US Govt Files Seizure Lawsuit for Manuscript Signed by Conquistador Cortés in 1527 — Massachusetts

Friday, November 25, 2022

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The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit this week against a manuscript signed by Conquistador Hernando Cortés in 1527 that is believed to have been illegally removed from the Archivo General de la Nación de México – the national archives of Mexico located in Mexico City – shortly before 1993.

It is a violation of federal law to transport or receive stolen goods valued at more than $5,000 that have traveled abroad or in interstate commerce.

The manuscript is a payment order signed by Cortes on April 27, 1527, authorizing the purchase of pink sugar for the apothecary in exchange for 12 gold pesos. It is believed to be one of several documents illegally removed from a collection of documents related to a 1527 Spanish mission to Central America held in Mexico’s national archives.


According to the civil complaint, earlier this year, an individual put the Cortés manuscript up for online auction at a Massachusetts auction house. Mexican authorities notified federal authorities that the auctioned manuscript appeared to have been stolen. In turn, the auction house removed the manuscript from the upcoming auction, and the manuscript was recovered.

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PHOTO: US Attorney

“As a result of the outstanding work of our office’s Asset Recovery Unit and our law enforcement partners, this historic artifact was recovered. Mexico, like the United States, has national archives, and Cortés’ manuscript is nearly five centuries old. Our goal in filing today’s forfeiture action is to return the manuscript to its rightful owner,” said United States Attorney Rachel S. Rollins.

“Thanks to the hard work of the FBI’s Art Crime Squad, with the help of the General Archives of Mexico, we were able to locate and authenticate this historic manuscript signed by Conquistador Hernando Cortés in 1527, three decades after it was stolen” . said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Boston Division. “The recovery of this national treasure that was stolen from Mexico and its people not only preserves an important part of Mexican history, but reflects the FBI’s continued commitment to pursuing justice for victims of crime here and abroad. Our investigation into how this priceless artifact ended up in Massachusetts continues and we look forward to the day when we can return it to the Government of Mexico.”

In 2021, a number of colonial-era documents believed to have been stolen from Mexico’s national archives and auctioned in the United States were recovered and repatriated to Mexico, including some signed by Cortés.

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