Los Sobrevivientes de la Florida:
The Survivors of the De Soto Expedition
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1. Geographical Origins

The best documented biographical information for the Florida survivors is their places of birth; 240 of a total of 257 survivors have been located. All those known are listed in the right hand column in Appendix I, according to the country or the Spanish province in which they were born. The Spanish provinces have been abbreviated as follows: AR = Aragon; AN = Andalucia; CN = Castilla la Nueva; CV = Castilla la Vieja; EX = Extremadura; GL = Galicia; LN = Leon; VZ = Vizcaya.

In his list of the Florida survivors Hernández de Biedma indicated, in most cases, the town, city or Spanish province in which they were born. Under a heading, foreigners and those from the mountains, he listed other survivors, indicating after some of their names, whether they were from the mountains, Galicia, Portugal, and in the case of only one survivor, from Aragon. It is quite possible that what he meant by "From the Mountains," were persons from the kingdom of Aragon. However, in order to be as specific as possible, the one man from Aragon, the Portuguese, the Galicians and one Frenchman, are entered here under their corresponding places of origin. Those of unknown origin but appearing under the indicated heading, are listed as foreigners.

All the survivors whose places of birth are known have been listed individually in Appendix I and grouped by province or country of origin in Table 3. The percentage of Extremadurans is prominent; 99 out of 240, or 41 percent. This should not be surprising, however, since de Soto, who was from Jerez in the same region, actively recruited, not only within its confines but across the border in Portugal. The fact that earlier, Extremadurans had shared the immense wealth from the conquest of the Inca empire in 1532, 39 percent were from that region, must have motivated many Extremadurans to join de Soto. [157] The same motivation may explain the presence of the Portuguese, who came from the other side of the Extremaduran border.

Table 3.
Places of Origin

Place of OriginNumberPercent
Spanish Provinces
Castilla la Nueva167


Other Foreigners

origin known240100

origin unknown17



One important difference between the origin of the survivors and that of other men engaged in different ventures in the New World may be worthy of attention. When the Chilean historian Mario Góngora analyzed the conquerors active in Tierra Firme in 1519 he found that most came from Andalucia, the region where the point of departure for the Indies was located, followed by the Extremadurans and the Castilians. [158] From 1519 to 1539, the Andalucians had been displaced by Extremadurans and Castilians who came from areas located more to the Spanish north. As for the rest of the de Soto survivors, their places of origin do not appear to indicate any meaningful trend.

2. Ages of the Survivors

Of the 257 documented survivors, the birth years of 57 are known. The oldest was born in 1498 and the youngest in 1525, while the only surviving woman, Ana Mendez, declared she was born around 1530, a possible exaggeration of her youth. The known ages of the survivors are noted in Appendix II, along with other biographical information. Their birth dates were used to determine their ages at the beginning of the Florida expedition in 1539, and the results obtained are shown in Table 4. Judging from their average and mean ages, 24.6 and 24 respectively, it is clear that in general, they were fairly mature young persons. None were older than the Adelantado who was about 42, and, in general, the older men were officials in the army or the administration.

Table 4.
Ages at the Beginning of the Florida Expedition in 1539

9 to 14 year2
15 to 1913
20 to 2415
25 to 2915
30 to 347
35 to 394
40 to 441

Survivors of known ages

Total known survivors257
Average age24.6
Mean age24

The data used to calculate the ages of the survivors in 1539 was drawn from declarations in the various probanzas in which they testified. Many stated they were over or under a certain age, and many would give a rounded figure like 25 or 30, following it with the usual poco mas o menos. Therefore, the ages used here may be approximate, and with that caution they should be interpreted.

3. Education and Literacy

It is clear that some of the survivors must have received a reasonable education for their time. Specifically, Rodrigo Rangel, who was also the personal secretary of de Soto, Luis Hernandez de Biedma, Luis de Moscoso, Juan de Añasco, Juan Coles and Alonso de Carmona all left writings that can witness their education. As for the rest of the group, so little is known that an assessment of their literacy lies in whether they knew how to sign their names. Since witnesses in legal proceedings were required to sign their declarations, this can be ascertained from the surviving documents. The resulting data collected from available documents is displayed individually in Appendix II.

Many survivors were required, at some point, to sign their names. Of these, only two declared that they did not know how to write. They were Ana Mendez and Francisco Redondo. As a consequence, for their time especially, this group of survivors may have had an unusually high literacy rate. According to this evidence, only three out of sixty-three, or only 5 percent of them could not write. In comparison, if signing ones name equates with literacy, it has been demonstrated by historian James Lockhart, that 23% of the men who first conquered Peru and dethroned the Inca Emperor were definitely illiterate, and some additional percentage only marginally literate. [159]

4. Occupation

The known occupations of the survivors are shown in Appendix II. These can be divided into two groups; those with a commanding military rank such as captain, or an administrative post; and those with a known profession or trade. Of the first group it is notable that all three royal officials, the treasurer, the contador and the factor, survived. They did not seem to have strenuous duties during the expedition since they were charged with managing the treasure collected from the natives, which was insignificant except, perhaps, for some poor quality pearls which were later lost. Moscoso and Gallegos, each, at one time or another, served as field marshal of the army. They as well as eight captains, were able to reach Mexico. In addition, de Soto's page, his secretary, and his aide, plus Don Carlos' maidservant and two notaries survived. It appears then that the royal officers and the military leaders fared well in the Florida expedition.

The other groups of survivors consist of those individuals who practiced a private trade. Among them were three shoemakers, seven tailors, one stocking-maker (who would now be considered as a combination of tailor and shoemaker), one carpenter, two ironsmiths, one sword smith and one caulker. Seven priests, friars, or clerics, one foot-soldier, one sailor, and one trumpeter also survived the expedition. In addition, the subsequent occupations of two other persons are known; Espindola became an alguacil of the Inquisition in Mexico and Gonzalo Mendez became a trader.

5. Marital Status

It is documented that twenty-one of the survivors were or became married men, some with sons and daughters. Except for the clerics and friars, none is known to be a bachelor because data is lacking. Those known to be married are listed below, indicating, where possible, the names of their wives.

Lope de AcuñaElvira de Hermosilla.
Juan de AñascoIsabel de Añasco.
Gómez Arias MariaCastellou y de Lara.
Pedro Arias de CañedoIsabel de Garay.
Alonso Botelloa daughter of Diego Yañez.
Juan Corderowas married in Peru.
Diego Cortesa daughter of Alonso de Buiza.
Luis Dazadaughter of Diego Valades.
Cristóbal de Espindolaa Francisca Castaño.
Juan GaitanCatalina de Zarate.
Baltasar de GallegosMaria de Guzman.
Sebastian Hernándezthe widow of Diego Hernández.
Vicente Martinezwas married.
Juan de MirandaFrancisca Mejia.
Pedro Morenoa daughter of Pedro Calero
Garcia OsorioIsabel de Marmolejo.
Bernaldo Pelosoa daughter of Lucas Ginoves.
Rodrigo RangelCatalina Jimenez
Bartolome Rodrigueza daughter of Alonso Caballero.
Hernan Suarez de MaruelasInes de Valgrande.
Luis de Valdiviesoa daughter of Pedro Carranza.
Antonio Velazquezwas married.
Sebastian de Villegaswas married.

6. Social Status

Considering the available evidence, de Soto's men were, in general, commoners with the possible exception of several hidalgos. Those claiming to belong to this lowest level of nobility were: Alonso de Argote, Luis Daza, Cristóbal Espindola, Baltasar Gallegos, Gonzalo Mendez, Juan de Miranda, Luis de Moscoso, Garcia Osorio, and Sebastian de Villegas. Antonio Osorio was the second son of the Marquis of Astorga. Being a member of even the lesser nobility was quite important at that time, for it meant that one enjoyed certain privileges, one of which was exemption from personal taxes. In addition, when a person asked the Crown for a special favor or dispensation, having long family roots in Spain and Christianity were two valued assets mentioned often by the petitioner.

7. Destinations after Florida

All of the survivors accounted for reached the port of Pánuco in New Spain. Four were sick enough to remain in Pánuco instead of continuing with the rest to Mexico City. Left ailing were Juan Ruiz, Enriquez, Vicente Martinez, and Arias the Galician. Once the rest reached Mexico City, some remained there while others returned to Spain or went on to Peru and other places in the Spanish Empire. Those whose final destinations are known are listed in Appendix II. Since several of these resided in more than one place for significant amounts of time, I have listed both places to indicate where future research should be conducted. They are doubly accounted for in the following comment.

The final destinations of 86 conquerors have been recorded. Of these, eight have been listed with two destinations. Fifty-nine stayed in Mexico, 18 went to Peru, 15 returned to Spain, 1 returned to Cuba and it seems that one went to the New Kingdom of Granada. Much remains to be learned about the destinations of other survivors. Consider only what Alonso de Carmona wrote: "I have already said the we came from Pánuco in squads of fifteen or twenty soldiers, and in that way we entered the great City of Mexico... All those of my squad decided to go to pay their respects to the Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza ... and he gave orders that we should not go hence until they clothed us. And after we were clothed we paid him our respects and departed, thanking him for the favour and kindness which he had shown us. And we all went to Peru." [160] Besides Carmona's squad, there had to be many more who followed. Peru continued for some time to be the place for a conqueror who dreamed of riches.

8. Conclusions

Part II of this study analyzed the characteristics of the Florida survivors. Based upon these findings, the typical conqueror who accompanied Hernando de Soto in that venture was a male Spaniard born either in Extremadura or Castilla, 24 years old at the beginning of the expedition, and literate or at least knew how to sign his name. He was most likely a commoner by birth and, in a few cases, an hidalgo. Not being a military leader or an administrator, his chances of survival were reduced to roughly fifty percent. From Florida he went to the port of Pánuco in New Spain, and most likely he arrived in the great city of Tenochtitlan which was subsequently renamed Mexico City. He remained in Mexico or proceeded to Peru, married a daughter of a known conqueror and settled down.

Had de Soto lived or had his successor, Luis de Moscoso, decided to remain and settle the newly discovered land, this typical Florida conqueror, as J. R. Swanton pointed out, would not have missed the one great opportunity of his life, and his country missed its opportunity along with him. [161]


Los Sobrevivientes de la Florida
©1990, Ignacio Avellaneda and P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History
avellaneda/part2.htm — 27-Jun-2005

Copyright © 1990 Ignacio Avellaneda. Pubished by the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida History—University of Florida Libraries. Material from this edition may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and publisher.