1113: Isabel de Guevara

One of the Few Women to Accept the Spanish Crown’s Offer to Colonize in the New World

Born: Unknown, Present-day Spain

Died: After 1556, Most Likely Asunción, Spanish-Controlled Paraguay

Isabel left Spain in late 1534 or early 1535. She was one of approximately 1,500 settlers (of whom twenty were women) headed towards present-day Argentina. The colonists would settle a site known as Buenos Aires, and within three months around two-thirds had died from a multitude of problems including disease, famine, warfare with natives, and lack of supplies.

Because the men of the party were so weak from the various trials they had survived, the women took over the fort. They cooked, cleaned, nursed, planted and harvested crops, and guarded the fort. The survivors eked out a meager existence for several years, but then, in 1541, the natives attacked the fort.

The few survivors abandoned the fort and made a perilous trek eight-hundred miles (1,300 kilometers) up the river, to a new site known as Asunción in present-day Paraguay.

In 1556, Isabel wrote a letter to the princess of Spain, Juana (also known as Joanna of Austria), requesting a land grant and native laborers to work the land. Isabel justified her request by reminding the crown of all the women had done to save the surviving colonists and make the crown’s stake in the New World a permanent one. Isabel’s request was granted; however, she fades from history after the writing of the letter.





Translated Excerpt from Isabel's Letter (which survives in an archive in Spain today):

"After three months, one thousand were dead, and the scale of hunger was greater than that of Jerusalem, or any other. The men were so reduced that their clothes hung off them, and it was down to the women to wash their clothes, cure them of their ills, and to prepare them what little food was available, keep them clean, make the watch, keep the fires lit, and charge the guns when the Indians attacked... keep order among the troops... if it weren't for them, all would have been finished off; and if it weren't for protecting the honor of the men, I would write many more things based on the women's testimony."