Museum of the Albemarle May 2020

2020 Marks 500 Years of Spanish Exploration

By Wanda Lassiter

2020 marks the 500th anniversary of the first Spanish exploration of coastal North Carolina.Many countries were vying for the southeastern part of this “New World.” In 1520, Pedro de Quexoia led an expedition from Santo Domingo which landed him onto the coast of what is now Currituck County. Very little information remains of his venture, however, one can only speculate that on their voyage from Europe to South America, coastal Carolina would leave an impression on them.

Other European explorations soon followed. Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, on behalf of a charter issued by King Charles I of Spain, backed explorations including those off the coasts of the Carolinas in 1521. In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine navigator in the service of France, explored the coastline from the Cape Fear area upward toward present day Kitty Hawk. Many historians believe that his 1852 published account influenced other countries including England to continue exploration into this “New World.”

Hernado de Soto explored North Carolina’s Appalachian region during his 1539-1542 expeditions. Juan Pardo led explorations around the Catawba Valley and the North Carolina and Tennessee Mountains in the late 1560s. Archaeological excavations at the 18th century port of Brunswick Town on the Cape Fear River uncovered Iberian olive jars, vessels used for shipping by the Spanish. Archival documents dating from 1753 held in Governor’s Council records at the State Archives of North Carolina relate to Spanish privateers in Brunswick Town.

These explorations left lasting effects on future explorations. Today, the Corolla Wildlife Horse Fund relays that, “Although the Ocracoke strain of Spanish mustang cannot be directly traced to a single breeder, importer, or sire, certain physiological features of present day horses, and historical data lead strongly to the conclusion that the ancestors of these horses were escapees from Spanish stock brought to the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the first part of the 16th century.”

Courtesy of the National Library of Australia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Research Laboratories of Archaeology

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