By J. G. Johnson, M. A.
University of Georgia
During the sixteenth century Española, the name given to the island of Haiti by Columbus, was the center from which numerous expeditions sailed to the lands lying to the south, west, and north, on their errands of discovery, exploration, conquest, and colonization. That the early attempts at planting colonies on the Atlantic mainland were unsuccessful does not detract from their interest. Long before the English undertaking on Roanoke Island had ended in tragedy, thriving Spanish colonies existed far to the north of St. Augustine. To San Felipe on Port Royal Sound came Spanish soldiers and farmers in 1566, to be followed soon afterward by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries. This settlement existed until 1686, but exactly forty years before its establishment Spaniards from Española founded San Miguel de Guadalpe, near the present dividing line of the two Carolinas. It is highly interesting to note that negro slaves were first introduced, not in Virginia, but in Carolina. Likewise the first recorded instance of shipbuilding on the coasts of what is now the United States occurred at or near the mouth of Cape Fear River.
In 1520 there lived in Española one Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon who was known widely as the licentiate Ayllon by the Spanish chroniclers of the period. He had gone to the Indies with Ovando in 1502.1 Early in 1520 he went to Cuba as a commissioner from the Audiencia of Santo Domingo, the object of his errand being to attempt to allay the wrath of Governor Velasquez of that island, who was at that time fitting out an expedition to proceed against Cortes in Mexico. Ayllon protested against the activities of Narvaez, the leader of the expedition, but to p340 no avail.2 Four years later we hear of him as one of the auditors of Española, and "though possessed of wealth, honors, and domestic felicity, aspired to the glory of discovering some new land, and making it the seat of a prosperous colony." It is most probable that he was inspired by the success of Cortes in Mexico, and filled with zeal to win honor for himself and a principality in Spain in the "Northern Mystery." Notwithstanding these martial ambitions he possessed none of the attributes of the adelantado or conquistador. He was a man of no mean order of intelligence, but according to a contemporary who was also a personal acquaintance, he had never "donned a corselet or borne a sword to earn his wages therewith."3
As early as December, 1520, Ayllon had fitted out a caravel, and under the command of Francisco Gordillo, dispatched it to the north with instructions to proceed until the mainland was reached.4 After some time this vessel fell in with another commanded by Pedro de Quexos, who had been sent to capture cannibalistic Caribs to sell as slaves. Quexos was returning unsuccessful but decided to sail north with Gordillo, hoping to fill his hold with Indians from the continent. In June, 1521, driven before a gale, they reached the mainland in latitude 33° 30′ at the mouth of a river which they called St. John Baptist.5 The region was called Chicora by the Indians. At first the natives stood amazed at the floating apparitions, but became terror-stricken and fled when a party p341 of Spaniards landed and approached them. The visitors finally won their confidence by a display of gifts. Taking possession of the land in the name of the king of Spain, the Spaniards crossed over the bay and explored the interior for some distance.6
Having examined the region and conceived a favorable impression of it, the Spaniards decided to return to Española. Before setting forth they beguiled 150 natives into going on board the ships, and although it was in direct contradiction to Ayllon's orders, lifted their anchors and sailed away with the intention of selling the captives into slavery when they reached the Indies. When apprised of this outrage Ayllon was filled with indignation and brought the case before a commission presided over by Diego Columbus. As a result the Indians were set free on the island of Española. One of the former captives who was possessed of considerable shrewdness, as his later exploits show, was converted and baptized under the name of Francisco Chicora.
Accompanied by Francisco, Ayllon now hastened to Spain to obtain permission to colonize Chicora.7 Here he met and was assisted by the eminent Spanish historian, Oviedo and Peter Martyr.8 It was now that Francisco Chicora came into prominence. As a spinner of extraordinary stories history does not record his superior. Considering the credulity of his audience one can understand how the quick-witted but homesick savage perceived a method of ending his forced exile by exciting the curiosity and cupidity of the Spaniards. He recounted that in his country the natives were white, that the kings and queens were giants — elongated in their youth by rubbing their bodies with ointments concocted from strange herbs p342 — then stretched like wax until they were of enormous height. He also told of a race of men in Chicora with marvellously long tails; that they bored holes through their seats through which the tails dangled when they were seated;9 that the people of Chicora made cheese from the milk of their women; that deer were kept in enclosures and sent out with shepherds.10 Regarding the giant king of Chicora, Peter Martyr says:
"They are governed by a king of gigantic size, called Datha, whose wife is as large as himself. They have five children. In place of horses the king is carried on the shoulders of strong young men, who run with him to the different places he wishes to visit. . . . I now come to a point which will appear incredible to your excellency. You already know that the ruler of this region is a tyrant of gigantic size. How does it happen that only he and his wife have attained this extraordinary size? No one of their subjects has explained this to me, but I have questioned the above-mentioned licenciate Ayllon, a serious and responsible man who had his information from those who had shared with him the cost of the expedition. I likewise questioned the servant Francisco, to whom the neighbors had spoken. Neither nature nor birth has given these princes the advantage of size as an hereditary gift; they have acquired it by artifice. While they are still in their cradles and in charge of their nurses, experts in the matter are called, who by the application of certain herbs, soften their young bones. During a period of several days they rub the limbs of the child with these herbs, until the bones become as soft as wax. They rapidly bend them in such wise that the infant is almost killed. Afterwards they feed the nurse on foods of a special virtue. The child is wrapped in warm covers, the nurse gives it her breast and revives it with her milk, thus gifted with strengthening properties. After some days of rest the lamentable task of stretching the bones is begun anew. Such is the explanation given by the servant, Francisco Chicorana."11
Cortes had found immense wealth in Mexico, and within a few years Pizarro was to win untold treasure in Peru. Eldorado, the Seven Cities of Cibola, the country of the Amazons, — all these and more were firing the imaginations of adventurous Spaniards. The "Northern Mystery" was again beginning to beckon, and not even the tragedy of Ponce de Leon could diminish the lust for treasure and adventure.
p343 Ayllon experienced no difficulty in persuading Charles V to confer upon him the title of adelantado12 which was usually borne by early Spanish frontier governors and conquerors. He was granted permission to plant a colony in Chicora but the stipulation was that he should do so at his own expense. According to the cedula he was to start the expedition in 1524, but finding preparations lagging behind, an extension of time was granted. In the agreement Ayllon bound himself to make every provision for the welfare of the proposed colony. Missionaries and surgeons were to be transported thither to look after the physical and spiritual well-being of the colonists; agriculture was to be encouraged, and captives were to be purchased from the Indians to be used in cultivating the farms of Chicora.
Ayllon now returned to Española where he busied himself with preparations for the undertaking. During the delay Quexos was again sent to the continent, this time with two caravels, to explore the coast, take possession of the land for Spain, and bring back several Indians to be trained as interpreters. He fulfilled the mission and increased the enthusiasm by displaying a small quantity of gold, silver, and pearls which he had obtained in Chicora.13
It was not until June, 1526, that Ayllon was ready to set out with his colonists. Considering numbers and equipment it was a more formidable array than that which had already conquered Mexico, or that other which was shortly to overthrow the Inca in Peru. Seven vessels, 600 men and women, among whom were several slaves, and 83 horses made up the expedition.
p344 Reaching the mainland north of the peninsula of Florida the Spaniards proceeded up the coast until they came to the mouth of a river in 33° 40′,14 which Ayllon called the Jordan for one of his captains. In all probability this river was the Cape Fear, as it is the only stream of considerable size emptying into the sea near that latitude. At this time a serious accident befell the party when one of the ships with a large quantity of provisions sank in the river, but not before the passengers and crew had been rescued. To replace this vessel a gabarra, an open boat propelled by sails or oars, was constructed.15
Exploring parties were sent out by water and land to seek a more desirable site for a settlement. It was now that a second catastrophe overtook the expedition, namely the desertion of Francisco Chicora, who made his way through the forests to his own people. After a few days one of the parties returned and reported the discovery of a more suitable site. Whereupon the entire expedition moved down the coast forty or forty-five leagues until they came to another river which they called the Guadalpe. Here the settlement of San Miguel de Guadalpe was founded. Doubtless the river was the Santee and the settlement was established at or near its mouth.16 A plentiful supply of fish was found in the river and the Indians were peaceable, but nevertheless the settlement soon went to pieces. When winter came on many died of p345 famine. On October 18, 1526, Ayllon died, and mutiny, added to the scarcity of provisions and the lack of dwellings, brought about the total disruption of the venture.
Just before Ayllon's death he designated his nephew, Juan Ramirez, as his successor, but as Ramirez was in Porto Rico, Francisco Gomez assumed command.17 Now a number of the soldiers becoming dissatisfied, imprisoned Gomez and the other officials. In time Gomez was rescued and had the leaders of the revolt put to death. Placing the body of Ayllon on the gabarra, which had been constructed on Cape Fear River, the survivors, numbering 150, deserted the colony and set out for Española.18 On their return the Spaniards suffered bitterly from the cold. We are told that seven froze to death, and in such desperate straits did they find themselves, that Ayllon's body was consigned to the sea.19
Ayllon left his family in straitened circumstances, as he had sunk his entire fortune in the Chicora venture.20 In order to recoup the fallen fortunes of the family his widow and his son, Lucas Vasquez Ayllon, attempted to secure an extension of the patent for themselves.21 The extension was granted to the son but he failed in his attempt to recruit another colonizing expedition. The disappointment undermined his health and he died in Española.22
1 Gómara, La historia general de las Indias (Anvers, 1554), lib. III, cap. VII.
2 Herrera, Descripción de la Indias Occidentales . . . (Madrid, 1726), Dec. II, Lib. VII, cap. IV.
3 Oviedo, Historia general y natural de las Indias . . . (Madrid, 1851‑1855), vol. III, lib. XXXVII.
4 Shea in Narrative and Critical History of America (New York, 1884‑1887), vol. II, 238; Navarrete, Coleccion de viages y descubrimientos . . . (Madrid, 1825‑1837), vol. III, 69‑71.
5 According to the account of Quexos they made a landfall at 33° 30′ (Narrative and Critical History, II, 239), but the points touched are placed at 35°, 36°, and 37° in Coleccion de documentos ineditos . . . (Pacheco y Cardenas) (Madrid, 1864‑1884), XXII. However, the reckonings of that day were extremely inaccurate. No river of considerable size empties into the sea at 33° 30′. The probability is that they reached Winyah Bay into which the Peedee and Black Rivers, as well as several inconsiderable streams, empty.
6 Shea in Narrative and Critical History, II, 238; cf. Lowery, The Spanish Settlements within the present limits of the United States, 1513‑1561, 156.
7 Coleccion de documentos ineditos, XXXV, 241.
8 Barcia, Ensayo chronologico para la historia general de la Florida . . . (Madrid, 1723), año 1526.
9 Navarrete, Coleccion, vol. III, 153; Herrera, Descripcion de las Indias Occidentales. Dec. II, lib. X, cap. VI; Barcia, Ensayo chronologico, año 1520.
10 Gomara, La historia general de las Indias, 32‑33.
11 Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo. English translation by F. A. MacNutt, (New York, 1912), II, 259‑269.
12 Coleccion de documentos ineditos, XXII, 79.
13 Barcía, Ensayo chronologico, año 1524.
14 Herrera, Descripcion de las Indias Occidentales, Dec. III, lib. VIII, cap. VIII.
15 Navarrete, Coleccion, vol. III, 72.
16 There is some disagreement as to where the settlement was established. Lowery, Spanish Settlements, 166, suggests the Peedee. Shea in Narrative and Critical History, II, 285, seems to think that the settlement was north of Cape Hatteras. However, the most definite evidence is found in Oviedo, Historia general . . ., 628, where it is said that the region "está en treynta é très grados para arriba." An examination of a map of the South Carolina coast reveals the fact that the Santee empties into the sea a little above 33°. The early geographer, López de Velasco, in his Geografía y descripcion universal de las Indias (Madrid, 1894), does not show the settlement at all. Hernando Colon's map (1527), number 38 of the Kohl Collection (reproduced in Lowery, Spanish Settlements, 146), now belonging to the State Department of the United States, indicates vaguely the tierra del licenciado Ayllon, on the Atlantic coast, seemingly near the present dividing line of North and South Carolina.
17 Lowery, Spanish Settlements, 167.
18 Lowery, loc. cit.
19 Oviedo, Historia general, vol. III, lib. XXXVII, cap. III.
20 Navarrete, Coleccion, vol. III, 73.
22 Barcia, Ensayo chronologico, año 1525.
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