Letter I (Puerto Rico, August 13, 1565)
Your Royal Catholic Majesty. I sailed from the smooth seas of the Grand Canaries, on the eighth of the last month, and the same night a strong breeze struck me, two leagues from land, although the vessels that were going out with me were becalmed, so that, although I endeavored to wait for them, doing everything possible, in the morning I was eight leagues from land, out of sight of the ships, save one which started with me ; and finding myself alone, and that it was impossible to go back to land to seek them, I pursued my voyage with fine weather, until at 350 leagues from Florida, a hurricane struck me, and it was a miracle that it did not sink us, seeing that we carried so much artillery and equipments above what is usual, being equipped for service.
Hoping to fall in with the French fleet, it was a bad thing to put back into port, and the wind was so great and the sea so rough, that we were compelled to throw many guns overboard, (although none of Your Majesty’s were thrown over,) while the force of the storm and wind was so great that it carried away all our masts and sails, except only the mainmast, with the loss of the topmast. It lasted two days and one night, but as the ship was so staunch and strong, and such a good sailor, our Lord was pleased to permit us to escape. The storm abating, I set to work to repair damages the best I could, from certain spare spars and canvass, of which I made yards and sails, and on account of the lightness of the ship she sailed moderately, so that I was obliged to make sail hither to Puerto Rico, where I arrived on the eighth of this month, having seen no land from the Canaries here ; and not finding here any supply of masts or of cordage, and on account of the loss of time there would be in waiting and sending elsewhere for them, from which great trouble might result, inasmuch as, if the French should arrive in Florida, they could land and fortify themselves securely ; so, for these
reasons, I resolved, within three days, to depart hence and go to Havana or Matanzas, and so I advise the Audiencia de Santo Domingo of the proposed voyage, which is short and the safest we can make, for they tell me in this place, that at Santo Domingo they are very much afraid of sailing to Florida, in the season of hurricanes. By the orders that I shall give, by the help of God, there will not be much to fear ; I also sent them a skilful pilot, so that with the charts in his hands, they will soon perceive that I am confident that, so soon as they understand the good and very safe course that we shall be able to make, the troops, both land and sea, will be more zealous to make the voyage, which, it is certain by the help of God, will be both short and safe, and time will be gained and the ships that sail from this port and from Santo Domingo at Your Majesty’s charge, will not be put to so great cost, and by these orders, and the help of our Lord, I hope to
be in Florida, (if they sail speedily from Santo Domingo,) in the course of this month of August, up to the 10*.^ of September, and I trust in Our Lord that the voyage will be short and safe.
When I left Seville, Pedro de las Roclas had been gone twenty-two days with his fleet and squadron, and when I arrived at the Canaries, he had been gone a week from Gomera. Two of the ships of his fleet sailed for this port, but neither of them has arrived. If the same weather comes to him that came to me, his fleet must have had trouble. May God bring him out in safety. I greatly fear I shall not be able to avail myself of his flag ship, as it will reach Havana so late, but I assure Your. Majesty, that though neither the troops nor the horses should come in time, I shall not fail to land in Florida with such force as T shall have with me ; for, if it should be before the French arrive there, it seems to me that we shall be strong enough to take the mouth of the harbor from them and fortify ourselves there, so as to intercept the succor that they are looking for, for it seems to me that, to end this war speedily, it is chiefly important that I shall arrive in Florida before
the French, and in all reason, judging from the speed with which I have come thus far, and shall go from here to Florida, I shall arrive before them, and although in doing this, we incur some risk, and undertake great labors, yet it seems to me that we ought not, for these reasons to fail to venture ; for, if the French shall arrive first in Florida, all the force that I have, although it go altogether, is too small to attack them.
It is a month since a French vessel went to San Germains which was going to Florida and had captured a vessel with the despatches that Your Majesty sent to these parts. I believe it carried supplies to those who were in Florida, advising them of the aid that was to be sent them, and that I was marching upon them, and that they should fortify themselves and hold out till they arrived ; at which I am very sorry, but shall not for that fail to go to seek them with all despatch, with such force as I may find. From this city I take a good ship with 50 men, soldiers and sailors, and twenty horses ; and Your Majesty’s Governor and officers have showed me every favor, and given me all aid for my speedy despatch and departure hence. They have also fitted out this ship for me to take with me, and give me moreover two very good barks, of which one shall go with the despatches to Santo Domingo and Havana, and the other I take with me to the coast of Florida, to discharge the ship with, so as to send her back within two or three days to this fort, so that she need not be making expense, and as she runs great risk at the entrance of the harbor, on account of the great depth of water that she requires, and as the barks will answer to discharge the troops, artillery ammunition and stores that are in the galleon.
Juan Ponce de Leon, Your Majesty’s auditor in this island, and Alcayde of the fortress, is one of the chief gentlemen here. I have spoken to him of the great consequence that it is to Your Majesty’s service that I go on with this enterprise and that my intent is to spend my whole life and substance in it, for the service of Our Lord God, and I requested him that he would take upon him my authority and act as my Lieutenant in this city and port, inasmuch as all the vessels and
troops that are to go to Florida must come here to load horses and cattle. We need for this purpose a man of substance, and who has some part in the country. He has accepted this offer, for Your Majesty’s service, as well as to do me a favor, and to him Your Majesty may send any despatches that are to go to me, so that he may forward them to me in Florida. I pray that Your Majesty will do me the favor to write to him, to keep him in your service, as it will be a reason for his doing with more zeal and good will all the things that will be necessary to be done for me in relation to Florida, which will be of use in Your Majesty’s service.
May Our Lord prosper and preserve the Royal Catholic person of Your Majesty, giving increase of great realms and kingdoms, as we Your Majesty’s servants desire, and as Christendom demands.
Dated at Puerto Rico, on the 13*^ of August, in the year 1565.
Your Majesty’s humble servant kisses your royal hands.