Martim Afonso de Sousa

This Portuguese courtier was born at Vila Viçosa toward the end of the 15th century. His father had been a loyal retainer in the household of Bragança, so young Martim was first made a page to Duke Jaime’s son, Teodosio. He later became a page under the crown prince Joao, who would ascend the Portuguese throne in December 1521 as King Joao III.

At that time, de Sousa was absent with the retinue that accompanied the widowed Queen Leonor de Austria back to her native Spain. He stayed on there to serve under the emperor Charles V and fought against the French. De Sousa also married a Spanish lady, Ana Pimentel, with whom he would have five children. In 1525, he was recalled to Portugal by Joao III. De Sousa’s cousin Antonio de Ataide, a childhood friend of the young monarch, was ennobled as Conde de Castanheira and appointed ambassador to France. His influence helped de Sousa obtain the titles of prado and alcoentre, as well as a knight- hood in the Ordem de Cristo.

De Sousa also displayed an interest in mathematics and navigation. He started studying in 1527 under the young royal tutor Pedro Nunes who was named royal cosmographer two years later. De Sousa’s interest helped him obtain command of the Brazilian expedition when it was proposed by his cousin to the king in 1530. De Sousa’s two years of exploration were judged so satisfactory that he was rewarded on his return with the title of governor general of the Portuguese East Indies.

He set sail from Lisbon on March 12, 1534, to assume office in the Far East. His first term proved highly successful, with the creation of a fortress at Diu in Cambodia and vigorous campaigns against the rajah of Calcutta. Therefore, after de Sousa’s tenure expired in 1538, he was named for a second time late in 1541. His squadron reached Goa by May 6, 1542, but his second administration was marred by corruption and dissension. The Portuguese even fought among themselves, and de Sousa was recalled in 1545. He returned under suspicion of financial irregularities and was never again employed by the Crown. He died in Lisbon on July 26, 1564.


As Spain’s settlers forsake their original Antillean outposts for the rich new kingdoms of the American mainland, traders from other western European nations begin drifting into the void. Madrid will vainly attempt to stem this transatlantic traffic into the West Indies, increasing the envy already taking hold against the Spaniards for their rising fortunes. Old World conflicts soon are transposed to the New World, beginning during the first half of the 16th century, when the rulers of Spain and France fight a series of intermittent conflicts known collectively as the Habsburg-Valois Wars (so named for their respective dynastic surnames). These are largely territorial disputes originating in Italy and Flanders that flare into open conflict during 1494-1495, 1499-1505, 1508-1514, 1515-1516, 1521-1526, 1526-1529, 1536-1538, 1542-1544, and 1552-1559, but which actually constitute an almost continuous period of strife from 1494 to 1559.

The coronation of 20-year-old Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor in October 1520 intensifies this rivalry because-already being king of Spain and duke of the Netherlands-his dominions now completely encircle France. The ensuing round of hostilities from 1521 to 1526, called the First Franco-Spanish War, features numerous depredations by French privateers off the coasts of Spain, the Canaries, and the Azores Islands as they waylay vessels bound to and from the Americas. One such pair of ships, bound from recently conquered Mexico with exotic Aztec spoils, is captured in 1522 by Giovanni da Verrazano or Verrazzano-a Florentine-born navigator in the service of Jean Ango of Dieppe-and the fabulous beauty of the spoils helps to persuade François I to sponsor his own exploration of North America in quest of a Northwest Passage to Asia.

Verrazano makes landfall with his 50-man, 100-ton caravel Dauphine near what will later be- come known as the Carolinas in late February or early March 1524, coasting northward and penetrating through the Narrows into what is today New York City’s Upper Bay, hoping that it might prove to be the ephemeral waterway leading to Cathay. After a brief survey, he exits and continues his continental exploration as far northeastward as Newfoundland before regaining Dieppe on July 8 and submitting a favorable report to the king. However, it is not until after that monarch is captured at the Battle of Pavia and compelled to sign the Treaty of Madrid on January 15, 1526, and then responds by forging the so-called Cognac or Clementine League on May 2-uniting France with Florence, Venice, Pope Clement VII, and eventually England-that another three-year round of fighting explodes and the first French corsairs actually strike out across the ocean to make at- tacks in the West Indies proper.

MARCH 1526. The 130-ton Spanish galleon San Gabriel of Rodrigo de Acuña, separated by storms from Juan Garci Jofre de Loaysa and Juan Sebastian de Elcano’s seven-ship expedition bound from La Coruña (Galicia) into the South Pacific via the Strait of Magellan, is attacked by three French vessels off  the coast of Brazil before anchoring off  Santa Catarina Island on March 26 to recuperate over the next few months.

LATE 1527. After touching at Puerto Rico, the English ship Mary of Guildford under the explorer John Rutt or Rout-who has previously visited Newfoundland and the North American shoreline in quest of the fabled Northwest Passage-arrives at the city of Santo Domingo to trade and is amiably received by the city’s Spanish inhabitants. However, after the authorities in the harbor castle fi re a round at Rutt’s anchored ship, he stands back out to sea, disembarking nearby a few days later with 30 or 40 armed men seeking to barter goods for provisions. When this request is refused, the Englishmen pillage a plantation and then depart.

SUMMER 1528. The French corsair vessel Sainte Anne out of La Rochelle, which is guided by the Portuguese pilot Diogo Ingenios and accompanied by a Spanish caravel seized off  Lanzarote in the Ca- nary Islands, traverses the Atlantic and appears near Margarita Island, then briefly seizes the pearl fisheries on June 24 at Cubagua (Venezuela).

Apparently, this same pair of raiders later attacks and sinks a Spanish caravel near Puerto Rico’s Cape Rojo on August 11 before sacking and torching the inland hamlet of San German at the mouth of the Añasco River the next day, then standing away back across the Atlantic by October. San German’s residents rebuild and fortify their hamlet.

AUGUST 3, 1529. In Europe, Franco-Spanish relations are temporarily patched up after a month of negotiations by the signing of the Treaty of Cambrai (known as the “Ladies’ Peace” because it is negotiated between Charles V’s aunt, Margaret of Austria, and the French queen mother, Louise of Savoy).

DECEMBER 3, 1530. Portugal Claims Brazil. Fearful of French designs upon Brazil, which include a few trading outposts that are already beginning to dot its coastline, King Joao III decides to supersede Portugal’s sporadic private eff orts to rescue Brazil by dispatching a royal expedition of two ships, two caravels, and a galleon bearing 400 men under his retainer Martim Afonso de Sousa and his brother Pero Lopes de Sousa.

This expedition arrives from Lisbon off  Pernambuco on January 31, 1531, and sights Cape Santo Agostinho the next day. Shortly thereafter, the Portuguese capture three French ships laden with rare woods and other Brazilian produce. The commodore thereupon detaches his subordinate Diogo Leite with two caravels to reconnoiter northeastward from Pernambuco, and Joao de Sousa is sent back to Europe with a report for the monarch; the main body departs southwestward by February 17 to continue its exploration. They enter Baia de Todos os Santos and encounter a long-time Portuguese resident named Diogo Alvares Correia, who has married a Paraguaçu woman and is known among the Indians as Cararmuru or the “God of Thunder.”

APRIL 30, 1531. At midday, de Sousa’s expedition enters Guanabara Bay-dubbed Rio de Janeiro three decades previously by Amerigo Vespucci-and because of its vast, sheltered expanse and abundant resources, the Portuguese explorer decides to pause and refresh his ships. A tiny fortification is erected beside his careening beach, and peaceable relations are established with the local Tamoio natives. When de Sousa finally departs on August 1, a small group of Portuguese remain behind, although this foothold will not prosper and is soon abandoned.

AUGUST 12, 1531. De Sousa’s expedition gains Cananéia Bay, where other Portuguese and Spanish ships are found lying at anchor. Also found is a decades-old resident named Cosme Fernandes, a Jewish convert and university graduate-hence referred to as the Bacharel or “Bachelor”-who was marooned by Vespucci’s expedition as long ago as January 22, 1502. He has since married a Carijo princess. There is also a deserter from Rodrigo de Acuña’s 1526 visit, named Francisco de Chavez.

Familiar with the native trade patterns, they in- form de Sousa of rich mines lying far up the Iguaçu River in Incan territory, so the commodore dispatches 40 harquebusiers and 40 crossbowmen up- stream on September 1 under Capt. Pero Lobo Pinheiro, along with native auxiliaries and with de Chavez as their guide-none of whom will ever return; they are instead lured out into the Parana River and massacred by tribal warriors. Unaware of their fate, de Sousa puts to sea again on September 26 to continue his reconnaissance as far southwest as the River Plate estuary.

JANUARY 8, 1532. Having wrecked his flagship, de Sousa’s depleted expedition returns into Cana- néia Bay to recuperate before setting out southward 10 days later to establish a permanent Portuguese colony at what is then known as the Porto do Escravos or “Slaves Port.”

Appearing outside its bar by January 20, de Sousa’s vessels cross over after two storm-tossed days to begin erecting a fort and town, from whence they hope to probe inland and finally reach the ephemeral mines of the Incas. This settlement is christened Sao Vicente-January 22 being St. Vincent’s feast day on the Church calendar.

MAY 12, 1532. Having departed from Sao Vicente to return to Portugal for more colonists, a squadron under Pero Lopes de Sousa learns of a 30-man French outpost recently installed on Itamaraca Island by the Marseillan privateer Jean Barrau du Perret, commander of the 120-ton Pelerine. He therefore interrupts his homeward passage to capture it after an 18-day siege and supplants this stronghold with a Portuguese garrison before proceeding out across the Atlantic.

OCTOBER 10, 1532. De Sousa leads a group of settlers inland from Sao Vicente guided by the Portuguese castaways Joao Ramalho and Antonio Rodrigues-they have married the daughters of the local Guiana tribal chieftains Tibiriças and Piquerobi and are therefore familiar with the terrain and trusted by the natives. Pushing through the dense man- groves along the Quilombo River Valley, they ascend the formidable Serra do Mar onto the Piratininga Plain to found a second outpost (which will eventually become the modern city of Sao Paulo).

JANUARY 1533. Joao de Sousa reaches Sao Vicente from Portugal, bringing letters from the king informing Martim Afonso de Sousa that he is to be relieved, but he is also to be rewarded with one of the 15 new “hereditary captaincies” into which Brazil will be divided, depending on whether he chooses to remain in the New World or return to Portugal.

MAY 1533. Martim Afonso de Sousa departs Sao Vicente, leaving his brother Pero in charge of his properties while he returns to Lisbon, where he will be promoted to governor general of the Portuguese East Indies.

Shortly before leaving Sao Vicente, Martim Afonso de Sousa learns of the annihilation of Pero Lobo’s lost expedition up the Iguaçu River, which he believes has been engineered by the Bacharel Cosme Fernandes and his Spanish associates. He therefore suggests to the acting military commander who is left behind-the mill owner and militia captain Pero de Gois da Silveira-that they be arrested.

SUMMER 1533. A body of Portuguese troops under Captain de Gois advances on Iguape to detain Fernandes, who has taken up residence there with his family near his Spanish-born friend Ruy Garcia Mosquera. Apprised of the Portuguese captain’s intent, the defenders rally their numerous retainers, other disgruntled residents, as well as some 150 native archers, and prepare to resist.

To better do so, Fernandes and Garcia Mosquera seize a French privateer anchored off Cananéia and land its artillery to prepare an ambush at a trench that they have dug, covering Icapara Bar outside Iguape (modern Trincheira Bay). De Gois’s disembarkation is therefore crushed, 80 of his troops being slain and himself wounded and captured, after which Fernandes and Garcia Mosquera use his ship to mount a destructive counterattack against Sao Vicente. They thereupon decamp beyond Portuguese jurisdiction, along with their followers.

French crossbowman of the Cartier-Roberval expedition in Canada.

MAY 10, 1534. The 42-year-old explorer Jacques Cartier arrives off Newfoundland with two ships and 61 men from Saint Malo (France), searching for the Northwest Passage to Asia. After charting part of what are today the shorelines of New Brunswick and Quebec, he returns to Europe by September 5.

AUGUST 9, 1535. Cartier returns to Newfoundland with his 120-ton flagship Grande Hermine, the 60-ton Petite Hermine, and the 40-ton Émerillon and penetrates the Saint Lawrence Seaway as far south- west as Hochelaga (modern Montreal) by October 2 before retiring to winter at the Saint Charles River mouth (modern Quebec City). Although disappointed at not discovering a passage all the way through to the Far East, the Frenchman is nonetheless convinced that this new territory is “rich and wealthy in precious stones,” so he kidnaps a dozen natives before weighing anchor on May 6, 1536, carrying them to Saint Malo by July 16. Cartier’s hope is to spark interest in this new land and thus be granted Crown permission to found a colony, which he mistakenly believes to be called Canada- actually the Huron-Iroquois word for “village.”

LATE AUTUMN 1535. Relations between Paris and Madrid again begin to deteriorate regarding disputes in Savoy and Milan, so numerous French corsairs begin taking up station off the western approaches to Spain and threatening returning ships- especially those bearing treasure from recently conquered Peru. As a result, the Spanish Crown orders the establishment of an armada de la guardia de la carrera de Indias or “guard fleet for the Indies route.”

FEBRUARY 1536. War officially erupts between France and Spain when the former occupies Savoy and penetrates the Piedmont, to which the latter replies in June by invading Provence.

NOVEMBER 1536. A lone French corsair vessel cuts out a Spanish ship anchored at Chagres (Panama).

JANUARY 1537. Emperor Charles V and King François I agree to a short-lived truce.

FEBRUARY 1537. Apparently the same single French corsair ship is sighted between Cartagena (Colombia) and Nombre de Dios (Panama), where it captures a Spanish merchantman near the latter port as it is arriving with a consignment of horses from Santo Domingo.

MARCH 15, 1537. This same French vessel materializes before Havana, prompting Gov. Gonzalo de Guzman to order three of five 200-ton Spanish merchantmen anchored in his port to sortie under Lt. Juan Velazquez. They overtake and trap the shallow- draught intruder inside the harbor at Mariel (then known as the “Puerto de Tablas”), only to run aground when the French vessel escapes out to sea, and so are boarded when this raider reverses course. Two of the Spanish prizes are burned and the third manned by the triumphant Frenchmen, who return before Havana to extort ransom from its hapless villagers. Other French trespassers are also sighted near Santo Domingo.

MAY 31, 1537. A French corsair vessel enters Santiago de Cuba’s harbor and carries off some merchantmen.

JUNE 14, 1537. A dozen Spanish warships and two caravels sortie from Seville under Capt. Gen. Blasco Nuñez Vela, becoming the first fleet of warships officially assigned to escort an outward-bound American convoy, reinforce garrisons throughout the Caribbean, lift the blockade of Havana, and then return to Spain.

OCTOBER 1537. A French ship and auxiliary out of Bayonne, bearing a total of 150 men, arrive off the Lesser Antilles to prowl the Spanish West Indies.

SPRING 1538. This pair of Bayonne ships raid Ocoa, Puerto Hermoso, and La Yaguana (modern Léogane, Haiti), bringing maritime traffic off Santo Domingo to almost a complete standstill.

APRIL 4, 1538. The large Bayonne ship pillages a Spanish brigantine exiting from Santiago de Cuba, then the next day penetrates its harbor and engages the caravel Magdalena of Diego Pérez as well as a small two-gun battery ashore. The shallow draught of Pérez’s craft allows him to gain the Frenchmen’s quarter, though, peppering the intruders with his four culverins from 11:00 a. m. until they finally withdraw an hour past midnight on April 6, having sustained about a dozen casualties. Three Spaniards die during this fray, and the French ship eventually exits Santiago Bay three days later.

MAY 1538. A French corsair ship appears near Havana and robs several houses and churches ashore. Upon learning of this attack at the island’s capital of Santiago de Cuba, 500 miles farther east-southeast, the new captain general, Hernando de Soto, dis- patches the military engineer Mateo Aceituno with 100 men. Within a few weeks of their arrival, they throw up the 6-gun fort, Castillo de la Fuerza, to guard Havana’s entrance channel (see “June 7, 1538” entry in “Expansion beyond Mexico”).

JUNE 1538. San German de Puerto Rico is sacked and burned by 80 French raiders from the Bayonne ship. During their retirement back toward their boats, they are overtaken during a rainstorm by 30 mounted Spaniards, who attack while the French- men’s powder is wet. Fifteen raiders are therefore killed and another three taken prisoner, who then are exchanged for San German’s looted church bells, plus other booty.

JUNE 15, 1538. In Europe, French and Spanish plenipotentiaries agree upon a 10-year truce negotiated at Nice by Pope Paul III, although it is some time before word of this cessation of hostilities reaches the New World.

EARLY JUNE 1540. French corsairs disembark from a single ship near San German de Puerto Rico, sacking and burning the town, along with its outlying district.

AUGUST 1540. A leaking, 400-ton English ship with a French pilot commandeers a Spanish merchantman laden with sugar and hides off Cape Tiburon (southwestern Haiti), setting its crew ashore before transferring aboard their prize. They then send their leaking vessel to the bottom and sail home in safety.

MAY 1541. As Franco-Spanish relations again be- gin to fray over differences regarding the succession in Milan, a 35-man French corsair ransacks a Spanish caravel off Puerto Rico. This same craft then sinks another victim off Mona Island before disembarking some men to loot ashore. It proceeds next to Cape de la Vela (Colombia) and robs a Spanish caravel of 7,000-8,000 ducats’ worth of pearls at Portete.

AUGUST 1541. Cartier returns to Canada with five ships, having brought an advance contingent of a few hundred settlers from France to establish a foothold for a new colony. The titular head of this enterprise-the impoverished, 41-year-old courtier Jean-François de La Rocque, Seigneur de Roberval-is to follow next year with many more colonists, hoping in the process to rebuild his fortune by serving as “lieutenant general of Canada” and exploiting its rich mineral deposits.

While awaiting his arrival, Cartier erects a small fort called Charlesbourg Royal at Cap Rouge, nine miles above present-day Quebec City, and explores the Saint Lawrence River until wintertime.

EARLY DECEMBER 1541. Thirteen well-armed French vessels ransack a Portuguese caravel off Guyana, then are joined by three other vessels to press deeper into the Caribbean and pillage the coastlines of Margarita Island, Curaçao, and the entrance to the Lake of Maracaibo (Venezuela).

JUNE 8, 1542. Roberval reaches Newfoundland with the ships Valentine, Sainte Anne, and Lechefraye, bringing 100 more French colonists to join Cartier at Charlesbourg Royal (Quebec). Instead, he is surprised to meet his subordinate in the Newfoundland harbor of Saint John’s. Cartier had earlier abandoned this advance foothold because of the harshness of the past winter and the hostility from the Iroquois. Cartier refuses Roberval’s order to return to Canada with him, instead continuing toward France with his own survivors.

Undismayed by Cartier’s disobedience, Roberval proceeds to Charlesbourg Royal and reestablishes that outpost, then begins exploring Canada. How- ever, although the population of his community is too numerous to be directly assaulted by the Indians, many of the French settlers are ill prepared to withstand the ensuing winter, and so they suffer cruelly from cold, famine, and disease. The next September (1543), they are retrieved by a rescue mission under Paul d’Austillon, Seigneur de Sauveterre, and France’s North American aspirations will be entirely forsaken for the next 60 years.

MID-JULY 1542. In Europe, tensions once more escalate between France and Spain, the Pyrenees becoming the scene of clashes one month later, followed by open declarations of war by both nations before the end of August.

FEBRUARY 1543. Two French ships and a small auxiliary attack San German de Puerto Rico, burning it and making off with four caravels lying in its harbor. A pair of Spanish galleons and two lateen- rigged caravels on the neighboring island of Santo Domingo are manned with 250 volunteers and set out in pursuit under Ginés de Carrion, captain of the galleon San Cristobal. Five days later he returns, having captured the enemy flagship and 40 of its crew, while sinking the smaller French consort.

Despite this victory, San German’s inhabitants are too frightened to return to their dwellings, preferring instead to relocate their town to Santa Maria de los Remedios in Guadianilla Bay (modern Guayanilla).

JUNE 16, 1543. Antillean Sweep. Five French corsair ships and a smaller consort bearing 800 men as- sault Venezuela’s Margarita Island, then the next month burn the once-rich pearl-fishing town of Nuevo Cadiz on adjoining Cubagua, whose population has already declined to scarcely 10 Spanish inhabitants because of the exhaustion of its pearl beds and the devastation suffered by a destructive hurricane on Christmas Day 1541. According to some Spanish sources, these raiders are commanded by Roberval (“Robertval” or “Roberto Baal”), but the French raiders may have borne commissions from him or been intending to visit his Canadian colony on their homeward leg.

JULY 16, 1543. Four of these same large French corsair vessels and a smaller consort arrive undetected before Santa Marta (Colombia), landing be- tween 400 and 500 men the next noon to occupy the port. They remain in possession for seven days, destroying everything of value before retiring with four bronze cannons and other booty.

JULY 24-25, 1543. Under cover of darkness, the French squadron-piloted into Cartagena’s bay by a Spanish turncoat embittered at a punishment received from Lt. Gov. Alonso Vejines-deposits 450 raiders ashore, who then carry this Colombian port with ease in a three-pronged attack. Its newly consecrated bishop, Fr. Francisco de Santamaria y Benavides, and an overawed populace surrender 35,000 pesos in specie, plus another 2,500 from the royal coffers, before the enemy withdraws. The next month, the raiders are anchored off Cape de la Vela, selling their booty to local residents.

SEPTEMBER 7, 1543. A single 20-man vessel detached from this same French squadron pillages a rich Spanish merchantman off Santiago de Cuba, then attempts a disembarkation, only to be repelled by its two-gun battery under Andrés Zamora. The raider emerges from the bay and proceeds westward, intending to reunite with its main force off Isla de Pinos. The French squadron, meanwhile, seizes five vessels in early October that are anchored off the new Spanish town of Santa Maria de los Remedios in Guadianilla Bay (modern Guayanilla), although the raiders are prevented from disembarking.

OCTOBER 31, 1543. The reunited, homeward- bound French squadron appears before Havana, disgorging more than 200 men at San Lazaro Inlet. Advancing across open country, the invaders are checked by fire from La Fuerza Fortress. They retreat toward their ships, leaving behind 20 dead. The rovers then depart the Caribbean altogether via the Straits of Florida.

SEPTEMBER 18, 1544. After an imperial army has fought its way to within sight of Paris, the Treaty of Crepy is signed in Europe, marking an end to this latest round of Franco-Spanish hostilities. Although François I has been constrained by this treaty to recognize Spain’s sovereignty in the Caribbean, some fighting will still persist in the New World. Cuba and Puerto Rico, in particular, continue to be harassed by French interlopers.

LATE OCTOBER 1544. Three French ships prowl past San Juan de Puerto Rico, landing at depleted San German to pillage and burn the town. Off Cape de la Vela (Colombia), another trio of French interlopers intercepts passing vessels; they also sell contra- band items to local Spanish citizens. 1545. Five French corsair vessels and a small auxiliary surprise the new Colombian port town of Riohacha (constituted only as of February 2), seizing five Spanish vessels lying in its roadstead. Unable to disembark, the raiders subsequently arrange a truce with its residents, eventually selling them 70 slaves. A similar visit by these same Frenchmen, albeit entirely peaceful, ensues at Santa Marta.

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