The Letters of Pedro Menendez Aviles

Letter VII (Havana, January 30, 1566)

Royal Catholic Majesty,

By my cousin the Captain Pedro Menendez Marques, who sailed
from Havana on the 19*.^ of the last month, with a despatch-tender, I
wrote to Your Majesty at length and yery particularly of the good



success which Our Lord had given me in Florida against the French
Lutherans who had occupied it ; how they were all destroyed and put
to death ; and how on the 2?. of November, with 250 men, and three
barges for oars, I went from the Forts of St. Matthew and St. Augustine
to the Cape Canaveral, where I was informed that seventy or eighty
Frenchmen were building a fort and a bark to send out and ask for
succor. I also wrote how, one morning I came upon them with 150
men by land and with the barges by sea ; how we were discovered,
they being afraid of us, and betaking themselves to the mountains ;
how we took their fort and what provisions they had, and burned their
bark ; and how, that this evil Lutheran sect might not remain in the
land, I sent a trumpet to the Frenchmen, offering them their lives, if they
would surrender and lay down their arms and their colors ; how all
this was done accordingly; and that, from there I went 15 leagues
further down the Bahama Channel, to a very beautiful river, where
was one of the principal caciques whose name was Ays, who received
us with great friendship, and how, being there, we had no sort of food,
nor did this cacique give us any, saying that he had not got it, for that
they ate shell fish and fish and the roots of herbs, and that if we went
into the fort, we could have nothing to eat there nor where to get it
from, even ever so little ; so that for our relief I had determined to go
down the Bahama Channel, to explore its navigation and harbors, as
far as this harbor of Havana, and I did so accordingly, with 70 men in
two barges, leaving the rest of the men and the other barge. I also
wrote Your Majesty that arriving here I should send back to them the
two barges, laden with provisions ; also of the small aid and favor that
was given me by Garcia Osorio, the Governor of this Island, and of
the great necessity there was that Your Majesty should order this to be
remedied henceforth. I also wrote that, this month I should go to
explore the Bay of Juan Ponce, in order, if there was any good harbor,
to settle it, because the river of St. Matthew empties on that coast, or
near it, and our people will be easily able to communicate with each
other ; also to see if it be navigable between the Tortugas and Florida,
and if there be any good harbor at the head of the Martires, which is
very important for short voyages and safety to the ships and fleets that
sail to the Indies. I also sent a duplicate of this letter subsequently to
Your Majesty by a despatch caravel sent out to Your Majesty by the
Governor of this Island. I trust that Our Lord will have been pleased
to bring these ships in safety with these letters that Your Majesty may
understand in detail all that has happened ; although, only two days
after the Captain Pedro Menendez Marques sailed, there was a very
great storm here. What there is new to advise Your Majesty to-day of
is this ; that within 15 days after the barge laden with provisions for
the Spaniards who remained in the Channel of the settlement of Ays



sailed from here, she returned to this port with news that she arrived
in safety, and found the soldiers whom I left there, all scattered and
divided into little companies without leave of their Captain, for they
were perishing with hunger where they were ; that the cacique with
his people had gone away and got together a number of men in order to
make war upon them ; and that they had come 20 leagues this way
where they had found better land and some food of palmettos and
other fruits called icacos, (cocoa plum) and many mulberries and fish,
and there they all collected together in a fort which they had thrown
up as well as they could in the time, and many peaceful Indians had
come to them showing themselves friends, with some display of gold
and silver, and they advised me of all this by Captain Juan Velez de
Medrano who is there in command of all these men. Two days ago
arrived Captain Diego de Amaya, who sailed in the other barge of 70 •
tons, laden with provisions for the two forts of St. Augustine and St.
Matthew, and he brought me news that he arrived in safety at fort St.
Augustine and there discharged the stores that were to remain there,
of 150 sows with young that he took out, 50 had died, and he landed
80 of them there, and that, within six days he would have departed
with the ship and the provisions that he was carrying to Fort St.
Matthew ; but being in December the weather changed so one night
that at dawn there was a great storm and very heavy sea, so that
he was obliged to attempt the bar of St. Matthew, and he ran aground
in such a manner, although the vessel required but little water, she
thumped and was stranded near the land, where all the crew went
ashore, and the vessel went to pieces, and a part of the provisions was
saved although very little. They say that the men in the forts are
well and very resigned ; that, in the cold of winter, being ill clothed,
more than a hundred persons died, and that they were in a very great
necessity of food, and still are ; the Commandant and the Captains who
were there had agreed that as one of the two brigantines was finished
which I had left orders that they should build for me wherewith to
explore the coast in the spring, and go to St. Helena and the Bay of
St. Mary. Captain Diego de Amaya should return to inform me of
the strait they were in for want of food, shoes and clothing, that I might
provide them without delay; and how the ship which was going to
them had been lost with part of the provisions; for, when Captain
Diego de Amaya left here, I ordered him, after having landed his pro-
visions at the two forts, to proceed, with all despatch to the Island of
Porto Rico or Hispaniola to look for the galleon San Pelayo which
had on board two thousand quintals of biscuit and much wine, vinegar
and other stores ; that he should load his ship with all of these and go
back to Florida with it. The Commandant and the Captains also
wrote me that the two French ships which escaped when we took the



fort of St. Matthew in which Juan Rivao’s eldest son escaped the day
that he was in the fort by swimming to one of these ships, had gone
five and twenty leagues beyond, towards the north to a very good
harbor called Guale, the Indians there being their friends, and that there
are, within a space of three or four leagues, forty villages of the Indians
of two brothers, one of whom is called Causin, and the other Guale,
and these two brothers are great friends of the General Ludunier who
was in Florida before the coming of. Juan Rivao. The day that we
took the fort, he jumped over the wall in his shirt, and fled to
the mountain, wounded by a pike, and we never heard any further
news of him, save that it was said that the Indians, his enemies, had
killed him.. It seemed to me that he reached the shore before the son
of Juan Rivao got over the bar, that he took him in and, as he knew
of the harbor of Guale and the two caciques were his friends, that he
went there with the two ships, and that, in great haste, he threw up a
fort, and that he had in it seventy or eighty men ; that he had sent one
of the ships to France and kept the other there. They must have much
artillery and ammunition and stores, for these two ships had not yet
discharged what they brought from France, and one of them carried
four heavy brass guns on her broadside. If they are succored through
the friendship that they have with the Indians, having there plenty of
food of maize, beans, pumpkins, and much fish and game, it will be
a bad thing, and it will be afterw^ards very hard to eject them, having
so good a harbor. Some Frenchmen whom I have here assure me,
that when I arrived in Florida, Juan Rivao was about to send there
a Captain with 200 men to settle that harbor, which he had very well
surveyed, and the Indians desired him to do so, and that this spring
with the people who were to come from France, he intended to settle in
St. Helena, which is admirably good, for these Frenchmen say it is the
best harbor that they have discovered in Florida and that they would
also this spring have settled in the Bay of St. Mary. Even if I had
men enough, I could not go to Guale, where these Frenchmen are, be-
fore the end of March, or the beginning of April, for this coast is
stormy, and we must go along the coast with great care to make the
harbor; but I have resolved with the help of Our Lord, to go within
eight days to the Bay of Juan Ponce, and to explore the entire coast
from Philippina and the bays of San Jusepe as far as the Martires, and
between the Tortugas and Florida, to see if there is any navigable
channel for the fleets from New Spain for, if there is, they can sail
much more easily from New Spain to Havana ; and if I find any good
port on that coast and Bay of Juan Ponce, I shall settle there and
fortify, for the river of St. Matthew empties on that coast, or cannot
be above 15 or 20 leagues from it and by land the forts of St. Matthew
and St. Augustine are not above 50 leagues distant and they can easily



communicate with each other, and bring the Indians into friendship
with us, and the priests can instruct them with less risk. And by that
coast and Bay of Juan Ponce I shall be able to get supplies easily,
from New Spain and Campeachy, and from this Island of Cuba, and
from that harbor I shall be able to supply the forts of St. Matthew
and St. Augustine, and reinforce them whenever it may be necessary,
and when my galleons are going to New Spain, they can land men and
provisions there without going out of their course and the same when
they are returning from New Spain to Spain ; and thence they can
settle, with the people who may come from Spain, the river bank of
San Pelayo that goes toward the fort of St. Matthew, which they say
is inhabited by Indians and has plenty of food. These two forts of
St. Matthew and St. Augustine, and in case of finding a harbor in the
Bay of Juan Ponce, the one which I settle there together with the shore
of San Pelayo being near each other, will be under the command of
a Captain and there will also be an Alcayde in each fort, and this
office I propose to confide to Estevano de las Alas, being a gentleman
and a good Christian and of good deportment, while I shall go to the
coast of Philippina, as far as the Martires and Tortugas, until the mid-
dle of March, exploring it by land and sea, in order to settle in the
best harbor and land location that I shall find, for I have four brigan-
tines and two gallies, vevj sufficient for that purpose, either for oars or
sails, and two very good tenders for the accommodation of the troops
and to carry provisions for them, I having been engaged all this time
in equipping and careening them. I shall leave Estevano de las Alas
the best supply possible, with 100 men, in the settlement that I shall
make on that coast and at the Bay of Juan Ponce, so that the men who
may come to me from Havana in my tenders may be all taken there,
so as to be divided between the two forts of St. Matthew and St.
Augustine and the place where he shall be ; and if priests come, they
will have plenty to occupy themselves with. From Havana to the
place where I shall leave him they can easily come in two days more,
especially if I shall discover a navigable channel between the Tortugas
and Florida, for the prevailing wind there is northeast, and this is favor-
able both for going and returning. From the middle of March onward,
leaving to Estevano de las Alas one of the brigantines, so that he may
go and come to Havana for provisions for his men, I shall go directly
to where the Captain Juan Velez de Medrano is, and take him off
with what men he may have for the Captain Diego de Amaya,
who came from there, reported to me that many of them are dead
from hunger, and that the Indians who have risen against them and
are very warlike and treacherous, have killed others ; and I shall take
these men with me to the forts of St. Augustine and St. Matthew,
where, in each fort I shall leave a Captain with 150 soldiers, and then,



with the largest force I can get together, which shall be, if possible, not
less than three hundred men, for this is little enough, I shall go to
Guale, where Ludunier and Juan Rivao’s son are, and endeavor to take
their fort and expel them from the land before they can be succored
from France ; and, if Our Lord gives me the victory, I shall leave there
a captain with a hundred soldiers, and go on to St. Helena with the
other one hundred and fifty ; and if meanwhile, the reinforcements of
Your Majesty shall arrive at this port of Havana I shall leave my order
here with the Treasurer, Juan de Ynistrosa, (and also leave one of my
servants) that they shall immediately succor Estevano de las Alas with
two or three hundred men and provisions for them ; and that, with the
rest they shall go to the forts of St. Augustine and St. Matthew, and I
shall leave a pilot to take them there, that he may leave them men and
provisions as I have ordered, and with the rest and the whole fleet
they shall pass on to Quale, for I shall leave pilots to take them there ;
so that, if the French fleet comes, it shall find us in a state to defend
ourselves and that we may hold the forts we have taken which they
had explored. And if they shall proceed to the Islands, with the intent
of committing robbery and cruelties, or shall attempt to lie in wait for
any fleet from New Spain, I may be able to spy them and give such
favors as I may be able, on the one side or the other; but if the
French should come before Your Majesty shall reinforce me, we shall
all be in great trouble and danger. I shall do all that is possible for a
man, and I shall do it to the end, and I am certain that, much and well
as I desire to serve Your Majesty and to give you these Provinces of
Florida cleared so that the Holy Gospel may be preached in them, and
the natives brought to Your Majesty’s allegiance, so that neither the
French nor any other nation shall have any part in them, what is pos-
sible for me does not equal my zeal and desire; but Your Majesty
may be certain that all I have and all I can get from relatives and
friends, T shall devote and expend in this undertaking, and as so great
sums are needed to support the one and the other, if Your Majesty
should do it at your cost, you would incur very great expense, and in
order that I may support the one and the other, it will be well that
Your Majesty should pay out from your treasury to assist me, for in no
other way can I obtain credit to incur such great expenses as I do,
which are all absolutely necessary in order to expel the enemy from
the land, and to prevent them from returning into it.

The Governor of this Island as I have written Your Majesty, has
not helped me with a single real, although I had two orders from Your
Majesty that he should give me an armed ship, with fifty armed men,
provisions for four months, that this should cost above twenty thousand
ducats ; and although now he sees my strait, and the need I have of
provisions to take with me, to supply the forts, and to take to Guale to




eject the French, and to St. Helena, and the great scarcity there is of
them in this place, and the amount that I have expended for the troops
that I had and still have here, and the large sum that the two vessels
cost me which I sent with provisions to Florida ; that Your Majesty-
has three hundred men at your charge in Florida, that they have noth-
ing to eat and are perishing with hunger, and that he is bound to supply
them, yet he has not found means to aid me with one single real, nor a
load of cassavi, nor an arroba of beef, nor any thing worth a single
maravedis. Even if he had no money of Your Majesty’s, for this pur-
pose, it is enough that he has fourteen or fifteen thousand ducats from
the caravel that he took in my name and with them or a portion of them,
he might assist me, since I bound myself to repay it, whenever Your
Majesty shall so order. He also obstructs and hinders me, publicly
and in secret, as much as he can, giving opportunity to my men to
mutiny and desert, and that not a man who leaves me shall return ; also
the physician and surgeon whom I was to carry have left me eight days
ago, as soon as they knew the voyage I was going, and they are in a
house here and he knows it, yet gives no orders to search for and take
them, though knowing that I cannot go on my voyage without them.
Evidence of all these things accompanies this, that Your Majesty may
be satisfied of the truth of what has occurred. I suffer all, and shall
suffer, as I have written Your Majesty, understanding that this is expe-
dient for Your Majesty’s service ; but if in future Your Majesty does
not remedy this, it will be impossible to do what should be done for
Your Majesty’s service in the exploration of Florida, except with great
danger, cost and delay, none of which ought to be incurred or endured.

More than forty men of the company of the Captain-ship of Pedro
de las Roclas, (may he be in Heaven) have deserted, in order not to go
to Florida, and are waiting until I shall have departed to return to the
town, for the Governor says that he has need of them to guard the
place. I shall take about eighty persons from the ship; these will be
with Estevano de las Alas until the fleet from New Spain shall arrive
at this port, and will then immediately return here, as I do not want to
take a single man or gun from this ship, for it seems to me that it will
be necessary for the safety of the fleet.

I conversed with Padre Fr. Andres de Urdaneta, who has arrived
here from China, concerning the strait which it is certainly supposed
there is in Florida, going in the direction of China, concerning which
he has had a full account for many years, and the way in which we must
proceed to learn this secret is that which I have communicated to Your
Majesty in a memorial some years ago, for thus it can be done most
speedily, best, at the least cost, and the truth of that secret will be best
known and quickest, and being a matter of such importance to the ser-
vice of God Our Lord and to the increase of Your Majesty’s kingdom



and Royal treasury, I shall contrive in every possible way to be this
coming winter in Your Majesty’s kingdom. If I can, I shall send Cap-
tain with the Indian to the Bay of St. Mary, in order that with
his own eyes he may see this arm of the sea, so that Your Majesty may
make such provisions in relation thereto, as shall be expedient to Your
Majesty’s service, and I shall make report of the things that I may have
discovered and seen on the coast and in the land of Florida, and of the
necessity there will be to people them and to support them, without
Your Majesty expending upon this anything out of your Royal treasury,
except, it may be some small amount, during the first two or three years,
although it will be proper that my going shall be kept very secret, that
it may not come to the knowledge of the enemy on account of the dan-
ger to which my person would be exposed from them, for I shall leave
the land of Florida, and the forts and settlements that remain in very
good condition, and the winter so defends that coast that they will be
very secure from enemies.

It will be well that Your Majesty should make an order so that my
tenders and small vessels which I am to bring, according to the compact
may if necessary, carry that part of the clothing which they were to take
to Florida to New Spain and Campeachy, so that they may obtain thence
the provisions and necessary things that we require for Florida.

I wrote to Your Majesty how the fleet of St. Domingo had been lost
on this island, one hundred and fifty leagues from here, near Baracoa
and how Estevano de las Alas had saved all the men in the vessel that
he took for his flag-ship from Asturias and Biscay ; and as Your Maj-
esty had commanded me that when the French were driven out of
Florida I should discharge the troops for St. Domingo and send them
to that Island, I, seeing that the French were dead, sent it there to be
paid off, where it was lost near Hispaniola. This I did to obey what
Your Majesty had commanded me in this matter, and so, that more
easily and at less cost they could return to St. Domingo. This errand
of mine went speedily to Gonzalo de Peiialosa who came in command
of these men, and he considered them as discharged, but made a con-
tract with a greater part of the men to come to this port of Havana ;
others went to Santiago de Cuba and to Bayamo, in order to cross over
to the New Kingdom, Peru, Honduras and New Spain, and all those
who came here came with the intention of going on to Honduras & New
Spain. I spoke with Penalosa and all these soldiers, stating to them
that Your Majesty would be greatly displeased, if those who did not go
with me to Flofida should not go back to St. Domingo, but I perceived
that none of them would go to Florida with me, though I would wil-
lingly receive them all, as well as all the other men, but it appeared to
them a very laborious expedition and fifteen days ago a vessel left here
for Campeachy, which the Governor visited, but would not permit me



visit, and after eight days, the weather being unfavorable, she returned ;
and she had on board 35 of these St. Domingo soldiers and some of those
of my command, and proposed to sail again in two days, it being fine
weather. Seeing such irregularities and ill service of Your Majesty,
and that I could not remedy it, I issued a proclamation, a copy of which
goes herewith, at which the Governor and Penalosa and his soldiers
were much offended.

The Commandant and Sergeant Major write me from Florida that
the trouble is insupportable that they have with the greater part of the
men there, on account of their desertion from the country and speaking
ill of it, and discouraging those who are not there, in order that they
may be able to go over to the Indies, for many of them came with this
intent ; and unless Your Majesty shall take sufficient measures in all
the courts of the Indies, so that they may take within their districts,
or even out of them if they can, all the men who shall have come to
Florida, and left there without my leave, and send them prisoners to
me in Florida, so that they shall serve perpetually at the oar, and so
that those who come from Spain may not deceive themselves but under-
stand that they are to remain here ; and that the Indies may not be
filled up with knaves, and that I and my officers shall not have muti-
nies, neither with the people who shall reside in Florida, I fear that I
shall have no power to prevent it.

I showed to the Padre Fr. Andres de Urdaneta samples of the gold
and silver that there is in Florida ; and I am told that the Captains and
soldiers who are there have got by barter a quantity of above a thousand
ducats, and it is said there is among them a quantity of common gold.

May Our Lord protect and prosper the Royal Catholic person of
Your Majesty with increase of greater kingdoms and realms as Chris-
tianity requires, and as we Your Majesty’s servants desire. From
Havana, January 30*.^ 1566. Your Majesty’s humble servant kisses
your Royal hands.

Pedro Menendez.

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