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The Spanish exploration of North America

A large part of the current United States was placed on the map by Spanish expeditions. This served as a basis for later settlements and represented an enormous strategic advantage. However, its fundamental contribution was that it allowed for the rest of the world to see North America through the eyes of Spain for centuries to come. From the discovery of Florida in 1513 to the expeditions to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, the image of North America as a whole, and particularly of the modern-day United States, was built to a great degree from the outcome of Spanish-sponsored voyages. The most significant of these have been gathered here.

In 1513, Ponce de León, searching for the Fountain of Youth, became the first European to set foot on the present-day United States. Since his discovery took place during Easter (Pascua Florida), he called the land that he had discovered ‘Florida’.In 1513, Ponce de León, searching for the Fountain of Youth, became the first European to set foot on the present-day United States. Since his discovery took place during Easter (Pascua Florida), he called the land that he had discovered ‘Florida’.In 1513, Ponce de León, searching for the Fountain of Youth, became the first European to set foot on the present-day United States. Since his discovery took place during Easter (Pascua Florida), he called the land that he had discovered ‘Florida’.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1513 Juan Ponce de León

Álvarez de Pineda was the first to explore the coasts of the Gulf Of Mexico, proving that it was a closed sea and ruling out any possibility of finding a passage to Asia through it.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1519 Alonso Álvarez de Pineda

Esteban Gómez was the first European to explore and chart the entirety of the North American Atlantic coast, ranging from Nova Scotia to Florida.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1524-25 Esteban Gómez (Estêvão Gomes)

Ayllón explored the coast of what would become the Southern United States (present-day Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas) and built San Miguel de Gualdape: the first, though short-lived, European settlement in the United States.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1526 Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón

The ambitious Narváez expedition was the first Spanish attempt at conquering Florida. It failed dismally, being decimated by the natives and leaving but a few survivors.

1527-28 Pánfilo de Narváez

Cabeza de Vaca, a survivor of the Narváez expedition, traveled through North America for nine years living among the natives. After being rescued, he wrote his Relation, later known as Naufragios (‘Shipwrecks’), which contains the first accounts of the life and customs of North American natives.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1527-36 Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

The large expedition led by Hernando de Soto was the first to reach into inland North America. They discovered geographical features such as the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, and were the first and last Europeans to come into contact with the highly developed Mississippian cultures that would collapse shortly afterwards.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1539-42 Hernando de Soto

Coronado’s expedition was contemporary to Soto’s, and left Mexico for the North in search of the ‘Cities of Gold’ of Cibola and Quivira. Though it failed to find these, Coronado’s party did manage to discover, among others, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon and the Great Plains.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1540-42 Francisco Vázquez de Coronado

Cabrillo was the first to set sail towards the Northern Pacific, and discovered what is now California. Unfortunately, the accounts of his expedition were soon forgotten.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1542-1543 Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo (João Rodrigues Cabrilho)

After the failures of his predecessors, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was the first to successfully settle Florida. He was the founder of the first European city in the United States: St. Augustine.

1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés

Juan Pardo expanded Avilés’ settlements to the north, exploring and founding missions in the territory that is now known as the Carolinas.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1566 Juan Pardo

Las expediciones de Espejo y Castaño de Sosa fueron algunas de las primeras en cruzar el Río Grande y adentrarse en los territorios de Texas.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1582-83 Antonio de Espejo

Source: GIPC - UPM

1590-91 Gaspar Castaño de Sosa

Juan de Fuca, whose voyage is shrouded in mystery, sailed north of California and claimed to have found the passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific. He might actually have discovered what is now called the ‘strait of Juan de Fuca’, thus becoming the first European to reach the Canadian Pacific coast.

(Español) Fuente: GIPC - UPM

1592 Juan de Fuca (Ioánnis Phokás)

Oñate was the first to settle the interior of the United States. He founded the province of New Mexico, and led expeditions east and west into Texas and Arizona.

Source: GIPC - UPM

1598-1605 Juan de Oñate

Sebastián Vizcaíno rediscovered Califonia, which had been all but forgotten since the days of Cabrillo, and charted its coast, giving its geographical features names that have remained to this day.

1602 Sebastián Vizcaíno