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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Spain in America

by
Edward Gaylord Bourne

in the
Barnes & Noble edition,
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 11

p133 Chapter X

Exploration of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts
(1512‑1541)

After the complete subjection of the Indians and the first excitements of gold-hunting in Española, sugar-planting and stock-raising were too tame to satisfy the more adventurous of the settlers, and so with the recklessness of the true pioneer they sought more excitement and quicker profits in slave-hunting raids to the Bahamas, in the colonization of other islands, or in the exploration of waters not yet visited. These ventures form the prologue to the conquest of Mexico and the exploration of North America.

Juan Ponce de Leon, the discoverer of Florida, one of the most picturesque of the adventurers who sought their fortune in America, came over with the first colonists in 1493. In 1504 he proved himself a valiant and efficient officer in the Indian war in Higuey, at the eastern end of Española, and was appointed provincial governor by Ovando. Hearing from the Indians that there was gold in the fair island on the eastern horizon, Boriquen, or p134San Juan de Puerto Rico, he secured permission from Ovando to explore it and to open up trade with the Indians.1 Later, in 1509, at Ovando's request he was appointed governor of the island.

After his removal from that office in February 1512, he secured a patent from the king authorizing him to discover and colonize the island of "Beniny" (Bimine), vague rumors of which had come to Spanish ears during slave raids in the Bahamas. An incidental object in this enterprise, which has been usually considered the primary purpose, was to verify the Indian tradition of a spring or river whose waters would restore youth to the aged. Of this there is no hint in the patent, nor, apparently, in the narrative of the voyage which Herrera seemed to have had before him;2 yet to the prevalence of the legend the testimony is abundant,3 and the story probably directed Ponce de Leon to Bimine in particular rather than to the lands north of Darien.

Winding through the Bahamas and touching at San Salvador, Ponce de Leon, on April 2, 1512, approached a coast in latitude 30° 8′, which he followed till nightfall, seeking a port. He supposed it to be an island, and since it was "Pascua Florida," the Easter season, and the low-lying p135shores presented a fair sight with the mass of green foliage, Ponce gave it the name of Florida.4 He soon turned and followed the coast to the south, rounded the peninsula, and went up the west side perhaps as far as Apalache Bay. This exploration occupied from April 2 till May 23, at which date Ponce de Leon turned to retrace his course. June 14 he headed towards Porto Rico, hoping still to find Bimine. From July 25 till September 17 the search was kept up among the Bahamas, when Ponce set sail for home, leaving one ship under Juan Perez to continue the exploration for the fabled fountain of youth.

In the following December Ponce secured a patent to colonize both the "island of Biminy" and the "island of Florida,"5 but was unable to resume his plans till 1521, when he started out anew to determine whether Florida was an island and to plant a colony there.6 In this enterprise he expended most of his fortune, equipping two ships and two hundred men with arms, tools, and fifty horses. The history of this expedition is very obscure; but a comparison of all the evidence seems to point to p136the west coast of Florida, not far from Tampa Bay, as the scene of Ponce de Leon's final labors.7 In an engagement with the Indians he lost many men and was so grievously wounded that he must needs return to Cuba. There he soon died, after one of the longest and most varied careers in the New World. His epitaph reveals the contemporary appreciation of the conqueror and ruler of Port Rico and the discoverer of Florida:

"Mole sub hac fortis Requiescunt ossa Leonis

Qui vicit factis Nomina magna suis."8

"Beneath this stone repose the bones

of the valiant Lion whose deeds

surpassed the greatness of his name."

The work of Ponce in exploring the gulf coast of the present United States was taken up, although not in person, by another veteran of 1493, Francisco de Garay, who had risen to be governor of Jamaica. Stirred by the reports of the discoveries made under the patronage of Velasquez, governor of Cuba, Garay equipped four vessels in 1519 to go in search of a gulf or strait dividing the main-land. This expedition was gone about eight or nine months under the command of Alonzo de Pineda, during which they followed the gulf coast from Florida to Vera Cruz and named the region Amichel.9 At a p137point roughly in the middle of this stretch of coast they entered a large river whose banks were populated with friendly Indians. This river, named Rio del Espiritu Santo, has usually been identified with the Mississippi, although the descriptions of the stream and the numerous villages along its banks are out of accord with the experience of the survivors of De Soto's expedition. A more recent and very probable view is that this Rio del Espiritu Santo was Mobile bay and river;10 the early maps usually depict the Rio del Espiritu Santo as emptying into a bay of the same name.11

The reports of the fertility of the soil and the peaceableness of the population encouraged Garay to attempt settlement, and the charter which he procured from King Charles for the purpose breathes in an exceptional degree the spirit of humanity and consideration for the natives.12 In June, 1523, Garay's expedition was ready with an equipment far in excess of that with which Cortés had conquered Mexico; for he had eleven vessels with eight hundred and fifty Spaniards, some Indians, and one hundred and forty-four horses and an abundance of provisions and merchandise. His field of operations, p138however, had already been occupied by Cortés, who prepared to resist any rival. Pending the settlement of the question Garay's men yielded to the solicitations of Cortés's agents and deserted; and finally Garay himself was compelled to throw in his lot with that of the conqueror of Mexico, and concluded arrangements by which it was agreed that his son should marry a young daughter of Cortés.13 At the following Christmas season Garay died suddenly of pneumonia.14

The exploration of the eastern coast of North America followed quickly upon that of the Gulf of Mexico, and in response to two different motives: the establishment of new colonies and the search for a passage into the Pacific. The first of these motives prompted Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a justice of the supreme court of Santo Domingo, to despatch a caravel in the year 1521 under the command of Francisco Gordillo to explore the coast of the main-land beyond the Bahamas.15 While among these islands Gordillo ran across a caravel fitted out by Justice Matienzo of the same court for the capture of Indians. The two parties joined forces and proceeded together towards the northwest until they reached the main-land in latitude 33° 30′, near the mouth of a large river, which they named St. John p139the Baptist — a site identified by Harrisse with Georgetown Entrance, South Carolina.16 Here Gordillo yielded to the opportunity, and, contrary to his instructions, joined his colleague in loading up with Indians.

Ayllon condemned Gordillo's course, and the court at Santo Domingo liberated the Indians. In 1523, while in Spain, Ayllon secured a charter somewhat similar to the later English proprietary charters, which authorized him to explore eight hundred leagues of the coast, and to follow up a strait if he found one; to establish a colony, of which he was to be governor, sole proprietor of the fisheries, distributer of the lands, etc.; supplies were to be exempt from taxation; the Indians must not be reduced to forced labor of any kind.17 On the strength of this patent Ayllon sent out an exploring expedition in 1525 which followed up the coast for some two hundred and fifty leagues.18 The preparations for the colony were completed in 1526, and in June of that year Ayllon set out with three vessels, some five or six hundred people, including some negro slaves and three Dominican friars, and eighty-nine horses.

They landed at the mouth of a river, in latitude 33° 40′, to which a pilot gave the name of Jordan. The site, however, was not satisfactory, and another p140was selected about one hundred and fifteen miles to the southwest near a large river, which was perhaps the Cape Fear. Here they established the settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape.19 But the company was unruly, the Indians hostile, and Ayllon inexperienced in command. The ground, too, was swampy and unhealthy. The climax was reached by the approach unusually early of very cold weather. Ayllon died of fever October 18, and anarchy soon followed. Return to Santo Domingo finally was resolved upon, but only one hundred and fifty survived to reach the island.

On the map of Ribeiro in 1529 that part of North America now New York and New England is inscribed: "Land of Stephen Gomez, who discovered it by his majesty's command in 1525. Trees and fruits like those of Spain abound, and turbot, salmon, and pike. They found no gold." Gomez, it will be remembered, forsook Magellan in the passage of the straits and returned with the San Antonio to Spain. A Portuguese like his leader, he had proposed a similar expedition to the Orient; but Magellan's plan had been accepted and Gomez assigned to accompany him as one of the pilots. After Gomez returned to Spain he was imprisoned until the return p141of the Victoria. In 1524 he was one of the experts to take part in the Badajos conference on the demarcation line. In all these years he never relinquished his plan, which was apparently to seek the Spice Islands by a northern route, for in 1523 he proposed to the king to make a voyage of discovery to Cathay and even to the Moluccas by a strait to be sought for between Florida and Baccalaos (Labrador).20

The king provided Gomez with a caravel of fifty tons burden, and he set forth from Coruña either late in 1524 or early in 1525,21 heading towards the northwest. He made land somewhere between Maine and Newfoundland, and followed the coast very carefully down to the fortieth parallel, or approximately to the region covered by Ayllon's explorers. The severity of the northern winter convinced him that if a strait were discovered in the high latitudes it would be of little service. Not to return empty-handed, he loaded his caravel with Indians as slaves.22

Spanish explorers had now minutely examined the coast of North America, from Mexico to Labrador, with results of great importance for the history p142of geography, but of little significance in the building of their colonial empire. That they should have neglected the region where the English were to lay the foundations of a great nation and to embody on a grander scale their most valuable contributions to the political life of mankind, may seem strange, yet it was wholly natural. Empire not plantation appealed to Spain; for she had little surplus population, and too many political irons in the fire to do everything for which opportunity offered.

That in those days of small ships and an almost primitive land transportation the attractions of Mexico and Peru infinitely outweighed anything the Atlantic seaboard could offer, need not surprise any one familiar with the rush to California, or the exodus in our day from town and country to the frozen Klondike. Spain, to enjoy a profitable trade with her colonies under the conditions then prevailing, must confine them to regions producing commodities for which there was a demand in Europe, but no home supply. As Peter Martyr, a member of the Council of the Indies, remarked apropos of the voyages of Ayllon and Gomez, "What need have we of these things which are common with all the people of Europe? To the South, to the South, for the riches of the Aequinoctiall they that seek riches must go, not unto the cold and frozen North."23

p143 The first detailed narrative of French exploration across the Atlantic is of an attempt to find a passage to China which was contemporaneous with that of Gomez. The hardy sailors of Normandy and Brittany had early participated in the fishing voyages to Newfoundland,24 and in occasional trading voyages to the West Indies and to Brazil.25 Yet the spirit of exploration in distinction from trading and fishing ventures does not emerge conspicuously among the French until after the voyage of Magellan and the conquest of Mexico; and then it is under an Italian, in the French merchant service, Giovanni da Verrazano, as leader. The obscurity veiling the facts of Verrazano's life, the absence of any patent or commission in the French archives or of contemporary notices in the French historians, and the mistaken and in reality baseless identification of Giovanni Verrazano with the French pirate Jean Florin,26 have led to keen critical questioning whether the enterprise of Verrazano was ever carried into effect. It is, however, the generally accepted belief of the best critics to‑day that the voyage did take place.

The earliest notice of Verrazano's project is in a letter to the king of Portugal from his ambassador p144in France, dated April 23, 1524, informing him of an expedition which the French are expecting to arm for the discovery of Cathay under the command of João Verzano. The ambassador succeeded in averting a voyage to the East Indies by the known route but the ultimate purpose of the voyage was adhered to.27

Our knowledge of the events of the voyage, which lasted from January until July, 1524, is derived from a letter purporting to have been written by Verrazano to Francis I, the original of which is no longer extant. In its Italian form the narrative is not free from perplexities, yet it is generally interpreted to indicate that Verrazano in his progress up the coast entered New York Bay and Hudson River, Narragansett Bay, and made his way north as far as Newfoundland.

The most interesting legacy of the voyage was the conjectural placing upon the maps of North America of a second isthmus, in the region of the Carolinas, dividing the hemisphere into three continental masses instead of two. This curious configuration of the coast first appears in the Maggiolo planisphere of 1527 and in a map purporting to have been made by Gerolamo da Verrazano. Both of these maps have on the Atlantic coast Norman and French names, and the Verrazano map has an inscription stating that Giovanni da Verrazano discovered the p145country five years before.28 These maps and their nomenclature are an adequate proof of the reality of Verrazano's voyage, and go far to quiet the doubts aroused by the perplexities in the narrative.

This hypothetical Pacific counterpart to the Atlantic Gulf of Mexico haunted the maps for over half a century and lured many subsequent navigators with its unreal promises of a strait or a portage between the oceans.29 Verrazano himself never followed up this voyage, but apparently directed his attention to projects relating to Brazil, for he is plausibly identified with the "Terazano" who, the Portuguese ambassador in France informs his sovereign, December 24, 1527, "is going from here with five ships which the admiral is preparing for him to a great river in Brazil,"30 etc.

Ten years elapsed before Francis I again turned his interest to North America under the solicitation of Admiral Chabot. In 1534 Jacques Cartier, an experienced navigator of St. Malo, in Brittany, was given command of two ships and one hundred and sixty-two men to undertake the discovery of a strait to the Pacific. Setting sail in April, he passed around Newfoundland to the north, entered the straits of Belle Isle, explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence, p146and discovered the island of Anticosti, when the lateness of the season and scarcity of supplies led to his return.31

In May, 1535, he again set out with three ships and took the same course. Reaching a small bay near Anticosti Island on St. Lawrence's day, he called it Bay of St. Lawrence. The great river that afterwards bore the name of the saint, Cartier knew as the river of Hochelaga. This broad estuary Cartier now explored with the same care exercised by the Spaniards in exploring its counterpart, the La Plata, in South America. By September 1 he was opposite the mouth of the Saguenay. A few days more brought them to the Indian town of Stadaconé, near the historic rock of Quebec. Cartier left his larger vessels moored near the mouth of the St. Charles River, and pushed on to Hochelaga despite the dissuasion of his Indian hosts. The current proved too swift and the channel too uncertain, and the reconnoissance was completed in their rowboats. When finally they approached the Indian village of Hochelaga, beneath the stately height which Cartier named Mount Royal, the whole population came out to greet them and later to entertain them with dancing.

Further exploration was blocked by the Lachine rapids, a name afterwards conferred in mockery of p147the elusive hopes that looked to find the way to China.32 Cartier dropped back to the St. Charles, where they prepared to spend the winter as did Magellan in Bay St. Julian fifteen years before, but under severer conditions. Ice-bound and snow-bound from November 1 until the middle of March, wasted by scurvy, they lost twenty-five of their best men. It was with the middle of July, 1536, before Cartier reached St. Malo.33

Yet the inhospitable severities of the Canadian winter did not deter King Francis from an attempt to plant a colony. In 1540 Jean François de la Roque, lord of Roberval, was appointed viceroy and lieutenant-general of Canada and the surrounding regions, and Cartier was made commander of the fleet. The wintry North could not appeal to the ordinary Frenchman, and so Francis repeated the unhappy experiment of Ferdinand and Isabella and authorized Roberval to recruit his ranks from the jailbirds.34

Cartier sailed in 1541 with colonists and cattle, goats and hogs. He built a fort a little above Quebec, explored the rapids above Montreal, and waited in vain for Roberval.35 When the tardy viceroy reached St. John's, Newfoundland, the following spring with some two hundred colonists, he was p148amazed a few days later to see Cartier sail in on his way to France, because he had not force enough to withstand the savages. Roberval ordered Cartier to stay and return with him, but he slipped away in the night, leaving Roberval to taste for himself the arctic winter. Disease swept off about fifty of his men, and the colony was broken up the following summer.36 The foundation of New France was to be the work of a later age and of a greater man than Cartier or Roberval — Samuel de Champlain.


The Author's Notes:

1 Herrera, Historia General, dec. I, lib. VII, chap. IV.

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2 The patent is reprinted in Lowery, Spanish Settlements, 437 ff., from Docs. Ined. de Indias, XXII, 26.

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3 Cf. Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 411, n.

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4 Peter Martyr, De Rebus Oceanicis, dec. VII, lib. VII; Hakluyt, Voyages, 422.

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5 Herrera, Historia General, dec. I, lib. IX, chap. X. The chronology is perplexing, and Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 411, n., decides that the year 1513 fits the calendar of narrative better than 1512. Cf. also Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 142‑150.

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6 Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 149.

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7 See his letter to Charles V, Docs. Ined. de Indias, XL, 50‑52, quoted in translation in Winsor, Narr. and Crit. Hist., II, 234.

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8 Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 162.

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9 Barcia, Ensayo Cronologico, 5.

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10 Navarrete, Viages, III, 147. Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 163.

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11 Cf. Scaife, America, Its Geographical History, 139‑176; Hamilton, Colonial Mobile, chap. II. That the Mississippi was later identified by the Spaniards as the Espiritu Santo and so called does not necessarily militate against this view.

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12 A tracing of Garay's map is given in Navarrete, Viages, III, 148.

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13 Navarrete, Viages, III, 147; summary in Lowery, Spanish Settlements, 152.

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14 Herrera, Historia General, dec. III, lib. V, chap. VII.

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15 Ibid. Bernal Diaz, Historia Verdadera, chap. CLXII. On the cause of his death, see Jourdanet, Bernal Diaz, 898.

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16 Shea, in Winsor, Narr. and Crit. Hist., II, 238, on the basis of unprinted materials.

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17 Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 209.

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18 Navarrete, Viages, III, 153.

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19 Shea, in Winsor, Narr. and Crit. Hist., II, 240.

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20 The location of San Miguel cannot be determined with certainty. Shea, in Winsor, Narr. and Crit. Hist., II, 241, believed it to be near where Jamestown, Virginia, was later settled. Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 213, favors the lower Cape Fear River between Wilmington and Smithville. Lowery, Spanish Settlements, 166, suggests the Pedee.

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21 Docs. Ined. de Indias, XX, 74‑78; Peter martyr, De Rebus Oceanicis, dec. VI, lib. X; in Hakluyt, Voyages, V, 403; Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 230.

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22 On the date, see Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 230‑232.

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23 Santa Cruz, in Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 235; Peter Martyr, De Rebus Oceanicis, dec. VIII, lib. X; Hakluyt, Voyages, V, 475.

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24 Peter Martyr, De Rebus Oceanicis, dec. VIII, lib. X, in Hakluyt, Voyages, V, 475.

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25 Parkman, Pioneers of France, 189.

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26 Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 693, 697.

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27 This identification dates from Barcia, Ensayo Cronologico para la Historia de la Florida (1723), 8. It has been disproved by Peragallo, Bull. of the Soc. Geog. Ital., 3d series, IX, 189. It never had any documentary evidence to rest on.

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28 Alguns Documentos, 463; Murphy, Voyage of Verrazano, 163, 184.

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29 Harrisse, Discovery of North America, 220.

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30 Winsor, Narr. and Crit. Hist., IV, 32‑46. It was named the Sea of Verrazano. There is no reference to it in the letter of Verrazano.

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31 Alguns Documentos, 490; Peragallo first brought out this evidence. See above, 143.

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32 Parkman, Pioneers of France, 199‑201; narrative of Cartier's first voyage in Goldsmid's Hakluyt, Voyages, XIII, 77‑100.

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33 Parkman, La Salle, 21.

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34 Parkman, Pioneers of France, 201‑215; Hakluyt, Voyages, XIII, 101‑146.

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35 Parkman, Pioneers of France, 217.

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36 Hakluyt, Voyages, XIII, 146‑163.


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