Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685

By Robert S. Weddle | Go to book overview

Preface

EARLY in the twentieth century, New World discovery and exploration ceased to be popular subjects for historical study. The reasons are a bit obscure, for the task was not nearly complete. Many of the works most relied upon are marked by confused facts, unclear focus, and uncertain conclusions. The vital conduit for the first real European access to the North American mainland--the Gulf of Mexico--has been grossly neglected, never having been treated as the distinct entity that it is.

Following Columbus's initial discovery of the fringe islands, the Andalusian voyagers groped their way through the maze, seeking a continent. Running uphill, as it were, they found Central and South America. Not for sixteen years did the first navigator find the crucial passage into the Gulf of Mexico. Another decade passed before the discoverers realized that a second continent lay beyond the Gulf. Only then could the actual discovery of mainland North America begin. Through this "Spanish Sea"--which the Gulf remained for almost two centuries after the first known European entry--the discoverers and explorers advanced onto the continent. The Gulf and its environs were the theater for the earliest and most determined efforts to conquer the natives and explore and settle the interior.

In the present volume, I have knowingly attempted to serve two masters. The general reader--if my intention has been translated successfully--will find in the successive accounts of the various discovery episodes a lively series of related adventures, unencumbered by scholarly documentation until he comes to the "Sources and Notes" at the end of each chapter. He may skip over these if he finds them tedious. The specialist, on the other hand, will perceive from these bibliographical essays the depth of research supporting the challenge here offered to some longstanding concepts. If so inclined, he may pursue the sources himself.

It is not my purpose to dispute previous interpretations merely for the sake of being different or to justify my work by offering a spu-

-xiii-

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