Colonizer, explorer. The founder of the first Spanish town in the territory of what came to be the United States, Ayllón was born circa 1480 in Toledo, Spain, to Juan Vázquez de Ayllón and Inés de Villalobos. In 1504 Ayllón arrived in the Spanish colony of Hispaniola to serve as a district judge. He became a judge on the Caribbean region’s highest appeals court in 1511. Through these positions, Ayllón gained wealth and power. In 1514 he married Ana de Becerra, a member of a prominent Caribbean family. In addition to his service to the royal government, Ayllón owned estates and participated in trade and slaving ventures. On one of these expeditions, in 1521, an Indian called “Francisco de Chicora” was captured. Francisco, who was from the coast of what later became South Carolina, became Ayllón’s slave and told the judge fantastic stories about his homeland. Whether or not Ayllón believed all of Francisco’s tales, he used them to inspire royal interest in the conquest of the southeastern coast of North America. In June 1523 Charles V granted Ayllón a contract to establish a Spanish presence in the region from thirty five to thirty seven degrees north latitude, although the document also listed the names of places to the south, including Francisco de Chicora’s land at approximately thirty three degrees north latitude. The contract named Ayllón governor of the colony and granted him a range of privileges in exchange for funding and carrying out this expedition.
Ayllón’s colony did not succeed, but his efforts contributed much to European interest in and knowledge of the southeastern coast of North America. After departing Puerto Plata in July 1526, Ayllón and his expedition of six hundred first landed in the area of Winyah Bay in what would become South Carolina and then traveled south to an unknown location, where they founded the town of San Miguel de Gualdape in September 1526. Most of San Miguel’s inhabitants soon perished, including Ayllón, and conflict broke out among the survivors. By mid-November 1526 the town had been abandoned. Despite this failure, the stories Ayllón and his slave, Francisco de Chicora, told about the wonders of this land found their way into the writings of the chronicler Peter Martyr and circulated throughout Europe. Pedro de Quejo’s 1525 voyage of exploration that Ayllón sponsored also contributed greatly to the Spaniards’ knowledge of this coast. Ayllón’s own expedition provided further information about this region. Some of the maps drawn after 1526 display the caption “land of Ayllón” in the area of what became South Carolina and Georgia and describe this land and Ayllón’s experiences there. Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón died on St. Luke’s Day, October 18, 1526, at San Miguel de Gualdape. He left his widow with large debts from his expedition and five young children to raise. One son, also named Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, later received his own royal contract to conquer and settle the land that had claimed his father’s life.
Cook, Jeannine, ed. Columbus and the Land of Ayllón: The Exploration and Settlement of the Southeast. Valona, Ga.: Lower Altamaha Historical Society—Ayllón, 1992.
Hoffman, Paul E. A New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient: The American Southeast during the Sixteenth Century. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.
Quinn, David B., ed. New American World: A Documentary History of North America to 1612. Vol. 1, America from Concept to Discovery: Early Exploration of North America. New York: Arno, 1979.