Guido de Lavazares, the first European known to have made formal claim to Texas soil, was a native of Seville who came to New Spain in the 1530s. A mariner of some note, he served as comptroller of the 1542 voyage of Ruy López de Villalobos from Mexico to the Far East. After returning to New Spain, he accumulated considerable wealth. From Veracruz he shipped eighty-two marks of silver for Spain on the ship Santa María de Yciar, one of three vessels wrecked on Padre Island by storm in April 1554 (see PADRE ISLAND SPANISH SHIPWRECKS OF 1554).
On September 3, 1558, Lavazares sailed from the port of San Juan de Ulúa at Veracruz with three small ships "to explore the ports and bays on the coast of Florida." His pilot was Bernaldo Peloso, late of the expedition of Hernando de Soto. His orders called for examining the coast from the Río de las Palmas (Soto la Marina River) to the Florida Keys, seeking a suitable site for the Spanish settlement to be attempted at Pensacola Bay the following year by Tristán de Luna y Arellano.
Lavazares's first recorded landfall beyond Tampico is given as 27°30' north, the approximate latitude of present-day Kingsville, Texas. From that point the ship stayed close to shore until it reached a bay, which was named San Francisco, in observed latitude 28°30'-indicating Matagorda Bay. There Lavazares went ashore and took formal possession for the Spanish king, 127 years before La Salle landed at about the same place and claimed the territory for France. Although other expeditions had landed on the Texas shore previously, this is the first known mention of a formal European act of possession in any part of what is now Texas.
Lavazares's three ships, carrying sixty soldiers and sailors, formed the smallest group yet to undertake a voyage of exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Buffeted by contrary winds beyond Matagorda Bay, they fell away from the coast to approach it again east of the Mississippi delta. Mobile Bay was discovered and explored and given the name Bahía Filipina, honoring the king of Spain. Heavy weather again impeded the voyage as the ships proceeded east, forestalling efforts to enter Pensacola Bay. The reconnaissance ended at Choctawhatchee Bay, named Ancón de Velasco for the viceroy who had ordered the voyage. A second voyage, conducted by Pedro de Rentería, though not as well known as that of Lavazares, visited the Texas coast a short time later and succeeded in entering Pensacola Bay. Luna therefore landed his colonists there rather than at Lavazares's Bahía Filipina.
Six years after his reconnaissance of the Gulf Coast, Lavazares-a "man of great prudence and noble intention," according to the historian Martín Fernández de Navarrete-sailed again to the Far East. He was treasurer on the voyage of Miguel López de Legazpi, which proceeded from Puerto de la Navidad, on the west coast of Mexico, to conquer the Philippines and discover the eastward course across the Pacific. When López de Legazpi died in Manila in 1572, Lavazares became governor of the Philippines.