In the summer of 1566 two Spanish men of war, the San Salvadore and the Zebeita, dropped their anchors in Port Royal Sound. Captain Juan Pardo and two hundred and fifty soldiers and another fifty hopeful settlers were on board these vessels. They disembarked on a small sub tropical island known today as Parris Island. This island had overarching live oaks grown thick with gray moss, exotic palmetto trees, and expansive saltwater marshes. Animals such as the white-tailed deer, the opossum, the raccoon, and the alligator roamed the island and the surrounding mainland. Native American peoples lived in the dark, mysterious forests on the horizon. An earthen fort had been built on the island’s southern end overlooking the usually untroubled waters of the great sound. This fort was surrounded by a rough wooden palisade of stakes and defended by several small bronze cannons. The Spanish had named this bastion Fort San Felipe. Twenty-seven hardened soldiers who awaited a suspected counterattack of French corsairs manned the fort. They were all that remained of Menendez’s original complement of one hundred and ten men that he had sent to build and maintain this outpost. Munity and numerous desertions had taken their toll. These twenty seven men had, no doubt, fought off heat, humidity, mosquitoes, and starvation. The new arrivals were welcomed along with their food and other needed supplies. They had been sent north by Menendez from his newly established settlement at St. Augustine. Fears over inadequate provisions at St. Augustine and freshly arrived soldiers and settlers from Spain prompted Menendez to disperse his forces. In addition, the need to reinforce the fledgling outpost at Santa Elena had necessitated this move. Menendez had imperial dreams for Santa Elena.
Food shortages continued to plague those early Spanish colonizers. The men first deployed at Santa Elena had failed to produce sufficient crops for the outpost in the low, sandy soil that surrounded the fort. Tidal inundations and wild animals had further diminished these crops. Resupply by Spanish ships sailing along the coast was haphazard and inadequate to meet the need. Short of their own supplies they had relied on trade and benevolence of neighboring Native Americans for their food. By the fall of 1566 this situation had once again grown serious as the provisions brought by the new arrivals that summer were quickly consumed. In order to relieve this problem and for other personal and nationalistic reasons Menendez, who arrived at Santa Elena that fall, decided to dispatch Captain Juan Pardo and a large force of his soldiers to the interior. These conquistadors were to obtain food on the march. In addition to feeding themselves, they were instructed to gather and send provisions to Fort San Felipe. Presumably they would do both by hunting, gathering, and forging in New World forests and trading, soliciting oaths of loyalty, and intimidating Native Americans they encountered on their march. These oaths of loyalty to Phillip II and Menendez were to be cemented by token gifts given to Native American leaders on the Spanish side and large supplies of food given to the Spanish on the Native American side. The Spanish still subscribed to the hierarchal and reciprocal system of feudalism that had dominated the Middle Ages in Spain and Europe and they hoped to use it to their advantage in dealing with Native Americans in the New World.
The practical necessity for such an expedition was heightened by Menendez’s sense of duty and his own political and economic ambitions. Santa Elena was to provide not only protection for the Spanish treasure fleets but was to be a base for future Spanish settlement and expansion in North America. Menendez had declared Santa Elena as the capitol of the province of La Florida in August 1566. He expected this outpost to grow considerably in the years to follow because of what he perceived as its strategic and economic position. Menendez, like other Spanish conquistadors, dreamed of New World riches and empires. He instructed Captain Pardo as he went along to keep an eye out for gold, silver, and other sources of mineral wealth that he may encounter. But more importantly, he instructed Pardo to establish an overland route to New Spain (Mexico).
Mule caravans burdened with silver from the rich Zacatecas and San Martin mines in central New Spain plodded many dusty miles overland to the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the newly mined bars of silver were loaded on galleons that sailed north to Cuba and then onward to Spain. Menendez and other high ranking Spaniards believed this was a drawn out process and that it could be shortened and made safer. The mule caravans could be driven to Santa Elena to meet the treasure galleons. The galleons would then miss many of the deadly seasonal hurricanes in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, entirely bypass the haunts of numerous pirates, and be reasonably secured from the attacks of other countries whose navies lurked in the Caribbean. Menendez hoped that the settlement at Santa Elena would become rich and powerful controlling the outward flow of New World Spanish silver.
Captain Pardo’s orders included establishing forts along the way to New Spain and using them to keep this new overland route open. Trade goods, oaths of loyalty, and intimidation were to be employed to secure future provisions for the fort at Santa Elena and any Spanish soldiers who may be posted along the new route. Menendez ordered Pardo, “to see that they (Native Americans) became subject to His Holiness and His Majesty.” Pardo’s expeditions were to lay claim to a vast interior colony in the name of the kingdom of Spain, for the care of the Catholic Church, and for the honor and glory of his supporter: Menendez. Of course, Europeans at this time did not have a firm grasp of geographical knowledge about the North American continent and did not know how far it was to New Spain. Menendez thought New Spain was only 790 to 910 miles away. He expected that Pardo would make a trip there and back in only six months. Both Pardo expeditions discovered that the geographic reality was many more hundreds of miles away. In light of that, the expeditions led by Pardo, traveled no further west than the gentle, blue ridges of the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Bibliographic references of works used to prepare this blog will be presented in the last part of this blog.