Juan Enríquez Barroto, Spanish pilot, navigator, and explorer, was probably born in Mexico about 1660. He came to prominence while searching for the French colony of René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. His maps and diaries, the source of many names for coastal features around the Gulf of Mexico, recorded the first detailed exploration of several Texas bays and river mouths. He studied mathematics and astronomy under the noted Mexican savant Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora. By 1690 he was recognized as perhaps the foremost authority on Gulf navigation. As chief pilot or commanding officer, he was involved in three of the five Spanish sea voyages of the La Salle quest. When not at sea, he was often in consultation with the viceroy or his advisers concerning the search strategy.
When chosen in the fall of 1685 to conduct the first voyage to seek the French invaders, Enríquez Barroto was chief pilot of a frigate of the Armada de Barlovento, ported at Veracruz. He was known as "a person of recognized intelligence, adept at solar observations and coastal mapping." This initial voyage of the quest, begun on January 3, 1686, at Havana, reached the Mississippi River's North Pass after reconnoitering Pensacola and Mobile bays. Handicapped in this effort by his large ship, Enríquez recommended the building of two shallow-draft vessels called piraguas, carrying both oars and sail. These crafts built, he sailed as chief pilot in the voyage of captains Martín de Rivas and Pedro de Iriarte. In his diary of the voyage, which began at Veracruz on Christmas Day 1686 and circumnavigated the Gulf, Enríquez relates the finding of the wreckage of La Salle's ships at Matagorda Bay. He also tells of the first known exploration of Galveston Bay, Sabine and Calcasieu passes, the Atchafalaya River, and the Mississippi passes, as well as encounters with Coahuiltecan, Karankawan, and Atákapan Indian groups.
Throughout the voyage Enríquez Barroto recorded latitudes from celestial observations and longitudes from dead reckoning, correcting previous charts. His place names from this diary were copied onto maps of diverse European mapmakers, including such notables as Claude and Guillaume Delisle. The toponyms pertaining to Texas, which were sometimes given an altered form or shifted about, include Río de San Joseph (Aransas Pass); Río de Flores (Cedar Bayou); Bahía de San Bernardo (Matagorda Bay) and its headlands, Punta de San Francisco and Punta de Culebras; Río Bajo (Galveston Bay); and Río Dulce (the Sabine River).
In 1688 Enríquez Barroto sailed as pilot under the command of Andrés de Pez y Malzárraga to explore Chandeleur and Breton sounds in response to rumors of a French settlement on the adjacent coast. Later the same year his maps served to guide a new voyage led by captains Rivas and Pez to explore the Soto la Marina River and the mouth of the Rio Grande. In 1691, as captain of a frigate of the Armada de Barlovento, he ferried troops and supplies to Matagorda Bay to support the expedition of Governor Domingo Terán de los Ríos. Terán, on leaving Texas early in 1692, boarded Enríquez's ship to seek passage into the Mississippi River as a possible means of access to the Caddoan tribes and the Texas missions. The effort was frustrated by a storm.
Enríquez Barroto, who from all accounts was a modest, retiring individual, freely shared his navigational data without expectation of reward. Consequently, he has stood in the shadow of his mentor, Sigüenza y Góngora, and Pez, who claimed Enríquez's discovery of Pensacola Bay as his own and used the pilot's other accomplishments to advance his own career. Enríquez Barroto furnished the information for the "Pez Memorial," describing the merits of Pensacola Bay and advocating its settlement, which Pez took to Spain and presented to the king as his own work.
While Pez pursued his star-crossed career, Enríquez Barroto perished at sea. On September 18, 1693, his ship was lost with all hands in a hurricane on the Carolina banks.