Letters to and from Cuba, 1539

Letters: To the King from the Board of Magistrates of Santiago de Cuba ("Capitol" of Cuba at the time), To the King from Hernando de Soto's Officers at Havana, and one from DeSoto in Florida, all dated 1539, recently published in the University of Alabama's
The DeSoto Chronicles, the Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America 1539-1543

Regarding DeSoto's FLORIDA LANDING

From the Board of Magistrates of Santiago (The "Capitol" of Cuba at that time), giving a statement of occurrences on the island.

On the seventh day of June, of the present year, the Adelantado Don Hernando de Soto arrived at this port with five ships, bringing six hundred men for the conquest of Florida. He laid before us a provision bestowing on him the government of this Island, which we receive as favour. Being mindful that he goes to serve Your Majesty in the settlement of that country, his people have been entertained among the inhabitants of the place in the best manner possible, and he now makes ready for his departure. May our Lord guide him thither, and give the success most for His service and that of Your Highness...

On the 5th of April just past, a French vessel, having seventy-eight men, entered this port, with the intention of robbing the city, at a time when it pleased God there should be found here a vessel belonging to Diego Perez, resident of Sevilla, which opposed her, the two with bombards fighting together a day and night, each killing three or four men for the other, the most of the townspeople in the mean while going to their farmhouses and bringing together their women and property, as in the city there was no military defence or support of any sort...

Sacred I. C. Majesty our Master. Be the Imperial person of Your Majesty preserved, and your dominion enlarged, as we your vassals desire.

From the City of Santiago, of the Island of Fernandina [Cuba], the 26th. day of July, of the year 1538.

From Y. S. I. C. Majesty's humble vassals, who kiss your royal feet and hands.

By order of the justice and Board of Magistrates:
Notary Public, and of the Board.
(Original in the General Archive of the Indies, Seville)

From officers at Havana in the army of de Soto.

We gave relation to Your Majesty from Saint Jago de Cuba [Havana] of the favorable beginning of our expedition, which, it appears, the Adelantado Don Hernando de Soto brought with his good fortune, wherewith to serve in the matter of which he comes in control. Suffice it to say, that he has thought best to look both into the state of the Island and the population, as Your Majesty is informed; but with great toil and cost to himself, as he wished to travel throughout, visiting the towns, which had much need of attention. As well has he been detained, at great expense with his soldiers, longer than he wished, while providing himself, without loss of time, in every particular useful for his conquest, managing aptly in all matters, and setting every thing in complete order.

We inform Your Majesty, that today, on the eve of departure, he has large vessels in port, two caravels and two brigantines, in all nine sail, having lost two since our arrival. He carries in them two hundred and thirty-seven horses, besides some of relief; three hundred and thirty foot, as well as those mounted; in all, five hundred and thirteen men, without the sailors. With these go more abundant subsistence than could have been gotten out of Spain for an armada. There are three thousand loads of cacabi, twenty-five hundred shoulders of bacon, and twenty-five hundred hanegas of maize: moreover, there are beasts on hoof for the settlement, and for the butcher, to be in readiness on the return of the vessels [from Florida], through which we are to receive large supplies. With this object, the Adelantado has bought many grazing farms, at the cost of much money, to be employed solely in affording us sustenance.

In order that Your Majesty may entertain good hopes of that country of Florida, we report, that directly upon our arrival here [in Havana], in order that Juan de Anasco might go with fifty men to look for some port on the coast, he was elected to be the royal Comptroller; and although he passed through many hardships, because of the winter, he found the most convenient place that could be desired very near, only some seventy-five or eighty leagues from this land, inhabited and very secure. He brought four of the Indians, as interpreters, who are so intelligent that they already understand us, after a manner, and give grand expectations of that country, so much so, that all depart joyfully and contented.

The bearer of this letter is the Captain Hernan Ponce de Leon, companion of the Adelantado, who has been a witness to all this, and is a person of whom Your Majesty can be informed in whatsoever may most interest you. We will say no more at present, save that on arriving in the land of Florida, we will, by Divine pleasure, take particular care to give a very long relation of all that shall hereafter occur.

Our Lord guard and increase the S. I. C. life of Your Majesty with augmentation of more and greater kingdoms and lordships, as the servants of Y.M. desire.

From the town of San X'bal of the Havana, the eighteenth day of May, of the year 1539.

From Y. S. I. C. Servants, who your Imperial feet kiss.
JNO. DE ANASCO, Rubrica.
(Original in the General Archive of the Indies, Seville)

to the Justice and Board of Magistrates in Santiago de Cuba.


The being in a new country, not very distant indeed from that where you are, still with some sea between, a thousand years appear to me to have gone by since any thing has been heard from you; and although I left some letters written at Havana [his will], to go off in three ways, it is indeed long since I have received one. However, since opportunity offers by which I may send an account of what it is always my duty to give, I will relate what passes, and I believe will be welcome to persons I know favourably, and are earnest for my success.

I took my departure from Havana with all my armament on Sunday, the 18th of May, although I wrote that I should leave on the 25th of the month. I anticipated the day, not to lose a favourable wind, which changed, nevertheless, for calms, upon our getting into the Gulf; still these were not so continuous as to prevent our casting anchor on this coast, as we did at the end of eight days, which was on [the following] Sunday, the festival of Espiritu Santo.

Having fallen four or five leagues below the port, without any one of my pilots being able to tell where we were, it became necessary that I should go in the brigantines and look for it.

In doing so, and in entering the mouth of the port, we were detained three days; and likewise because we had no knowledge of the passage - a bay that runs up a dozen leagues or more from the sea - we were so long delayed that I was obliged to send my Lieutenant-General, Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa, in the brigantines, to take possession of a town at the end of the bay. I ordered all the men and horses to be landed on a beach, whence, with great difficulty, we went on Trinity Sunday [June first, on Full Moon and Spring Tides] to join Vasco Porcallo. The Indians of the coast, because of some fears of us, have abandoned all the country, so that for thirty leagues not a man of them has halted.

At my arrival here I received news of there being a Christian in the possession of a chief, and I sent Baltazar de Gallegos, with 40 men of the horse, and as many of the foot, to endeavour to get him. He found the man a day's journey from this place, with eight or ten Indians, whom he brought into my power. We rejoiced no little over him, for he speaks the language; and although he had forgotten his own, it directly returned to him. His name is Juan Ortiz, an hidalgo, native of Sevilla.

In consequence of this occurrence, I went myself for the Cacique, and came back with him in peace. I then sent Baltazar de Gallegos, with eighty lancers, and a hundred foot soldiers, to enter the country. He has found fields of maize, beans, and pumpkins, with other fruits, and provision in such quantity as would suffice to subsist a very large army without its knowing a want. Having been allowed, without interruption, to reach the town of a Cacique named Urripacoxit [others say Paricoxi], master of the one we are in, also of many other towns, some Indians were sent to him to treat for peace. This, he writes, having been accomplished, the Cacique failed to keep certain promises, whereupon he seized about 17 persons, among whom are some of the principal men; for in this way, it appears to him, he can best secure a performance. Among those he detains are some old men of authority, as great as can be among such people, who have information of the country farther on.

They say that three days' journey from where they are, going by some towns and huts, all well inhabited, and having many maize-fields, is a large town called Acuera, where with much convenience we might winter; and that afterwards, farther on, at the distance of two days' journey, there is another town, called Ocale. It is so large, and they so extol it, that I dare not repeat all that is said. There is to be found in it a great plenty of all the things mentioned; and fowls, a multitude of turkeys, kept in pens, and herds of tame deer that are tended. What this means I do not understand, unless it be the cattle, of which we brought the knowledge with us.

They say there are many trades among that people, and much intercourse, an abundance of gold and silver, and many pearls. May it please God that this may be so; for of what these Indians say I believe nothing but what I see, and must well see; although they know, and have it for a saying, that if they lie to me it will cost them their lives. This interpreter [Juan Ortiz] puts a new life into us, in affording the means of our understanding these people, for without him I know not what would become of us. Glory be to God, who by His goodness has directed all, so that it appears as if He had taken this enterprise in His especial keeping, that it may be for His service, as I have supplicated, and do dedicate it to Him.

I sent eighty soldiers by sea in boats, and my General by land with 40 horsemen, to fall upon a throng of some thousand Indians, or more, whom Juan de Anasco had discovered. The General got back last night, and states that they fled from him; and although he pursued them, they could not be overtaken, for the many obstructions in the way. On our coming together we will march to join Baltazar de Gallegos, that we may go thence to pass the winter at the Ocale, where, if what is said be true, we shall have nothing to desire.

Heaven be pleased that something may come of this that shall be for the service of our Divine Master, and whereby I may be enabled to serve Your Worships, and each of you, as I desire, and is your due.

Notwithstanding my continual occupation here, I am not forgetful of the love I owe to objects at a distance; and since I may not be there in person, I believe that where you, Gentlemen, are, there is little in which my presence can be necessary. This duty weighs upon me more than every other, and for the attentions you will bestow, as befits your goodness, I shall be under great obligations. I enjoin it upon you, to make the utmost exertions to maintain the repose and well-being of the public, with the proper administration of justice, always reposing in the Licentiate, that every thing may be so done in accordance with law, that God and the King may be served, myself gratified, and every one be content and pleased with the performance of his trust, in such a manner as you, Gentlemen, have ever considered for my honour, not less than your own, although I still feel that I have the weight thereof, and bear the responsibility.

As respects the bastion which I left begun, if labouring on it have been neglected, or perhaps discontinued, with the idea that the fabric is not now needed, you, Gentlemen, will favour me by having it finished, since every day brings change; and although no occasion should arise for its employment, the erection is provident for the well-being and safety of the town: an act that will yield me increased satisfaction, through your very noble personages.

That our Lord may guard and increase your prosperity is my wish and your deserving.

In this town and Port of Espiritu Santo, in the Province of Florida, July the 9th, in the year 1539.

The servant of you, Gentlemen.