Today, the Florida State Quarter Coin remembers the expedition and settlement of Pensacola in 1559, a few years before the founding of St. Augustine.
In Florida, Its History and Romance, 1901, George R. Fairbanks described De Luna’s expedition of August 14, 1559:
Notwithstanding the disasters which had thus far befallen all who had gone to Florida, the viceroy of New Mexico, in the year 1556, was directed by the Spanish crown to prepare a new expedition for the conquest and settlement of Florida.
In 1559, there was sent to Pensacola Bay a fleet which had been equipped by the viceroy of Mexico, and sailed from Vera Cruz.
On August 14, 1559, they cast anchor in Pensacola Bay, to which they gave the name of Santa Maria.
The expedition was under the command of Don Tristan de Luna, and carried to Florida about one thousand persons, made up of soldiers, sailors, friars and other missionaries.
In all these expeditions it is to be noted that the conversion of the natives to the Christian religion was never lost sight of, as one of the objects to be attained, and however misdirected or unsuccessful these efforts were, yet we cannot but recognize the zeal and fidelity with which the missionaries of the cross devoted themselves to this laudable work.
A few days after De Luna’s expedition landed, a great storm came up and partially wrecked the vessels, one of which, having gone to sea, was lost with all on board.
Their provisions were spoiled on others of the vessels, and they were at once reduced to great distress.
A reconnoitering party started northwesterly and traveled forty days, until they reached a river they could not cross, probably the Tennessee.
They came to a large Indian town called Napicnoca, well supplied with provisions.
Having sent messengers back to De Luna, he marched his force to that place, and afterwards a party moved onward to a country abounding in chestnut and hickory nuts.
The Indians spoke of De Soto’s forces having been through and ravaged their country.
After wandering around, seeking a rich country for occupation, De Luna’s men finally returned to Pensacola to await supplies and reinforcements.
These soon arrived, and De Luna desired to return to the good lands his people had found, with the view of making a settlement, but a majority of his men were determined to leave the country.
A considerable number returned to Mexico on the provision vessels, but De Luna remained at Pensacola awaiting instructions from the viceroy, who, discouraged by the reports he received, recalled De Luna and abandoned the project for the settlement and occupation of Florida.
It seems evident that De Luna’s forces passed through the comparatively poor pine lands of southern Alabama and reached the border of the richer lands on the Coosa and Tennessee and perhaps the Cumberland River.
The expedition of De Luna possesses much interest as being the first settlement upon and temporary occupation by Europeans, of Pensacola, in 1559—60, and an exploration of Alabama and Tennessee.
It was, moreover, the last of the abortive expeditions which for upwards of fifty years had successively visited Florida.
De Luna left Pensacola only about a year before Ribaut, in 1562, came to the eastern shore and landed at the mouth of the St. John’s and built Charlesfort in South Carolina.
Had this well-equipped expedition of De Luna entered Mo bile Bay, and with boats ascended the Alabama River, they would with comparative ease have reached the rich lands of the delta and northern Alabama, and could have placed settlements on the river in easy communication with their vessels at the mouth of the river.
This they failed to ascertain, and lost the opportunity of acquiring a foothold in a part of the country which would easily have supported them.
The Florida State Quarter Coin shows against a view of Pensacola, circa 1770s.