The Land of

Ayllon

Was the first Mass in what is now
the continental United States celebrated
on the coast of present-day Georgia
in the fall of 1526?

     Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon (ca. 1480-1526) was a wealthy sugar plantation owner and judge on Hispaniola, the island that now comprises Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.  In mid-July, 1526, he set sail from Santo Domingo with 600 persons, supplies and animals in six ships for the large "island" to the northwest.  Among the passengers were two Dominican priests and a lay brother.
     Where they landed is not known, and it has been speculated that they could have sailed as far north as the Chesapeake Bay.  Paul E. Hoffman, professor of History at Louisiana State University, places the likely landing in the Santee River-Winyah Bay area of South Carolina.  The flagship ran aground and was lost, including supplies.  Not finding Natives in the area with whom to trade, the ships sailed south.  Dr. Hoffman conjectures they settled in the Sapelo Sound area off the coast of Georgia, a few miles from where I live. 
     It is known Ayllon's group arrived on the Feast of Archangels, September 29, 1526, and that the colony was named San Miguel de Gualdape.  A small town was built.  Construction probably consisted of wattle-and-daub houses with a few timber and board buildings.  The town included a church, and
here Mass would have been celebrated, the first Mass on what is now continental United States!
     Disease struck the colonists, and the little cemetery near the church began to fill.  Cold set in early that fall; supplies were depleted and hunger set in.  After Ayllon died in the arms of one of the priests, the remaining 200 or so colonists set sail  for  Hispaniola.  The colony lasted about six weeks, possibly three months.

This map of 1529 clearly shows "Tierra de Ayllon" (Land of Ayllon). 
The map is copied from Columbus and the Land of Ayllon (see below), pp iv.

     In 1992 a symposium was held in McIntosh County, Georgia to explore the possibility that Ayllon's colony was somewhere along the shore of Sapelo Sound, also in McIntosh Co.   The presentations were compiled by Jeannine Cook into the book, Columbus and the Land of Ayllon, which is the source for this page.  The book may be ordered from The Darien News, P.O. Box 496, Darien, GA  31305; (912) 437-4251.  Cost is $8.50 +S&H.

This page was created by Marie Schoettle on October 10, 2001
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