Nikolaus Federmann (Spanish: Nicolás de Federmán) (c. 1505, Ulm – February 1542, Valladolid) was a German adventurer and conquistador in the colonies of Venezuela and Colombia. He is a significant figure in the history of Klein-Venedig (1528–1546), the concession of Venezuela Province to the Welser banking family by Charles I of Spain.
Nikolaus Federmann was born in Ulm (Baden-Württemberg) around 1505. In 1529 he was sent to Santo Domingo by the Welser family of Augsburg, who had signed an agreement to explore the territory of Venezuela. As an agent of the Welser family Federmann brought settlers and miners from Seville to Coro in Venezuela in 1529 and 1530. Upon his arrival the governor Ambrosius Ehinger appointed him as his deputy. On 30 July 1530 Federmann became responsible for the colony of "Little Venice" (Klein Venedig). As governor Ehinger temporarily handed over authority to Federmann, because he had to leave to Hispaniola for health reasons.
Without the authorisation of the Real Audiencia of Santo Domingo, Federmann undertook an expedition in September 1530 in the northern river basin of the Orinoco, searching for the "South Sea" the Pacific), with 110-foot soldiers, 16 riders, and 100 Indians. However, he did not achieve his goal to open a new trade route to Asia. On 17 March 1531 he returned to Coro with 5,565 pesos of gold. Because of the unauthorised expedition Federmann was banished to Europe for a period of four years by Ehinger.
He returned to Augsburg, where he wrote "Indianische Historia. Ein schöne kurtzweilige Historia Niclaus Federmanns des Jüngern von Ulm erster raise" (published in 1557).
In 1536 Federmann undertook a second expedition searching for the legendary El Dorado. During this expedition he founded the city of Riohacha. First he travelled along the east edges of the Cordillera, then he crossed the icy Andes mountains, following the salt trade route, and encountered the advanced culture of the Muisca, whose realm had already been largely conquered and occupied by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. Together with Sebastián de Belalcázar, Federmann re-founded the city of Bogotá on 27 April 1539 after Jiménez de Quesada failed to fulfill the official requirements of the Spanish Crown concerning the founding of a settlement when he attempted to establish a first Bogotá on 6 August 1538.
On 8 July 1539 Federmann left the New World and traveled back to Europe via Jamaica and Cuba. In Europe Federmann was intercepted by the Welser family, who accused him of breaching his contract and the suppression of funds. The Welser family demanded a remuneration of 100,000 ducats in emeralds and 15,000 ducats in gold. Since Federmann could not pay, he spent weeks in an Antwerp prison. Federmann tried to defend himself in court, first in Ghent and finally in Valladolid before the Council of the Indies. He defended himself with counter-lawsuits and accused the Welser family, among other things, of evading taxes and acting against the interests of the king. On 19 October 1541 Federmann finally agreed to a settlement. The Welser family abandoned their financial revendications and Federmann ceded the property rights of his lands in Colombia.
Accused by the Welser family of unfaithfulness, and suspected of being a Lutheran by the Inquisition, Federmann died in February 1542 in prison in Valladolid.
- "Indianische Historia. Ein schöne kurtzweilige Historia Niclaus Federmanns des Jüngern von Ulm erster raise" (about the first expedition), 1557 in Hagenau
- As a homage to his figure, there is a neighbourhood in Bogotá named Nicolás de Federmán, the Spanish rendering of his own name and as he was known by his fellow Spanish conquistadores.