The Settlement of Spanish Florida
There were many failed attempts to
explore and settle the Southeastern United States between 1513 and 1565.
Below is a comprehensive list of the major documented European expeditions
launched either to explore or settle in what would later become the colony
of Spanish Florida after the establishment of the first permanent colonial
city of St. Augustine in 1565. For a map showing selected locations
from the expeditions below, see the
Juan Ponce de León, 1513
This exploratory expedition was sent from the island of
Puerto Rico in search of the fabled island of Bimini, and accidentally
resulted in the discovery of the landmass that Ponce named "Florida" in
honor of the day of its discovery (Easter, or "Pascua Florida"). The
expedition visited the middle and lower Atlantic coast of Florida, and
rounded the Florida Keys to visit the Charlotte Harbor vicinity of Southwest
Florida before returning to Puerto Rico.
Pedro de Salazar, ca. 1514-1516
This exploratory expedition sailed the
island of Hispaniola in search of new sources of American Indian slaves, and
resulted in the capture of as many as 500 Native Americans from an island
along the Atlantic coastline subsequently known as the "Island of Giants."
Though few survived long after their return, the information gathered on
this voyage set the stage for later Atlantic exploration.
Diego Miruelo, ca. 1516
This exploratory expedition is very
poorly documented, but may have been launched from Cuba in search of slaves
along the western coast of Florida. The expedition documented and
named at least one large bay along the northern Gulf coastline, though
several later expeditions had great difficulty in identifying it. The
following year Juan Ponce de León was engaged in a lawsuit against Cuban
governor Diego Velázquez del Cuellar for having allowed 300 Florida Indians
to be captured and brought illegally to Cuba, and this might possibly have
resulted from Miruelo's expedition.
Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, 1519
This exploratory expedition was sent by
Jamaica governor Francisco de Garay in order to explore the coastline
between Ponce de León's Florida and Hernán Cortés' New Spain (Mexico).
The four-ship exploratory expedition charted the entire northern Gulf of
Mexico, resulting in the first map showing the Gulf. The information
gathered on this trip foreshadowed the subsequent expedition of Pánfilo de
Juan Ponce de León, 1521
This colonizing expedition was the first
formal Spanish attempt to settle Florida, and involved a total of two ships
with 200 colonists. The expedition landed somewhere in the vicinity of
Fort Myers, Florida before being repulsed by a Calusa Indian attack which
mortally wounded Ponce de León himself. Ponce withdrew the expedition
and sailed to Cuba, where he died in the recently-established city of
Havana. The expedition was abandoned thereafter.
Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de
This exploratory expedition was yet
another Spanish slaving expedition which sailed northwest from the Bahamas
(the two independent ships from Hispaniola joined forces after meeting in
the Bahamas) in search of the land that Pedro de Salazar had discovered on
his earlier slave raid. They captured some 60 slaves from the lower
Atlantic coastline before returning to Hispaniola together.
Pedro de Quejo, 1525
This exploratory expedition was
specifically dispatched by Lúcas Vázquez de Ayllón as a reconnaissance
expedition for his planned colonial attempt to the Atlantic coastline
visited earlier by Gordillo and Quejo. Quejo sailed along much of the
eastern coast of North America before returning with extensive intelligence
about this region.
Lúcas Vázquez de Ayllón, 1526
This colonizing expedition was the second
formal Spanish attempt to settle Florida, and involved six ships with 600
colonists. The expedition established the new town of San Miguel de
Gualdape, possibly somewhere along the middle Georgia coastline, near the
end of September. Nevertheless, Ayllón's subsequent death and a number
of internal and external disputes doomed the colony to failure. The
survivors fled by the end of October, though only a quarter of their number
ever made it back to the Caribbean.
Pánfilo de Narváez, 1528
This colonizing expedition was originally
intended to settle along the northwestern Gulf coast just north of Cortés'
New Spain colony, but severe storms drove the fleet to Tampa Bay on
Florida's west coast, where the members of the expedition tried in vain to
discover Diego Miruelo's bay, and eventually marched overland to the land of
the Apalachee Indians at modern Tallahassee. From there, the
expedition constructed improvised barges and attempted to skirt the northern
Gulf coast toward northern Mexico, though most died along the way.
Eight years later, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and three surviving companions
finally reached Mexico City after wandering in an epic journey across the
interior of Texas and northern Mexico.
Hernando de Soto, 1539-1543
This exploratory expedition was designed
to explore a broad region of southeastern North America in order to select
the most suitable site for permanent settlement. Soto's expedition pushed rapidly inland toward the mountainous region that
he hoped would produce riches on the same scale as his previous experience
under Francisco Pizarro in Peru. The expedition sailed from Cuba with
nine ships and about 600 people, mostly soldiers. Landing in Tampa
Bay, the expedition seems to have followed Narváez's initial trajectory,
marching inland and northward toward Apalachee. From there the
expedition pushed deep into the interior Southeast, establishing an
anticipated rendezvous point at Pensacola Bay for future resupply
expeditions from Cuba. Repeated Cuban attempts to establish contact
with Soto's lost expedition failed, while the expedition wandered for more
than three years across much of eastern North America. Only half of
the expedition's members ultimately survived to sail out the Mississippi
River and along the Gulf coastline to Mexico.
Luís Cancer, 1549
This missionary expedition was as non-military as
its predecessor had been military. Dominican missionary Fray Luís
Cancer was granted permission to lead an expedition from Veracruz, Mexico
consisting of four Dominican priests and one farmer in the attempt to
establish a purely religious settlement along the Florida Gulf coastline,
with the goal of spiritual conversion rather than military conquest.
Though he cautioned the ship's pilot not to bring him near any place where
Spaniards had already landed, the ship ultimately landed precisely where
both Narváez and Soto had made landfall in the vicinity of Tampa Bay.
Following the capture and murder of one priest and the farmer, Cancer
himself was clubbed to death on the shore in sight of the ship, and the
expedition withdrew in failure.
Tristán de Luna y Arellano,
This colonizing expedition was the first
royally-financed colonial expedition to attempt the settlement of Florida,
and also the first such colony to be staged from Mexico. With a total
of eleven ships and 1,500 soldiers and colonists, it was also the largest to
date. The expedition's ultimate goal was to head off an anticipated
French settlement by establishing a Spanish colony at Santa Elena along the
modern South Carolina coast (originally visited and named in the leadup to
the Ayllón debacle). However, the strategy adopted was first to
establish a colonial town along the northern Gulf coast at modern Pensacola
Bay (then called Ochuse), and push inland to the famed Native American
chiefdom of Coosa visited by the Soto expedition, and finally eastward to
Santa Elena on the Atlantic coast. Only five weeks after landing,
however, the expedition's fleet (and much of it's food onboard) was
devastated by a hurricane, and the next two years were marked by attempts to
stave off starvation, including the relocation of the bulk of the colonists
inland to central Alabama, the dispatch of soldiers to Coosa in northwest
Georgia in search of food, and multiple resupply expeditions from Veracruz.
Most of the colony departed by the time Luna's replacement Angel de
Villafañe sailed for Havana and Santa Elena in 1561, but the last remnants were
finally withdrawn following the return of the failed Villafañe expedition
Angel de Villafañe, 1561
This exploratory expedition departed from Havana with
four ships and about 100 men (not counting an additional ship that sailed
later), and briefly explored along the Atlantic coast in the vicinity of
Santa Elena, in fulfillment of the original order for the Luna expedition.
Beset by storms that sank two of the ships, the expedition failed to leave a
Spanish presence at Santa Elena.
Jean Ribault, 1562-1563
This first French exploratory expedition
to Florida contained three ships cruised along the Florida, Georgia,
and South Carolina coastlines before leaving a small garrison of 28 men in
the newly-constructed Charlesfort at Santa Elena (Parris Island). The
fort was abandoned in 1563 when the survivors decided to return to France.
Hernando Manrique de Rojas, 1564
This Spanish exploratory expedition was
sent north from Cuba in search of evidence of the rumored French settlement,
and cruised the Georgia and South Carolina coast during the summer before
finding the ruins of Charlesfort at Santa Elena, along with a sole French
survivor who would later act as an interpreter for Spanish settlers.
René de Laudonnière, 1564-1565
This French colonial expedition
established a garrisoned fort near the mouth of the St. Johns River near
modern Jacksonville, Florida, where Jean Ribault had visited two years
previously. Three ships containing some 300 men landed in June,
along the river. Over the course of the next year, the colony
interacted extensively with surrounding Native Americans, but lack of
supplies left them in a precarious position by the time an English fleet
traded badly-needed supplies for most of the French cannons. When
French supplies and reinforcements finally arrived under Jean Ribault in
August, Spanish forces under Pedro Menéndez had already landed to the south,
ultimately leading to the annihilation of the French colony.
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, 1565
The final (and only successful) Spanish
expedition to colonize Florida was financed by both royal and private funds,
and was led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Five ships and some 800
soldiers and colonists arrived along the northeast coast of Florida in late
August, where they ultimately slaughtered much of the French colonial force
before establishing St. Augustine, which would become the first permanent
European colonial city in Florida. From this port and administrative
center, colonial Spanish Florida would grow over the course of the following
decades, up to and including the short-lived Spanish town of Santa Elena
(1566-1587) and three-succesive Veracruz-based Spanish presidios at
Pensacola Bay (after 1698).