions in the region.

Seminole War

In 1817, in what came to be known as the First Seminole War, General Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida and pushed the Seminoles farther south. By 1819, Spain had had enough of the declining situation in Florida and signed the Adams-Onís Treaty. Under the terms of the treaty, Spain pulled out of Florida in 1821, handing power to the United States. More violence between the United States and the Seminoles was to come.
Under a controversial 1832 treaty, the United States reckoned that the Seminoles had agreed to abandon their lands in Florida and move to Oklahoma. A lot of the Seminoles reckoned that they had not. In 1835, US troops arrived and attempted to enforce the deportation of the Seminoles. What followed was a bitter war, in which Seminoles skillfully fought a guerrilla war of determined resistance against far larger US forces. A few incidents that were large enough to be called battles did occur. For instance, the Battle of Wahoo Swamp took place in 1836, as about 2,500 Tennessee volunteers, US artillerymen, and Florida militiamen, supported by hundreds of Creek, were held up by Seminole  re. And in 1837, the Battle of Lake Okeechobee saw US troops launch an assault against Seminole fighters holding prepared positions.  The US forces compelled the Seminoles to retreat, but at a cost, and most of the defenders slipped away unharmed.

The war cost the Unites States more than $20 million and killed 1,500 American troops. In the end, the United States was reduced to desperate measures to try to win, including seizing and imprisoning Seminole leader Osceola when he turned up for negotiations under a flag of truce.  The war dragged on until 1842, but ultimately the Seminoles could not resist the sheer military might of the United States. By the end of the war, most Seminoles were either dead or deported.

In 1855, yet more fighting broke out. By the end of it, the Seminoles had been virtually wiped out in Florida.
Florida joined the Confederacy in 1861

During the American Civil War, Florida was part of the Confederacy. Union troops, though, remained at locations within its borders throughout the war. It was generally regarded as a strategic backwater; and as the war progressed, many Confederate troops stationed there were redeployed to more critical locations. Despite this, a significant number of clashes and raids did take place in Florida.

Natural Bridge Monument
A rare Confederate Victory in 1865
Talahassee, Florida

Early in the war, fighting took place around Santa Rosa Island at Pensacola, which held the Union-controlled Fort Pickens. In September 1864, Union cavalry launched a devastating raid from Fort Barrancas near Pensacola that culminated in something of a Union victory at the Battle of Marianna.

Fort Pickens
Florida History Museum
Talahassee, Florida
The Union Navy conducted a blockade of much of Florida’s coast, and even ran patrols on some of its rivers. In early 1864, a powerful Union force landed at Jacksonville and advanced inland. However, after defeat at the Battle of Olustee, it retreated again to Jacksonville. And in March 1865, another Union force landed near St. Marks Lighthouse and again advanced inland. Again it was stopped by a Confederate force, this time at the Battle of Natural Bridge, and was forced to withdraw to the coast. Elsewhere though, the Confederacy was on the brink of defeat. It was on May 10, 1865, that Union Brigadier General Edward McCook entered Tallahassee, and on May 20, the United States flag was raised over the state capitol.
U-Boats off Florida Coast
Florida History Museum
Talahassee, Florida
World War II would once again bring conflict to the seas off Florida. For instance, on the night of April 10, 1942, crowds in Jacksonville watched aghast as the steamer Gulfamerica, just  five miles o  shore, was  first torpedoed and then finished off  with surface fire by Reinhard Hardegen’s U-123.  The waters of the region were particularly dangerous in the months soon after America’s entry into the war, before it had time to adapt to the realities of World War II U-boat warfare.

And later that year, in June 1942, U-584 landed four German saboteurs near Ponte Vedra Beach.  They cached explosives and kits in the sand and then headed for New York and Chicago. All were caught and executed.
Che Guevara
1928 - 1967
During the Cold War, with Cuba so close, Florida was in some sense on the front line again. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Che Guevara admitted to a reporter that, had his fingers been on the trigger (instead of the Soviets’), missiles would have been launched, presumably targeting Florida.
On June 12, 2016, the most deadly terrorist attack since 9/11 took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine people were killed by Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan descent."

Source: Florida chapter of America

Commander K at
Truman Little White House
Key West, Florida

Tourist Notes:  Florida is a splendid state to visit with many tourist attractions for all ages.  Some of my personal favorite historic sites in Florida are...

Fort San Marcos in St. Augustine...
Harry S. Truman Little White House, Key West...
Ernest Hemingway Home and Musuem, Key West...
Mission San Luis, Talahassee...
Florida History Museum, Talahassee..,
National Naval Air Museum, Pensacola...

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Nietzsche and the 2020 Election

Political Prophet?
1844 - 1900

What could a German philosopher who died in 1900, never having visited the USA or used social media, possibly have to say about the 2020 Election in America?  Quite a bit as it turns out.  Friedrich Nietzsche has always been a polarizing and controversial figure.  This son of Lutheran minister famously declared that "God is dead."  He has been unfairly accused of being a proto-Nazi -- though this was true of his sister Elizabeth and his (for a while) good friend Richard Wagner.  Nietzsche served as an artillerist in the Prussian Army during the Franco-Prussian War.  But his biggest salvoes were directed against the Christian Church, Western decadence and, sadly, women.

Nietzsche was also an inspired Philosophical Cassandra of our modern world.  In 1888 he seemed to foresee the World Wars of 20th Century writing, "there will be wars the like of which have never been seen on earth before."  He made important contributions to psychology, literature as well as philosophy.

Today, on February 22, 2020, the "Democratic herd animals" are going big for Bernie in the Nevada caucus.

The Will to Become POTUS

In a note written in The Will to Power ( in 1885 Nietzsche predicted  the broad outlines of the American Democratic process in 2020...

Bernie Sanders
"A Hopeless and Sour Affair"
Bernie Bros: The tyranny of the least and dumbest

"Socialism--as the logical conclusion of the tyranny of the least and the dumbest, i.e., those who are superficial, envious, and three-quarters actors--is indeed entailed by "modern ideas" and their latent anarchism; but in the tepid air of democratic well-being the capacity to reach conclusions, or to finish, weakens. One follows--but one no longer sees what follows.

"The Poisonous and desperate face" of
Elizabeth Warren
"Superficial, envious and 3/4 actor"
Therefore socialism is on the whole a hopeless and sour affair; and nothing offers a more amusing spectacle than the contrast between the poisonous and desperate faces cut by today's socialists--and to what wretched and pinched feelings their style bears witness!--and the harmless lambs' happiness of their hopes and desiderata (CRK: Free College and Free Health Care for all!). Nevertheless, in many places in Europe they may yet bring off occasional coups and attacks: there will be deep "rumblings" in the stomach of the next century, and the Paris commune, which has its apologists and advocates in Germany, too, was perhaps no more than a minor indigestion compared to what is coming (CRK: The Russian Revolution).

"One must possess something in order to be something"
But there will always be too many who have possessions for socialism to signify more than an attack of sickness--and those who have possessions are of one mind on one article of faith: "one must possess something in order to be something." But this is the oldest and healthiest of all instincts: I should add, "one must want to have more than one has in order to become more."

Michael Bloomberg
Trump shattered the glass ceiling for billionaires in 2016 paving the way for Bloomberg and Steyer
"One must want to have more than one has in order to become more"
He can't go to Turbo Tax!

For this is the doctrine preached by life itself to all that has life: the morality of development (CRK adds..the morality of developers too!). To have and to want to have more--growth, in one word--that is life itself (CRK..."More winning!").

AOC, with her Green New Deal, is afraid that
The earth is exhausted...

In the doctrine of socialism there is hidden, rather badly, a "will to negate life"; the human beings or races that think up such a doctrine must be bungled. Indeed, I should wish that a few great experiments might prove that in a socialist society life negates itself, cuts off its own roots. (CRK attacks energy and fracking, etc.) The earth is large enough and man still sufficiently unexhausted; hence such a practical instruction and demonstratio ad absurdum (CRK...demonstration or proof of absurdity) would not strike me as undesirable, even if it were gained and paid for with a tremendous expenditure of human lives (CRK ...How many victims of Socialism in the 20th century "Felt the burn"?  According to The Black Book of Communism, around 100 million victims of collectivism in the 20th century or roughly four times more human victims than can be laid at the door of Hitler's vile fascism

Amy Kobuchar is the class of the Democratic field
Has zero chance of winning the nomination,
But is hardly a marasmus femininus!

In any case, even as a restless mole under the soil of a society that wallows in stupidity, socialism will be able to be something useful and therapeutic: it delays "peace on earth" and the total mollification of the democratic herd animal; it forces the Europeans to retain spirit, namely cunning and cautious care, not to abjure manly and warlike virtues altogether, and to retain some remnant of spirit, of clarity, sobriety, and coldness of the spirit -- it protects Europe for the time being from the marasmus femininus (CRK..."feminine decay, malnutrition or atrophy") that threatens it."

Pelosi: Marasmus Feminismus Par Excellence

Commander K's conclusion: That is to say, the nomination of Bernie Sanders with his life-negating socialism virtually guarantees Trump's re-election in 2020!  Petulant Pelosi (the marasmus femininus par excellence)  seems to have ripped up Dem chances at the 2020 SOTU speech. 

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Rum, Piracy and Panama!

Rum Daquiri
Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar
Panama City, Panama

Rum is notoriously known as the "Devil's drink".  Rum is a distilled beverage made with molasses or sugar cane juice.  Its production is centered mostly in the Caribbean and Central America.  It comes in different flavors ranging from light to dark, from plain to spiced and so on.  Light rums are often used in cocktail making.  Aged dark rums are usually drunk neat or on ice.

Rum was a principal component in the "triangular trade" that brought slaves from Africa to the Americas, Sugar to North America and exported Rum to Europe and the rest of the world.  This trading pattern shaped the economies of much of the world from the 16th through 19th centuries.

Rum was, of course, the traditional drink of the Royal Navy for many years.  Rum was mixed with water and lime juice to make grog.  The Royal Navy issued many a gill of grog for its sailors which was an all-purpose pain-killer and and also useful in preventing scurvy.  After his death at Trafalgar, Lord Nelson's body was stored in a barrel of rum (or perhaps brandy) and pickled during the voyage home prior to his triumphant funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral.

In the Columbia chapter of America Invades we noted that "during the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1741, the Royal Navy Admiral Edward Vernon, known as “Old Grog,” landed a party of British and about thirty-six hundred American colonial troops in an assault on Cartagena, Colombia. They failed to take the city and suffered heavy losses from disease. Lawrence Washington, George’s older half-brother, participated in the Colombia expedition. George Washington’s Virginia home, Mount Vernon, was later named after the British admiral."   (Source:

Teddy Roosevelt
Panama Canal Museum
Panama City, Panama

In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders landed on the Cuban town of Daquiri.  the origin of the daquiri cocktail comes from Roosevelt’s commanding officer in the Spanish-American War, General William Shafter, who combined Cuban rum, fresh lime juice, sugar, and ice. (Source: Wayne Curtis, And A Bottle of Rum (New York: Broadway Books, 2006), 203-7,  For much more on Teddy Roosevelt and the Panama Canal see...
Coming soon...
But Rum's most notorious association remains with pirates.  "Yo, Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum!"  And the most notorious pirate in history was the Celtic Fighter...Sir Henry Morgan.  Please enjoy this excerpt from our forthcoming work 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur...
Sir Henry Morgan

Privateer, he caused
many tears, himself shed few.
Slaughter, plunder, flame. 
- Stuart Laycock

"To say that Henry Morgan’s violent career was controversial would be something of an understatement, but he certainly fits firmly into the “fighting” category.

The details of Henry Morgan’s early life are slim, but he may have been the son of Robert Morgan of Llanrumney in Glamorgan in Wales. His will certainly refers to “my ever honourable cousin, Mr. Thomas Morgan of Tredegar,” a location not that far from Llanrumney.

Henry Morgan would make his fame and fortune as a privateer, officially licensed by the English crown to prey upon the shipping of England’s enemies in return for a slice of the booty. In 1655, the English took Jamaica from the Spanish. Jamaica would then become a major base for privateers, among them Morgan. By 1665, he was already deeply involved in privateering; and soon after that, he married the daughter of Jamaica's deputy governor, helping secure his position within Jamaican society.

Despite some official periods of “peace,” the time was one of long-term rivalry and suspicion between England and Spain as the two European powers competed for control in the Caribbean. Morgan was determined to exploit the opportunities this situation presented for maximum personal gain.

He was supposed to conduct his privateering operations at sea, but when there were rich pickings to be had on land, he went after them. In 1668, in alliance with some French privateers, he attacked and sacked Puerto de Principe on Cuba. And that was just the start. He followed that attack with a raid on the rich Spanish city of Portobello in what is now Panama. In a clever surprise attack, Morgan took the Spanish defenders unawares and, despite its strong defenses, seized the city.

Pirate Attacks
Fort San Lorenzo, Panama

Morgan held the town for thirty-one days and systematically stripped it of as much of its wealth as could be carried off. Quite a lot of brutality was no doubt involved, although exactly how much is a matter of some speculation. After a Spanish attempt to recapture the city was repulsed, Morgan agreed to accept a Spanish ransom of 100,000 pesos for the city. With the booty seized and the spectacular ransom as well, Morgan left Portobello with colossal riches and a reputation for having humbled the Spanish. He became instantly popular both in Jamaica and Britain, and few worried about the legality of his actions.

Spanish Cannon
Fort San Lorenzo
And if what he had achieved so far had given Morgan a reputation for cunning and audacity, what was to come next would cast that reputation in stone. In 1669, Morgan led an attack on Maracaibo in what is currently Venezuela. Once again, he took the city with some ease and set about plundering it. He then pushed farther on, across Lake Maracaibo, in search of more spoils. However, when he set off to leave the area, he found that the Spanish had a superior naval force—the Armada de Barlovento—waiting for him; and that Spain had also manned fortifications guarding the channel from Lake Maracaibo to the Caribbean. Morgan and his men seemed to be trapped.

However, instead of refusing the Spanish’s offer that he hand over his booty in order to pass freely, Morgan and their men decided to fight. They used a fire ship to set fire to the Spanish flagship Magdalen, causing chaos and devastation in the Spanish squadron; and then used another ruse to distract the garrison of the fortifications while Morgan's ships crept stealthily past. Morgan escaped, once more a hero to many.

Commander K.
Mouth of the River Chagres
After a time when it seemed serious peace might break out between England and Spain, the war was on again. In late 1670, with a powerful privateer fleet that included thousands of men and almost forty ships, Morgan launched another ambitious campaign.

Fort San Lorenzo
Captured by Henry Morgan
He captured the islands of Old Providence and Santa Catalina, the port of Chagres, and, after heavy fighting,  Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the River Chagres. Then he set off up the river, heading for Panama City on the Pacific Coast. The journey was difficult and dangerous. When Morgan and his men finally reached the city, they smashed a hastily assembled Spanish force and seized their target. The Spanish, however, set light to the city even as Morgan captured it. The final haul was also less than Morgan had hoped, because the inhabitants had had time to escape. When Morgan and his men arrived home in Jamaica, many believed Morgan had seized an unfair share of what had been looted.

Commander K. with Carlos V
Panama City, Panama
Even worse news was to come for Morgan. It turned out Morgan had managed to sack Panama City after a peace deal had finally been agreed upon between England and Spain. To appease Spanish anger, the English arrested Morgan in 1672 and imprisoned him in the Tower of London. However, he was not there long. He still had a heroic reputation among many in England. He was freed in 1674, and, not only that, he was made Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica and was knighted, becoming Sir Henry Morgan.
Jamaican Rum

Morgan’s main fighting days were finished. He continued to have links to privateers and to invest in their expeditions, but the intricacies and complexities of Jamaican politics kept him busy, even after he lost his post as lieutenant-governor. He finally died in August 1688, and at his funeral he received a twenty-two-gun salute from ships in Port Royal harbor.

Fighting Celt
Captain Morgan Rum, inspired by the Welsh pirate, was launched by the Seagram Company in 1944. Now owned by Diageo, over ten million cases of the rum are sold each year."  (Source: 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur, Kelly / Laycock, coming soon).

Tourist Notes:
The Panama Rail Company offers a pleasant journey across the Isthmus from Balboa (near Panama City) to Colon that overlooks much of the Canal (

The friendly folks at Barefoot Panama offers excellent guided tours of Panama at good values (  A Barefoot Panama Tour took me to Fort San Lorenzo on the river Chagres.

I enjoyed my stay at the comfortable Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City (

Pedro Mandiga Rum Bar
Panama City
The Pedro Mandinga rum bar in Panama City is an excellent place to restore the tissues with rum cocktails and delicious snacks (  Try the empanadas and shrimp ceviche with a rum daquiri!

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...


Monday, February 17, 2020

The Panama Canal

Panama Canal
Agua Clara Locks, 2020

The Panama Canal is a 51 mile waterway that crosses the Isthmus of Panama connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The Panama Canal is an extraordinary engineering marvel lying at the crossroads of the world that benefits the world. It was conceived by a Spanish King, attempted by the French, built by an American President with the labor of thousands of Caribbean workers and improved recently by the Panamanians themselves.

Rodrigo de Bastidas, a Spanish explorer, was the first European to arrive in Panama in 1501.  Christopher Columbus followed Bastidas to Panama in 1502.  The Spanish quickly discovered an overland route through the Panamanian jungle to the Pacific.

Cannon at Fort San Lorenzo
Panama was an important transit point for the masses of gold and silver that were shipped from South America back to Spain.  The Spanish built fortifications such as Fort Lorenzo to protect their hold on a vast empire in the New World.

Commander K. with the the man who conceived the Canal
Charles V (1500 - 1556)
Charles V was King of Spain from 1516 until his death in 1556.  But he was so much more than that.  Charles V wielded power that Henry VIII, his English contemporary, could only dream of.  In Europe he ruled not only Spain but also the Netherlands, most of Germany (as Holy Roman Emperor) along with Sicily and Sardinia.  His  holdings in the New World were vast.  In the Pacific Charles controlled the Philippines.  His empire stretched from Manila to Mexico to Madrid.  It was of the Spanish that it was first said that the sun did not set upon his empire.  Charles V was a visionary who is credited as the first man to conceive of a Canal across Panama in 1520.  He dispatched Spanish soldiers to hack their way through the jungle and chart a route across the Isthmus.

In 1849, the same year that gold was discovered in California, the Panamanian Railway was founded.  In 1855 it began operating a service from Balboa to Col√≥n that continues to this day.

A flood of Gold Rush adventurers travelled across Panama streaming west and up to California.

Ferdinand de Lesseps
1805 - 1894
Panama Canal Museum, Panama City

From 1881 to 1894 the French attempted to build a sea-level canal across Panama.  Their efforts were led by Ferdinand de Lesseps who had built the Suez canal earlier.  The French raised millions for the construction but were thwarted due to due design flaws, poor technology and disease.  Around 20,000 workers were killed in he attempt mainly due to malaria and yellow fever.

Teddy Roosevelt Bust
"I took the Canal Zone!"
Panama Canal Museum, Panama City

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th US President, was an ardent champion of the Panama Canal.   In the Panama chapter of America Invades we wrote that, "in 1903 when Panama revolted against Columbia, this time the United States, led by Teddy Roosevelt, sided with the Panamanian rebels. TR dispatched two USN ships (Nashville and Dixie) in support of the rebels. A battalion of marines commanded by Major John Lejeune landed at Colon. A bribe of eight thousand dollars was paid to the Colombian commander to hasten his exit from Panama. TR would later (in 1911) claim, “I took the Canal Zone.” Surely it was Teddy Roosevelt who provided the inspiration for the palindrome, “a man, a plan, a canal, Panama.” The US government recognized the new Panamanian nation and negotiated a treaty to control the Canal Zone. The treaty gave the United States extensive rights in the Canal Zone that extended about five miles on either side of the canal and some rights in Panama outside the Canal Zone and was to be a source of some tension between Panama and the United States in the years ahead."  (Source:

For a more complete account of American military involvement in Panama from the absurd Watermelon to the removal of Noriega by means of Rock and Roll music see...

Americans, led by Teddy Roosevelt, would take up the huge engineering challenge posed by the Canal.  Instead of a sea level canal (like Suez) American engineers opted for a locks based canal.  They built dams creating a man made lake (Gatun Lake) which greatly simplified the construction project.  There were around 40,000 laborers working on Panama Canal with most coming from the Caribbean.  There were also about 2,000 Italians and a around a thousand Greeks working on the project.   Although hundreds were killed in the construction process the human toll was greatly reduced by advances in medicine which identified the mosquito as the culprit in yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria.  Vast swathes of the jungle were sprayed to rid the area of mosquitos.

The SS Ancon was the first ship to transit the Canal in August 1914.  The news was overshadowed by the start of World War I in Europe.  This was the same year that Thomas Wells, my great-grandfather, had his Adventure in 1914 when he witnessed the start of WWI (

John McCain, the Republican nomination of president in 2008, was born in 1936 in Coco Solo in the  Canal Zone.  His father was an admiral stationed in Panama.

During World War II the Canal was a vital transportation link serving the American and Allied forces.  Both the Japanese and Germans hatched plots to attempt the disrupt the smooth functioning of the Canal.  The Japanese, for example, constructed the huge I-400 Class long range submarines that carried on board three aircraft capable of bombing the Canal.  In June of 1945 the Imperial Japanese Navy even constructed a model of the Gatun Locks that were used for practice bombing.  Ultimately the plan to attack the Canal was called off.

In 1977 President Carter negotiated the Torrijoes / Carter treaty that would relinquish the Canal back to Panama in the year 1999.  In 1989 President George H.W. Bush ordered an invasion of Panama to oust the dictator and drug lord Noriega.  On December 31, 1999 the Panama Canal Zone was returned to Panamanian control.

Under Panamanian control the Canal received a significant expansion in the 21st Century when a third lane was added to accommodate more and larger traffic.  Billions of dollars were spent to make the Canal relevant as a modern Connectivity hub.

Commander K. at Panama Railroad

Tourist Notes
: Many tourists flock to the Miraflores Visitor Center (  Here you will find a museum on the Canal and an elevated viewing platform from which to observe the Miraflores Locks.  An Imax film on the Canal's construction narrated by Morgan Freeman is worth a viewing.  The Miraflores docks is a great place to start to explore the Panama Canal.

Other ways to learn about the Canal include the excellent Panama Canal Museum in the old part of Panama City (

The Panama Rail Company offers a pleasant journey across the Isthmus from Balboa (near Panama City) to Colon that overlooks much of the Canal (

The friendly folks at Barefoot Panama offers excellent guided tours of Panama at good values (

I enjoyed my stay at the comfortable Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City (

The Pedro Mandinga rum bar in Panama City is an excellent place to restore the tissues with rum cocktails and delicious snacks (  Try the empanadas and shrimp ceviche with a rum daquiri!
Pedro Mandinga's Rum Bar
Panama City

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