The reasons for abandoning the exploration of La Florida

Tristán de Luna y Arellano, born in Soria, Spain, had been living in New Spain for almost thirty years when Viceroy Luis de Velasco proposed an expedition to explore and connect the territories of Zacatecas with the city of Santa Elena (Tybee, Georgia).

He left the port of Veracruz on June 11, 1559 with thirteen vessels, some 1,500 soldiers and a group of Dominicans, and sailed towards the Florida coast with the aim of establishing a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi River, near present-day Mobile Bay, an area the Spaniards knew about but which had been very little explored.

Upon arriving in the area, he anchored his ships in what is now Pensacola Bay, as he thought the area was more sheltered and safer. From there, he sent a ship back to Veracruz to report their arrival and two more ships to Spain to report and request a larger contingent of colonists from the king.

It was there that Tristán de Luna began to build a permanent settlement: the village of Santa María Filipina. But on the night of September 19, a strong hurricane hit the area, destroying seven of the 10 ships he had, wiping out his provisions and most of the building materials he had brought with him, and killing some of the men who made up his contingent. Some of the ships that sank that day could be: the naos San Andrés, whose master was Alonso Moraño; Santa María de Ayuda, under the command of Lázaro Morel; San Amaro, commanded by Cristóbal Escobar; the nao Santo Espíritu, whose master was Juan de la Puerta; the galleon San Juan de Ulúa, commanded by Pedro Andonasgui; the urca Jesús, whose master was Diego López; and the boat Salvadora, commanded by Vicente Fernández.

After the storm, Tristán de Luna decided to send one of the ships to Havana to ask for help. He left about fifty soldiers on the coast and the rest of the expedition moved inland up the Alabama River in search of safer territory until they reached a native village called Nanipacana, where they built a new settlement named Santa Cruz.

In the month of November the viceroy of New Spain sent two ships with people and provisions, which were a great help in getting through the following months, with the promise that more reinforcement ships would be sent shortly; however, the lack of food forced Tristán de Luna to send more soldiers inland to find food. In July 1560, part of this group arrived at Coosa, in present-day Georgia, and made contact with a native village. They spent a few months there before rejoining the main group.

The ships promised by the viceroy, which were to bring more food, did not arrive until September, when Tristán de Luna was already very ill and had no power over the group. Besides, the cargo shipped included more clothing than food supplies.

When the viceroy learned of the situation, he sent Ángel de Villafañe, who arrived on the coast in April 1561, as governor of Florida. He left a small garrison in Pensacola Bay and took the 230 survivors of Tristan de Luna’s group on board to take them further east to begin a new settlement. Luck was not on their side this time either, as another storm hit the flotilla and destroyed several of Villafañe’s ships.

Once the storm was over and the waters calmed, Villafañe set course for Havana to repair the damaged ships, and then returned to Pensacola Bay to pick up the garrison he had left behind and take it to the New Spain port of Veracruz.

Thus, after two terrible storms and about ten sunken ships between both expeditions, that of Tristán de Luna and that of Villafañe, King Philip II decided to abandon the exploration of these infertile lands, where there was no gold, no silver, no safe places to anchor, and nothing that could be of interest, beyond controlling the passage of ships heading to Spain from other parts of the Caribbean such as Havana, Veracruz or Cartagena de Indias.

Ships assigned to this fleet