GOMES, ESTEVÃO (in Spanish Esteban Gómez), Portuguese explorer; b. 1483–84, probably in Oporto; d. 1538 in South America.
In his youth Gomes served on Portuguese ships going to India. Then he left Portugal and entered the service of Spain, being appointed pilot of the Casa de la Contratación in Seville (10 Feb. 1518). He sailed with Magellan in August 1519 but deserted later and brought his ship back to Spain in May 1521.
In 1523, he convinced Charles V that he could find between Florida and Newfoundland a shorter and easier passage to the Isles of Spices than the one discovered by Magellan. For that purpose he built in Bilbao a 75-ton caravel named La Anunciada. A detailed account of the sums spent for the building of the caravel, the purchase of supplies, the maintenance of the crew and of the Indian captives, has been found recently in the Archivo de Indias in Seville (see Vigneras, 189–207). The caravel sailed from Coruña on 24 Sept. 1524, with 29 men on board, the two leaders of the expedition being Gomes (captain and pilot) and Pedro de Luna (controller).
After making port at Santiago de Cuba to load fresh supplies, the Anunciada sailed along the eastern seaboard all the way from Florida to Cape Race. It failed to find a western passage, and returned to Spain, reaching Coruña on 21 Aug. 1525. The voyage had lasted 10 months and 27 days.
The theory generally accepted by historians (Harrisse, Biggar, Ganong, Hoffman, etc.) that Gomes made his voyage north-south, is based on an erroneous statement by Antonio Herrera, and evidence is overwhelmingly against it. (For a discussion of this problem, see Vigneras, 196–97). It is most likely that the stop-over at Santiago de Cuba took place on the way to America and not on the return trip, and that Gomes made his voyage south-north, as Verrazzano had done a few months before.
Not wishing to return empty-handed, Gomes kidnapped on the coast of Maine or Nova Scotia a large number of Indians whom he planned to sell as slaves. We know that at least 58 reached Spain alive. These Indians were freed later by order of Charles V.
As a result of Gomes’s failure to find a western passage, Spanish maps drawn after his return showed a continuous coastline from Florida to Newfoundland. They also pictured the “Land of Esteban Gómez” which included roughly New England and Nova Scotia. The first map to do so was the “Castiglione Map,” drawn by Pedro Ribero in 1525 in Coruña, shortly after Gomes’s return.
Alonso de Santa Cruz, in his “Islario general del mundo” (1542?), also gives information relating to Gomes’s voyage, and pictures the Nova Scotia peninsula as the “Isla de San Juan.” Apparently Gomes did not try to enter Cabot Strait, which looked to him just like another bay, but sailed past it.
In 1535, Gomes sailed to the Rio de la Plata as chief pilot of the armada of Pedro de Mendoza. In February 1537, he accompanied Juan de Ayolas on his famous trek across the Gran Chaco in search of silver and gold. After 14 months, Ayolas, Gomes, and their companions returned to the banks of the Paraguay, where they were all ambushed and killed by the Indians in the spring of 1538.
Archivo de Indias (Sevilla), Patronato real 37, Contaduria 2, 425, 426, 427. Alonso de Santa Cruz, “Islario general de todas las islas del mundo,” in Precursors (Biggar), 183–94 and Henry Harrisse, The discovery of North America: a critical, documentary, and historic investigation, with an essay on the cartography of the new world . . . (London, 1892), 243–48. Ganong, “Crucial maps,” IV. J. Toribio Medina, El Portugués Esteban Gómez al servicio de España (Santiago de Chile, 1908). Portugaliae monumenta cartographica, comp. A. Cortesão et A. Teixeira de Mota (5v., Lisboa, 1960–62), I, 95–98, plate 37. Precursors (Biggar), xxv–xxix, 183–94. L.-A. Vigneras, “El viaje de Esteban Gómez a Norte América,” Revista de Indias, LXVIII (1957), 189–207.