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How I Discovered America

1537 - 1578


Diego de Almagro puts down an Inca rebellion in Cusco, then turns rebel himself by declaring that Cusco is within his command, not Pizarro's.

In Spain Hernando de Soto is given royal orders to conquer, subdue, and settle Florida, with all expenses to be taken by de Soto himself. He puts his entire fortune into the venture.


Diego de Almagro is defeated and executed by Pizarro in his struggle for the wealth of Cusco.

Hernando de Soto sets out from Spain for Florida, landing in Cuba to load supplies for his Florida expedition. He brings with him the razor-backed swine of his homeland, Estremadura, which are bred to be herded.


Fray Marcos de Niza organizes an expedition to discover the Seven Cities of Cibola, a mythical nation supposed to exist on the newly discovered continent. He uses the Moor Estebanico, who had been with de Vaca, as a guide. Esteban accumulates a large harem of Indian girls for the trek. He is the first black man the natives have seen, and is popular with the girls. He is sent ahead with his harem, with instructions to send back crosses of different sizes if he discovers something significant. Marcos and Esteban have different conceptions of what "significant" means. When Esteban enjoys himself, he sends back large crosses. Esteban sends back more and more crosses of larger and larger dimensions. Esteban "goes native;" he wears rattles and assumes the trappings of a medicine man. The Zunis kill him. Brother Marcos beats a hasty retreat, and begins telling tales of the gold he has heard about. He may be describing a native village that looks golden from far across the desert in the blinding sunlight.

In Florida, Hernando de Soto lands with 600 soldiers near Tampa Bay and Apalachee. He is hoping to find another native empire, similar to that of the Aztecs or the Inca. After attacking and seizing several villages, the expedition runs across a survivor of the Narvaez expedition, named Juan Ortiz, who helps translate with the Indians and introduces them to his chief, Mocoso.

They live on the razorback swine they have brought and bred en route. They also breed and eat small dogs, given them by the natives. De Soto is described by a contemporary as "fond of the sport of killing Indians." Natives are captured in the hundreds and forced to march in chains, carrying stores. He kidnaps a native chief known as Queen Cofitachequi, and plunders a case of worthless mussel pearls from her.


Hernando de Soto spends the winter near where Narvaez had built the boats and eaten his horses. He takes native guides, but they are not helpful. One of the natives is burned alive. They plunder native graves for jewels and find what they think are emeralds. They are actually just pieces of green glass the natives had picked up from the Ayllon expedition. One Indian chief gives De Soto "a fine young girl," and soon many native women join the trek. After a battle with the Creeks, they treat their wounded with fat from the dead natives.

De Soto and his men pass the Blue Ridge Mountains and trek into the Yazoo-Delta country, in what is now Mississippi, the country of the Chickasaw. The Lady of Cofitachequi escapes with a number of other slaves.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado leads an army to conquer the Seven Cities of Cibola. Pedro de Alarcon sails up the Gulf of California to support the expedition from the sea. They do not know they are being cut off from the Pacific, nor does Coronado know of the Rocky Mountains that lie in his path. They take the Zuni city of Hawikih, near present day Ojo Caliente in New Mexico, from which he directs further operations. The longer they go without finding gold, the more they cursed Fray Marcos for describing it to them. At the pueblo of Acoma, in present day New Mexico, they discover a village carved high on a mountain out of the rock itself. The descendants of the horses they brought with them furnish the Apaches and other tribes with horses in later centuries.

Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas of the Coronado expedition discovers the Grand Canyon. Being deceived as to its actual depth, having never before seen anything to large, they begin a descent. After a few days they return, having come nowhere near the bottom of the canyon.

Hernan Cortes returns to Spain to protest his lack of authority. The King ignores him, and he becomes a regular nuisance, growing more and more bitter and eccentric.

In Spain, Bartolome de las Casas begins writing Brevissima relacion de la destruccion de las Indias.


Jacques Cartier goes on his last voyage to Quebec, intending to find the supposedly rich kingdom of Saguenay, and discovers what he thinks are gold and diamonds.

Francois Rabelais changes his plans in writing about Pantagruel, sending him on a northwest route, following that of Cartier, rather than southwest to the land of Prester John, as he had originally planned.

Hernando de Soto crosses the Mississippi south of present day Memphis and explores the Ozarks, where they can obtain food simply by clubbing fish in the ponds and streams.

Coronado marches to the upper Brazos River, and then to the Arkansas River near what is now Kansas to where the Wichita Indians live. He finds no gold. A native guide, nicknamed "The Turk" because of his turban, keeps feeding them stories about golden cities just ahead. Eventually they strangle him.

Montejo the Younger invade the Yucatan Maya a third time, using vicious dogs in the battles.

In Peru, Francisco Pizarro is murdered by the followers of Diego de Almagro.

An Italian, Girolamo Genzoni, visits the Canary Islands and discovers that the native inhabitants, the Guanches, are nearly all gone. He finds only one left, who is some 80-years-old, and who is continually drunk.


Coronado returns to Mexico with nothing.

In Spain Cabeza de Vaca publishes the story of his long march through Texas and Mexico.

In Paris the French explorer Jacques Cartier displayes simple quartz crystals and iron pyrites he thinks are diamonds and gold, which prompts the French expression "un diamant de Canada.". One of his men accuses him to the King of holding back many of the furs for himself, and Cartier is denied further permission to explore the New World.

Hernando de Soto dies on the banks of the Mississippi, never having found gold. Oviedo writes about De Soto:

This governor was given to the chase and killing of Indians from the time he began soldiering for Governor Pedrarias in the provinces of Castilla del Oro and Nicaragua. Also he was in Peru and present at the imprisonment of the great lord Atahualpa, by which he becomes rich. He was one of those who came back to Spain owning great wealth, for he brought back to Sevilla and placed in security there more than a hundred thousand gold pesos, which, be contracting to return to the Indies, he thereafter lost, along with his life, continuing the bloodstained practices he had followed earlier. This misdirected greed and wrong indoctrination Hernando de Soto taught to those deceived soldiers whom he brought to a land in which he had never been or set foot upon...

Reader, do not cry any less for the conquered Indians than for the Christian conquerors, killers of themselves as they were of others, and heed the results of such government, ill governed, taught in the school of Pedrarias how to waste Castille del Oro and ruin its Indians, graduated by the death of the natives of Nicaragua, and canonized in Peru by the entry into the order of the Pizarros.

His expedition is continued by Luis de Moscoso, who begins building boats.

Francis Drake is born in Tavistock, Devon, England, not far from Plymouth Sound.


Luis de Moscoso sails down the Mississippi with the survivors of the De Soto expedition.

Nicholas Copernicus of Poland publishes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, demonstrating that the earth revolves around the sun, which is at the center of the solar system.


Opechancanough is born, near what will become the colony of Jamestown.


A major lode of silver is discovered by the Spanish at Potosi in Peru. This and other strikes enrich Spain enormously, significantly altering the balance of power in Europe.


Another major silver strike is made at Zacatecas in Mexico.

The Maya of the eastern shore make their last stand, crucifying and torturing a few Spaniards, until they are beaten or have to withdraw.


The last of the Yucatan Maya retreat to Peten Itza, from whence they maintain guerilla warfare for over a century.

Hernan Cortes dies, virtually unnoticed.

Henry VIII dies, Edward VI becomes King of England.


There are 500 Taino natives left alive on Hispaniola. When Col█n arrived there had been around 300,000.


When King Edward VI introduces a new prayerbook, Catholic peasants in Cornwall and Devon riot. The Protestant Drake family flees to Kent and find an old boat moored in the Chatham dockyardsŃa hulk in the MedwayŃwhere Francis Drake lived as a boy.


In Spain, Bartolome de Las Casas argues that all human beings have souls; the celebrated Spanish theologian Juan Gines Sepulveda argues that natives are beasts, and appropriately slaves.

In England, Ralph Robinson translates Sir Thomas More's Utopia into English.


Bartolomeo de las Casas publishes Brevissima relacion de la destruccion de las Indias, which gives rise to the "Black Legend" of Spanish cruelty.

In England, Francis Draken ships out as an apprentice on a merchant vessel plying the coast.

Walter Ralegh is born in Devon, England.


Edward VI of England dies, and Mary Tudor, also known as Bloody Mary, becomes Queen of England. Thousands of Protestants are persecuted in England.


Mary Tudor, Queen of England, marries Philip II of Spain. They are both Catholics, and are hoping for a Catholic heir. Twice Queen Mary convinces herself that she is pregnant. Philip is anxious for England to join his war with France, which she eventually does.

Francisco de Coronado dies.


Juana, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, dies, while still confined at Tordesillas.


After quelling an Irish rebellion, the English Crown begins establishing plantations for British settlers in the Eastern region called "The Pale."


A Huguenot cleric, Jean de Lery, spends a few months among the Tupinamba in Brazil╝s Bay of Rio. After noticing that the natives are afraid of thunder, he discusses religion:

Adapting ourselves to their crudeness, we would seize the occasion to say to them that this was the very God of whom we were speaking, who to show his grandeur and power made heavens and earth tremble; their resolution and response was that since he frightened them in that way, he was good for nothing.

Jacques Cartier dies in St. Malo.


Having joined Spain in a war with France, England promptly loses the town of Calais, after over 200 years of English rule. This helps shift English perspectives from the east to the west.

When Queen Mary, grand-daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, dies, Elizabeth becomes Queen of England. She is known as "The Virgin Queen."

The French poet Joachim Du Bellay publishes Les Regrets, in which there is a sonnet ("Heureux qui, comme Ulysse") which tells of the homecoming of Ulysses after a long voyage, and celebrates the simple pleasures of home.


John Hawkins, a fairly well-off merchant and elder relative of Francis Drake, creates a syndicate which, he thinks, permits him to buy (with force as well as money), between 300 and 400 slaves in the Portuguese trading post of Sierra Leoneto sell in Hispaniola.


Lope de Aguirre accompanies Pedro de Ursua across the Andes from Peru in search of El Dorado. Aguirre has Pedro de Ursua executed, and then kills his mistress because she slowed down the expedition. Aguirre renounces his allegiance to Spain and executes every one of his party who do not also renounce the Spanish monarchy. They proceed, murdering natives and each other on the way. Aguirre tries to invade Venezuela and is executed by the royal governor.

The Spanish mariner Pedro Menendez de Aviles discovers the Chesapeake Bay. One of the natives he takes back to Spain with him is the son of a chief. In Castile the Indian youth learns Spanish and comes to be called Don Luis de Velasco.

Because of his skill as a mariner, Francis Drake inherits from his master the vessel he had served in as apprentice.


Diego de Landa begins a three-month-long Inquisition against the Maya in the Yucatan who are still practicing their religion. Over 4,500 natives refuse to convert, so they are tortured. He writes:

The captain Alonso Lopez de Avila, brother-in-law of the adelantado Montejo, captured, during the war in Bacalan, a young Indian woman of lovely and gracious appearance. She had promised her husband, fearful lest they should kill him in the war, not to have relations with any other man but him, and so no persuasion was sufficient to prevent her from taking her own life to avoid being defiled by another man; and because of this they had her thrown to the dogs.

John Hawkins sells his slaves at Hispaniola, thus initiating the English slave trade. Eventually his cousin Francis Drake joins him. Both the English and the Spanish merchants are arrested, and the ships confiscated, for breaking treaty arrangements between Spain and England. However, Hawkins and his investors make a nice profit. Hawkins adopts the image of a black man in chains as his personal device on his coat of arms.

Humphrey Gilbert from Devon, Walter Ralegh's half brother, is sent to fight the Huguenots in France, and then to the Irish wars.

French Huguenot Jean Ribault, with the sponsorship of Gaspard de Coligny, the Admiral of France, establishes the colony of Port Royal on Parris Island off the coast of South Carolina.

Elizabeth I of England acquires smallpox and almost dies.


Pedro Menendez returns to the New World with the Indian youth, Don Luis de Velasco, landing in Mexico. Don Luis stays with the Dominicans and learns about the colonists' treatment the indigenous population.

Elizabeth I of England outlaws any unauthorized portrayals of her person.


Pedro Menendez de Aviles slaughters the Huguenot colonists at Fort Caroline in Florida. They tear out the eyes of the corpses and throw them at the colonists still aboard ship. Fort Caroline is re-named San Mateo. The French Huguenots abandon Port Royal colony.

Diego de Landa is summoned to Spain to face a royal counsel for his torturing and slaughter of the Maya. He is exonerated.

The Spanish begin a convoy system of between 20 and 60 ships to transport silver from the New World to Europe. Two armed fleets of ships are to leave Spain every year, one for Mexico and the Gulf ports and another for Panama. After the winter they will return to Spain laden with New World gold and silver. These become the target of English and other privateers.


In England, William Brewster is born.


In the Yucatan, Diego de Landa destroys 27 sacred books of hieroglyphics, an invaluable source of ethnographic information about the natives. As he writes in the Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan:

These people also used certain characters or letters, with which they wrote in their books about the antiquities and their sciences....We found a great number of these books in these letters, and since they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods of the devil we burned them all, which they took most grievously, and which gave them great pain.

Pedro Menendez takes Don Luis de Velasco, the Native American educated in Spain, from Mexico to the Chesapeake, because Don Luis is homesick. They fail to reach the native╝s homelands, and because of bad weather have to sail for Spain.

Francis Drake first crosses the Atlantic with his cousin John Hawkins, but they have to abandon their cargo when the Spanish refuse to trade. Six weeks after returning to England, Drake sails again for the Caribbean. They capture Spanish gold and, after a storm, enter the harbor of San Juan de Ulua, on the Mexican coast, to repair their boats. They allow a Spanish fleet to enter the harbor for safety, but the Spaniards, betraying a promise of safe conduct, sink most of their ships and force them to leave the treasure at the bottom of the harbor. Drake never forgives them this treachery. During the trip Francis Drake converts a Catholic seaman from Wales named Morgan Gilbert to the Protestant faith.

Bartolome de Las Casas dies in Madrid.


Two Portuguese confidence men convince Queen Elizabeth and others of the existence of a gold mine on a navigable river in Africa. John Hawkins, Drake's merchant cousin, is selected to command the expedition, with Francis at his side. When the queen hears that the two Portuguese have fled, she directs Hawkins to pick up slaves in Guinea for the Spaniards.

Samuel de Champlain is born in Brouage, a port on the Bay of Biscay in France.


Pedro Menendez and Luis de Velasco sail again for Cuba to return the native-born Luis de Velasco home. Eventually they sail with Jesuits to Don Luis' original country by the Chesapeake. Very soon after arriving, Luis de Velasco reverts to native ways. He takes several wives. Since he had been away so long, he refuses the kingship that was due him from his brother, who may be Wahunseneca, known to the English settlers as Powhatan.

Walter Ralegh attends Oriel College, Oxford, and then goes off to war in France.


Francis Drake weds Mary Newman in Devon.


By now some 70,000 Spaniards have settled in the New World, enslaving the native populations.


In Spain, Juan de Ovanda, the head of the Council of the Indies, draws up ordinances regarding correct behavior in the West Indies:

Discoveries are not to be called conquests. Since we wish them to be carried out peacefully and charitably, we do not want the use of the term "conquest" to offer any excuse for the employment of force or the causing of injury to the Indians.... They are to gather information about the various tribes, languages and divisions of the Indians in the province and about the lords whom they obey. They are to seek friendship with them through trade and barter, showing them great love and tenderness and giving them objects to which they will take a liking.

In the Chesapeake region, the native Don Luis de Velasco takes the Indian name, Opechancanough, meaning, "He whose soul is white." He massacres his former brethren, the Jesuits, on the Pamunkey River.

Francis Drake sails in the Swan for Panama. He befriends some "Cimaroons," escaped slaves. The Cimaroons are "accustomed to rost and eate the hearts of all those Spaniards, whom at any time they could lay hand upon." With their help he discovers the path of a rich mule train used to haul Peruvian treasure from Panamanian ships on the Pacific coast to Nombre de Dios on the Caribbean. He also finds a hidden bay called Port Pheasant. He returns to England to plot his revenge.

Philip II of Spain defeats the Turks at the naval battle of Lepanto.

Morgan Gilbert, the Welsh sailor Francis Drake had earlier converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, is captured by the Spaniards and given to the Inquisition. He is tried and sentenced to 200 lashes and 20 years as a galley slave for his previous conversion.

In England, the 39 Articles of Faith define the Protestant nature of the Anglican creed.


Francis Drake sails in the Swan and the Pasco to Port Pheasant, hides his boats, and attacks Nombre de Dios. After forcing the Spaniards to retreat, he declares to his men, "I have brought you to the treasure house of the world," and then collapses from a leg wound suffered in battle. After recovering, he climbs a tall tree and sees the Pacific Ocean for the first time. He prays that "Almighty God in his goodness would give me life and leave to sail once in an English ship upon that sea." The Spanish begin calling him "El Draque," (The Dragon).

Diego de Landa is appointed the second Bishop of the Yucatan.

In Paris, thousands of Protestants, enjoying a truce brought about by the marriage between the Catholic sister of King Charles IX and Henry of Navarre, are slaughtered in the streets in what becomes known as the St. Bartholomew Day massacre.

In Portugal, Luis Vaz de Camoes publishes the Lusiades, an epic poem concerning the history of Portugal and especially the voyage of Vasco Da Gama to the Indies.

In London, John Donne is born.


Francis Drake returns a hero to England, but finds that a reconciliation between Spain and England have rendered his exploits on the Spanish Main less welcome. He goes into hiding for two years.


Francis Drake serves under Walter, Earl of Essex, against Catholic mercenaries in Ireland. Because of important contacts made in this campaign, he is able to secure an audience with Queen Elizabeth. Since relations with Spain have soured, she agrees secretly to support Drake's actions against Spanish gold. He becomes the Queen's "privateer."

In England, Archbishop Grindal or York commissions William Brewster as bailiff and receiver of Scrooby manor. William Brewster is assisted in running the manor by his son, also named William.


Englishman Martin Frobisher explores Baffin Land and Frobisher Bay, which he thinks will prove to be a strait to Asia. He explains to his worried men at one point, "The sea at length needs must have an endynge." Five men are lost to natives. He returns to England with minerals which are mistakenly identified as valuable.

By now, epidemics brought by Europeans have killed almost half of the native population of Mexico.


Francis Drake sets sail, ostensibly for Alexandria, Egypt, but in fact for the South American coast. He anchors off Puerto San Julian, where Magellan had executed mutineers during his 1520 voyage of discovery. Drake himself faces a mutiny, which he puts down after a jury of 40 men convict his friend Thomas Doughty of mutiny and witchcraft. After a banquet, he has Doughty beheaded. He then sails through the Strait of Magellan in a boat he has rechristened the Golden Hind, named after the seal of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, who was also a close friend of Doughty. It takes Drake 21 days fewer than it had taken Magellan to traverse the Straits.

Drake then sails to the Pacific and raids the west coast of South America.

On his second voyage to the coast of Newfoundland, Captain Martin Frobisher, certain he is mining gold, loads over a thousand tons of worthless black rock which he brings back to Europe.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert receives a patent from Queen Elizabeth to colonize "heathen and barbarous landes countries and territories not actually possessed of any Christian prince or people." The charter adds that English colonists and their descendants will be under English law "in suche like ample manner and fourme as if they were borne and personally residaunte within our sed Realme of England."

In England Dr. Laurence Chaderton gives a sermon in which he declares the Anglican Church to be

a huge masse of old and stinkinge workes, of conjuring, witchcraft, sorcery, charming, blaspheming the holy name of God, swearing and forswearing, profaning of the Lord's Sabbothe, disobediance to superiours, contempt of inferiours; murther, Manslaughter, robberies, adulterye, Fornication, covenant-breaking, false witness-bearing, lieing...

Over 300 ships make the Newfoundland cod run from Europe.