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Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s
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Detail - 1539
May 25, 1539 - Hernando de Soto lands in Florida with nine ships and six hundred and twenty men at Shaw's Point in today's Bradenton, Florida, and begins to explore the interior of the Americas. They explored the western coast of Florida and encamped during the winter at Anhaica in Apalachee territory.
Hernando de Soto had been in the New World since July 1914 as part of the Davila expedition to America, reaching Columbia. He explored Central America and Nicaragua, where he became a regidor, and searched for a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. By 1536, he had returned to Spain on Soria's Ship after being passed over for the position of second in command of the southern Inca empire. He was a rich man by this time, worth 180,000 cruzadas, and his main purpose for returning was to gain an indepedent governorship somewhere in the New World. He preferred land north of Pizzaro, in Ecuador or Columbia, but would accept Guatemala. On April 20, 1937, the King sent de Soto a letter, giving him governorship of the lands of America (Florida) formerly bestowed upon Narvaez and other new lands.
Full Text, April 20, 1537 Agreement from King to Hernando de Soto
Inasmuch as you, Captain Hernando de Soto, set forth that you have served
is in the conquest, pacification, and settlement of tho Provinces of Nicaragua
mid Peru, and of other parts of our Indias; and that now, to serve us further, and
to continue to enlarge our patrimony and the royal crown, you desire to return
to those out Indias, to conquer and settle [from] the Province of Ilio de las Palinas
to Florida, the government whereof was bestowed on Panlilo de Narvaez, anil the
Provinces of Tierra-Nueva, the discovery and government of which was conferred
on Lucius Vazquez de Ay Hon; and that for the purpose you will take-from these,
our kingdoms and our said Indias, five hundred men, with the necessary arms,
horses, munitions, and military stores; and that you will go hence, from these
our kingdoms, to make the said conquest and settlement within a year first follow
ing, to be reckoned from the day of the date of these articles of authorization;
and that when vou shall leave the Island of Cuba to go upon that enterprise,
you will take the necessary subsistence for all that people during eighteen
months - rather over than under that time - entirely at your cost and charges,
without our being obliged, or the kings who shall come after us, to pay you,
nor to satisfy the expenses incurred therefor, other than such as you in these arti
cles may be authorized to make; and you pray that I bestow on you the conquest
of those lands and provinces, and with it the government of the said Island of
Cuba, that you may from there the better control and provide all the principal
and important material for the conquest ami settlement, whereupon I have
ordered to be made with you the terms and contract following:
First, I give you, the said Captain Hernando de Soto, power and authority,
for us and in our name, and in that of the royal crown of Caslilla, to conquer,
pacify, and populate the lands that are from the Province of the Rio de las Palmas
to Florida, the government of which was bestowed on Panfilo de Narvaez;
and, further, the Provinces of the said Tierra-Nueva, the government whereof
was in like manner conferred on the said Licentiate Avllon.
Also, purposing to comply in this with the service of Ood our Lord, and to do
you honor, we engage to confer on you the dignity of Governor and Captain-
Rcncral of two hundred leagues of coast, such as you shall designate, of what
you discover, so that within four years, to be reckoned from the time you arrive
in any part of the lands and provinces before mentioned, you shall choose and
declare whence you would have the two hundred leagues begin; that from where
you designate they shall be measured along the const, for all the days of your life,
with the annual salary of fifteen hundred ducats, and five hundred ducars gratuity,
in all two thousand, which you shall receive from the day you set sail in the port
of San Ldcar, to go upon your voyage, to be paid to you from tho duties and
profits to us appertaining in those said lands and provinces which you so oficr to
conquer and colonize; and in that time should there by neither duties nor profits,
we shall not be obliged to order that you be paid any thing.
Also, we will confer on you the title of our Adelautado over the said two hundred leagues which you shall thus select and make known fo your governmentIn the said lands and provinces you so discover and colonize, and will likewise bestow on you the office of High-Constable (Alguazil mayor) over those territories
Also, we give permission, the judgment of our officers of said province being in
accord, that you build there as many as three stone fortresses in the harbors
and places most proper for them, they appearing to you and to our said officers
to be necessary for the protection and pacification of that country; and we confer
on you the Lieutenancy of them, and on one heir for life, or successor whom you
shall name, with the annual salary to each of the fortresses of one hundred
thousand moravedis, which you shall enjoy from the time they be severally built
and finished and enclosed, in the opinion of our said officers; to be done at your
own cost, without our being obliged, or any of the kings who shall come after us,
to pay you what you may expend on those fortresses.
Again, inasmuch as you have petitioned us to bestow on vou some portion of
the land and vassals in said province you would conquer and populate, consider
ing what you have served us, and the expenditure you will meet from this time in
making said conquest and pacification, we receive the petitions favorably: hence
we promise to bestow on you, and by these presents we do, twelve leagues of land
in square in the said two hundred leagues you shall designate to hold in govern
ment in the said territories and provinces before declared, which we command
our officers of the said province to assign, after you have designated the said two
hundred leagues to include no sea-port, nor the principal town, and that with
the jurisdiction and title we shall confer at the time we give you the deeds.
Again, as lias been said, you have petitioned us, that for the better governing
and providing of all the principal and important matters for the conquest and
settlement of said territories and provinces, I should "Tiler that there be given to
you with them the government of the said Island of Cuba, which, to that end,
wc deem well, and is our pleasure, for the time it shall be our will, that you hold
the government of said island; anil for thus much we will order to be given you
our provision by which you will be obliged to have a Chief-Justice, who shall In.- a
lawyer to whom we shall require you to pay yearly on that Island the salary
of two hundred penna of gold; and we give to you five hundred ducats annual
gratuity for the government of said Island, while you hold the same, to be paid
from the duties and profits we may have from the province you have thus to conquer, pacify, and hold in government; and if there be none there, wc shall not be obliged to pay you that, nor any other thing more than the two hundred peso of the said Chief-Justice.
Also, we give you liberty and right that you from these our kingdoms and
lordships, or from the Kingdom of Portugal, or Islands of C'abo Verde, or Guinea,
do and may pass, or whosoever may exercise your power, to the said Island
of Cuba fifty negro slaves, not less than one-third of them to l>e females, free of
the import duties that of right may belong to us at said island, upon paying the
license of two ducats on each to Diego de la Maya, which sum by our order he is
charged to collect.
Again, also, we promise that upon your arrival in that country of your govern
ment, which you have thus to conquer and settle, we give liberty and right to
whomsoever shall have your power, that you take thither from these our said
kingdoms, or from Portugal, or the Islands of Cabo Verde, other fifty negro slaves,
the third part of them females, free from all duties.
Also, we concede to those who shall go to settle in that country within the six
years first following, to In' reckoned forward from the day of the date of these
presents, that of the gold which may be taken from the mines shall be paid us the
tenth, and the six years being ended, Bhall pay us the ninth, and thus annually
declining to the fifth part; but from the gold and other things which may be got
by barter, or is spoil got by incursions, or in any other manner, shall be paid vis
thereupon one-fifth of all.
Also we give, free of all import duty, to the inhabitants of that country for the
said six years, and as much longer as shall lie our will, all they may take for the
furnishing and provision of their houses, the same not l>ciiig to sell: and whatso
ever they or any other, merchants or traffickers, sell, shall go free of duty for two
years, and no longer.
Likewise, we promise that for the term of ten years, and until wc command
otherwise, we will not impose on the inhabitants of those countries any excise
duty, or other tribute whatsoever.
Likewise, we grant that to said inhabitants may lie given through you the lots
ami grounds proper to their conditions, ns hns been done, and is doing, in the
Island of Espanola; and we also give you license, in our name, during the time of
our government, that you take the bestowal of the Indians of that land, observing
therein the instructions and provisions that will be Riven to you. Again, we bestow on the hospital that may be built in that country, to assist the relief of the poor who may go thither, the eharity of one hundred thousand paravedes from the fines imposed by the tribunal of that country. Again, also, according to your petition and consent, and of the settlers of that country, we promise to give to its hospital, And by these presents we do give, the duties of escobilla and relabes [the washing and second washing of metals), existing in the foundries that may there lie made; and, as respects that, we will order our revision to be issued to you in form. Also, likewise we will order, and by the present commund and defend, that roin these our kingdoms do not pass into said country, nor go, any one of the persons prohibited from going into those parts, under the penalties contained in the laws and ordinances of our letters, upon which subject this by us and by the Catholic Kings are given, nor any counsellors nor attorneys to exercise their
The which, all that is said, and each thing and part thereof, we concede to you, conditioned that you, the said Hernando de Soto, be held and obliged to go from our realms in person to make the conquest within one year next following, to be reckoned from the day of the date of this charter.
Again, on condition that when you go nut of those our said kingdoms, and
arrive in paid country, you will carry and have with you the ollicers of our exchequer, who may by us be named; and likewise also the persons, religious and ecclesiastical, who shall lie appointed by us for the instruction of the natives of that Province in our Holy Catholic Faith, to whom you are to give and pay the passage, stores, and other necessary subsistence for them, according to their condition, all at your cost, receiving nothing from them during the said entire
voyage; with which matter we gravely charge you, that you do and comply with,
as a thing for the service of God and our own, and any thing otherwise we shall
deem contrary to our service.
Again, whensoever, according to right and the laws of our kingdoms, the people and captains of our armaments take prisoner any prince or lord of the countries where, by our command, they make war, the ransom of such lord or cacique belongs to us, with all the other things movable found or belonging to him; but, considering the great toils and perils that our subjects undergo in the
conquest of the Indias, as some recompense, and to favor them, we make known
and command, that if in your snid conquest anil government any cacique or prin
cipal lord be captured or seized, all the treasures, gold, silver, stones, and pearls
that may be got from him by way of redemption, or in any other manner whatso
ever, we award you the seventh part thereof, and the remainder shall be divided
among the conquerors, first taking out otir fifth; and in case the said cacique or
lord should be slain in battle, or afterward by course of justice, or in any other
manner whatsoever, in such case, of the treasures or goods aforesaid obtained of
him justly we have the half, which, before anything else, our oflicers shall take,
after having first reserved our fifth.
Again, since our said officers of said province might have some doubt in making
the collection of our duties, especially on gold and silver, stones and jwarls, as
well those that may be found in sepulchres, and other places where they may In;
hidden, as those got by ransom and incursion, or other way, our pleasure and will
is, that, until some change, the following order be observed.
First, we order that of the gold and silver, stones and pearls that may be won in battle, or on entering towns, or by barter with the Indians, should and must be paid us one-fifth of all.
Likewise, that all the gold and silver, stones, pearls, and other things that may he found and taken, as well in the graves, sepulchres, ocues, or temples of the Indians, as in other places where they are accustomed to offer sacrifices to their idols, or in other concealed religious precincts, or buried in house, or patrimonial soil, or in the ground, or in some other public place, whether belonging to the community or an individual, he his state or dignity what it may, of the whole,
and of all other, of the character that may be and is found, whether finding it by accident or discovering it by search, shall pay us the half, without diminution of any sort, the other half remaining to the person who has found or made the discovery: and should any person or persons have gold, silver, stones, or pearls, taken or found, as well in the said graves, sepulchres, ocues, or Indian temples, as in the other places where they were accustomed to offer sacrifices, or other concealed religious places, or interred as before said, and do not make it known, that they
mav receive, in conformity with thin chapter, what may belong to them, they have
forfeited all the gold and silver, atones and pearls besides the half of their goods,
to our tribunal and exchequer.
And we, having been informed of the evils and disorders which occur in making discoveries and new settlements, for the redress thereof, and that we may be enabled to give you license to make them, with the accord of the members of our Council and of our consultation, a general provision of chapters is ordained and dispatched, respecting what you will have to observe and in the said settlement and conquest, and we command it here to be incorporated in tenor as follows:
(Here follow a set of articles prescribing the relations to be maintained with the Indians which were inserted into all documents of this character during the period in question.)
Hence, by these presents, you, the said Captain Hernando de Soto, doing as
aforesaid at your cost, according to and in the manner before contained, observing
and complying with the said provision here incorporated, and all the other instructions we shall henceforth command you to obey, and to give with regard to that country, and for the good treatment and conversion to our Holy Catholic Faith of the natives of it, we promise and declare that to you will be kept in those terms, and whatever therein is contained, in and through all; and you doing otherwise, and not complying therewith, we shall not be obliged to keep with you and comply with the aforesaid, nor any matter of it; on the contrary, we will order that you
be punished, and proceed against you as against one who keeps not nor complies with, but acts counter to, the commands of his natural king and lord. In confirmation whereof we order that the present (authorization] be given, signed by my name, and witnessed by my undersigned Secretary. Done at the town of Valladolid, the twentieth day of the month of April, of the year one thousand five hundred and thirty seven.
I, The King.
The 1939 Voyage and Exploration
By 1539, he would be admitted into the Order of Santiago and given the charge to colonize the North American continent within four years. The expedition would include six hundred and twenty volunteers, including three or four women, from Spain and Portugal, seven of the King's ships and two of De Soto's. They set sail for Havana in early May. By May 25, Hernando de Soto landed in the southern part of Tampa Bay, one week after leaving Havana. When de Soto arrived, he met a Spaniard who was living with the Mocoso. Juan Ortiz had been captured while searching for the lost Narvaez expedition and knew the Timucuan language. With Ortiz and other tribe members as guides, de Soto spend the remainder of 1939 exploring the west coast of Florida, then camping for winter with the Apalachee in Anhaica.
Hernando de Soto Timeline of American Exploration
May 1, 1540 - De Soto expedition crossed the Savannah near site of present-day Augusta, Georgia.
May 26, 1540 - Crossed the Little Tennessee near Franklin, North Carolina.
June 4-5, 1540 - Passed the flank of Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
September 6, 1540 - Reached site of present-day Mobile, Alabama.
October 18, 1540 - Battle of Mabila (Alabama) occurs when the expedition is ambushed by the Mabilian Tribe. The Spaniards fight their way out of the fortified city, burning it to the ground. Two hundred and twenty of de Soto's forces are lost, one hundred and fifty wounded; an estimated two to six thousand Mabilians were killed.
December 14, 1540 - Hernando de Soto reaches Columbus and Aberdeen, reaching the Tombigbee.
March 4, 1541 - Battle between the de Soto expedition and the Chickasaw occurs after the tribe refuses de Soto's demands for two hundred porters, then attacks during the night. Expedition loses forty men and equipment.
May 8, 1541 - Expedition sights the Mississippi River at Sunflower Landing, Mississippi (site disputed by some), and builds flat boats to cross it and avoid unfriendly natives in the area.
May 21, 1541 - Hernando de Soto dies in the native village of Guachoya of a fever. Only three hundred and eleven of his men would make it back to civilization, to the Spanish colony of Mexico City.
Image above: Hernando de Soto on his discovery of Tampa Bay, in 1539, 1853, James Smilie, Engraver; Seth Eastman, Artist. Courtesy Library of Congress. Image below: De Soto reaching the Mississippi River, 1893, Gebbie and Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source info: Wikipedia; Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission in 1939.
History Photo Bomb
Ponce de Leon meeting the Indian tribes of Florida.
Christopher Columbus, by Ridalfo Ghirlandaio, 1520.
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Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, americasbesthistory.com & its licensors.