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Before the Spanish Arrive

Before they reached Florida, conquistadors were poor commoners and minor nobility from Spain, accustomed to a lifetime of war in service of the Spanish crown. They dreamed of wealth and noble titles, and the discovery of the New World in 1492 promised them that. Ruthlessness, initiative, and boldness were all qualities that ensured the Spaniards would get what they wanted from Florida's natives--along with the agents of plague, steel armor, swords, and muskets they brought from Spain.

The Spaniards found the gold, wealth, and titles they were so desperately looking for with the conquest of the West Indies, Mexico and Peru. In 1521, the Spanish conquered the Aztec Empire of Mexico, which held millions of ready slaves and more wealth than the Spaniards had ever dreamed of acquiring. Shortly after, in 1533, the Spanish conquered the rich Incan Empire. The conquistadors who conquered these empires became rulers of vast, wealthy provinces and had achieved their dreams.

The conquistadors were mainly concerned with gold, as they were by and large poor men with no other means of achieving fame and fortune other than conquering peoples with vast quantities of gold. The Spanish avarice for gold and riches would be the main drive behind the exploration of Florida, because of the legends of rich empires in the interior of the North American continent. The quickest way to become respected and to become a magnate in the New World was by acquiring gold. The Spanish eventually found out that gold was ephemeral, slipping through their fingers quite rapidly after entering their possession. Yet that discovery came at a later time, after all the great Indian empires were conquered in the hunt for gold. Indian slaves and mining rights were later valued equally if not more so than gold.

The conquistadors from those previous expeditions came to Florida searching for a new Mexico or new Peru, and were expert at negotiating with Indians, the King, the royal advisors and in the exploration of new territory. They had learned from hard-won experience how to divide Indian factions, and how to conquer them. They also learned to hold the chief or ruler hostage in exchange for riches or food, which they would later use prodigiously in Florida. Many of these new conquistadors came from the newly-settled lands of Santo Domingo, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica, as well as from Spain.