Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Ferdinando De Soto

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From volume VII of the work.
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DE SOTO, FERDINANDO (1496 ?-1542), a Spanish captain and explorer, who is frequently accredited with the honour of being the discoverer of the Mississippi, and is certainly one of the most remarkable of the Eldorado adventurers of the 16th century. He was torn at Xeres de Caballeros, in Estremadura, of an impoverished family 1 This is borne out by the register of his birth and baptism, and by words in his last letter to his wife, " I die at thirty-four." The dates (1762-94) given in nearly every biography of Desmoulins arc certainly inaccurate. of good position, and was indebted to the favour of Pedrarias Davila for the means of pursuing his studies at the university. He commenced active life in 1519 by joining his patron in his second expedition to Darien, where he distinguished himself by his ability and the inde pendence of his demeanour. In 1528 we find him exploring the coast of Guatemala and Yucatan, and in 1532 he led a reinforcement of 300 volunteers to the assistance of Pizarro in Peru. To him was due the discovery of the pass through the mountains to Cuzco ; and in the capture of that city and in other important engagements he bore a brilliant part. After the completion of the conquest De Soto, who had landed in America with " nothing else of his own save his sword and target," returned to Spain with a fortune of " an hundred and fourscore thousand duckets, which enabled him to marry the daughter of his old patron Davila, and to maintain " all the state that the house of a nobleman requireth." The Emperor Charles V., to whom he had lent a portion of his wealth, appointed him governor of the Island of Cuba, and adelantado or president of Florida, which was then the object of great interest, as possibly another Peru. In 1538 he set sail with an enthusiastic and richly furnished company of about 600 men, of whom several had sold all that they possessed to furnish their equipment. Landing in May 1539 at Espiritu Santo Bay, on the west coast of the present State of Florida, the explorers continued for nearly four years to wander from one point to another, ever deceived in their expectations, and ever allured by the report of the wealth that lay beyond. The exact line of their route is in many places difficult to identify, but it seems to have passed N. through Florida and Georgia as far as 35" N. lat., then S. to the neighbourhood of Mobile, and finally N.W, towards the Mississippi. This river was reached early in 1541, and the following winter was spent on the Washita. As they were returning in 1542 along the Mississippi, De Soto died (either in May or June), and his body was sunk in its waters. On the failure of an attempt which they made to push eastwards again, his men, under the leadership of Moscoso, were compelled in 1543 to trust themselves to the stream. A voyage of nineteen days brought them to the sea, and they then held along the coast to Panuco, in Mexico. Of this unfortunate expedition three narratives are extant, of seemingly independent origin, and certainly of very different character. The first was published in 1557 at Evora, and pro fesses to be the work of a Portuguese gentleman of Elvas, who had accompanied the expedition : Rela^am verdadcira dos Tra- balhos q ho Goueriwdor do Fernado d Souto <fc ccrtos Fidalgos Portu gueses passarom no d scobrimeto da Provincia da Frolida. Agora nouamete feita per hu Fidalgo Dcluas. An English translation was published by Hakluyt in 1609, and another by an anonymous translator in 1686, the latter being based on a French version which had appeared at Paris in 1685 from the pen of Citri de la Guette. The second narrative is the famous history of Florida by the Inca, Garcilasso de la Vega, who obtained his information from a Spanish cavalier engaged in the enterprise ; it was com pleted in 1591, first appeared at Lisbon in 1605 under the title of La Florida del Ynca, and has since passed through many editions in various languages. The third is a report presented to Charles V. of Spain in his Council of the Indies in 1544, by Luis Hernandez de Bieclma, who had accompanied De Soto as His Majesty s factor. It is to be found in Ternaux-Compans s Recueil de Pieces sur la Floride in the Historical Collections of Louisiana, Philadelphia, 1850, and in W. B. Rye s reprint for the Hakluyt Society of Hakluyt s translation of the Portuguese narrative . See Bancroft s History of the United States, vol. i. ; M Culloch, Researches Concerning the Aboriginal History of America; Monette, History of the Discovery and Settlement of the Valley of the Mississippi.