History Timeline 1500s

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.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s


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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1559

    August 15, 1559 - Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano arrives from Vera Cruz, Mexico, into Pensacola Bay to establish Spanish colony called Santa Maria de Ochuse with one thousand five hundred colonists.


    The Spanish had tried this before, but, despite their establishment of settlements in the Caribbean and Mexico since the first days of Columbus setting foot in the New World, albeit not the Orient, it had been difficult to do the same in the land of the Continental United States. This had been true, particularly, of Florida. Pensacola Bay had been visited before by the Spanish, perhaps first during the trip of Diego Miruelo in 1516, then followed up by the remnants of the Pánfilo de Narváez expedition after their fated attempts to battle the Apalachee had led them toward the Gulf of Mexico and an escape route back to Mexico, and thus through Pensacola. De Soto even came during his trek west (1539-1543), his expedition calling it the Bay of Ochuse after its Indian name. Ponce de León had also tried a colonization effort twice before along the southwest Florida coast in 1521; both failed. There had also been one effort in Georgia, too, in 1526, by Lúcas Vázquez de Ayllón; that failed, too.

    But now, twenty years after de Soto's last attempt, it was time to try again. Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano was a Spanish explorer who served with Coronado in Mexico, participating in his exploration of the southwest for the Lost Cities of Gold. By 1559, he had been chosen by his friend, the Viceroy of New Spain, Mexico, Luís de Velasco to make another attempt at colonization in Florida, plus establish an overland route to Mexico from another planned settlement in South Carolina. There was a recommendation from Guido de Lavazaris (de las Bazares), who had been to Mobile Bay in September of 1558, to choose that location. Tristán de Luna chose Pensacola Bay instead for the twelve or so ships and fifteen hundred colonists who would accompany him, including two hundred Aztec warriors. Among the colonists was Fray Domingo de la Anunciación, who would write his account of the effort, and three members of de Soto's party.

    And why did they want to make another attempt? There was a push from the religious side, and the notion that the French and Scottish were planning a similar mission at colonization. With extensive planning, Tristán de Luna, who would be the colony governor, accumulated five hunred soldiers, one hundred builders, six Dominican priests, and additional colonists (both men and women) for the journey, intending a departure for May 1559. Preparations were slow; on June 11, 1559 the expedition to establish the colony left the port of San Juan de Ulúa, Mexico. They sailed for seventeen days before being blown southeast by a storm, the nsailed north for fourteen before sighting land. They arrived on August 14/15. After their first consideration, Mobile Bay, forty-seven miles west, was not chosen as the site settlement, Pensacola (Ochuse) was selected because it was thought the harbor safer from storms.

    Establishing Santa Maria de Ochuse

    Upon arrival in Pensacola Bay, expeditions were sent to find a suitable location for the colony of Santa Maria de Ochuse, one by land and one by river. Fray Domingo de la Anunciación led the river party. The location was to be suitable for a town, as the Viceroy described, that included one hundred and forty town lots, forty of which were to be used for a plaza, church, warehouse, and other structures, and the remaining one hundred for the one hundred families that were thought to remain at the port settlement. There would be four gates for the town. It is unknown whether the settlement that would be constructed measured to those ideals or not.

    While the parties explored for the suitable location overlooking the port, a storm hit the bay on September 19 (some sources list this as August 19; current researchers contend that the September date is more accurate), sinking six ships and costing many lives and most of their remaining supplies. It is estimated that only three ships of the colony remained after the storm. The harbor was not as safe as de Luna had thought. News of the hurricane reached New Spain on September 27; de Luna needed additional supplies. But there were few ships remaining to provide them, and the port, now deemed unsafe for the entire expedition to remain. A party of two hundred soldiers were sent up the Escambia River, then overland to search for an Indian town where they could precure supplies in the meantime.

    They found Nanipacana, an abandoned settlement of eighty homes, ninety-four miles up the Alabama River, reporting the find to de Luna at Ochuse. Tristán de Luna decided to move the colony inland to the former Indian settlement, leaving Pensacola Bay with the majority of the colonists in mid-February 1560 by land and water. He left an estimated sixty soldiers behind to fortify the port and get any new supplies that would arrive.

    The new settlement at Nanipacana was named Santa Cruz de Nanipacana. It would not become the permanent colony in Florida that New Spain had envisioned either, lasting for a little less than one year before its abandonment in 1560. After that, the colonists moved to Mobile Bay, some sent home from there, with others moving back to the original settlement at Ochuse in Pensacola Bay. By August of 1561, neither Tristán de Luna, the King, nor the Viceroy of New Spain in Mexico cared much about the failing colony, focusing their efforts elsewhere, and the colonial effort in northern Florida was abandoned altogether.

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    So What's There Now?

    In 2015, archaeologists from the University of West Florida found the original site of the colony in Pensacola Bay. It overlooks the Emmanuel Point shipwrecks (ships considered part of Luna's fleet, first found in 1992, second in 2006, third in 2016) on one hundred and twenty properties, circa thirty-five acres, in a residential neighborhood. Evidence that this location was the original de Luna site had been uncovered twenty-five years before by residents who had found ceramics on site. The 2015 archeological dig found four hundred and sixty-five sherds of Spanish and Aztec pottery on the site, one hundred and thirty 16th century horseshoe nails, and other artifacts.

    While the majority of the colonists had left Ochuse in February 1560, the Pensacola Bay site was constantly manned. In August 1560, it was estimated that three hundred and sixty-two had remained there (yes, that number seems higher than other sources listed as the amount of soldiers that remained there after the move); during the last months of occupation in 1561, fifty to one hundred soldiers manned the area through the end of the colony in August 1561.

    Image above: A View of Pensacola, 177)'s, George Gauld. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: Montage of the Map of the Narváez and de Vaca Expedition (background), 2008, Lancer and (inset) engraving of Pánfilo de Narváez, date unknown. Both images courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Source info: "The Luna Papers 1559-1561," 1928, H.I. Priestley, The Florida State Historical Society; "The Discovery and Exploration of Tristán de Luna y Arellano's 1559-1561 Settlement on Pensacola Bay," 2020, John E. Worth, Elizabeth D. Benchley, Janet R. Lloyd, Jennifer A Melcher; "UWF archaeology program discovers third shipwreck from Luna fleet," 2016, University of West Florida; de-luna.com; Wikipedia.

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