Lepe, Diego de (?–c. 1513)

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Lepe, Diego de (?–c. 1513)

Diego De Lepe (d. before 1513), Andalusian explorer, possible discoverer of the Orinoco River in present-day Venezuela. A native of Palos, in southwest Spain, Lepe was one of several leaders of a series of minor expeditions from Spain's southern Atlantic ports that led to important advances in geographic knowledge of New World coasts. Leading a small fleet of two boats, Lepe left Seville in mid-November 1499, pursuing the course set two weeks earlier by Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, who commanded four ships. Lepe followed the route of Pinzón, passing the Cape Verde Islands, then sailed to Cape San Agustín (Pinzón reached it on 26 January 1500) on the Brazilian coast. Pinzón seems to have been the first European to discover the Amazon estuary and enter the great river; he sailed upstream for a time and made contact with peoples along its banks. Diego de Lepe and his men followed within days.

At this point the account becomes confused. Some say Lepe sailed southward along Brazil's coast as far as the Río de la Plata; others argue he went northwestwardly, encountering several important rivers, including the Orinoco, of which he took possession in the name of the Spanish monarchs, calling it the Marañón. In skirmishes he lost eleven men but captured thirty-six Native Americans, whom he later presented as slaves to Bishop Juan de Fonseca in Seville. Given that Lepe's fleet and that of Pinzón came together in the Gulf of Paria, the second version of Lepe's voyage seems most likely.

From the north coast of South America, Lepe's boats headed to the Isla de San Juan (Puerto Rico) in May 1500, while the Pinzón group sailed to Hispaniola's north coast in June of the same year. From Puerto Rico, Lepe sailed directly to Spain, reaching Seville several weeks earlier than Pinzón. He had an audience with the monarchs in Granada on 15 November 1500, and later secured an agreement for a new voyage on 14 September 1501. It is unclear if this expedition ever took place. Lepe died in Portugal sometime before 1513.

Both Pinzón and Diego de Lepe came upon Brazil several months prior to the official Portuguese discovery of Pedro Alvares Cabral on 22 April 1500. Their logs, maps, and reports were used by cartographer Juan de la Cosa for his famous world map of 1500.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Spanish America .


Juan Manzano Manzano, Los Pinzones y el descubrimiento de América (1988).

Francisco Morales Padrón, Andalucía y América (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Espínola, Rodolfo. Vicente Pinzón e a descoberta do Brasil. Fortaleza: COELCE; Rio de Janeiro, 2001.

                                      Noble David Cook