Some confusion has existed about the number, types, and names of the ships that brought Luna’s colonists from Veracruz to Pensacola. However, a study of two collections of archival documents sheds some light on the composition of the fleet. The first source (Priestley 1928), is a collection of correspondence and testimonies that remains the only published transcription and translation of primary documents on the Luna expedition. The second is a series of accounting documents (Contaduría 877) collected by Dr. Paul Hoffman and partially transcribed and translated by John Hann (1993). Both sets of documents are from the Archivo General de Indias (AGI) in Seville.
The fleet that anchored in Pensacola Bay that summer day in 1559 included a strategic and multi-functioned array of vessels that had been established through trial and error on previous discovery voyages to serve as scouts, transports, suppliers, and defenders of newly found territories (Smith 1992b). The combination of large and small craft reflected in the nautical makeup of Luna’s fleet was formalized soon afterward in the official ordenanzas de poblaciones of 1563, in which the King of Spain required every discoverer to take at least two vessels of less than sixty tons each, in order to enter inlets, cross the bars of rivers, and pass over shoals (Swanton 1985:99). Larger ships, if employed by an expedition, were required to remain in a safe harbor until another secure port was found by the small craft. Thirty men and no more were to go in every ship, and the pilots must write down what they encountered for the benefit of other pilots.
Luna’s fleet was composed of vessels called galeones, naos, caravelas, frigatas, and barcas. The galleon was a new ship to appear in American waters, developed in the sixteenth-century in response to a need for transatlantic speed and security. Early galleons essentially were similar to merchant freighters, but more heavily armed. As carrying capacity of the ships increased, decks often were added to house additional artillery and passengers. Supporting large fore- and sterncastles, as well as three or four masts, mid sixteenth-century galleons tended to be top-heavy in rough seas, especially when overloaded, and were prone to capsize in storms (Smith 1986b).
The term nao has been considered by some writers to be a contraction of navio, (ship); but, in Spain and Portugal the nao was a well defined type of merchant vessel. Born of medieval Mediterranean origins, naos had become the preferred cargo carriers of the sixteenth century. Their beamy workhorse hulls, rigged with a combination of square and triangular sails on three masts carried colonists, arms, tools, and provisions in the wakes of smaller craft to build commercial maritime empires in the East and West Indies (Smith 1992a).
Caravels are known in literature as early as the thirteenth century in association with fishing, and river and coastal trade. The vessel as a distinctive type emerged during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when it became the principal craft of oceanic exploration. Built for seaworthiness rather than cargo capacity, caravels were adapted from different regions by the Portuguese through seagoing trial and error to become an efficient sailing machine in deep water, yet nimble enough to venture into shallow bays and up narrow rivers (Smith 1986c). The most famous caravels, Columbus’s Niña and Pinta, were followed by others employed by many of the explorers who charted the Americas, such as Ponce de León, who first sighted Florida from the deck of his caravel Santiago in 1513.
Smallest member of the galley family, the fragata was an open, undecked longboat with six to twelve benches for oarsmen, and one or more masts (Manucy 1962). The early Spanish frigate is not to be confused with the later, larger warship that is known from colonial times until today. Fragatas probably were ideal for use by explorers in the Americas, and especially the Gulf of Mexico with its shallow bays and rivers. Equipped to carry more canvas, and square sails rather than triangular to catch following winds, these vessels undoubtedly were very fast, even under oars alone.
Sometimes a generic term for any small watercraft, barcas, as sixteenth-century exploratory vessels, were adapted from a class of open coastal commerce and fishing boats. The barca gavarra was the largest, with main- and foretopsails; the barco longo was the smallest, with a single square sail and a low freeboard that made the boat easy to row (Manucy 1983:101). Barcas were ideal watercraft for the transport and disembarcation of of soldiers and horses along protected shores and river banks.
There were, as nearly as can be determined from the sources above, eleven vessels in Luna’s fleet. They included a new galleon San Juan de Ulua, named after the port of Veracruz, where the vessel may have been built just prior to the expedition. Ten days after the fleet arrived at Ochuse, San Juan was sent back to Veracruz to announce the landing and collect more supplies. The hurricane of September 19 caught the remaining ships at anchor in the port. According to Luna all of the vessels went aground in the storm except one caravel and two barks (Luna to Philip, September 24, 1559. In Priestley 1928 2:245). Writing back to Luna, Velasco confirmed “that five ships with main topsails (navios de gavía), the galleon of Andonaguín, and one of the three barks were lost.” (Velasco to Luna, October 25, 1559. In Priestley 1928 1:61).
The “galleon of Andonaguín” is not mentioned in the Contaduría documents; however, there are five naos, which are named: San Antón, Sant Andrés, Santa María de Ayuda, Santiago, Santo Amaro. The terms navio and nao seem to have been used interchangeably in the documents as generic classifications for ships. Newly purchased for the King’s service, San Antón apparently was not in port when the hurricane struck, since she participated on later resupply missions to Pensacola.
A caravel named Espirítu Santo is also referred to as a nao and navio in the documents. This vessel may have been the caravel described as having been driven up into a clump of brushwood on shore with its cargo intact. Padre Augustín Dávila Padilla, who wrote of the expedition years later, related that the survivors went to see it as a wonder, and each recovered their belongings, “for not a pin was missing.” Dávila claimed that the phenomenon was the work of demons, because they were seen in the air during the storm (Priestley 1928 1:xxxvi).
While preparing for the Luna expedition, Velasco wrote to the King that he was having six large 100-ton barcas (barks) built, each to carry 100 men and four pieces of artillery. The vessels were designed to draw only four palmos (one meter) of water, so that they could enter the rivers and bays of Florida that he was told would be defended by Indians in canoes (Velasco to Philip, September 30, 1558. In Priestley 1928 2:257-261). Apparently only three barcas were sent with Luna; their names in the documents are San Luís, La Salbadora, and Corpus Cristi. The latter vessel probably was the one lost in the hurricane, since the petition of one of her crewmen states that he served on the barca until September 19, the date of the storm.
Alonso de Montalván, who was one of Luna’s soldiers, testified in 1561 that “all the ships that were anchored in the port were lost except two barks, one caravel and one frigate, which escaped in the said port . . . “ (Testimony and report given by certain soldiers . . . In Priestley 1928 2:285). The Contaduría documents mention an unnamed frigata associated with the expedition. Having escaped damage from the storm, this vessel may have been dispatched to Veracruz with Luna’s report of the disaster (Hoffman 1990:159). According to Montalván, one of the surviving barcas was sent back to New Spain with the news; it returned to Pensacola in consort with San Juan to bring supplies to the colonists (Testimony and report given by certain soldiers . . . In Priestley 1928 2:289).
Based on these primary sources, it appears that of the fleet of eleven vessels that arrived in Pensacola in August, 1559, six or seven were lost in the September storm: a galleon (Andonaguín’s), a barca, and either four or five navios. Study of additional archival documentation about the Luna expedition may further clarify the fates of these vessels, as well as particulars about their lading and resulting loss of cargos and equipment.
|San Juan de Ulua||galleon, or nao||His Majesty’s ship (the new galleon) built in Veracruz for the expedition, sent back before the hurricane, became a relief ship|
|San Anton a.k.a.Tanton||nao||His Majesty’s ship, purchased for expedition, probably sent back to Veracruz, participated in relief voyage|
|San Andrés||nao (498 tons)||master Salbador Fernández, pilot Francisco Martín, to carry people, horses, and munitions|
|Espiritu Santo, a.k.a. Santo Espiritu||nao, navio, or caravel (42 tons)||His Majesty’s ship, master Alonso Carillo or Jn° de Guerto, pilot Joan Balenciano, to carry people, horses, and provisions|
|Santa María de Ayuda||nao (100 tons)||master Antón Martín, to carry people, horses, and provisions|
|Santiago||nao||may have survived hurricane, a patax (patache) named Santiago was a relief ship|
|Santo Amaro||nao||master Cristóbal de Sobar|
|San Luís||barca||master Hernán Rodríguez, pilot Gaspar Gonçales|
|La Salbadora a.k.a. Salvadora||barca||built new, in Veracruz?|
|Corpus Cristi||barca||His Majesty’s ship, master Francisco Guadalupe, pilot Cristóbal Rodríguez, probably lost in hurricane,|
|unknown||frigata||built in Veracruz|
* Data complied from AGI Contaduría 877 documents gathered in Spain by Dr. Paul Hoffman, and partially translated by John Hann.