Saturday, July 18, 2009

Taking Possession

With the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s ‘discovery’ of Florida coming up its likely that we handful of conquistador living history types will find ourselves asked to recreate Ponce’s landing and taking possession of La Florida. The surviving account of the 1513 voyage is pretty brief and the taking of the land even more so.

From the Herrera account- April 2, 1513

“Thinking the land was an island they named it La Florida, because it had a very beautiful view of the many fresh woodlands and it was even and uniform. And because they discovered it in the time of Easter, the Feast of Flowers, Juan Ponce wished to conform in the name with these two reasons. He went ashore to obtain information and take possession.[1]

Not much to go on there I’m afraid. Looking a couple of decades earlier for the first instance of claiming the land for Spain in the New World:

Letter of Columbus San Salvador - Friday, 12th of October 1492

“The Admiral took the royal standard, and the captains went with two banners of the green cross, which the Admiral took in all the ships as a sign with an F and a Y and a crown over each letter, one on one side of the cross and the other on the other. Having landed they saw trees very green, and much water, and fruits of diverse kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains, and to the others who leaped on shore, and to Rodrigo Escovedo, secretary of the whole fleet, and to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and said that they should bear faithful testimony that he, in presence of all, had taken, as he now took, possession of the said island for the King and for the Queen his Lords, making the declarations that are required, as is now largely set forth in the testimonies which were then made in writing.”[2]

And in the Admiral of the Ocean Seas own words:

First Voyage of Columbus- 1492

“And there I found very many islands filled with people innumerable, and of them all I have taken possession for there highnesses, by proclamation made and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me.”[3]

In particular interest for PdL reenactment is Columbus’ second voyage which according to Las Casas , Ponce was a member of that expedition, although there isn’t any other evidence to that effect, he presumably would have seen how its done.

Second Voyage of Columbus - 1493

“There the admiral, with royal standard in his hands, landed, and many men with him, and there took possession for there highnesses in form of law.”[4]

Looking to some later La Florida expeditions one can fill in a little more detail as to how take possession of a new land.

Panfilo de Narvaez - 1528

“The next day the Governor hoisted flags in behalf of Your Majesty and took possession of the country in Your Royal name, exhibited his credentials, and was acknowledged as Governor according to Your Majesty's commands. We likewise presented our titles to him, and he complied as they required.”[5]

Hernando de Soto -1539

“Tuesday, June 3, the Governor took possession of the country in the name of their Majesties, with all the formalities that are required, and dispatched one of the Indians to persuade and allure the neighbouring chiefs with peace.”[6]

And according to Garcilaso grapes were the motivating factor in claiming La Florida:

“The general received the fruit with pleasure, because they were like the grapes of Spain, and because they had not found any either in Mexico or in Peru, so that, judging from this, of the excellence of the soil of Florida, he commanded three hundred men to go and take possession of it in the name of the emperor.”[7]

Pedro Menendez - 1565

“On Saturday, the 8th, the general landed with many banners spread, to the sound of trumpets and salutes of artillery. As I had gone ashore the evening before, I took a cross and went to meet him, singing the hymn Te Deum laudamus. The general marched up to the cross, followed by all who accompanied him, and there they kneeled and embraced the cross. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all they saw done. The same day the general took formal possession of the country in the name of his Majesty, and all the captains took the oath of allegiance to him, as their general and governor of the country. When this ceremony was ended, he offered to do everything in his power for them,..”[8]

[1] Juan Ponce de León, King Ferdinand and the Fountain of Youth. Devereux, Anthony Q. The reprint Company, Publishers, Spartanburg, South Carolina 1993. pp.114-115

[2] Journal
An Electronic Edition

Christopher Columbus 1451-1506 Bartolome de Las Casas c.1490-1558

Original Source: Christopher Columbus, "Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus," in Julius E. Olson and Edward Gaylord Bourne, eds., The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503, Original Narratives of Early American History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906. P.50

[3] The Four Voyages of Columbus: A History in Eight Documents, Including Five by Christopher Columbus, in the Original Spanish, with English Translations

Jane, Cecil trans. & ed. Dover, Mineola, New York 1988 p.3

[4] Jane, p.24

[5] The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca(1542) Translated by Fanny Bandelier (1905)


[7] Florida of the Inca
An Electronic Edition

Garcilaso de la Vega, el Inca 1539-1616

Original Source: Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, "History of the Conquest of Florida." In The History of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the Events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568. E. Barnard Shipp. Philadelphia: Robert M. Lindsay, 828 Walnut Street, 1881

[8] Founding of St. Augustine
An Electronic Edition

Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales 16th Century

Original Source: "The Founding of St. Augustine." In Old South Leaflets Volume IV. Boston: Directors of the Old South work. Old South Meeting House.

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