De Soto's exploration of South Carolina

1540

De Soto entered the territory of present-day South Carolina in search of the chiefdom of Cofitachiqui, reported to contain great wealth. Indians in present Georgia confirmed the account De Soto had heard but warned him of the great wilderness that lay between them and this powerful chiefdom.

(1540). Hernando De Soto’s exploration of present-day South Carolina took place from April to May of 1540, one year into the journey that began in May 1539 at Tampa Bay and ended in September 1543 at the Pánuco River in Mexico. De Soto’s travels through South Carolina were part of an expedition that wound its way throughout the interior of the present-day southeastern United States and into Texas. Hernando De Soto organized this expedition in fulfillment of his contract to explore and settle this vast region–then known as “La Florida”–for the king of Spain. But De Soto never proceeded beyond the exploration phase of his contract. Instead, he sought to find native societies in La Florida with the riches he had seen in the conquest of Peru. Rumors not only of gold and silver but also of abundant food shaped the route De Soto and his army of six hundred soldiers, as well as African and Native American slaves, took through the Southeast. In the course of their journey, De Soto and his troops plundered many Indian towns and subjected the inhabitants to cruelties such as rape, torture, and enslavement. De Soto failed to find the wealth he sought, and approximately half of the expedition’s members–including its leader–perished during their long march. But De Soto’s exploration provided Spain with knowledge of the interior of this vast continent.

De Soto entered the territory of present-day South Carolina in search of the chiefdom of Cofitachiqui, reported to contain great wealth. Indians in present Georgia confirmed the account De Soto had heard but warned him of the great wilderness that lay between them and this powerful chiefdom. Undaunted, De Soto and his troops continued on their way. They crossed the Savannah River into present South Carolina in the area of the Clark Hill Reservoir and then traveled northeast across the Saluda and Broad Rivers. Reports of a wilderness proved true. The expedition was growing desperate for food when a scout found the town of Hymahi, or Aymay, at the confluence of the Wateree and Congaree Rivers. The Spaniards devoured Hymahi’s food stores and then traveled north along the Wateree River to a town of the Cofitachiqui chiefdom in the area of present Camden. Cofitachiqui failed to meet De Soto’s expectations for wealth or abundance of food, although the chiefdom’s leader–whom the Spaniards called the “Lady of Cofitachiqui”–fed them well and gave them freshwater pearls. De Soto’s men plundered mortuary houses there for more pearls. The Spaniards also seized corn from the chiefdom’s stores at Ilasi, near present Cheraw, before they headed northwest to the North Carolina mountains. They took the leader of Cofitachiqui as their hostage, but she soon fled and returned home with one of the expedition’s African slaves as her husband. In the 1560s, well within the memories of some of their inhabitants, Spaniards would return with the Juan Pardo expeditions to some of the towns De Soto visited.

Clayton, Lawrence A., Vernon James Knight, Jr., and Edward C. Moore. The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539–1543. 2 vols. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993.

Hudson, Charles. Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando de Soto and the South’s Ancient Chiefdoms. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.

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The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title De Soto's exploration of South Carolina
  • Coverage 1540
  • Author
  • Keywords Hernando De Soto, “La Florida”, subjected the inhabitants to cruelties such as rape, torture, and enslavement, failed to find the wealth he sought, provided Spain with knowledge of the interior of this vast continent, Cofitachiqui, Clark Hill Reservoir, Juan Pardo
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 10, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 1, 2017
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