BOSTON — The United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts today filed a civil foreclosure action against a manuscript signed by Conquistador Hernando Cortés in 1527 that is believed to have been wrongfully removed from the Archivo General de la Nación de México — Mexico’s national archives in Mexico -City – sometime before 1993. It is against federal law to transport or receive more than $5,000 worth of stolen goods transported in foreign or interstate commerce.
The manuscript is a payment order signed by Cortés on April 27, 1527, authorizing the purchase of rose sugar for the pharmacy for 12 gold pesos. It is believed to be one of several documents unlawfully removed from a collection of documents relating to a 1527 Spanish expedition to Central America, held in the National Archives of Mexico.
According to the civil suit, earlier this year an individual submitted the Cortés manuscript for an online auction at a Massachusetts auction house. Mexican authorities alerted federal authorities that the manuscript being auctioned appeared to have been stolen. In return, the auction house removed the manuscript from the upcoming auction and the manuscript was restored.
“As a result of the extraordinary work of our office’s Asset Recovery Unit and our law enforcement partners, this historical artifact was recovered. Mexico, like the United States, has national archives and the Cortés Manuscript is almost five centuries old. Our goal in filing today’s foreclosure request is to return the manuscript to its rightful owner,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.
“Thanks to the hard work of the FBI’s Art Crime Team and the assistance 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 Boston Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “The recovery of this national treasure, stolen from Mexico and its people, not only preserves an important part of Mexican history, but also reflects the FBI’s continued commitment to pursuing justice for victims of crimes both domestically and internationally. 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 off in the United States were recovered and returned to Mexico, including some signed by Cortés.
Anyone with information regarding stolen art and cultural property is asked to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI (1-800-225-5324). Tips may also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov/.
This was announced today by US Attorney Rollins and FBI SAC Bonavolonta. The civil foreclosure suit is being pursued by Assistant US Attorney Carol E. Head, head of Rollins’ Asset Recovery Unit.
The information contained in the civil forfeiture action are allegations.