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Francisco de Garay, expeditions along the Gulf of Mexico coast

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Francisco de Garay and the exploration of the Gulf of mexico
Mapa made by @José Antonio Crespo-Francés

Francisco de Garay was an important figure in the Hispaniola island of those years. He arrived on the island on the second journey of Columbus. It was enriched with gold found near Santo Domingo and was related to María de Toledo, the wife of Diego Columbus. He was appointed Mayor of Santo Domingo and of Fort Yáquimo. Shortly afterwards, he was assigned the governorate of Jamaica from where he began a series of expeditions of exploration and conquest.

He set his sights on the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico, i. e. the current Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, a place known as Amichel Land and organized an expedition of four ships and 270 men commanded by the expert navigator and cartographer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda. This adventure started in 1519 from the island of Jamaica. They tried to sail west but the winds didn’t let them and they had to climb up to Florida where they did find winds that allowed them to travel along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico to Rio Grande passing through the Mississippi delta, Mobile Bay and the mouth of the Alabama River.

They continued them route until Veracruz where they tried to meet with Hernán Cortés to talk about the land he had discovered for his boss Garay and the discovered by Cortés but this did not welcome them well and they he had to flee so as not to be arrested.

They returned to Jamaica where they presented the first map drawn of the Gulf of Mexico and its coasts to Francisco de Garay who immediately arranged the creation of a new expedition led by Diego de Camargo that marched towards the river of Las Palmas (Great river) with 3 ships, 150 soldiers and several masons as well as tools and weapons to establish a first colony in the places discovered by Álvarez de Pineda. But the attempt to found the village was a failure, an inhospitable, lonely and constantly attacked by the natives made them take the way back making a stop in Veracruz where most of their crew abandoned him and joined the men of Cortés. Camargo died there, without accomplishing anything positive.

Garay did not know about these facts, which assumed that the last expedition was working well and prepared a new expedition, this time gigantic, formed by 11 ships and 750 men, with the intention of founding an important city and colonizing the Land of Amichel. They departed on July 14th, 1523, but contrary winds did not allow them to advance further north of the river Las Palmas, so he decided to send a small explorer expedition to look for Camargo and his men.

They found the remains of the settlement but it was all abandoned. They departed south and, like Camargo, most of the men deserted by joining the troops of Cortes. Garay left for Mexico to negotiate with Cortés about the discovered lands and they reached an agreement but a few days later he died of pneumonia, leaving the colonization of Amichel Land in oblivion.

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