The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast

By Patricia Galloway | Go to book overview

Ralph H. Vigil


The Expedition of Hernando de Soto and the Spanish Struggle for Justice

The Indian Question and the Parties to the Struggle

Following Columbus's voyage of discovery and his settlement of Hispaniola, the colonization enterprise became extremely complex, involving a struggle between the Crown, the Church, and the colonists. Before settlement, however, material and spiritual goals were joined in a commercial venture between Columbus and the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella. Most of the 1,200 men who sailed with the Admiral were salaried employees of the Crown, whose main duty would be to take possession of the island and its gold. The few artisans and peasants who were also on board would establish the expedition's trading post, and the seeds and livestock that made up a part of the ship's cargo would provide subsistence. It was expected that the Indians they encountered, later described by Columbus as generous and cowardly, would barter their gold for Spanish baubles; they might also be enslaved. Finally, the clerics who accompanied the expedition, led by Fray Bernardo Boyl, would preach the Gospel and convert and baptize the Indians.1 Everything turned out otherwise. Supplies ran low and Columbus's order that those who would not work should not cat angered his men. These disaffected expeditionaries, men without women, hunted for gold and preyed on the Indians. The differences between Columbus and his men, on the one hand, and Father Boyl and his clerics, on the other, were many; and the Indians resisted the Spaniards or ran away. Columbus soon replaced the barter system with a tribute system, forcing the Indians to labor in the mines. Re­bellious Indians were enslaved, and five hundred of these were transported to Spain in 1495. Later, to appease his rebellious men, Columbus gave them lands and Indians.2

Indian forced labor was subsequently formalized by Governor Nicolás de Ovando. Because Queen Isabella considered the Indians to be free subjects of the Crown, Ovando was instructed to inform the native rulers that the In

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