Before Jamestown, before St. Augustine, there was a small Spanish settlement slated to be called Santa María de Ochuse. With every intention of establishing the first permanent European settlement in the New World, Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano (hereby referred to as Luna) assembled a fleet of eleven ships carrying over a million pounds of food, 240 horses, and a crew of 1,500 (which included settlers, sailors, and Aztec warriors recruited from Mexico). With hope in his eyes Luna was going to establish Santa María de Ochuse with everything a town needs – plaza, warehouse, church, and private residences. His goal was seemingly obtainable, but Providence is fickle. She enjoys doing things Her way.
Sailing from Mexico and charting a course to the west coast of Florida, a storm blew them off course. Sailing further south than planned, the fleet regained its bearings and continued its original trip to the coast of Florida. On August 1559, the fleet set shore near the Bay of Ochuse (present day Pensacola Bay). What seemed good fortune would prove to be false; only five weeks later, a powerful hurricane struck the coast. One of the casualties of this storm was the fleet still anchored in the bay. The ships, filled with supplies, were destroyed, leaving the town of 1,500 with little left to survive on.
Stranded, the fleet destroyed, the settlement would have to learn how to survive without the supplies. The first few months were rough, and the Pensacola Native Americans of the area did little to help them out. Relief from another Spanish fleet didn’t arrive until December, so the settlers were forced to find a way to survive.
Before the hurricane, an exploratory detachment was sent inland, traveling for a total of 20 days, returning after the hurricane hit. After the hurricane, and desperate for food, another group of men, led by four captains, was sent back inland, only to discover a Native town called Nanipacana along present day Alabama River (historical research has not provided the name of the tribe who lived in Nanipacana, but it was likely in Pensacola territory). They decided to stay there and send word back to Ochuse.
In February 1560, Luna took the majority of the colonists inland to Nanipacana, leaving about 100 at Ochuse. In the months following, new exploratory groups were sent farther inland to search for food. Having little luck Luna ordered Ochuse abandoned, and relocated west to Mobile Bay, where the fleet is rumored to have originally landed. By the end of July 1560, the colonists returned to Ochuse and another fleet arrived, bringing needed supplies and taking dozens of colonists with when they departed.
Luna and the settlers became involved in some of the Native affairs in the area along with being “saved” by additional periodic relief fleets, one in December 1560 and another in April 1561. By the time of the fourth relief fleet’s arrival, numerous colonists were gone, either due to relocating or dead. Of the original 1,500, only 50 were left. In August 1561, the last ship returned to Ochuse to rescue any remaining at the settlement.
Ochuse is the first, multi-year European settlement in the New World. Fraught with bad luck and challenging conditions, the settlement was not to be.
What really happened to the people of the settlement? Rumor and innuendo whisper that several hundred being taken by ship; what happened to the rest? It is here where things become interesting.
Colonial Gothic Version of History
The Ochuse settlement was doomed to failure from the very beginning. Regardless of the storm destroying the supply laden fleet, the entire area around the Bay of Ochuse is cursed. Abandoned centuries before by the Pensacola Natives, the area was considered to be one of ill omen, the domain of evil spirits, and tainted by something hating life. Though they did not know it, their feelings were correct, the domain of Xezmur, an ether demon, possessing the ability to taint the land (causing crops to die), scare the animals (who flee the area), and worst of all, turn all those who die into undead puppets.
The demon at Ochuse is very powerful and extremely manipulative. It revels in the ability to control the land and everything on it, including driving humans to madness and turning them into his play things. Additionally, due to this demon’s presence and his continuous meddling, the land has accumulated residual energy, that affects the psyche of the living and causes inanimate things to “come alive”. It is as if the entire Bay of Ochuse, and the surrounding area, is a living region surrounded by the mundane features of Mother Earth.
Within this “circle” of demonic influence is an area that defies the rest of the world. Using the Colonial Gothic Bestiary, the following natural items corrupted by demonic energy can be found:
Choking Vine – Near the water; it looks like salt marsh hay, but seems to have a mind of its own.
Dead Mold – The north-facing sides of trees tend to grow mold, but it spreads quite rapidly.
Sentient Tree – Away from the water are large Ancient Oak trees. Many of them are alive, but only attack when the target is alone and not looking.
Anyone who dies while in this area, especially those buried in the affected area, rise up days later as a Zombie. These undead creatures are bad enough, but the worst are the ones who don’t die, but are driven insane. Those unfortunate enough to live, become vessels for demon, enslaving the body allowing It, and Its’ servants to take an incorporeal form (use the Ghoul stat block found in the Colonial Gothic Rulebook).
The horror of the region culminated in a series of events not found in any surviving written record, or what little artifacts found. Legend states, Luna kept a diary describing the daily triumphs and failures of his new settlement. This lost diary could be the key to unlocking the truth of the settlement and provide a glimpse at how to heal the land.
Here are some possible “truths” found within Luna’s lost diary.
After landing west of Ochuse, the party was “drawn” to the area by an unknown feeling; it was as if the land was calling to them.
Expeditions inland were not sparked by exploration, but rather a group choosing to abandon the settlement due the other settlers having homicidal and suicidal thoughts.
The Pensacola Natives in the region refuse to enter the land. They seem to sense some hidden danger that the Spanish do not understand.
Hundreds of colonists disappeared without a trace.
Some say the trees are alive and have caused some of these disappearances.
Harvesting anything from salt marsh (such as the tall grasses for fodder) is fruitless due to the colonists sent to do this, never return.
A force of “walking dead” attacked the settlement in February 1560. This event caused a large group to abandon the area.
Hoping the “taint of the dead” had left, the colonists returned to Ochuse, only to be attacked again by various abominations.
The area of Ochuse can be incorporated into any Colonial Gothic period from the 17th century up through the 18th century and beyond. Here is a collection of possible plot hooks:
Ochuse hides many secrets, including the rumored Luna’s diary. The diary is said to contain a wealth of information about the area, as well as the rumored “trickery” that happens there (i.e. the ability of Xezmur to manipulate the land). This book provides a +2 bonus to Study [History] when researching the Pensacola area and a +2 bonus to Survival while staying in or near Ochuse.
Fleets coming from the Caribbean might anchor in the Bay of Ochuse, and those going ashore learn how dangerous the area is.
The Pensacola Natives (or other area tribes) know about the curse of Ochuse. Should they wish to remove the “invasion of Europeans”, they concoct stories of great fortune, luring Europeans to Ochuse, only to kill them during their expedition.
Either in a quest for the Fountain of Youth, or locate a rumored artifact hidden here, the characters must pass through Ochuse. The walking dead come alive as does Xezmur, preventing them from proceeding.
Luna’s fleet is rumored to have contained a large amount of gold. Luna was going to use this gold to possibly barter with Natives, explorers, or other settlers for supplies and food after the initial ones ran out. After the fleet was destroyed, the gold rests at the bottom of the Bay of Ochuse.