A Charlotte Harbor Theory
The first authority to deviate from the long accepted Tampa Bay landing of Soto was T. H. Lewis. He asserted in 1900 that Charlotte Harbor was the true locale. Regrettably he did not publish the reasons for his conclusion so we must construct our own case for this theory.
Ranjel, the chronicler generally considered to be most accurate, says the Bay of the Holy Spirit was "due north of the Island of Tortuga" and "ten leagues west of the Bay of Juan Ponce." There is strong evidence that these landmarks are the Marquesas Keys and San Carlos Bay, respectively. Ten leagues northwest of San Carlos Bay toward the setting sun at that time of year brings us to Charlotte Harbor.
Clues involving water depths encountered by Soto favor the Boca Grande entrance to Charlotte Harbor. Its moderate depths would accommodate deep-draft ships with an occasional scraping. Shoals inside allow a channel requiring careful sounding. Both hydrographic conditions were emphasized by all the contemporary narrators.
Tampa waters, on the other hand, are deep, the entrance wide and the center of the bay is free of dangerous shoals. Even strangers to the area would have little trouble navigating to the farthest reaches of the bay, as demonstrated by Celi upon his exploration of Tampa two centuries later.
Carlos Bay has waters too shallow for ocean-going ships. John Lee Williams was unable to reach the Caloosahatchee in his little sloop because of oyster shoals and the narrow, twisting channel that shelved to only seven feet through the delta.
The type of countryside in the Carlos Bay-Caloosahatchee River area also discourages a Soto landing there. Williams says both shores of the Caloosahatchee were "a savannah of high grass." Charlotte Harbor, on the other hand, was lined with mangrove marshes and pine woods --
a description matching the chronicles. Ranjel reports difficulty crossing a great plain at the start of their journey northward. Extensive swamps bar the way beyond Tampa Bay to the north and east. A large plain, however, encompasses Charlotte Harbor beyond shore marshes.
Anasco, in the letter upon departure from Havana, stressed that the expedition's destination was "very near, only 75 to 80 leagues from Cuba." This distance favors Charlotte Harbor.
The Indians encountered by Soto rule out a Tampa Bay or Carlos Bay landing. The Tocobaga dominated Tampa Bay when Spanish came and well into historical times. The Calos, likewise, were the well-documented masters of Carlos Bay. Menendez, the adelantado who followed Soto, emphasized the location and sovereignty of these two powerful tribes by mediating a dispute between them.
Soto, we are told, landed in the territory of Ocita-Hirrihigua and established friendship with Mococo who complained of four neighboring tribes -- none of whom were Tocobaga or Calos, persuasive evidence that Soto landed a considerable distance from them.
Basic descriptions by contemporary eyewitnesses, therefore, indicate Charlotte Harbor as Soto's landing place. We can reconstruct the events of 1539 with this in mind.
FINDING CHARLOTTE HARBOR
Sailing north from Havana, Soto would have navigated through the Florida Keys by the well charted Boca Grande Channel close by the Marquesas (Tortugas) Islands. Though the direction was due north, as Ranjel says, the magnetic variation then unknown would have led the ships slightly eastward.
Landfall most likely was that stretch of L-shaped Sanibel Island oriented east-west -- a natural bulge in the Florida peninsula which has always been a landmark for sailors. Anchor was