Book excerpt: The Panfilo de Narvaez Expedition of 1528 by James E. MacDougald of St. Petersburg

“The Panfilo de Narvaez Expedition of 1528,” written by local retired business executive and historian James MacDougald, was published this month with definitive evidence that the first documented inland exploration of what is now the United States began at Boca Ciega Bay in present-day St. Petersburg, according to a news release.

MacDougald and Attorney Larry Betz also are launching a new nonprofit organization called The History Council to amplify "the knowledge of people, places, and events of historical significance of the Florida Suncoast region, ranging from Fort DeSoto to Tarpon Springs, including the cities of Dunedin, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Bradenton and sister municipalities.'' 

"Our aim is to collaborate with others to redefine Florida’s Suncoast as a cultural heritage destination,'' reads the Council's mission statement. "We want to herald important stories rarely told -- and share them with the general public for their enjoyment and education.''

Amy Harriett Miller is the organization’s executive director. 

The History Council is hosting a Symposium in St. Petersburg on October 27-28 that will feature many experts on Florida as it existed before and during the time of the first contact by Europeans with Native Americans. Keynoting the symposium is Sterling Professor Rolena Adorno of Yale University. Also presenting are Barbara A. Purdy, Ph.D., Albert C. Hine, Ph.D., Ping Wang, Ph.D., Martin A. Favata, Ph.D., J. Michael Francis, Ph.D., Jerald T. Milanich, Ph.D., and Robert J. Austin, Ph.D.

Details and registration information for the October Symposium are available online at  

Below are some excerpts provided by publicist Jesse Landis at Landis Message & Media on behalf of the author.

Excerpt 1

“On December 5, 1526, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who was also Carlos I, King of Spain, appointed Pánfilo de Narváez as Adelantado (Governor) of La Florida, Spain’s vast and unexplored territory in the New World. La Florida included unexplored lands west of the Delaware Bay and included all of today’s Southeastern United States including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and also Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and northern Mexico.

''Narváez had been instructed by the King to explore inland, found two settlements, and garrison two additional forts. His exploration and settlement force consisted of five ships, 400 men, ten women, and eighty horses. An unknown number were slaves. Only one, Estevanico, a personal manservant to one of the officers, has been identified by name.

''The destination of Narváez, on leaving Cuba with his settlement expedition, had been the Río de las Palmas, north of Pánuco, present-day Tampico, Mexico. His fleet ran aground near the western edge of Cuba, and after 15 days aground he repaired his ships, then set sail again, this time bound for Havana to resupply. Storms and prevailing winds prevented him from reaching Havana, forcing him to go north, and he eventually spotted Florida. During the nearly two-month ordeal since leaving Cuba, thirty-eight of his horses had died.”

Excerpt 2

“The Narváez fleet, two days after first spotting land, anchored in Boca Ciega Bay on April 14, 1528. On the following day Narváez landed to claim the territory for Spain in the name of King Carlos I, and himself as Royal Governor. Their landing is believed to be one of the earliest European encounters with the native Tocobaga Indians. The first contact was wary, but not hostile, as the Spanish met with the natives and traded beads, brass and cloth for fresh venison. The Spanish explored inland, reaching present-day Old Tampa Bay, and north to today’s Safety Harbor.”

Excerpt 3

“Relationships with Tocobaga Indians deteriorated as the Spanish sought gold and food and attempted to impose their rule over the Native Americans. Anger and resentment turned to open hostility as the Spanish attempted to dominate the natives. The Tocobaga fought back and killed or wounded numerous members of the expedition.  Cabeza de Vaca later wrote that “what we had seen so far was as desolate and poor as any that had ever been found in those regions.”

Excerpt 4

“The pilots had concluded, perhaps based on their maps or on a calculation of latitude, that a large harbor was not far to the north of their landing site. They were certain that if the ships and the land forces went north, hugging the coast, 'it would be impossible not to come upon it.' Based on the erroneous belief that a large harbor was not far to the north, Narváez commanded that 300 of his force with their horses, join with him to travel the coast to the north seeking the large harbor. He ordered the one-hundred remaining men and ten women aboard the ships to sail north in search of the same harbor, where the land and seaborne forces would rejoin. He was unaware that the harbor that he sought was today’s Tampa Bay, and that he had seen part of it, Old Tampa Bay, on his first inland exploration across today’s Pinellas Peninsula. There was no great harbor to the north, and Narváez never saw his ships again.”

Excerpt 5

“The Narváez expedition, and those that followed from the Caribbean islands to Florida, north from Mexico, and between Europe and South America, were a part of what today is known as “The Columbian Exchange.” These were profound changes that took place as a result of the early entrances by Europeans into the New World. Without the Columbian Exchange, there would be no tomatoes or potatoes in Europe … no chili peppers in Thailand, and no horses, cattle or pigs in the Americas.

"During the 250 years following the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s, millions of pigs would become feral, creating a new food source, the Arkansas Razorback, hunting game, and pests that exist to this day. Millions of cattle and horses would roam Florida and the American West. They would make possible the cattle barons, the cowboy, the cavalry, and the famed Plains Indians and their far-reaching and powerful warriors. 

''The exchange also brought pestilence and death as the explorers and settlers unknowingly introduced diseases from which the Native Americans had no natural immunity … decimating large portions of native populations. The world changed in a colossal way from the time the first Spaniards arrived in the Americas, and Pánfilo de Narváez and his fellow explorers were among the first of them.''

Author's note: In this book I have attempted to bridge the gap, producing a work that will be both respected by scholars and of interest to laymen. I hope that I have succeeded. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, and Estevanico, four men who rafted and walked 3,000 miles across America nearly five hundred years ago, deserve to have their story told.”
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