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The Unsuccessful Florida Expedition

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Panfilo de Narvaez, a Spanish discoverer and soldier that helped defeat Cuba, also served as a captain and leader for the Florida expedition in the early 1500’s. The purpose of this expedition was to colonize Florida. Narvaez was able to lead this expedition by being a part of the Spanish court, which was granted to him by King Charles. Although, he was granted with such an important role for this expedition, this did not mean it was an easy process to do so or that it would have turned into a successful journey. Narvaez had complications along the process of starting this expedition because the Spanish court had to deal with the death of the former King Ferdinand which made the process be detained for a couple of months. But the conflicts do not just end there, Narvaez also had to deal with a lot of preparations for the expedition since he would be sailing along with thousands of men and women and multiple horses and ships. A few of these men and women would be taking an important role during the colonization of Florida. Some of these individuals were Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Alfonso de Castillo, and Andres Dorantes. By having such a large amount of people, horses and different ships, Narvaez had to prepare by overcoming the surfacing conflicts like the cost of the expedition, the space for a minimum of 200 settlers, receive some tax exemptions, and the title of governor of Florida along many other things (Resendez, 44). Narvaez made sure to do this before beginning his long journey to the Florida coast to make the long-awaited trip would run smoothly.

Although, Narvaez did most of the precautions to avoid any further issues along the way, there was still a lot of issues that surfaced like poor preparation, navigation problems, multiple hurricanes, the division of the expedition some by foot and others by vessels, and by their need of food and water throughout the expedition all of which contributed to the unsuccess of the Florida expedition (Resendez, 21). Narvaez believed that by resolving the cost issue, obtaining the tax exemptions, and by getting the government title he would have been well prepared for the long journey ahead of them. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case at all, as the expedition continued to its destination more and more complications surfaced which made the expedition not run as smoothly as Narvaez anticipated. As a result of this, a lot of critical issues occurred during the expedition.

One of these issues was a huge navigation issue along the pilots which resulted in the whole expedition being delayed even more. This occurred because Miruelo, one of the pilots in charge of the expedition, didn’t have the required skills to navigate the ships using the 16th century ocean navigation system, which resulted in a huge issue that affected everyone in the expedition (Resendez, 77). This expedition had issues with navigation due to the fact that the pilots lack of skills and experiment with the ocean navigation system in the 16th century. This navigation system was known as ‘dead reckoning’. Dead reckoning was used by pilots steering ships from an origination point and estimating the direction and the distance traveled, and to know the distance they have traveled they would use a compass (Resendez, 77). Although, this was the most basic way to navigate through the ocean in this century, it was also inaccurate because it was possible for the pilots to misinterpret the total amount of distance that has been traveled or to calculate how close they might actually be from their destination. For these reasons, the Florida expedition had crucial navigation issues, since Miruelo miscalculated the Florida’s coasts by more than 500 miles (Resendez, 77). Miruelo had these miscalculations because it was possible that he didn’t have the latitude, if he would have had these calculations the expedition would have been in the right path. However, by having these miscalculations the ships drifted along one of the fastest currents in the world, known as the Gulf Stream (Resendez, 80). This not only resulted an increase in dangerous situations along the pilots and expeditioners, but it also caused a delay to the fulfillment of the expedition as it tested Miruelo skills as he issues increased.

Miruelo’s skills were tested by the fact that the ships were heading toward Gulf Stream, which is known for its large number of reefs, shallows, and sharp rocks (Resendez, 76). Gulf Stream begins at the Gulf of Mexico and has the speeds of around 100 miles per hour (Resendez, 81). This current wasn’t firstly experienced by this expedition because it is a current that has been experienced for decades before this expedition, but it wasn’t fully discovered and charted until the 18th century. This current was extremely dangerous for this expedition because not only could it have easily damaged the ship and put everyone’s life in danger, but it was also an extremely hard task for the pilots to try and sail across these conditions. It was especially hard to sail across this current because Miruelo just like everyone else didn’t have much knowledge about this current either which made it complicated for Miruelo to be completely aware of what possible ways he could have navigated through it with the least amount of catastrophes possible (Resendez, 81).

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Unfortunately, the issues don’t stop there because they also suffered from multiple storms and hurricanes along the way as well which only made the it even harder for the expeditioners. These storms and hurricanes continued to cause great issues along the pilots and those who traveled along the expedition, since these storms were also extremely dangerous that resulted in many lives in danger. One of these storms the expedition experienced, began in Guaniguanico along the ships pathway which resulted in the ship to be almost completely wrecked as Cabeza de Vaca states (Resendez, 76). However, this isn’t the only storm they faced because as Andres Resendez states in his book titled, ‘A Land So Strange’, the expedition encountered another tempest that lasted three days. After rounding Cape San Anton, Cuba’s westernmost tip, the fleet sailed upwind along Cuba’s northern coast, where it was caught by yet another storm before entering Havana’s harbor sometime in late February or March (Pg. 76). Not only did this expedition suffer from one storm, but in total the expedition ran up to a total of three storms along its pathway to the Florida coast. This resulted in many dangerous situations and exposures that all the thousands of men, women, and horses had been exposed too. Although this made it very hard for the expedition to continue, this didn’t stop Narvaez from continuing his expedition.

In fact, Narvaez along with his pilots and thousands of expeditioners continued on and later discovered a sight of land along the coast and figured it must be near Florida and the Rio de las Palmas (Resendez, 85). This caused Narvaez to come up with another plan that he thought would have helped the expedition. After the settlement by the coast, Narvaez and the expeditioners began to explore and create a camp by the coast. However, Narvaez discovered right away that almost half of the eighty horses they brought along with them were either dead or extremely ill by all the catastrophes, this causes Narvaez some issues even though the horses were not really needed at that moment (Resendez, 84 & 85). Despite the fact that these expeditioners had lost majority of their horses, Narvaez soon came up with a plan to divide the expedition into two, where the women and crew members would travel by vessels and the men along with the remaining horses would travel by foot (Resendez, 87). Although this type of expedition plan has been done successfully before. This plan wasn’t the best option for the Florida expedition because both the pilots and the expeditioners that went by foot didn’t have a good idea of where they would return together and could have the issue of losing contact with the Spanish controlled lands. This was upsetting for most of the expeditioners, but mostly for those who had their spouse or partner in the expedition with them because they had a high possibility that they might never see each other again, this caused an opposition along Narvaez and the expeditioners (Resendez, 88). Although some of his men might not agreed with his plan at first, they all continued with the journey but soon came across a persistent conflict along the journey which was their need for food and clean water.

This was just another concern these expeditioners had to constantly worry about, since the expedition took a longer amount of time than Narvaez had anticipated. This meant they were short on food as well as drinkable water. According to Resendez, “Food was constantly on the minds of the explorers. When the ships and the overland group became separated, every man had received 2 pounds of hardtack and half a pound of pork” (Pg. 92). This increased the conflicts for Narvaez because this was causing many of the men and horses to become weak through the journey. However, having these horses become weak wasn’t necessary a loss for the expeditioners because they were able to kill the horses and use the horses as a source of food for at least a couple of weeks (Resendez, 112). This source of meat was able to keep the expedition on for a while, but the need of clean water was also rising as time passed. As Resendez states, “As dehydration overtook them, Narvaez and his men must have progressed from dryness in the mouth and a mild sense of discomfort to more dangerous symptoms” (Pg. 122). Having the need for food and water only made this expedition harder for the explorers that continued with the expedition because conflicts continued to surface through the rest of the expedition which resulted in a loss of many expeditioners.

In conclusion, the Florida expedition had many dangerous situations that occurred throughout even though Narvaez did most of the precautions to avoid any further issues there was still a lot of issues like poor preparation, navigation problems, multiple hurricanes, the division of the expedition one by foot and others by vessels, and the need of food and water throughout the expedition all of which contributed to the unsuccess of the Florida expedition. Although, there are many other factors that contributed to the unsuccess of this expedition these were some of the main reasons why it was so unsuccessful and the reason why it turned into such a catastrophe since it cost many of the expeditioners lives without ever reaching their destination, which is something that Narvaez wasn’t anticipating at all. As a result of this, the expedition failed because they weren’t as prepared as they had thought. Although the climate issues weren’t something Narvaez and his team could have prepared for; the navigation issues, lack of food or water, and the split of the expedition were major conflicts that contributed to the unsuccess of this expedition. Being that these situations occurred the Florida expedition wasn’t successful because these men, women, pilots, and animals had faced terrible circumstance throughout the expedition which made it hard to survive and complete the expedition.

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The Unsuccessful Florida Expedition. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“The Unsuccessful Florida Expedition.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
The Unsuccessful Florida Expedition. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
The Unsuccessful Florida Expedition [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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