DISCOVERING FLORIDA: First-Contact Narratives from Spanish Expeditions along the Lower Gulf Coast

By Gomez-Galisteo, M. Carmen | American Studies, April 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

DISCOVERING FLORIDA: First-Contact Narratives from Spanish Expeditions along the Lower Gulf Coast


Gomez-Galisteo, M. Carmen, American Studies


DISCOVERING FLORIDA: First-Contact Narratives from Spanish Expeditions along the Lower Gulf Coast. Edited and translated by John E. Worth. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2014.

In the eyes of the first European newcomers, America was a place of wonder. Legends and fantastic stories ran rampant after 1492, especially those concerning Florida, which, because of the region's impenetrability, took longer to be dispelled. The disappointment caused by not finding the Fountain of Eternal Youth and the failure of all the expeditions earned Florida such a poor reputation that in 1561 a royal decree forbid Spanish subjects to go into these "tierras malditas" (damned lands). The lack of wealth dissipated official interest and the region was finally abandoned in 1711, leaving behind a paper trail documenting the failed Spanish conquest. Although one of these texts, Cabeza de Vaca's Account, has generated a vast literature, the rest received scant attention, especially in English. Discovering Florida comes to fill this gap in scholarship by compiling accounts from the sixteenth-century Spanish expeditions to Florida.

The five sections in the book, preceded by an introduction, cover the expeditions of Juan Ponce de León (1513-21), Pánfilo de Narváez and Hernando de Soto (1528-39), Luis Cáncer (1549), the captivity of Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda (1549-66), and the expedition of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1566-69). Each section starts with a summary while each original text is introduced by a brief explanation and a note on the transcribing conventions employed. A strength of this book is that it includes the original Spanish texts as well as an English translation.

If Columbus came across America while searching for the Indies, for Ponce, who was looking for Bimini, Florida was "an unanticipated discovery" (14). Named after the day they landed ("Pascua Florida;" Easter Sunday), they thought Florida was a group of islands. Conflicts between the Native Americans and the Spaniards immediately ensued, although the latter also tried to act as peacemakers between several Native American groups. Actually, Menéndez de Áviles's peace talks resulted in an agreement between the Calusa and the Tocobaga. Spanish accounts of Florida not only convey their first impressions, but also offer a glimpse into Native Americans' lives. The description of the natives occupied much space, portraying them either as blood-thirsty or willing to be converted. …

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