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Historians have recounted how the Spanish conquered and claimed parts of Mexico, Central and South America and the lands surrounding the Gulf of Mexico during the 16th Century.

We have also learned how pirates and privateers of different countries preyed upon the Spanish galleons carrying the gold of the New World back to Spain. A lesser know fact is that there was a thriving trade in slaves in the New World at this time.

 

The Spaniards needed slaves to toil in their mines and on their plantations in order to bring the products of their colonies to overseas markets. Indian captives were used as slaves at first as they were the easiest to acquire. But Native Americans did not make good slaves as they often sickened and died from the abuses and diseases they were exposed to by their masters. So, as the Spanish Crown increased their demand for New World goods, the need for slaves increased. With this increasing need, the Spanish colonists were less discriminating about who they acquired these slaves from. As, as is often the case, a group of men surfaced to fulfill this need. The best slaves to meet this need were found in Africa and the men best prepared to participate in this trade were English.

In October of 1567, Sir John Hawkins, a sea captain, set sail with six ships from the port of Plymouth, England for what later came to be known as Africa’s Slave Coast to do some trading. Hawkins purchased six shiploads of slaves from the dominant tribes along the coast and sailed for the New World.

Now trade with Spanish America, especially for the English, was strictly forbidden. The Spanish colonies were forbidden by royal decree to trade with any country except Spain. All of the meant nothing to John Hawkins, who knew that all he had to do was show up with the slaves the Spaniards wanted, bribe the authorities into looking the other way while he sold his goods and sail home with a load of New World gold.

Hawkins sold his shiploads of slaves in Cartagena, South America in July of 1568. He then turned his small fleet northeastward into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico to prey on Spanish shipping for, after all, he was a pirate first and foremost, albeit an enterprising one. Think of it. He’d already made a fortune form the slaves he’d sold. Now he could profit form any goods or ships he could pounce upon on his way home to England. He knew he’d be attacked if Spanish authorities found out about his activities as soon as they could locate him. This John Hawkins was certainly not a timid man.

All went well for Hawkins as he plundered a few ships and took some hostages. But, as he reached the western tip of Cuba, a great tropical storm caught his tiny fleet, driving it toward Florida and then back across the Gulf. When the wind finally stopped blowing, the six English ships were badly damaged and only a few miles off the Mexican coast.

Hawkins’ ships were in serious need of repair and refitting, and the closes and best harbor was Vera Cruz. There, with the trade of his hostages and a good amount of gold, his ships were refitted from Spanish stores. This took too long, however, as someone chose to notify the authorities. As Hawkins’ ships cleared the harbor of Vera Cruz, they were attached by a squadron of Spanish men of war.

Hawkins was able to beat off the attack but he lost four ships in doing so. The two remaining ships, the Judith and the Minion, were separated. The Judith, under the command of Francis Drake, sailed for home and arrived in January of 1568 without notable incident. The Minion, under Hawkins’ personal command, picked up the survivors of the other ships and set out for England.

"With manie sorrowful heates wee wandered in an unknown Sea by ye space of fourteene dayes tyll hunger enforced us to seek ye lande," Hawkins later wrote. The Minion was badly overcrowded and under provisioned. The sailors decided that "if they perished notte by drowning, yet hunger would enforce them to eatte one another." At this point, October 1568, 114 men volunteered to be set ashore some 30 miles north of Tampico, Mexico.

Many of these men turned South, opting for capture by the Spanish, The rest of them went north knowing only that the English possessions in the New World lay somewhere to the Northeast.

So began one of the most incredible (and least known) adventures to have ever been told; an eleven month trek across some 3,000 miles of wilderness. Only three of the sailors survived to return to England, showing up in Cape Breton, off Nova Scotia in September of 1569. The three sailors, Ingram, Richard Browne and Richard Twide, were picked up by some French fishermen and returned to England in November of 1569.

Ingram’s account of the journey, The Relation of David Ingram of Barking in the Counties of Essex, Sayler (sailor), was published in 1582. He relates how they turned inland and turned northward crossing the Rio Grande River probably near present day Camargo, Mexico. He continued northward and from his description of the country probably reached the Hill Country before taking a more eastward course. According to Ingram, he saw "greate rockes of Chrystal, Rubies, being four inches long and two inches broad." He also told of "a greate abundance of Pearles" and "sundries pieces of Golde some as bigge as a man’s fist."

What did Ingram see? He was a sailor, not a geologist or jeweler. "Pearles" there must assuredly were, from the coast acquired in trade between the natives from native oyster beds that had been largely undisturbed since time unknown. The fresh water streams of Texas also abounded with pearl producing mussels, some of which can still be found today.

What about rubies? What Ingram might be describing is actually a garnet. You can find garnets, sapphires and topaz as well in the Central Mineral Region of the Hill Country around Llano, Brady and Mason. As far as the "Chrystal" goes, you can look at any of the granitic regions in Central Texas and the rivers that flow through them and see nice deposits of quartz crystal ranging from milky white to crystal clear. And now for the "Golde". There’s also a lot of iron pyrite – fool’s gold – in chunks "as bigge as a man’s fist" found in the same area. To the untraveled eye – remember, Ingram was a sailor – iron pyrite looks more like gold than the real thing in its natural state.

Ingram recounts seeing "a greate plentie of Buffes (bison), Bears, Horses, Kine (cattle), Woolves, foxes, Beare, Goates, Sheeps, hares (probably jackrabbits and conies – rabbits). His relation may be the earliest account of horses and cattle in Texas. This would seem in indicate that the spread of these Old World species occurred earlier than most historians think.

What could he have meant by "Goates" and "Sheepes"? He probably saw antelope on some of the prairies he crossed, but could he have seen bighorn sheep this far south?

Proceeding eastward, Ingram must have met natives of the Caddo Confederacy, as he speaks of seeing "Kings" carried on large "sumptuous chairs by men deare to him." Ingram recalled that they and his companions "never continued in any one place above three or foure dayes." He said that the first native chief that saw them "caused them to be stripped naked, and wondered greatly at the whiteness of their skins, let them depart without further harm.?

Certainly Ingram’s navigational skills as a sailor served him well on dry land. He almost assuredly had a compass and could navigate by the stars. But to have crossed over rivers and through mountain ranges traveling 3,000 miles on foot in less than a year is an amazing feat. One attested to by the fact that only he and his two companions survived. His glowing descriptions of the land caused him to be named "the first Texas braggart in the English Tongue: by Dr. Thomas Cutrer, a historian of English Texans.