HISTORY:  Explorer Juan Pardo

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S.C. Encyclopedia  |  Juan Pardo was born in Cuenca, Spain, in the first half of the sixteenth century. He traveled to Spanish Florida in the fleet of General Sancho de Archiniega in 1566 as the captain of one of the six military companies sent to reinforce the colony founded by Governor Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. Captain Pardo’s company was the only one from the Archiniega expedition posted to the Spanish town of Santa Elena, which was located on present-day Parris Island, South Carolina.

Re-enactors model conquistador clothing. NPS.gov photo.

When Pardo arrived at Santa Elena with 250 men in July 1566, a mutiny had greatly reduced the number of Spanish troops there. Supplies were also short, however, so when Governor Menéndez visited Santa Elena in August 1566, he ordered Pardo to take some of his men to find an overland route between Santa Elena and the silver mines of Zacatecas, Mexico. Menéndez instructed Pardo to make peace with the Indians he met on his way, secure their obedience to the Spanish king, and offer them instruction in the Catholic faith. An inability to calculate longitude accurately led these men to severely underestimate the actual distance between Zacatecas and the Atlantic coast.

Pardo never reached the mines of Mexico, but his two expeditions—the last major Spanish military explorations of the interior of the Southeast—provide a valuable window to the peoples of these lands in the mid–sixteenth century. Pardo first departed from Santa Elena on December 1, 1566, with 125 men and headed northwest through the interior of South Carolina and into western North Carolina. He returned to Santa Elena on March 7, 1567, after receiving a summons to respond to an anticipated French attack.

Pardo set out on his second expedition from Santa Elena on September 1, 1567, and followed basically the same route, although this journey took him into eastern Tennessee. He visited several of the towns that Hernando De Soto had passed through more than twenty-five years before. Pardo’s notary recorded a high degree of compliance with the orders the captain had given on the first expedition, including having the Indians grow corn and construct buildings for the Spaniards. On his return from the second expedition, Pardo collected as much corn as he could and distributed his men among six forts in an attempt to strengthen the Spanish presence inland and force the Indian population to support the soldiers. Two of these forts were in present-day South Carolina—Fort Santo Tomás at Cofitachiqui, or Canos, near Camden and Fort Nuestra Señora at the native town of Orista on the coast. Within months of Pardo’s return to Santa Elena on March 2, 1568, Indians had destroyed the inland forts.

Pardo served as the lieutenant governor at Santa Elena until around April 1569. He departed the Florida colony for Spain during the summer of 1569, and further details about his life and death are unknown.

— Excerpted from an entry by Karen L. Paar.  This entry hasn’t been updated since 2006.  To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia, published in 2006 by USC Press. (Information used by permission.) 

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