Thanks for the question. This quote is attributed to Hernán
(Hernando) Cortés, an explorer and third dispatch to King Charles V of
Spain. A reference to the quote may be found at:
Some background on Cortés:
Cortés left Spain in 1504 for Hispaniola and in 1511 he took part in
the conquest of Cuba. Later, in 1519 he led an expedition to the
Yucatán. During this expedition he feared that his men would desert
him and return to Cuba. To avoid this, he came up with a malicious
scheme: he burned the boats that his men had used to arrive on the
mainland so that they would not be able to leave!
As you might guess from the quote, Cortés had his fair share of
run-ins with the Aztecs during his expedition. In November of 1519 he
entered Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztecs. Here he
arrested and ordered the execution of the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma
[Montezuma]. This led to a revolt among the Aztecs which forced
Cortés and his men to retreat. His retreat, which took place in 1520,
is known as the "Sad Night". He later re-grouped his troops and
defeated the Aztecs in a very bloody battle at Otumba. This victory
facilitated the full conquest of Mexico in 1521.
Cortés returned to Spain in 1540 and remained there until his death in
You can read more about Cortés and his battles with the Aztecs at:
Modern History Sourcebook
"burn everything or throw it into the water"
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