Alonso Álvarez de Pineda
In 1519, the Spanish governor of Jamaica, Francisco de Garay, was authorized by the Spanish crown to explore the still-mysterious North American mainland, in hopes of finding a waterway between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Southern Sea, as the Pacific Ocean was called at the time. Garay was deeply in debt, and more than willing to send out an expedition if it would add money to his coffers; he hoped the land discovered would be full of gold, natives for the slave trade and arable land. Spain ordered the explorers to sail between the newly discovered colony of La Florida (modern day Florida) and the newly founded city of Villa Rica de Vera Cruz (commonly shortened to simply Vera Cruz), a town set up by conquistador Hernán Cortés in Mexico.
Alonso Álvarez de Pineda was chosen by Garay to lead the expedition of 250 men, which set sail in four small ships in March of 1519. Leaving Jamaica, the party sailed between Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba, headed for La Florida, only recently claimed for Spain by explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. At the time, they thought Florida was an island, separated from the North American mainland by a narrow strait. The expedition sailed around the east coast of the Florida peninsula, hoping to find the passage, but found none. It was proven to Álvarez de Pineda’s satisfaction that La Florida was not, in fact, an island, so the ships turned west to follow the Gulf Coast.