The Spaniards in the New World
When Columbus made his second voyage to the New World, the Spaniards who went with him were eager for the gold and precious stones which they expected to find. Some, also, were eager for adventure. Among these was Ponce de Leon, who had been made governor of Porto Rico.
Rumor came to this aged soldier, whose health was somewhat broken, of a Fountain of Youth not far to the north. He was told that its waters would heal all his diseases and make him young again. Longing to drink at this magic source, he obtained permission from the king to explore and conquer the island where the fountain flowed.
Sailing west from Porto Rico, in due time he reached land. This he named Florida from Pascua Florida, the Spanish name for Easter Sunday, the day on which he landed (1513). Of course the search was fruitless and he had to return home. But although he found no Fountain of Youth, he discovered the country and gave it a name. Several years later, while making a second attempt to find the fountain, De Leon was killed by the Indians.
Still another Spaniard who sought for gold in the New World was Narvaez. With four hundred men he anchored in Tampa Bay on the west coast of Florida (1528). Marching inland with a company of three hundred men, he found, instead of gold, only a pathless wilderness and unfriendly Indians. The explorers suffered so for lack of food that they had to kill and eat their own horses. Disappointed, they returned to the coast only to find their vessels gone.
At last, having built more vessels, with a scant supply of food and water they set sail westward. But on reaching the mouth of the Mississippi River they were shipwrecked. Two of their boats were destroyed and two others cast ashore. Only four of the company escaped alive. These men travelled more than two thousand miles and at the end of eight years reached the Gulf of California, where by good fortune they found themselves among friends, at a Spanish outpost.
Another Spanish explorer who was eager to gain wealth, glory, and power was Hernando de Soto. At his request the king granted him permission to conquer and settle Florida. He had already been to the New World, and it was therefore easy for him to get followers. Six hundred men, some of them from noble families, eagerly joined his expedition.
In 1539 the whole company, with two hundred and twenty-five horses, landed at Tampa Bay. Then their troubles began. The journey inland was full of terror. The Indians were unfriendly. But when the Spaniards begged their leader to return, De Soto's grim answer was, "I will not turn back until with my own eyes I have seen the poverty of this country."
He was cruel to the Indians. He cared nothing for their sufferings. Some he put to death and others he enslaved. They hated him bitterly and took their revenge. They promised to conduct him to a place where gold was plentiful. Eagerly the white men followed. They wandered many miles through pathless wilderness and suffered much from lack of food. Sometimes they had only berries, nuts, bear-oil, and wild honey. In the end they found a wild solitude. The Indians had deceived them. Their condition was pitiful., The men longed to return to home and friends, but De Soto was unyielding. "No," he said; "we must go forward."
At last they reached the banks of the Mississippi at a point where the river was more than a mile wide. After spending nearly a month in building boats, they crossed in safety. Then De Soto marched westerly. They found many Indian tribes, but still no gold. Finally hope died, and De Soto decided to go to the coast to build ships with which to send for aid.
During the three years of struggle and suffering in the forest, he had lost two hundred and fifty men. Tired and spirit-worn, he soon fell sick himself, and a severe fever carried him off. His followers buried his body near the Indian village where they happened to be, but fearing to have the Indians know that their leader was dead, they took it up again. Then wrapping it in blankets made heavy with sand, during the dark hours of night they lowered it into the black waters of the Mississippi. Thus died De Soto, the discoverer of the greatest river of the continent.
The Spaniards were so busy in their search for gold that they allowed the French to make the first settlement in Florida. At this time all France was astir with the civil war between the Huguenots (French Protestants) and the Catholics. As the Catholics were getting the better of the Huguenots, Coligny, the great Huguenot leader, sought a refuge for his people in America.
Accordingly, in 1562, he sent out a small colony to a place where Port Royal, South Carolina, now stands. But the settlers, not being the kind of men to meet the demands of a rough backwoods life, soon tired and sailed back to France. Two years later Coligny sent out another colony, which went to St. John's River, many miles south of the first colony. These men also were unfit for their task and were soon in need of food. They were saved from starving only by the coming of new colonists with fresh supplies.
But this glimmer of light soon went out completely. The Spanish king was so angry with the French for making homes on what he called Spanish soil that he sent a body of soldiers to destroy them. First the Spaniards built a fort. This was the beginning of St. Augustine, which is now the oldest town in the eastern part of the United States. Then they attacked the French settlement and brutally put to death at least seven hundred men, women, and children. A few only, perhaps a half dozen, escaped, and after passing through many dangers, at last got back to France.
Hearing of this massacre, a French leader fitted out, at his own expense, an expedition for the purpose of punishing the Spaniards in Florida for their cruelty. He captured two forts and put to death nearly all the Spanish soldiers. As his force was not strong enough to attack St. Augustine, he returned to France in the following year, leaving the Spaniards in control.