The Manatee County in Florida is home to several historical places that mark the beginning of European colonization of Northern America. One of these sites that celebrate the early explorers and particularly Hernando de Soto is erected just 5 miles west of Bradenton, FL. Here are some interesting facts about the De Soto National Memorial that you should know before visiting this important landmark of early American history:
What is the De Soto National Memorial?
The De Soto National Memorial first opened its doors to the public in 1948 after a construction period that lasted for 9 years. The park stretches on an area of 26.84 acres (10.86 ha) and it is home to several constructions and facilities that depict and celebrate the European colonization of Florida under early conquistadors like Hernando de Soto.
The mission of this national memorial park is to preserve the story of de Soto’s explorations and teach visitors about the importance of his story and the controversies that followed. The park’s location is right where the Manatee River joins Tampa Bay, and over 80% of its area is covered in a mangrove swamp.
Who was Hernando de Soto?
Hernando de Soto was a Spanish conquistador that entered the services of King Charles V of England in the early 16th century. His successful exploration of the South and Central Americas had prompted the English king to hire him for a very expensive expedition in today’s Florida in the hopes of finding gold and riches.
Despite being equipped with substantial resources, equipment and having 600 soldiers under his command, de Soto failed miserably in obtaining any precious goods for his employer. His expedition in Florida did not find any gold and rapidly descended into conflict with the native population that led to the loss of thousands of people.
De Soto’s exploration of Florida brought with it several diseases and viruses that the locals did not have any immunity against, such as smallpox and measles. Many of the animals that they brought from the Old World broke free and destabilized the native wildlife. Along with its trail, the expedition of Hernando de Soto sowed death and decay, and it changed the way future explorers traveled through the New World.
Today, the De Soto National Memorial serves as an important educational center where visitors can find out more about the first explorations of Florida and the Manatee Bay. People who visit it can see historic armor and artifacts belonging to soldiers from the 16th century. The expert guides on location can provide visitors with essential details and information about the events that took place in the area more than 400 years ago.
The De Soto National Memorial also hosts a living history camp called Camp Uzita that is a replica of what the early settlements of European adventurers looked like. This exhibit is open from April to December and every year it is the venue of a historical reenactment of the debarking of Hernando de Soto and his men in Tampa Bay in 1539.