Portada » A citizen of Jerez, explorer of La Florida (One)

A citizen of Jerez, explorer of La Florida (One)

Ponce de León’s Expedition to Florida. Engraving 1885.

Continuing from the previous entry… “And on July 17, 1527, Narváez departs with the fleet for Florida from the Port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda towards Santo Domingo…”

Well, right from the start, during the course of the voyage to Santo Domingo, the fleet encounters a storm that causes the loss of 60 men and a ship. As a result, upon arrival, 140 men decide not to continue the expedition… Given the circumstances, the fleet decides to spend the winter in Cuba and take the opportunity to resupply.

Months later, in April 1528, they begin the route towards Florida.

It’s important to note that Pánfilo Narváez had incorrect calculations, the distances weren’t accurate. So, when they set off from Santo Domingo, they again face a challenging voyage. Despite this, they manage to spot the bay of Tampa, not quite sure where to head.

From the ships, they spot some structures on a hill by present-day San Petersburgo, and Narváez assumes it must be an important village. Driven by impatience, he orders a swift disembarkation.

Florida expedition with Cabeza de Vaca and Narváez.

Venturing Inland…

When Narváez and his men arrive at the village, they are peacefully welcomed by the natives. They set up camp there and venture to explore the surroundings. As night falls and they return, they are astonished to find that the indigenous people had left.

The next day, after taking possession of the land for King Charles V, they continued their search, finding another village with no riches or food. It’s here that the natives advise the Spaniards to continue northward to reach the lands of the Apalachees, lands rumored to have gold and food.

Returning to the camp, Narváez organizes the march in the style of Cortés, splitting the expedition by sea and by land, with the idea of reuniting in the north.

The patience of the explorers was wearing thin, including Álvar’s, as he feared that with the incorrect maritime calculations and the uncertainty of the terrain, the endeavor was headed for disaster.

The 100 men who began the expedition by sea were searching for the next inlet of the Tampa Bay, but the reality was that it was located to the south. Meanwhile, by land, Narváez, along with Álvar and the other men, trekked for 15 days through dense vegetation with unfamiliar wildlife and waterlogged swamps. Finally, in a village north of the Vitalcoche River, they were able to eat maize.

They continued through the lands of the Timucua people, making contact with them, until they reached the Apalachee lands in the summer, but… the “promised land” from the earlier indigenous accounts turned out to be a humble village with around 40 poorly constructed huts, inhabited by fierce warriors.

Narváez and Cabeza de Vaca exploring the land on horseback.

Three unbearable weeks passed in the territory of the Apalachees, but despite their efforts aided by three hostages, they found nothing more than the skill of those natives’ bows and arrows. Their effective attacks depleted Narváez’s army, which could do little against the heavy crossbows and muskets.

At the end of the third expedition, Narváez had no choice but to give up, reaching this decision in the area that corresponds to present-day Georgia. He ordered a retreat to the coast, enduring the harsh attacks of the natives in the marshy lands.

On the coast, near present-day Tallahassee, they stopped in a village where they could nourish themselves with maize, beans, and squashes. With supplies replenished, they resumed their march following the course of the river they named San Marcos, now known as “Saint Marks,” until they reached the coast.

Finally, our protagonist takes the reins…

Cabeza de Vaca and Narváez arrival to the coast.

The dreadful conditions they arrived in, including Narváez who was gravely injured, prompted our man from Jerez to take command. Álvar ordered the construction of 5 barges, about 8 to 12 meters in length, using the weapons and armor, as well as natural resources.

During the time it took to design them, they survived on maize, fishing, and finally their horses. To honor their valuable horses, they named the bay “Bay of the Horses.”

In September, with the barges ready, the 242 men divided into groups of 50 and followed the westward coast in search of what is now Tampico, believing it wasn’t too far away… The truth is, they spent many days enduring storms, hunger, thirst, and the pain of their wounds. Finally, a hurricane caused them to shipwreck two days before reaching the Mississippi River.

The ships separated, some sank, like the one piloted by Narváez; and others were violently thrown against the shore. The barge that Álvar was on had better luck and was carried to what is now Galveston.

By November 1528, the Florida fleet that initially set out with 600 men was reduced to 80. Upon reaching the island, they coincidentally referred to it as “ill fate,” because if something was definitely not on their side, it was good fortune.

And that concludes the first part. What will become of our protagonist now? TO BE CONTINUED…


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