CONQUEST OF FLORIDA,
HERNANDO DE SOTO.
BY THEODORE IRVING,
Son quattromila, e bene armati e bene
Inatrutti, usi al disagio e tolleranti.
Buona d la gente, e non pud da phi <l~tta
O da piii forte guida esser condotta TASSO.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
* PHILADELPHIA :
CAREY, LEA & BLANCHARD
ENTERED according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1835,
by THEODORE IRVING, in the Clerk s Office of the District Court
of the Southern District of New-York.
TO WASHINGTON IRVING, ESQ.
MY DEAR UNCLE,
I KNOW of no person to whom I can with more
propriety dedicate the following pages than to your
self, since they were written at your suggestion, and
the materials of which they are composed were
moulded into their present form and feature under
your affectionate and judicious advice.
Often, in the course of my labours, when I have
been dismayed by unlooked for difficulties, and dis
heartened by those misgivings which beset an in
experienced writer, you have dispelled my doubts,
cheered forward my faltering spirit, and encour
aged me to persevere.
I would be pardoned for alluding to other and
greater obligations yet nearer to my heart : with
the anxious interest of a parent s eye, you have
watched over the most critical period of my life.
Amid the excitement and snares of foreign scenes,
and in the quiet employments of our home, your
counsels have been my guide your friendship the
circumstances will excuse the term from one so
much your junior your friendship my happiness
and pride. The heedlessness of boyhood could not
arrest your assiduous care the wayward habits of
youth have not wearied your unceasing solicitude.
That I have been thus far led in safety, claims the
fervent gratitude of
Your affectionate nephew,
NEW- YORK, March, 1835.
WHILE studying the Spanish language, some few years
since, at Madrid, an old chronicle was placed in my hands, re
lating to the early discoveries and achievements of the Span
iards in America. It was denominated " The Florida of the
Inca, or the History of the Adelantado, Hernando de Soto,
Governor and Captain-General of the Kingdom of Florida,
and of other heroic cavaliers, Spaniards and Indians : written
by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega." As I read, I became in
sensibly engrossed by the extraordinary enterprise therein nar
rated: I dwelt with intense interest upon the hairb rained adven
tures and daring exploits of steel-clad warriors, and the no less
valiant and chivalrous deeds of savage chieftains, which entitle
this narrative to the high praise bestowed upon it by Mr.
Southey, of being one of the most delightful works in the
At a subsequent day, I was advised to undertake a free trans
lation of it into English, as a literary exercise. While occu
pied in the task, I had the good fortune to meet with a narra
tive on the same subject, written by a Portuguese soldier, who
was present in the expedition. This led me to further research
and closer examination ; and, finding that the striking events
and perilous adventures in the chronicle of the Inca, were borne
out, in the main, by this narrative from another hand, and that
various lights had been thrown by modern travellers upon the
line of march said to have been taken by the adventurous band
of De Soto, I was convinced, that what I had before regarded
almost as a work of fiction, was an authentic, though, perhaps,
occasionally exaggerated history.
Deeming, therefore, that a full account of an expedition
which throws such an air of romance over the early history of
a portion of our country, would possess interest in the eyes of
my countrymen, I resolved, to the best of my abilities, to di
gest a work from the materials before me.
The two main sources from which I have derived my facts,
are the narratives already mentioned, by the Inca Garcilaso
de la Vega, and by the anonymous Portuguese adventurer.
The former I have consulted in a folio edition, printed in Ma-
drid, in 1723, and in the history of the Indias, by Herrera, in
which it is incorporated almost at full length. The Portuguese
narrative I have found in an English translation, published in
London, in 1686, and in an abridgment in Purchas Pilgrims.
It has been the fashion, in later days, to distrust the nar
rative of the Inca, and to put more faith in that of the
Portuguese. This has occasionally been done without due
examination into their respective claims to credibility. Gar
cilaso de la Vega was a man of rank and honour. He was
descended from an ancient Spanish stock by the father s side,
while by the mother s, he was of the lofty Peruvian line of the
Incas. His narrative was originally taken down by himself,
from the lips of a friend ; a cavalier of worth and respect
ability, who had been an officer under De Soto, and for whose
probity we have the word of the Inca as a guarantee. It was
authenticated and enriched by the written journals or memo
randums of two other soldiers, who had served in the expe
dition. He had the testimony, therefore, of three eye wit
The Portuguese narrative, on the other hand, is the evidence
of merely a single eye witness, who gives himself out as a
cavalier, or gentleman ; but for this we have merely his
own word, and he is anonymous. There is nothing intrinsic
in his work that should entitle it to the exclusive belief
that has been claimed for it. It agrees with the narrative
of the Inca, as to the leading facts which form the frame work
of the story : it differs from it occasionally, as to the plans and
views of Hernando de Soto ; but here the Inca is most to be
depended upon the Spanish cavalier from whom he derived
his principal information, being more likely to be admitted to
the intimate councils of his commander than one of a differ
ent nation, and being free from the tinge of national jealousy
which may have influenced the statements of the Portuguese.
The narrative of the Portuguese is more meagre and con
cise than that of Garcilaso ; omitting a thousand interesting
anecdotes and personal adventures ; but this does not increase
its credibility. A multitude of facts, gathered and gleaned
from three different persons, may easily have escaped the
knowledge, or failed to excite the attention of a solitary indi
vidual. These anecdotes are not the less credible because
they were striking and extraordinary ; the whole expedition
was daring and extravagant, and those concerned in it men
who delighted in adventure and exploit.*
I have been induced, therefore, in the following pages, to
draw my facts more freely and copiously than others, in latter
days, have seemed inclined to do, from the work of the Inca ;
still I have scrupulously and diligently collated the two narra
tives, endeavouring to reconcile them where they disagreed,
and to ascertain, with strict impartiality, which was most likely
* The reader will find a note concerning Garcilaso de la Vega and his
in the Appendix.
to be correct, where they materially varied, and to throw upon
the whole subject the scattered lights -furnished by various
modern investigators. While I have discarded many incidents
which appeared hyperbolical, or which savoured too strongly
of the gossip of idle soldiery, I have retained, as much as pos
sible, those every day and familiar anecdotes which give so
lively a picture of the characters, habits, persons and manners
of the Spanish discoverers of those days, and to my mind,
bear so strongly the impress of truth and nature. My great
object has been to present a clear, connected, and character
istic narrative of this singular expedition : how far I have suc
ceeded, it is for the public to judge.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
First discovery of Florida.
NEVER was the spirit of wild adventure more uni
versally diffused than at the dawn of the sixteenth
century. The wondrous discoveries of Columbus
and his hardy companions and followers, the de
scriptions of the beautiful summer isles of the west,
and the tales of unexplored regions of wealth locked
up in unbounded wildernesses, had an effect upon
the imaginations of the young and the adventurous,
not unlike the preaching of the chivalric crusades for
the recovery of the* Holy Sepulchre. The gallant
knight, the servile retainer, the soldier of fortune,
the hooded friar, the pains-taking mechanic, the toil
ful husbandman, the loose profligate, and the hardy
mariner, all were touched with the pervading pas
sion, all left home, country, friends, wives, children,
loves, to seek some imaginary Eldorado, confidently
expecting to return with countless treasure.
Of all the enterprises undertaken in this spirit of
10 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
daring adventure, none has surpassed for hardihood
and variety of incident, that of the renowned Her-
nando de Soto and his band of cavaliers. It was
poetry put in action ; it was the knight errantry of
the old world carried into the depths of the Ameri
can wilderness ; indeed, the personal adventures,
the feats of individual prowess, the picturesque de
scriptions of steel clad cavaliers, with lance and helm
and prancing steed, glittering through the wilder
nesses of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the prairies
of the Far West, would seem to us mere fictions of
romance, did they not come to us recorded in mat
ter of fact narratives of contemporaries, and corro
borated by minute and daily memoranda of eye
Before we enter, however, upon the stirring and
eventful story of the fortunes of De Soto and his fol
lowers, it is proper to notice briefly the discovery
of the land which was the scene of his adventures,
and the various expeditions to it which stimulated
him to his great enterprise.
Those who are conversant with the history of the
Spanish discoveries will remember the chimerical
cruise of the brave old Governor of Porto Rico,
Ponce de Leon, in search of the Fountain of Youth.
This fabled fountain, according to Indian tradition,
existed in one of the Bahama Islands. Ponce de
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 11
Leon sought after it in vain, but in the course of his
cruisings discovered a country of vast and unknown
extent, to which, from the abundance of flowers,
and from its being first seen on Palm Sunday, (Pas-
cha Florida) he gave the name of Florida.
Obtaining permission from the Spanish govern
ment to subjugate and govern this country, he made
a second voyage to its shores, but was mortally
wounded in a conflict with the natives. Such was
the fate of the first adventurer into the wild regions
of Florida, and he really seems to have bequeathed
his ill fortune to his successors.
A few years after his defeat a Captain of a cara
vel, named Diego Miruelo, was driven to the coast
of Florida by stress of weather, where he obtained
a small quantity of silver and gold in traffic from
the natives. With this he returned well pleased to
San Domingo, spreading the fame of the country
he had visited. About the same time a company of
seven wealthy men of San Domingo, concerned in
gold mines, at the head of which was the Licentiate
Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, auditor and judge of ap
peals of that island, fitted out two vessels to cruise
among the islands and entrap Indians to work in
the mines. In the course of this righteous cruise
the vessels were driven by stress of weather to a
cape on the East coast, to which they gave the
12 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
name of St. Helena. The country in the neighbour
hood was called Chicorea. and is the same now call
ed South Carolina. Here they anchored at the
mouth of a river which they called the Jordan, after
the name of the sea captain who discovered it. It
is the same now known by its Indian apellation, the
Cambahee.* The natives hastened to the shores
at sight of the ships, which they mistook for huge
sea monsters ; but, when they beheld men issue
from them, with white complexions and beards, and
clad in raiment and shining armour, they fled in ter
The Spaniards soon dispelled their fears, and a
friendly intercourse took place. The poor Indians
were kind and hospitable, brought provisions to the
ships and made the strangers presents of martin
skins, pearls, and a small quantity of gold and silver.
The Spaniards gave them trinkets in return, and,
having completed their supplies of wood and water
and provisions, invited their savage friends on board
of the ships. The Indians eagerly accepted the in
vitation. They thronged the vessels, gazing with
* We follow the general opinion, strengthened by the circum
stance that the neighbouring sound and Island are still called by
the name of St. Helena. Herrera places Cape St. Helena and
the river Jordan in the thirty second degree of latitude, which is
that of Savannah river. Vide Herrera. D. 2. lib. X. c. 6.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 13
wonder at every thing around them ; but when a
sufficient number were below the decks, the Spa
niards perfidiously closed the hatches upon them,
and, weighing anchor, made sail for San Domingo.
One of the ships was lost in the course of the voyage,
the other arrived safe, but the Indians on board of
her remained sullen and gloomy, and refused food,
so that most of them perished of famine and melan
The reports, however, brought back by the kid
nappers, of the country they had visited, as well as
the specimens of gold and silver brought home
about the same time by Diego Miruelo, roused the
cupidity and ambition of the auditor Lucas Vas-
quez de Ayllon. Being shortly afterwards in Spain,
he obtained from the Emperor Charles V. permis
sion to conquer and govern the newly discovered
province of Chicorea. With this permission he re
turned to San Domingo, and fitted out an arma
ment of three large vessels, embarking personally in
Diego Miruelo persuaded him first to steer in
quest of the country he had visited, and which he
represented as much richer than Chicorea. He ac
companied the expedition as pilot, but having, with
* Hist. Florida por el Inca. L. 1. c. 2.
Herrera, D- 2. L. x. c- 6.
14 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
a negligence unworthy of a practised mariner, neg
lected in his first visit to take an observation, he was
unable to find the place at which he had formerly
landed, and w r as so much mortified by the ridicule
and reproaches of his employers, that he fell into a
profound melancholy, lost his senses, and died in the
course of a few days.
Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon now prosecuted his
voyage to the eastward in search of Chicorea. Ar
riving in the river Jordan, (or Cambahee) the scene
of perfidy in the preceding voyage, his principal
ship stranded and w r as lost. With the remaining
two he passed further to the Eastward, and landed
on a coast adjoining Chicorea, in a gentle and plea
sant region. Here he was so well received that he
considered the country already under his dominion,
and permitted two hundred of his men to visit the
principal village, about three leagues in the interior,
while he remained with a small force to guard the
The inhabitants of the village entertained these
visitors with feasting and rejoicing for three days,
until, having put them completely off their guard,
they rose upon them in the night and massacred
every soul. They then repaired by daybreak to
the harbour, and surprised Vasquez de Ayllon and
his handful of guards. The few who survived es-
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 15
caped wounded and dismayed to their ships, and
making all sail from the fated coast, hastened back
to San Domingo. According to some accounts
Ayllon remained among the slain on the coast he
sought to subjugate, but others assert that he re
turned wounded to San Domingo, where the humi
liation of his defeat and the ruin of his fortunes,
conspired with his bodily ills to hurry him broken
hearted to the grave. Thus signally did the natives
of Chicorea revenge the wrongs of their people who
had been so perfidiously kidnapped.*
* Hist. Florida, por el Inca. L. I.e. 2.
Herrera. D. 2. L. x. c. 6. Idem. D. iii. lib. 8. c. 8. Peter Mar
tyr, D. vii. c. 11.
Heylyns Cosmographie. L. 4. p. 100. Lond. Ed. 1669.
The Expedition ofPamphilo de Narvaez.
A CAVALIER of greater note was the next who as
pired to subjugate the unknown realms of Florida.
This was the brave but ill starred Pamphilo de
Narvaez, the same who had attempted to arrest
Hernando Cortes in his conquering career against
Mexico, in which attempt he was defeated in battle,
and lost an eye. Narvaez possessed favour at court
and was enabled to fit out a considerable armament
for his new enterprise. He was invested by the
Emperor Charles V. with the title of Adelantado, or
military governor of the country he expected to sub
due and occupy, which was that part of Florida ex
tending from its extreme cape to the river of Palms.
In this expedition he trusted to wipe off the dis
grace of his late defeat, and even to acquire laurels
which might vie with those of Cortes.
On the 12th of April, 1528, Narvaez anchored at
the mouth of an open bay on the eastern coast of
Florida, with a squadron of four barques and a bri-
gantine. Here he landed his forces, consisting of
four hundred men and forty five horses ; having lost
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 17
many of his men by desertion in the West India
islands, and several of his horses in a storm.
Erecting the royal standard, he took possession of
the country for the crown of Spain, with no opposi
tion from the natives. After having explored the
vicinity, Narvaez determined to penetrate the
country in a northward direction, hoping to dis
cover some great empire like that of Mexico
or Peru; In the mean time, the ships were to
proceed along the coast in quest of some conve
nient harbour where they were either to await his
arrival, or to steer for Havana and return with sup
plies for the army.*
This plan was strongly opposed by the treasurer
of the expedition, one Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Va-
ca, a prudent and sagacious man. He represented
the danger of plunging into an unknown wilderness
without knowing a word of the language, and advis
ed, rather, that they should continue on in their
ships, until they found a secure harbour and a fer
tile country, from whence they might make incur
sions into the interior.
This sound advice w r as slighted by Narvaez and
his adventurous companions, whose imaginations
were inflamed with the idea of inland conquest.
The squadron, accordingly, set sail to the north-
* Herrera. Decad. iv. L. iv. c. 4.
18 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
ward ; and Narvaez and his troops set out by land
in the same direction, accompanied by the faithful
Alvar Nunez ; who since he could not dissuade his
commander from his desperate career, resolved to
share his fate.
The force which proceeded by land consisted of
three hundred men, forty of whom were mounted
on horses. The allowance to each man, consisted
of two pounds of biscuit and half a pound of bacon.
For the first few days they met with fields of maize,
and villages containing provisions. Here, however,
they outraged the feelings of the natives by rifling
and laying waste their sepulchres, mistaking them
for idolatrous temples. They afterwards journey
ed many days through desert solitudes without
house or inhabitant, suffering greatly from \vant of
food. They crossed rapid rivers on rafts or by
swimming, continually exposed to the assaults of
hordes of lurking savages : they traversed swamps
and forests, making their way with great difficulty
through matted thickets and over fallen trees, and
suffering every variety of misery and hardship.
Still they were cheered onward by the assurances
of certain captives who served as guides, that at
some distance ahead lay a vast province called
Apalachee, extremely fertile, and abounding in the
gold they so eagerly sought after.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 19
At length they arrived in sight of the place which
gave its name to this long desired province. Nar-
vaez had pictured it to himself a second Mexico,
and was chagrined at finding it a mere village of
two hundred and forty houses. Alvar Nunez was
sent forward to take possession of it, which he did
without opposition, the men having all fled to the
The Spaniards remained twenty five days in the
village, exploring the neighbouring country, and sub
sisting upon the provisions they found in the place.
During this time they were harassed, day and
night, by the natives of the province, who were an
exceedingly warlike people. They were disap
pointed in their hopes of finding gold, and discourag
ed by the accounts given them of the country fur
ther on. They were told, however, that by shaping
their course to the southward, towards the sea, they
would, after nine days journey, come to the village
of Aute, where there was maize and vegetables and
fish in abundance, and where the natives were of a
Towards Aute, therefore, did they turn their steps,
more eager now for food than for gold. The jour
ney was perilous and full of disaster. They had to
cross deep lagoons and dismal swamps, with the wa
ter often up to their breasts, their passage obstruct-
20 CONQUEST OP FLORIDA.
ed by rotten trees, and beset by hordes of savages.
These appeared to the disheartened Spaniards of
gigantic height ; they had bows of enormous size,
from which they discharged arrows with such force
as to penetrate armour at the distance of two hun
dred yards. At length, after incredible hardships,
and with the loss of many men and horses, they ar
rived at the village of Aute.* The natives aban
doned and burnt their houses on the approach of the
invaders, but they left behind a quantity of maize
with which the Spaniards appeased their hunger.
A day s march beyond the village brought them
to a river which gradually expanded into a large
road, or arm of the sea. Here they came to a pause
in their adventurous career, and held a consultation
as to their future movements. Their hopes of
wealth and conquest were at an end. Nearly a third
of their original number had perished ; while of the
survivers a great majority were ill, and disease was
daily spreading among them. To attempt to re
trace their steps, or to proceed along the coast in
search of the fleet would be to hazard all their lives.
At length it was suggested that they should con
struct small barques, launch them upon the deep,
and keep along the coast until they should find their
* Supposed to be on what is now called the Bay of St. Marks.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 21
ships. It was a forlorn hope, but they caught at it
like desperate men. They accordingly set to work
with great eagerness. One of them constructed a
pair of bellows out of deerskins, furnishing it with
a wooden pipe. Others made charcoal and a
forge. By the aid of these they soon turned their
stirrups, spurs, cross-bows and other articles of iron,
into nails, saws, and hatchets. The tails and manes
of the horses twisted with the fibres of the palm
tree served for rigging ; their shirts cut open and
sewed together furnished sails ; the fibrous part of
the palm tree also was used as oakum ; the resin of
the pine trees for tar ; the skins of horses were
made into vessels to contain fresh water; and a
quantity of maize was won by hard fighting from
the neighbouring natives. A horse was killed every
three days for provisions for the labouring hands and
the sick. Having at length by great exertions com
pleted five frail barks, they embarked on the 22d of
September, from forty to fifty persons being in
each ; but so closely crowded were they, that there
was scarcely room to move, while the gunwale of
the boats was forced down by their weight to the
w r ater s edge.
Setting sail from this bay, which they called the
Bay of Caballos, they continued on for several days
to an island where they secured five canoes that had
22 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
been deserted by the Indians. These being attach
ed to their barks enabled them to sail with greater
comfort. They passed through the strait between
the island and the main land, which they called the
Strait of San Miguel, and sailed onward for many
days, enduring all the torments of hunger and parch
ing thirst : the skins which contained their fresh
water having burst, some, driven to desperation,
drank salt water, and died miserably. Their suffer
ings were aggravated by a fearful storm. At length