Pánfilo de Narváez

"Panfilo" redirects here. For other people with this name, see Panfilo (name).
Pánfilo de Narváez

Pánfilo de Narváez
Born 1478
Died 1528-50
Cause of death Drowning[1]
Nationality Spanish[2]
Occupation Spanish Conquistador and Explorer[1]
Employer Spain[2]
Salary Permission to settle and rule the land from northern Mexico to the Florida peninsula[2]

Pánfilo de Narváez (147?[3]–1528) was a Spanish conquistador and soldier in the Americas. Born in Spain, he first embarked to Jamaica in 1510 as a soldier. He came to participate in the conquest of Cuba and led an expedition to Camagüey escorting Bartolomé de las Casas. Las Casas described him as exceedingly cruel towards the natives.

He is most remembered as the leader of two failed expeditions: In 1520 he was sent to Mexico by the Governor of Cuba Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, with the objective of stopping the invasion by Hernán Cortés which had not been authorized by the Governor. Even though his 900 men outmanned those of Cortés 3 to 1, Narváez was outmaneuvered and taken prisoner. During the battle, Cortes had stabbed out one of his eyes. After a couple of years in captivity in Mexico he returned to Spain where King Carlos V named him adelantado with authority to explore and colonize Florida. In 1527 Narváez embarked for Florida with five ships and 600 men, among them Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca who later described the expedition in his Naufragios. A storm south of Cuba wrecked several of the ships; the rest of the expedition continued on to Florida, where the men were eventually stranded among hostile natives. The survivors worked their way along the US gulf coast trying to get to the province of Pánuco. During a storm Narváez and a small group of men were carried out to sea on a raft and were not seen again. Only four men survived the Narváez expedition.

Birth and family

Pánfilo de Narváez was born in Castile (in either Cuéllar or Valladolid) in 1470 or 1478. He was a relative of Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, the first Spanish governor of Cuba. His nephew was Antonio Velázquez de Narváez. Bartolomé de las Casas described him as "a man of authoritative personality, tall of body and somewhat blonde inclined to redness"[4]

Jamaica and Cuba

Narváez took part in the Spanish conquest of Jamaica in 1509. In 1511 he went to Cuba to participate in the conquest of that island under the command of Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. He led expeditions to the eastern end of the island in the company of Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan de Grijalva. As reported by de las Casas, who was an eyewitness, Narváez presided over the infamous massacre of Caonao, where Spanish troops put to the sword a village full of Indians who had come to meet them with offerings of food.[5] Following the massacre, Narváez asked de las Casas, "What do you think about what our Spaniards have done?" to which de las Casas replied, "I send both you and them to the Devil!"


In 1519, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, the governor of Cuba authorized and paid for Hernán Cortés to man an expedition to Mexico. But having second thoughts about Cortés' loyalty, he recalled the expedition shortly after embarking. Cortés disobeyed and proceeded with the planned expedition that would eventually result in the overthrow of the Aztec Empire. Arriving from Cuba Narváez was named governor of Mexico by Velázquez who sent him and 1400 men on 19 ships to México to intercept Cortés.[6]:280–281

Narváez disembarked at Veracruz, where Cortés had left behind a small garrison as he set out with the rest of his men for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The garrison was manned by Cortés' captain Gonzalo de Sandoval who managed to capture some of Narváez's men and send them to Tenochtitlan to alert Cortés of the coming danger. Unable to defeat the garrison Narváez went to the Totonac town of Cempoala, where he set up camp.[6]:282

When the news of Narváez's arrival reached Cortés, the latter gathered a contingent of his troops, perhaps as few as 250 men, and returned to the coast. On May 27, 1520, Cortés men moved in on Narváez's camp at Cempoala under the cover of a driving rain, and quickly took control of the artillery and horses before entering the city. Narváez took a stand at the main temple of the city of Cempoala with a contingent of muskteers and crossbowmen. Finally Gonzalo de Sandoval arrived with reinforcements to Cortés who managed to set the main temple on fire, driving out Narváez and his men. Narváez was sorely wounded, having lost an eye in the fighting. He was taken prisoner and spent two years as a prisoner at the garrison of Veracruz before he was sent back to Spain. His men, who had been promised gold by Cortés, joined the conquistadors and returned to Tenochtitlan where they participated in the conquest of the Aztec empire.[7]

In the meantime, the deadly disease of smallpox spread from a carrier in Narváez's party to the native population of New Spain, killing many.[6]:282


Main article: Narváez expedition

Narváez was subsequently appointed adelantado of Florida by Charles V. He sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda on June 17, 1527, with a fleet of five ships and 600 men. Though intending to sail west to the mouth of the Rio de las Palmas (modern Rio Soto la Marina) in northern Mexico, a combination of the Gulf current and an inexperienced navigator caused their course to veer north.[8] The expedition arrived on the west coast of Florida in April 1528, weakened by storms and desertions. He landed with 300 men near Tampa Bay—at what is currently known as the Jungle Prada Site in St. Petersburg—among hostile natives.[9]

Marker at the Jungle Prada Site
From there, his expedition marched northward through interior Florida until it reached the territory of the powerful Apalachee Indians. Unable to find the gold and other riches he sought and tired of the hostilities with the Indians, Narváez ordered the construction of four rafts to return to the sea from the interior. He manned one raft for himself with the strongest men, the other led by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca the second in command, who had had several heated confrontations with Narvaez over his strategy. Cabeza de Vaca pleaded with Narváez not to let the rafts become separated, but Narváez did so anyway. Narváez party moved slowly westwards with some men on land and others on the raft. As the party was crossing a river the wind pulled the raft to sea, with Narváez on board, and he was never seen again.[10]

The storm wrecked two of the four rafts, and the other two made it to the island of Galveston where they were captured by the local Indians. Only four of the 86 survivors escaped their captivity, the others having been either killed or starved to death. Only four men survived the trek: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado and the Berber slave Estevanico (Esteban).

Cabeza de Vaca wrote a narration entitled Naufragios (Castaways), in which he described the journey made by these four survivors on foot across the present day southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This trek took eight years before they arrived in Culiacán (Sinaloa), where they found a Spanish settlement.

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  1. 1 2 Alchin, Linda K., "Panfilo de Narvaez", Elizabethan Era, retrieved June 17, 2010
  2. 1 2 3 "The Misadventures of Pánfilo de Narváez and Nuñez de Cabeza de Vaca", A Short History of Florida, Tampa: University of South Florida, retrieved June 17, 2010
  3. Some sources give the year of birth as 1470 others as 1478
  4. Goodwyn, F. (1949). Pánfilo de Narváez, A Character Study of the First Spanish Leader to Land an Expedition to Texas. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 29(1), 150-156.
  5. de las Casas, Bartolomé, Historia de las Indias (Spanish), Book III, Ch. 29–30.
  6. 1 2 3 Diaz, B., 1963, The Conquest of New Spain, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 0140441239
  7. Charles M. Robinson. 2004. The Spanish Invasion of Mexico 1519-1521. Osprey Publishing, pp. 49-50
  8. Reséndez, Andrés (2007). A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca. New York: Basic Books. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-465-06841-8.
  9. Oviedo y Valdez, G. F., & Davenport, H. (1923). The Expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 27(2), 120-139.
  10. We Came Naked and Barefoot: The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca Across North America. By Alex D. Krieger. Edited by Margery J. Krieger. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002

Further reading

External links

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