The Pass: A Route to Exploration
Wealth, power and fame enticed Spanish exploration away from the Caribbean colonies to the American mainland in the early 16th century. Alonso Alvarez de Piñeda set sail from Jamaica, intending to sail east around Florida. Strong winds forced his fleet of four ships to change course and sail west into unknown waters. In 1519 Piñeda sailed into the Aransas Pass and named the bay Corpus Christi.
Running along the Gulf Coast from the Florida Keys to southern Mexico, Piñeda noted rivers and inlets along the way, creating the first map of the region
More than a century later, French ships entered the Gulf. With the backing of King Louis XIV, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle left the port of La Rochelle, France in 1684 with plans of wedging a French settlement between Spanish holdings in Texas and Florida. La Salle’s flotilla consisted of four ships laden with the necessary men and provisions for the French to stake their claim. The expedition ended in death, misery and failure; the Gulf of Mexico remained Spanish waters.
**In 1995 Texas Historical Commission archeologists discovered La Salle’s ship the Belle in Matagorda Bay. Artifacts from this famous ship can be viewed at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History and the Texas Maritime Museum in Rockport.
The Pass: A Route to Settlement
The shallow, narrow pass that connects the Gulf of Mexico to inland waterways was a necessary feature to get goods and people onto the isolated central Texas coast. But the constant movement of this natural channel often led to maritime disasters, especially when combined with rough seas. An 1834 account describes such a journey:
“We arrived at the pass, which we found stormy and bad. Notwithstanding the dangers of trying to cross the bar, the captain announced his determination to enter at any hazard. As our little schooner reached the bar, a rough sea broke on her, and a heavy swell threw her from the channel and she became unmanageable …. Another heavy sea struck her … [lifting] the vessel into shallow water, where she was permanently fixed.” John Linn
Three centuries of exploration proved the importance of the pass, resulting in more accurate charts, but failed to harness or tame this important waterway.