San Miguel de Gualdape was the first European settlement in what is now the continental United States, founded by Spaniard Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526. It was to last only three months of winter before being abandoned in early 1527.
Records show that in 1521, de Ayllón, a wealthy sugar planter of Santo Domingo, had sent Francisco Gordillo northward to explore the continent. Upon reaching the Bahamas, he ran into his cousin, slave trader Pedro de Quexos (Pedro de Quejo), and the two of them set out together. They landed at the “River of St. John the Baptist”, possibly the Pee Dee River, where they kidnapped 70 natives to sell inHispaniola, including one, given the name Francisco de Chicora, who provided some ethnological information about his province, Chicora, and the neighboring provinces. Chicora was evidently one of several Carolina Siouan territories subject to their king, Datha of Duahe (Duarhe). The Siouan captives were described as white, dressed in skins, and larger than the average Spaniard.
Ayllón obtained a patent from Charles V in 1523, and in 1525 again sent Quexos, who made peace with the natives, explored the coastline from as far north as the Delaware Bay, and even obtained two men from each district to come home with him to learn Spanish, and act as interpreters.
By mid-July 1526, Ayllón was ready to establish a colony with 600 settlers and 100 horses. He lost one of his three ships at a river he named the Jordan, probably the Santee. They landed in Winyah Bay, near present day Georgetown, South Carolina, on September 29 (the Feast of Archangels), and Francisco de Chicora abandoned him here. They then proceeded ’40 or 45 leagues’, partly overland and partly by boat, visiting the king of Duahe en route as related by Peter Martyr, and finally arrived at another river, the Gualdape, where they built San Miguel de Gualdape on October 8.
Lucas Vasquez de Ayllón
The location of this colony has been disputed over a wide area, since it is never related in which direction from the Jordan (Santee) they travelled. Some have asserted that he went north to the Chesapeake; Francisco Fernández de Écija, chief pilot of Spaniards searching the Chesapeake Bay for English activities in 1609, claimed that Ayllón in 1526 had landed on the James somewhere near Jamestown. Ecija also claimed the natives at the Santee had told him Daxe (Duahe) was a town 4 days to the north. Swanton, on the other hand, suggested Ayllón may have gone ’45 leagues’ to the southwest, that the Gualdape was in fact the Savannah River in Georgia, and that his interactions there had been with the Guale tribe. More recent scholars concur that it was probably at or near present-day Georgia’s Sapelo Island and consider attempts to locate the San Miguel settlement (Tierra de Ayllón) any farther to the north to be unsubstantiated conjecture.
This colony was a failure and Ayllón himself died, purportedly in the arms of a Dominican friar. Ayllón’s rough-hewn town withstood only about a total of three months, enduring a severe winter, scarcity of supplies, hunger, disease, and troubles with the local natives. In the spring of 1527, Francis Gomez returned the 150 survivors to Hispaniola on two of the vessels, one of which sank, leaving only one of the three to return.
Slavery and rebellion
The first group of African Americans to set foot on what is now the United States were brought by Ayllón to erect the settlement. The employment of African slaves in the 1526 colony is the first instance of African slave labor within the present territory of the United States. Upon political disputes within the settlers, there was an uprising among the slaves, who fled to the interior and presumably settled with the native American people. This incident is the first documented slave rebellion in North America.
First Catholic Mass in the United States
Dominican friars Fr. Antonio de Montesinos and Fr. Anthony de Cervantes were among the San Miguel de Gualdape colonists. Given that at the time priests were obliged to say mass each day, mass was celebrated in what is today the United States for the first time in San Miguel de Gualdape, even though the specific location and date of the event remains unclear