Francisco de Chicora

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Francisco de Chicora was the baptismal name given to a Native American kidnapped in 1521, along with 70 others, from near the mouth of the Pee Dee River by Spanish explorer Francisco Gordillo and slave trader Pedro de Quexos, based in Santo Domingo and the first Europeans to reach the area. From analysis of the account by Peter Martyr, court chronicler, the ethnographer John R. Swanton believed that Chicora was from a Catawban group.

In Hispaniola, where he and the other captives were taken, Chicora learned Spanish, was baptized a Catholic, and worked for Lucas Vasquez de Ayllón, a colonial official. Most of the Catawba died within two years. Accompanying Ayllón to Spain, de Chicora met with the chronicler Peter Martyr and told him much about his people. Martyr combined this information with accounts by explorers and recorded it as the "Testimony of Francisco de Chicora," published with his seventh Decade in 1525. In 1526 Chicora accompanied Ayllón on a major expedition to North America with 600 colonists. After they struck land at the Santee River and the party went ashore, Chicora escaped and returned to his people.

Spanish encounter with natives at the Pee Dee River

The Spanish had repeated expeditions to the Southeast, where they explored areas around the Santee River in South Carolina and Winyah Bay and other areas.[1]

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, auditor of Santo Domingo, commissioned Francisco Gordillo to make an expedition to the continent. On the way, Gordillo encountered his cousin Pedro de Quexos in The Bahamas, who was trying to capture Arawak to sell as slaves, without success. Quexos decided to join Gordilla's expedition, and in June the two struck land at what they called the River of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist), probably the Pee Dee in present-day South Carolina.[1] A crowd of curious natives gathered on the shore to watch the strangers. The natives fled when the Spanish approached in shallops, but two were caught, taken aboard a ship, given Spanish clothes, and returned ashore. The natives again swarmed the beach, seeing their comrades' return and changed appearance as a wondrous sign, since they had worn only buckskins before. The chief ordered 50 of his subjects to bring food for the Spanish. Once ashore, the Spanish were given presents and a guided tour for several days. They claimed the land for their king, and invited the natives aboard to see their ships.

Gordilla had been ordered by de Ayllón to cultivate friendly relations with the people to prepare for later colonization. De Quexos, eager for slaves, persuaded him to trick the natives; the Spaniards suddenly raised anchor and set sail for Santo Domingo with 70 of the natives still aboard, including the man who would be named Francisco. When they arrived, Ayllón condemned the leaders for their treachery. He took the matter before a commission headed by Diego Columbus. The commission declared the captive natives to be free, and ordered them returned to the mainland, but such a trip never took place, as it was considered too costly.[1]

As recounted by Peter Martyr the court chronicler, according to colonial reports, most of the natives died within two years; many wandered the streets of Santo Domingo as vagrants, and the few who survived became servants. He described them as white, larger than the average Spaniard, and dressed in animal skins. One who survived was baptized Francisco de Chicora; he learned Spanish and worked for Ayllón.[1]

De Chicora accompanied Ayllón on a trip to Spain, where he met the court chronicler, Peter Martyr. He recounted to Peter Martyr much about the practices of his people in Chicora and about the neighboring provinces.[1]

After returning to the Caribbean, in 1526 Ayllón led an expedition to North America with three ships and 600 colonists, bringing de Chicora with him. After striking land at what Ayllón named the Jordan River (now the Santee River in South Carolina), one of his ships went aground. As the party went ashore, de Chicora immediately abandoned the Spanish and fled to rejoin his own people. He disappeared from the historical record.

Scholarly identification of Native provinces

Researchers have worked to identify the provinces and tribes described by Chicora. They have analyzed phonetics of 16th-century Spanish, as well as the many languages of the North American tribes in the area, to reach their conclusions.

  • Francisco's home province, considered by Swanton to be on the lower Pee Dee River, was called Chicora. Scholars generally consider the people a Catawban group. Swanton (1940) proposed a connection with the Sugaree or Shakori; Rudes (2004) suggested Coree.
  • Duahre (or Duhare, many variant spellings) was a neighboring province described as home to Datha, the principal chief of several provinces. Ayllon is said to have marched through this province in 1526, en route to Gualdape, where he built the short-lived colony of San Miguel de Gualdape. The people of Duahre were described as white with very long brown hair, allowed to grow to their feet. Datha and his wife were by far the largest of all. The location and ethnicity of these people has been debated; candidates have included Catawban, Guale, and Cusabo. In 2004 Blair Rudes asserted that other linguistic evidence in Martyr's account points to the Iroquoian Tuscarora tribe, and specifically their town on the Neuse River called Teyurhèhtè. He suggests, for example, that Old Tuscaroran Teeth-ha (king) corresponded with the name "Datha", which he says may have been a title rather than proper name. He also notes close similarities between accounts of a religious ceremony as recounted by Francisco de Chicora, and one among the Tuscarora recounted by a European in the early eighteenth century.[1]
  • Xapita - a province near Duahre where pearls were found, was identified with the name of the Sampit River.
  • Hitha (Yta) - a province ruled by Datha, possibly Etiwaw (Eutaw), a Cusabo subtribe.
  • Tihe - a province under Datha and inhabited by a priestly tribe.
  • Xamunambe - another of Datha's provinces.
  • Arambe, Guacaya, Quohathe, Tanzaca (Tanaca), Pahoc - These were other regions which the Spanish recorded visiting, where they noted the indigenous peoples had dark brown skin. Swanton suggests that Guacaya may correlate to Waccamaw (a Siouan tribe), and Pahoc to "Back Hooks". Rudes connects Quohathe with Coweta (a Muscogee (Creek) subtribe); Tanzaca with "Transequa", a village shown on a 1733 map on the Upper Catawba River; and Arambe with the Ilapi of Hernando de Soto (1541), also the Mississippian-culture village called Herape by Juan Pardo (1568), and the later Creek town Hilibi, which had moved farther west.
  • Inziguanin - described as a nation whose inhabitants had a myth that crocodile-like men had once lived in their land. Rudes suggested Inziguanin could be a reference to the Shawnee, though they were not attested in the southeast until long afterward.

Other sources, such as Oviedo, Navarrete, Barcia, and Documentos Ineditos list additional provinces derived from Francisco de Chicora, some of which have been tentatively identified by Swanton and other researchers:

  • Yamiscaron - the Yamacraw or Yamasee tribe (Guale)
  • Orixa - a Cusabo subtribe on the Edisto River
  • Coçayo - the "Coosa" subtribe of the Cusabo, who lived on the upper South Carolina rivers. These "Coosa" were probably not related to the Muskogean-speaking Coosa chiefdom that De Soto encountered some 15 years later in present-day northern Georgia.
  • Pasqui - called the Pasque by Pardo, they lived inland near the Siouan Waxhaw tribe.
  • Aymi - possibly the Hymahi of De Soto and Pardo, placed by Hudson (1990) on the Congaree River, near where it joins the Santee.
  • Sona - possibly a Cusabo subtribe on the Stono River
  • Yenyohol - the Winyaw of Winyah Bay
  • Anica, Xoxi, Huaque, Anoxa - uncertain


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Dr. Blair Rudes, "First Descriptions of an Iroquoian People: Spaniards among the Tuscarora before 1522", 2004, Coastal Carolina Indians Center