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Martin Alonzo Pinzon - Admiral of the Ocean Seas

The Pinson family is of Spanish origin. Some of the American Pinsons came direct to the new world from Spain and settled mainly in Texas and Florida. The South Carolina branch of the family came from Holland, France, and England, but they were all members of the Spanish family of Pinzon. From Spain these Pinzons migrated to Holland, France and England and in the latter country particularly the Pinzons became sailors and explorers and sailed the seven seas, restless as the wind.

Early, they were in the New World. Samuel Pinson, unsuccessful participant in Monmouth’s Rebellion in England, was captured and shipped off in slavery to a Barbados plantation in 1685. There were Pinsons in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland in Colonial days, but they had been in England a century before coming to America. One Ricardo Pinzon, printer, went from his native Spain to England before 1476. He owned and operated a printing shop on Fleet Street, London. It is said he was an uncle of the three Pinzons who sailed with Columbus.

From a manuscript, PINSON, written by Leonardo Andrea, a few years ago we read:

“Three Spanish brothers sailed from Palos with Christopher Columbus - Captain Martin Alonzo Pinson owned the ship Pinta and commanded that ship in the Columbus expedition while his brother, Francisco Pinzon, was the pilot on the Pinta. The younger of the three brothers, Captain Vicente Yanes Pinzon, commanded the ship Nina. Later on the sons of these three brothers were employed as navigators by the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English governments. Some settled in these various countries. Other and younger members of the families of these three brothers took up large land grants in the Spanish provinces of Cuba, Texas, Mexico, and Florida and the surname is still numerous in these lands. Of the Pinzons who migrated to England came the Pinsons of Virginia.”

by Henry P. Scalf
from THE EAST KENTUCKIAN December 1969 - March 1971

Martín Alonso Pinzón

Spanish navigator and companion of Columbus on his first voyage to the New World, born at Palos de Moguer, 1441; died there at the convent of La Rábida, 1493. Sprung from a family of seamen, he became a hardy sailor and skilful pilot. According to Parkman and other historians, he sailed under Cousin, a navigator from Dieppe, to the eastern coast of Africa, whence they were carried far to the south-west. They there discovered an unknown land and a mighty river. 

Returning to Spain, Pinzón became acquainted with Columbus through Fray Juan Perez de Marchina, prior of the convent of La Rábida, and became an enthusiastic promoter of the scheme of the great navigator.

Other historians account differently for the origin of Pinzón's interest in Columbus's project. According to these, he heard of the scheme several years after he had retired from active life as a sailor, and established with his brothers a shipbuilding firm in his native town. During a visit to Rome he learned from the Holy Office of the tithes which had been paid from the beginning of the fifteenth century from a country named Vinland, and examined the charts of the Norman explorers.

On his return home he supported the claims of Columbus, when his opinion was sought by Queen Isabella's advisers concerning the proposed voyage. It was he who paid the one-eighth of the expense demanded from Columbus as his share, and built the three vessels for the voyage. Through his influence also Columbus secured the crews for the transatlantic journey.

Pinzón commanded the "Pinta", and his brother Vicente Yañez the "Niña". On 21 November, 1492, he deserted Columbus off Cuba, hoping to be the first to discover the imaginary island of Osabeque. He was the first to discover Haiti (Hispaniola), and the river where he landed (now the Porto Caballo) was long called after him the River of Martin Alonso. He carried off thence four men and two girls, intending to steal them as slaves, but he was compelled to restore them to their homes by Columbus, whom he rejoined on the coast of Haiti on 6 January, 1493.

It was during this absence that the flagship was driven ashore, and Columbus compelled to take to the "Niña". In excuse for his conduct, Pinzón afterwards alleged stress of weather. Off the coast of the Azores he again deserted, and set sail with all speed for Spain, hoping to be the first to communicate the news of the discovery.

Driven by a hurricane into the port of Bayonne in Galicia, he sent a letter to the king asking for an audience. The monarch refusing to receive anyone but the admiral, Pinzón sailed for Palos, which he reached on the same day as Columbus (15 March, 1493). Setting out immediately for Madrid to make a fresh attempt to see the king, he was met by a messenger who forbade him to appear at court. Anger and jealousy, added to the privations of the voyage, undermined his health, and led to his death a few months later.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc.