The first documented exploration was carried out along the coastline in 1525 by two ships from Puerto Rico under pilot Pedro de Quejos, who had landed in South Carolina in 1521 on a slaving expedition. This brief reconnaissance of the entire coastline prefaced the subsequent colonial venture of Lúcas Vázquez de Ayllón, whose 600 colonists first made landfall in South Carolina before moving south, following Indian trails, to the Georgia coast in 1526. There, in an as yet undiscovered location (perhaps near Sapelo Sound), Ayllón established the short-lived colony of San Miguel de Gualdape, which was abandoned just six weeks later, following political disputes and an African slave uprising.
De Soto Expedition
In the spring of 1540 an army of some 600 Spanish soldiers under the command of Hernando de Soto marched north from Florida into southwestern Georgia in search of riches. The expedition crossed the Flint River near present-day Newton,
The impact of the 1539-43 Hernando de Soto expedition was enormous. Not only did surviving Spanish chroniclers offer their first and last glimpse of pristine Native American chiefdoms across the interior southeastern United States, but also the accidental introduction of European plague diseases apparently resulted in massive epidemic population losses in these same regions.
De Luna Colony
Although two major military expeditions under Captain Juan Pardo were dispatched into the Appalachian mountains between 1566 and 1568 from the short-lived Spanish colonial city of Santa Elena on Parris Island, Georgia's interior saw no further exploration until 1597, when two Franciscan missionaries and a soldier briefly pushed inland as far as Altamaha and Ocute near present-day Milledgeville. When Spaniards heard rumors of an overland expedition from Mexico, they sent yet another expedition to these same towns under soldier Juan de Lara in 1602, and at least five reconnaissance expeditions were dispatched into the interior Coastal Plain between 1624 and 1628, including two trips under Ensign Pedro de Torres that penetrated as far as central South Carolina.
During this same period Franciscan missionaries explored other populated regions of southern Georgia, establishing missions at Utinahica near present-day Lumber City, Ibihica and Ocone near Folkston, and Cachipile and Arapaja near Valdosta by 1630. The well-documented expedition by Fray Luís Gerónimo de Oré in late 1616 skirted the back side of the Okefenokee Swamp before descending the Altamaha River to the coast.
The final Spanish exploratory expedition into Georgia's interior took place in the winter of 1645-46, when Florida governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla led a group of soldiers north from the Apalachee mission province into the villages of the unconverted Apalachicola province along the lower Chattahoochee River in southwest Georgia and eastern Alabama. Though there were sporadic visits to these villages as late as 1695, the Ruíz expedition was the last major Spanish exploratory venture into Georgia. The remaining portions of north Georgia would eventually be explored by English traders and soldiers during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, long before ownership of the land was acquired through treaties between 1733 and 1838.
Charles Hudson, Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando de Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997).
John E. Worth, The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida, vol. 1, Assimilation, and vol. 2, Resistance and Destruction (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998).
John E. Worth, University of West Florida, Pensacola
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