[TEXAS, FLORIDA]. GARAY, Francisco de (? - 1523), Associate of Chritopher Columbus, Governor of Jamaica. Autograph(?) letter (closing and signature lacking), to Ochoa de Isasaga in the Casa de Contratacion de Indias in Seville (later the Supreme Council of the Indies), [port Santa Maria, Cadiz, Spain], n.d. [February 1514]. 1 full page, small folio (11 x 8½ in.), addressed on verso, incomplete, probably lacking a sheet with closing and signature, damage to lower portion, affecting a few words, stains.
THE ONLY RECORDED LETTER OF FRANCISCO DE GARAY, REGARDING HIS PURCHASE AND OUTFITTING OF SHIPS PROBABLY USED IN THE EXPEDITION OF ÁLVAREZ DE PINEDA, FIRST TO EXPLORE AND MAP THE COMPLETE FLORIDA-TEXAS COASTLINE
An historic, previously unpublished letter, from the earliest decades of Spanish explorations of the Caribbean and Gulf. The letter uniquely documents Garay's 1514 purchase and outfitting of two Portuguese caravels (with advice from and in the company of Diego Rodriquez, an experienced pilot employed by Columbus himself on his fourth voyage). The vessels discussed here were probably intended for the voyage of Álvarez de Pineda, carried out under Garay's authority with the approval of King Ferdinand. The Pineda voyage (1519-1520) provided absolute confirmation that Florida was a peninsula (not an island as erroneously reported by Ponce de Léon). The expedition was also the first to discover the Mississippi and its delta, the first to chart the coast of present-day Texas, and furnished the basis for the remarkable Pineda map, first to depict the entire Gulf coast, including Texas.
Garay was married to Teresa Muñiz Perestrello, sister of the wife of Christopher Columbus. He accompanied Columbus's Second Voyage (1493) and became one of the founders of the Spanish colony of Hispaniola (the first permanent European settlement in the New World). He made an unsuccessful attempt to seize the island of Guadalupe in 1511; upon returning to Spain in 1514, King Ferdinand named him Governor of Jamaica (the second man to hold that post). "While the appointment was pending, he purchased two caravels and outfitted them in a manner suggesting that he intended a voyage of discovery" (R.S. Weddle, in Handbook of Texas online). For reasons still obscure the planned voyage was not undertaken until 1519, when Garay dispatched four warships under the command of Captain Alonso Álvarez de Pineda (? - 1520), with instructions to explore the unknown, unmapped northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Mexico.
Garay's letter describes meeting with certain settlers intending to sail to Hispaniola but left behind in the port: "I came here and talked to these gentlemen, and they were shown the letter of His Highness, and it seemed to them that I should wait, notwithstanding that by this letter and that you had already written them (and from what his Highness had told them before) it seems they are left by the navy. It is a pity seeing people so disposed, who believe that they will be given passage and provisions for Hispaniola, and that from there they could go to Tierra Firma. Nothing pleases them, but some of them will go [as settlers?]."
"You wanted to know if there were caravels in the port of Santa Maria...Diego Rodriguez and I, together with Pedro de Aranzures, went to the port...and found three good Portuguese ships, of which we bought two. They are so good that I think that even if they had been deliberately built for us, they could not have been better; and I believe that one will be here - if God wishes - tomorrow and the other on Monday, as they are being caulked. Then they will go to Seville, and I will follow, to supervise the orders for loading them, and then you will dispatch my part (if Our Lord pleases). Tell these gentlemen that you will be able to send the cargo [luggage?]....Respecting the sailors and companions and munitions ["los marineros y companeros y armas"], I beg you to provide the documents and the list...."
Other sources record that Garay, "purchased from Portuguese owners two latteen-rigged caravels of 40 and 45-ton capacity...'for the service of the island of Jamaica.'" But "several aspects of the transaction indicate that they were part of a plan, perhaps originating with Ferdinand himself, to seek new lands." Garay's "extensive purchases of rigging, tools, and spare gear suggest some intended use besides transporting cargo. Arm purchases -- lances, cannon (bombards) and powder -- [also mentioned here] strengthen the suggestion" (Robert S. Weddle, Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery 1500-1685, pp. 98-99).
It was several years before Garay was able to mount the planned expedition, but in 1517 he secured permission to seek, between the lands explored by Juan Ponce de Léon and those seen by Diego Velazquez, particularly, "a strait connecting the Gulf of Mexico with the 'South Sea' [the Pacific] discovered by Nuñez de Balboa [in 1513]. Such a passage, indeed, might lead to discoveries as great as Columbus's own" (ibid., p.99). Garay ultimately dispatched four vessels -- possibly including the two described in this letter. In command he placed the experienced captain Álvarez de Pineda. Under orders from Garay, Pineda and his men became "the first Europeans to explore and map the Gulf littoral." No first-hand account of the voyage exists, nor has Garay's obligatory relación to the Spanish crown survived. The sole record is a summary of the relación in the 1521 royal cédula granting Garay the territory--called Amichael-- explored in his name and under his authority by Pineda.
Bernal Diaz de Castillo, though, reports that 270 men embarked under Garay's orders, departing Jamaica in late March 1519. After proceeding through the Yucatan Channel, the expedition sighted the Florida panhandle, then sailed back east, "expecting to find the passage believed to separate the mainland from the 'island' discovered by Juan Ponce de Léon" (ibid.). The passage to the Pacific proved illusive, and Pineda reversed course, sailing west along the gulf coast for some 300 leagues, charting the coast including the Mississippi River, and landed at Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, Hernando Cortez's new settlement, the very first on the North American mainland, where a contretemps ensued between the rival conquistadores.
"Pineda thus proved that Florida was not an island, as De Léon had reported it to be in 1513." His expedition was the first to report the existence and to map the mouth of the Mississippi River. And, as Weddle emphasizes, Pineda "undoubtedly examined the Texas coast and was, as so often proclaimed, the first European to do so...." The captain proceeded to establish his own rival settlement, some 20 miles up the Rio Panuco, at the site of present-day Tampico. When the flotilla sailed back to Jamaica late in the season, Pineda and others remained behind, trading with the natives, only to perish when the tiny settlement was overrun by hostile Huastec Indians.
The historic Garay-Pineda manuscript map, drawn during the voyage, was sent back to Spain by Garay to legitimize his claim to those lands, and is attached to the royal cédula (4 June 1521), giving him permission to settle the vast lands mapped by the unfortunate Álvarez de Pineda. (The map is in the Archivo General de Indias, Seville; illustrated in Weddle, Spanish Sea, p.101).
The present is the only extant letter of Franscisco de Garay, and is hitherto unpublished.