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Why Did Hernando De Soto Go On His Voyage?


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kessia Kunkel



Hernando de Soto, a renowned Spanish explorer and conquistador, embarked on several voyages during the 16th century. His motivations for these expeditions were multifaceted, entwined with a thirst for adventure, a quest for wealth and fame, a desire to discover new trade routes, and a commitment to spreading Christianity. Additionally, de Soto’s voyages were influenced by the ambitions of the Spanish Crown, as they sought to expand their territory and establish dominance in the New World.


In this article, we will delve into the reasons that drove Hernando de Soto to voyage across uncharted territories, shedding light on the mindset of this legendary explorer.


From his early life to his rise as a prominent conquistador, de Soto’s experiences shaped his motivations for exploration. Join us as we unravel the intriguing story behind his voyages and delve into the driving forces behind his remarkable achievements.


Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply curious about the exploits of famous explorers, this article will provide you with fascinating insights into the mind of Hernando de Soto and why he chose to embark on his voyages of discovery.


Early Life and Background

Hernando de Soto was born around 1496 in the small town of Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain. Little is known about his early life, but it is believed that he came from a noble family with connections to the Spanish court. He received an excellent education, which included studying the sciences, literature, and navigation.


De Soto’s early exposure to exploration and adventure shaped his ambitions from a young age. Inspired by the accounts of Christopher Columbus, who discovered the New World in 1492, de Soto developed a desire to set sail and explore the uncharted territories beyond Europe.


As he grew older, de Soto honed his skills as a soldier and gained experience in the conquest of various regions, including Central America and Peru. These experiences not only strengthened his resolve but also increased his influence and reputation among Spanish leaders.


De Soto’s background as a seasoned conquistador, combined with his thirst for new discoveries, set the stage for the extraordinary voyages he would undertake later in his life. His early exposure to the wonders of exploration and the prospect of gaining wealth and fame fueled his desire to embark on daring expeditions.


Join us in the next section as we explore one of the key factors that influenced de Soto’s decision to go on his voyages: his desire for adventure.


Desire for Adventure

Hernando de Soto possessed an insatiable thirst for adventure, a characteristic that drove him to explore the unknown and push the boundaries of what was deemed possible at the time. From a young age, de Soto was captivated by tales of discovery and the allure of venturing into uncharted territories.


His desire for adventure was fueled by a sense of curiosity and the yearning to experience the thrill of the unknown. The tales of other explorers, such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, inspired de Soto to embark on his own voyages of discovery. The prospect of encountering new cultures, landscapes, and wildlife excited him, and he longed to leave his mark on history.


As a seasoned conquistador, de Soto had already experienced the thrill of conquest and the triumphs of new discoveries. However, his desire for adventure pushed him further as he sought to uncover the secrets of the New World. The lure of exploring uncharted lands, encountering indigenous peoples, and uncovering untold treasures motivated de Soto to set sail on his remarkable voyages.


De Soto’s desire for adventure also went hand in hand with his ambition for personal glory. He sought to carve his name in the annals of history and be remembered as a great explorer and conqueror. The allure of fame and recognition drove him to push the limits of exploration and face the challenges and dangers that lay ahead.


Join us in the next section as we uncover another key motive behind de Soto’s voyages: his search for wealth and fame.


Search for Wealth and Fame

One of the driving forces behind Hernando de Soto’s voyages was his insatiable thirst for wealth and fame. Like many explorers of the era, de Soto believed that the New World held untold riches waiting to be discovered. He was captivated by the tales of gold, silver, and precious gems that were said to abound in these uncharted territories.


De Soto saw expeditionary voyages as a means to amass immense wealth and elevate his social status. He hoped to find legendary cities rumored to be filled with riches beyond imagination, just waiting to be claimed by enterprising explorers. These riches would not only bring financial prosperity but also grant him the fame and recognition he desired.


His experience as a conquistador had already proven fruitful, with de Soto accumulating wealth through his expeditions in Central America and South America. However, the allure of the unknown and the promise of treasures yet undiscovered drove him to embark on further voyages into uncharted lands.


The pursuit of wealth and fame was not only a personal aspiration but also aligned with the ambitions of the Spanish Crown. Spain, at the time, was engaged in fierce competition with other European powers, such as England and France, to establish their dominance in the New World. Bringing back riches and claiming new territories would bolster Spain’s position as a global power.


For de Soto, the search for wealth and fame was intertwined with the risks and hardships of exploration. He was willing to endure the perils of the unknown in hopes of striking it rich and leaving a lasting legacy that would be remembered for generations to come.


Next, we will explore another significant motive that propelled de Soto on his voyages: his quest for new trade routes.


Quest for New Trade Routes

Hernando de Soto’s voyages were not solely driven by personal ambition but also by the quest for new trade routes. During the 16th century, Europe was in the midst of a booming age of exploration, as nations sought to expand their trade networks and establish direct routes to lucrative markets in the East.


De Soto recognized the potential for wealth and power that lay in finding new trade routes. As a result, he embarked on his voyages with the hope of discovering a passage that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, allowing for easier trade with Asia.


The prevailing belief at the time was that there must be a quicker route to the riches of the East, bypassing the treacherous journey around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. De Soto, like other explorers, set out to find this fabled Northwest Passage, believing that it would bring vast economic benefits to Spain and secure his place in history.


Additionally, de Soto sought to establish trade relationships with indigenous peoples along his voyages. He anticipated that these interactions would allow for the exchange of goods and resources, further enriching the Spanish Empire. By discovering new trade routes and establishing connections with local communities, de Soto aimed to expand the reach and influence of Spain in the New World.


Unfortunately, de Soto’s voyages did not yield the coveted Northwest Passage, but his explorations did open up new territories and expand knowledge of the Americas. His discoveries and interactions with indigenous populations paved the way for future European colonization and the eventual establishment of trade networks that would shape the course of history.


In the next section, we will explore another significant driving force behind de Soto’s voyages: his commitment to spreading Christianity.


Spread of Christianity

Hernando de Soto was not only driven by personal ambitions and the pursuit of wealth but also by a strong commitment to spreading Christianity. As a devout Catholic, he saw his voyages as an opportunity to bring the Gospel to the indigenous peoples of the New World.


During the Age of Exploration, religion played a significant role in European colonization efforts. Many explorers believed that it was their divine duty to convert non-believers to Christianity and save their souls. De Soto was no exception, and he saw his voyages as a means to fulfill this mission.


Throughout his expeditions, de Soto and his fellow conquistadors established contact with various indigenous tribes and sought to spread the teachings of Christianity. They brought priests and missionaries with them, who would preach, baptize, and establish churches in the newly encountered territories.


The conversion of native populations to Christianity was seen as a way to “civilize” them according to European standards. The Spanish crown also supported these efforts, as they believed that converting indigenous people would solidify Spanish control in the region and cement the power of Catholicism.


However, it is important to note that the spread of Christianity was often accompanied by the forceful imposition of European customs and practices, which resulted in the suppression of native cultures and traditions. While de Soto may have had genuine intentions to bring the teachings of Christianity to the New World, the methods employed during this era were not always respectful of indigenous beliefs and practices.


Nonetheless, de Soto’s commitment to spreading Christianity played a significant role in his voyages. It provided him with a sense of purpose and justification for his actions, as he believed he was a chosen instrument of God to bring enlightenment and salvation to the native populations he encountered.


As we conclude this exploration of de Soto’s motivations, we will reflect on the influence of the Spanish Crown in shaping his expeditions and decisions.


Influence of Spanish Crown

The voyages of Hernando de Soto were not only driven by his personal ambitions but also heavily influenced by the Spanish Crown. During the 16th century, Spain sought to expand its empire and assert its dominance in the New World, and de Soto’s expeditions aligned with these imperial ambitions.


The Spanish Crown provided financial and logistical support to de Soto’s voyages, granting him the necessary resources and authority to undertake his ambitious explorations. In return, the Crown expected de Soto to expand Spain’s territories, establish trade routes, and bring back riches to bolster the Spanish economy.


De Soto’s voyages were seen as extensions of the Crown’s power, furthering Spain’s colonial interests. The Crown hoped that new lands and territories would yield valuable resources, such as gold, silver, and other precious commodities, which would enhance Spain’s economic wealth and strengthen its position among rival European powers.


Moreover, the Spanish Crown saw the conversion of indigenous populations to Christianity as a means of consolidating its control. By spreading Catholicism, the Crown aimed to solidify Spanish influence and integrate the conquered territories into the Spanish Empire. This religious and political mandate strongly shaped de Soto’s missions, as he was expected to establish Christian communities and convert the indigenous people he encountered.


The influence of the Spanish Crown can also be seen in the organizational structure of de Soto’s expeditions. He was appointed as a governor and captain general, effectively making him the representative of the Spanish Crown in the territories he explored. This role granted him the authority to establish settlements, enforce rule of law, and administer justice as per the guidelines set by the Crown.


The aspirations and directives of the Spanish Crown were instrumental in shaping the goals and objectives of de Soto’s voyages. His explorations were not solely driven by personal ambition but were part of a larger imperial agenda set forth by the Spanish monarchy.


As we conclude this journey through the motivations of Hernando de Soto, it becomes apparent that his voyages were influenced by a combination of personal desires and external factors. His thirst for adventure, search for wealth and fame, quest for new trade routes, commitment to spreading Christianity, and the influence of the Spanish Crown all intertwined to shape the course of his remarkable expeditions.


In the final section, we will reflect on the significance of de Soto’s voyages and their enduring legacy.



Hernando de Soto’s voyages were driven by a complex interplay of motivations, ranging from personal ambitions to external influences. His insatiable thirst for adventure, combined with his desire for wealth, fame, and the quest for new trade routes, compelled him to journey into uncharted territories.


De Soto’s commitment to spreading Christianity and the influence of the Spanish Crown further shaped his expeditions. As a devout Catholic, he saw his voyages as an opportunity to bring the Gospel to the indigenous peoples of the New World. Simultaneously, the Spanish Crown sought to expand its empire, establish dominance, and convert natives to Catholicism under the banner of imperial ambitions.


Although de Soto’s voyages did not lead to the discovery of the fabled Northwest Passage or the accumulation of great wealth, they contributed to the expansion of knowledge about the Americas. His explorations paved the way for future colonization efforts and established groundwork for the establishment of trade networks.


The legacy of Hernando de Soto’s voyages is intertwined with the broader narrative of European exploration and the impact of colonization. His journeys, fueled by personal aspirations and external influences, played a part in shaping the historical trajectory of the New World.


From his early life in Spain to his rise as a prominent conquistador, de Soto’s experiences shaped his motivations for exploration. His desire for adventure, search for wealth and fame, quest for new trade routes, commitment to spreading Christianity, and the influence of the Spanish Crown all contributed to his remarkable voyages.


By shedding light on these motivations, we gain a deeper understanding of the factors that drove explorers like Hernando de Soto to embark on daring and transformative journeys. Their exploits continue to captivate our imagination and remind us of the extraordinary depths of human ambition and the far-reaching consequences of our actions.


As we reflect on the motivations of Hernando de Soto, we are reminded of the complex dynamics that shaped the age of exploration and the lasting impact it had on the world. The story of de Soto serves as a testament to the intertwined nature of personal aspirations, societal influences, and the indomitable human spirit that continues to propel us forward into the unknown.