Luna expedition

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Depiction of De Luna's landing.

The Luna expedition was a 1559 Spanish venture led by Tristán de Luna y Arellano that established an ephemeral colony on Pensacola Bay, near the barrancas on modern-day NAS Pensacola. With thirteen ships and 1,500 soldiers and settlers, de Luna established the Puerta de Santa María colony on August 15. Most of the encampment's supplies were still loaded on the ships a month later when a September 19 hurricane wrecked most of the fleet. Without food, the expedition sent a group north to search for food. The survivors were evacuated in 1561 and the colony abandoned.

It was the first colonization attempt in what is now the continental United States, leading to the tourism slogan "America's First Settlement." However, other North American settlements in modern-day Mexico and Canada preceded the 1559 Luna expedition, as did the Spanish presence on Puerto Rico, now a U.S. territory. After the Pensacola colony was abandoned, the French established Fort Caroline in 1564 on Florida's east coast, on the site of latter day Jacksonville. In 1565 the Spanish destroyed Fort Caroline and established St. Augustine, which became the oldest continually inhabited city within the continental United States.


Tristán de Luna y Arellano was an officer of New Spain who had served with Francisco Vásquez de Coronado on his expedition to the Seven Cities of Cíbola and crushed an Indian rebellion in Oaxaca. De Luna was chosen by Luis de Velasco, Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), to establish a settlement on the Gulf Coast and clear an overland trade route to Santa Elena (on Tybee Island), where another outpost would be founded. A site named "Filipina Bay" had been recommended from the September 1558 voyage of Guido de las Bazares.

Landing & hurricane[edit]

De Luna was given thirteen ships and more than 1,500 soldiers and settlers, under six captains of cavalry and six of infantry. They set sail from Vera Cruz on June 11, 1559.

They arrived in Pensacola Bay (which they called "Ochuse" or "Bahía de Santa María") on August 14 and made landfall on August 15. It is believed that their encampment was on or near the Barrancas de Santo Tomé, the site of several later fortifications, on the grounds of modern-day Naval Air Station Pensacola.

De Luna dispatched the factor Luis Daza with a galleon back to Vera Cruz to announce his safe arrival. He fitted two other vessels to sail to Spain, awaiting the return of two exploring parties. With much of the colony's stores still on the ships, de Luna sent several exploring parties inland to scout the area; they returned after three weeks having found only one Indian town.

Before they could unload the vessels, on the night of September 19, a hurricane (with storm surge) swept through and destroyed most of the ships and cargo: five ships, a galleon and a bark, pushing one caravel and its cargo into a grove inland.


With the colony in serious danger, de Luna sought to trade with local Indians for food, but found no native villages in the area. He traveled west and reached the Alabama River on February 6, 1560. He sent a detachment of 150 men north up the river on April 15, and they eventually found the deserted Indian village of Nanipacna, which they renamed "Santa Cruz" and occupied for several months. Back in Mexico, the Viceroy sent two relief ships in November, promising additional aid in the spring.

The relief got the colony through the winter, but the supplies expected in the spring had not arrived by September. De Luna ordered the remainder of his force to march to the large native town of Coca, but the men mutinied. Bloodshed was averted by the settlement's missionaries.

Meanwhile, Spanish officials had issued orders recalling de Luna on January 30, 1561. Soon after, Ángel de Villafañe arrived in Pensacola Bay on March 9 and offered to take all who wished to leave on an expedition to Cuba and Santa Elena. De Luna relented and agreed to leave. The Pensacola colony was inhabited for several more months by Captain Biedma and a detachment of fifty men who Villafañe had left there, in case further orders arrived from Viceroy Velasco.

When they sailed away, the area was not populated again by Europeans until 1698, when Spanish forces under Andrés de Arriola established the Presidio de Santa María de Galve.


Statue at Plaza de Luna

In the mid-20th century, Pensacola residents began to recognize and celebrate the historical significance of the Luna expedition.