The Letters of Pedro Menendez Aviles

Letter V (Havana, December 12, 1565)

Royal Catholic Majesty. On the fifth of this month I sent to Your
Majesty a despatch-tender from the port of Matanzas, and by it wrote
at length concerning all that had happened to !me in these Provinces of
Florida up to that date ; also of what appeared to me to be of impor-
tance to Your Majesty’s service in relation to this enterprise the tender
sailing for the said voyage from Matanzas, and with it two others from
the fleet which were under the command of Pero Menendez Marquez,
my cousin, who was going to Yaguana to learn news of Estevano de
las Alas, and to load provisions for Florida, on account of their being
cheaper there than here, and because I thought that the President and
Auditors of St. Domingo would lend me the money to buy them, as
the Governor of this Island would not do so. They discovered a sail
off the Bahama Channel and thinking it to be a corsair they gave
chase, and she led them into Matanzas, where they reconnoitered and
found that she was that caravel which Estevano de las Alas had cap-
tured from the Portuguese, laden with hides ; and they told them how
the store-ship which they had armed at St. Domingo had been lost, and
that Estevano de las Alas was coming there with this caravel and one
of my shallops with men and ammunition that had come from Asturias
and Biscay; that all the men and Your Majesty’s brass guns were
saved ; but that all the stores and ammunition were lost, nothing
escaping, and that a sloop of mine was also lost, all her crew likewise
escaping, and that as Estevano de las Alas found himself without suffi-
cient provisions for so many people, he consulted with Gonzalo de
Penalosa who came as Captain of these troops from St. Domingo, in
order to disembark the men there, at the place where they were lost,
which was to the north of this Island one hundred and fifty leagues, and
25 or 30 from Bayamo, and they decided to go by land with the men
to Bayamo, or to Puerto del Principe, so that they could find food there ;
and that they had put the sick men into the caravel from the store
ship, who had sailed in very poor condition, being about 40 persons,
and that the shallop remained loading the artillery that was saved, with
her barge taking off the men from a little island where the shallop was
lost, to the main land. Pero Menendez Marquez, when he heard this
and had informed himself particularly of all that had taken place, came
quickly from Matanzas to Havana, to report it to me ; and he brought
with him the same master of the caravel who was present ; and I being
of the opinion that when the Captain Peiialosa should arrive at Bayamo
or Santiago de Cuba, at Your Majesty’s expense, he would return to
supply these men and look for a vessel and take them to this port,
which would make a great expense and occasion delay, and, as Your

Majesty had commanded me that, when the French were expelled from
Florida, I should pay off these men, I fearing that, since they are
already expelled, unless I did this, Your Majesty would be displeased
with me, ordered them to be immediately discharged, as Your Majesty
will perceive by the copy of the order which is transmitted herewith:
I also wrote to Estevan de las Alas, that he should come, with the men
under his command, in company with Captain Penalosa, who was
bringing the men from St. Domingo, and, having discharged Captain
Penalosa’s men, as I had commanded him in the order I sent, that
those of them who chose to go with me to Florida, he should receive
and provide and keep in his company, with the others whom he was
bringing ; and that, with both of them, he should remain quiet at
Eayamo, or at Puerto del Principe, with all the force he had got
together, providing them with food out of my monies, because stores are
twice, or three times as cheap there as here, and I sent him letters of
credit, that they should furnish him with all the provisions that he had
need of, for Juan de Ynistrosa, Your Majesty’s Treasurer in this island,
has favored me in all this, and in every way that he can, to aid my
necessities and my men, for he understands, that, by so doing he is
serving Your Majesty. I pray Your Majesty to write to him, acknowl-
edging this service. I also wrote him that, if it were necessary, I would
send vessels for him and for the men, to take them to Florida, for it
being now near winter, having no food there, there is no reason why they
should go. And to Captain Penalosa I wrote that, as to the discharged
men who were not willing to agree to go to Florida, he should order
them to go back to Hispaniola, because, if they remained in this Island,
they would go to Peru and to other parts of the Indies, without Your
Majesty’s license ; and if the corsairs should come this spring to His-
paniola, it would be very well that these men be in that island, to
defend it. I made both these provisions because it seemed expedient
for Your Majesty’s service, and would diminish the cost to Your
Majesty’s treasury.

The master of this caravel says that Estevan de las Alas sold at
Yaguana two thousand hides out of her, in order to supply provisions
for the men ; and that the others are on board the caravel, many of
them wet and in bad condition, because the caravel made a great deal
of water in a storm that they experienced. And in the great necessity
in which I am and in order to give food to the troops I have here, and
to support and supply with provisions those who are in Florida, and to
enable me to pay a part of what I owe here, I have arranged to sell
these hides and the caravel ; they would not trade without seeing them
and seeing the ship, and the bargain was made with one Francesco de
Reynoso, who came with me here to serve Your Majesty, to whom I
owed the sum of two thousand ducats, and he bought the caravel and
the twenty-five hundred hides on board her for four thousand ducats,

of which he is to pay one thousand to the mariners who go in the
caravel for food and wages, which is due them, and he gave me the other
thousand ducats in cash. Therefore the favor which I had prayed Your
Majesty to grant me, of allowing me this caravel and these hides, which
may be worth six thousand ducats, comes to a value of live thousand,
the three thousand which I received here, and the two thousand for the
two thousand hides that Estevan de las Alas sold out of the caravel at
Yaguana ; and, as to the other thousand ducats that Your Majesty was
to pay for the charter of the despatch-tender that went with my de-
spatches. Your Majesty need not pay any part of it, since, of the four
thousand ducats for which the caravel and the hides were sold, one thou-
sand remain for the crew who carry this despatch for food and pay, for
it being December and winter time, by paying them this, I make them
go by force ; and understanding that Pero Menendez Marques goes im-
mediately to Matanzas, at the charge of the owner of the caravel, he
can get her ready with great speed and can take the despatch for Your
Majesty, which I had given to the tender that carried it, and without
touching at Hispaniola or at any other place, may go directly to your
kingdom, and wherever he may land, may go to deliver this despatch to
Your Majesty with the one of which I wrote by the tender ; and that
he may particularly tell Your Majesty of what great importance it is
that the fleet which is to come out with 1800 seamen and soldiers,
should not come to Dominica, nor to St. Domingo, nor to this Island ;
for if they should arrive late at Florida, the French would have arrived
here first, and would land in safety at the Point of St. Helena, where
there is a harbor, which is said to be the best in all Florida, having a
river that goes up a hundred leagues inland as far as the mountains,
whence it may be about 250 leagues to Zacatecas, and it is understood
that it is not 300; or they may go to the Bay of St. Mary which is 100
leagues north of St. Helena, where is the Indian Velasco, who is in New
Spain, and 80 leagues inland are the mountains and beyond them there
is an arm of the sea, that is navigated by canoes and extends to Tierra
Nova, a distance of 500 leagues and ends there, in a bay which makes
up beyond this mountain, which is 80 leagues inland from the Bay of
St. Mary, as I have stated ; and close to this bay, a quarter or half a
league distant, there is another arm of the sea, which goes in the direc-
tion of China and this is considered certain, although no one has entered
the South Sea, but they have gone up more than 500 leagues in an east
north west direction, for they started in 42 degrees, and went up as far
as 48, and were 500 leagues from Mexico, in a line North and South
from it, and so in reason were not 100 leagues from the South Sea, or
that same land of China. These results which the French can very
safely effect, unless we get the advantage of them, are of very great im-
portance to them, as well for honor as for profit ; and what I may have
done in Your Majesty’s service in Florida, will be very little, in com-

parison with what the French will be able to do if they go there in the
service of their king. If hitherto they have omitted to fortify them-
selves there, it has been in order that they may go to the Indies and hold
their outposts on the Bahama Channel, where they had a fort, in order
to be masters of the ships and fleets that sail through it ; and, holding
that securely, that they might settle in St. Helena, and the Bay of St.
Mary which they have carefully surveyed, and can fortify themselves
on a strait of land that there is, a quarter or half a league beyond the
mountains, to the North of the Bay of St. Mary as I have said, in order
to command that arm of the sea that goes up to Tierra Nova and the
one that goes to the South Sea in the direction of China ; and get the
benefit of the mines that are found in the mountains, and even easily go
thence to the mines of St. Martin and Zacatecas, the voyage to which
will be much shorter and easier than ours is ; for from France to Tierra
Nova, where the arm of the sea begins to enter the land of the mines,
is a voyage of from 20 to 25 days, and from there, in boats, they can go
inland, by that arm, till they get near the mountains, where they can
get the benefit of the mines, and the money that is brought from Zaca-
tecas to San Juan de Lua, comes at very great cost. Your Majesty
cannot doubt that the Fr.ench have perceived all this, and if they do not
in the coming spring, they will in the next, and, if once they plant
themselves there, they will be hard to expel for they can be succored
with great ease, and at very little cost from Tierra Nova where they
are entirely masters and maintain every year many ships and people. If
the fleet and the troops that Your Majesty will send me shall come di-
rect to Florida, it may be that they will arrive in time, for me to antici-
pate the enemy, preventing them from settling in either place and taking
the two frigates which I shall take and which will be very sufficient and
light for sails or oars, each of 40 oars as I have said. Your Majesty
granting me the favor of one thousand licenses for slaves, as I have
requested, I trust in God that I shall disable the French fleet. And
if Your Majesty has advices that it is coming, you should order the
Governors in these parts and the Generals of the fleets, that they should
be and keep themselves very circumspect, for if the French fleet should
come, even if it produce no effect in Florida, it may on the settlements
in the Indies, and they will proceed with all cruelty to do every kind
of damage and injury to the people and property in them, and the same
to the ships and fleets that sail there. I have thought fit to give to Your
Majesty a particular account of all this and to send with this despatch
Pero Menendez Marques, my cousin, that, if it is necessary with the
chart in hand he may more particularly explain this, so that Your Ma-
jesty may provide, as to both, what is expedient for your Royal service ;
for, as regards myself, I shall do my duty with all fidelity, care and dili-
gence, and according to Your Majesty’s trust in me.

I pray Your Majesty to do me the favor to dismiss Pero Menendez
as early as possible that he may carry my order to Pedro del Castillo,
that he may despatch him immediately in a tender or light caravel, and
that he shall load in it a thousand bottles, of from a measure and a
half to two measures, and two thousand pairs of sandals for the men
who may be employed in exploring, with certain articles for barter with
the Indians and some iron tools for cultivating the ground and saddles
and horse equipments, together with some laborers and their wives, and
that he shall come with it all here to Havana, to divide the cargo from
this place among the three forts that I have, and the one which 1 shall
build in this month of February and March, in the Bay of Juan Ponce,
for this will be about 50 leagues by land from the others and from
Campeachy and New Spain I shall be able to supply myself and pro-
vide many things ; and thus, in a short time, they will trade with each
other and multiply, and leaving them this supply, with people to culti-
vate the land, and priests, who may instruct the Spaniards and the
natives, I shall be able to proceed to St. Helena and the Bay of St.
Mary, to do there whatever may be expedient, and make the best pro-
vision that may be possible there, so that what has been gained and
discovered there be not lost. To accomplish this, it will be necessary
that Your Majesty order that Pero Menendez be despatched forthwith,
for v^rhom I shall leave orders and instructions in this port, that he
shall make a division of whatever he may bring, among the men who
shall come here, conformably to the distribution of the lands, and the
necessities of the settlements. From the Bay of St. Mary, I shall go by
land to the Forts of St. Augustine and St. Matthew, which are not
more than 50 leagues distant, exploring and opening the route, and in
every way endeavoring to gain the good will of the Indians ; for this
purpose I shall take one hundred and fifty men and twenty horses, and
shall leave another hundred men in the settlement which I shall make
in the Bay of St. Mary ; and by the middle of April at the farthest, I
shall, by the help of Our Lord, be in the Forts of St. Augustine and
St. Matthew, waiting for the reinforcements which I have sent to ask
of Your Majesty by the Captain Diego Flores de Valdes, and as many
as Your Majesty may be pleased to send, so that, as soon as they shall
have arrived, leaving those forts in the best condition and state that I
can, I may go to the point of St. Helena, and the Bay of St. Mary, to
fortify myself there and await the enemy, if they should come.

I notified Francisco Osorio, the Governor of this Island, the moment
that I decided to send out the tender, to Your Majesty’s kingdom, and
to send Pedro Menendez Marques with the despatches ; in order that,
if he desired to write to Your Majesty, or to any other person in your
kingdom, he might do so, and that his despatch would be forwarded
with all diligence. He answered me that he did not desire to write by

any ship that I might despatch, and that he intended to send back the
caravel that came from your kingdom with Your Majesty’s orders to
provide beef and fish in this island and in Hispaniola for nine months
for the 1800 soldiers and seamen, as Your Majesty had commanded to
be done. And when I came across this caravel at Matanzas as it
seemed to me a light vessel both for oars and sails, and sufficient for
the exploration of Florida and its rivers, I spoke with her Pilot, Master,
and mariners, and asked if they would go to Florida with me in the
Spring? They answered that they would be very glad to do so, and
under this promise they ceased taking Your Majesty’s despatch to the
Governor of Matanzas here by land and came with it by sea. And
although I told the Governor all this and of the great need that I had
for her, and that, having lost my sloop from St. Domingo, which was
very light for oars and sails, and for the purpose of reconnoitering any
vessel at sea, or the rivers and bays on the coast, and that no vessel
was more fit for this purpose than this caravel, and that it would make
no cost to Your Majesty if he sent the despatches in the ship that I
send, besides that it is a better vessel for the winter season and this
caravel is small. For all this he was not willing to do it and, although
I might have bought it and taken it, being at the disposal of the owner,
yet fearing that he might attempt to resist, although he was not able to,
I left it to him, notwithstanding I have very great need of it. I advise
Your Majesty of all this that you may understand what happens here
and may know how little I am favored and aided in these matters of
such great importance to my good success ; and if Your Majesty does
not remedy this by writing to him concerning this, I and my officers
must suffer every time that we are obliged to repair here, or anywhere
in the whole Island with my ships to supply and equip ourselves, and
as I serve Your Majesty with all the zeal with which I am bound to
serve, I have no more to say, save that Our Lord may guard and
increase Your Majesty’s Eoyal Catholic Person, with increase of new
kingdoms and realms as Christianity requires and as we, the servants
of Your Majesty desire.

From Havana, December 12*!^ in the year 1565, Your Majesty’s
faithful servant kisses your royal hands. p^^^ Menendez.

The King’s Order.

It will he well to write immediately to this Governor and to Pero
Menendez, that it will he well that he shall put those whom he has taken
alive to the oar, if he can^ and it seems to him to he safe ; or else send
them here to go to the gallies. This as regards those to whom he offered
their lives ; as to the rest he does very well in executing justice upon them,

(All this passage underscored [or italicized] in the original is in the
handwriting of Philip II.)

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