At the time of the discovery, Indians of nahua (Aztec) culture inhabited the Pacific coast, the Nicaraos, from whose name the word Nicaragua derives. On the east coast lived mosquitoes, of Chibcha culture.
Discovery and colonial phase
On his last trip to America, Christopher Columbus reached the mouth of the San Juan River on September 16, 1502. In 1522, Gil González Dávila, coming from Panama, even crossed Lake Nicaragua, but was expelled by the natives. Colonization only started in 1524, with the arrival of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba – representative of Pedrarias Dávila, governor of Panama – who founded the cities of Granada and León.
Pedrarias was appointed governor of Nicaragua in 1527. Then, the colony passed successively from the jurisdiction of the hearing of Panama to that of Los Confines, Honduras and, in 1570, that of Guatemala. After a brief cycle of gold mining, the economy progressed slowly. Soon there was an intense rivalry between the colonial cities of León, administrative headquarters and liberal intellectual center, and Granada, an agricultural center of a conservative aristocracy, enriched by trade with Spain, made by the San Juan River.
Between the 16th and 17th centuries, both colonial cities were victims of attacks by pirates. At the end of the eighteenth century, Great Britain exercised a virtual protectorate over Indians and Zambos on the Caribbean coast, where the Bluefields community was created. Despite the attacks and some devastating earthquakes, the colony prospered during this period. In 1786, the provinces of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the chief mayor of Nicoya were brought together to form Nicaragua’s intendance.
Under the influence of the revolutionary movements in Mexico and El Salvador, in 1811 there was a revolt in Leon and a revolt spread to Granada, which was dominated without much violence. In 1821, the general captaincy of Guatemala proclaimed itself independent. Granada remained integrated with the new country, but León declared its independence. In 1822, the two cities joined the Mexican empire. Granada, however, rose up before the abdication of Agustín de Iturbide (1823) and proclaimed the republic.
In 1826, by means of a first constitution, all of Nicaragua joined the United Provinces of Central America, a federation from which it left in 1838. On November 12 of that year, under José Núñez, a new constitution was promulgated that defined Nicaragua as a sovereign and independent state.
Foreign interventions. With the intention of opening, between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific, a channel that would give access to the Atlantic through San Juan, in 1848 the British returned to occupy the mouth of that river. The United States had an equal interest and, a few years later, Cornelius Vanderbilt implanted in Nicaragua a system of boats and land vehicles that allowed to pass from one ocean to another. In 1850, the two countries pledged to respect the independence of the area and the neutrality of the channel, if it were built, which did not happen.
The struggles between the liberals of León and the conservatives of Granada allowed, in 1856, the American adventurer William Walker to reach the presidency of Nicaragua. However, he was overthrown in 1857 by the joint effort of neighboring countries, Vanderbilt and the liberals, who had hired him to take Granada.
From 1857, several conservative presidents succeeded each other until 1893. In that phase, of relative peace, the capital was installed in Managua, which alleviated the conflicts between León and Granada; the United Kingdom returned the east coast, which became an autonomous indigenous reserve; coffee cultivation started; and the Granada-Corinth railroad was built. In the government of the liberal José Santos Zelaya (1893-1909), Nicaraguan jurisdiction over the mosquito reserve was established.
The financial insolvency of Nicaragua motivated the intervention of the United States, which forced Zelaya to resign and did not recognize his successor, José Madriz. The Americans came to control the country’s customs, central bank and railways. National humiliation led to the 1912 revolution, stifled by American Marines, who helped keep Conservative President Adolfo Díaz in office until 1917. His successors, Emiliano Chamorro (1917-1921) and Diego Manuel Chamorro (1921-1923), also received American support.
A new intervention took place in 1926, when Adolfo Díaz, in his second presidential term (1926-1928), asked for help from the Marines. Liberal leaders José María Moncada, Juan Bautista Sacasa and César Augusto Sandino launched themselves into the guerrillas, but the first retreated in the face of the American promise to guarantee free elections. Only Sandino maintained the struggle against the occupation.