Juan Ponce de Leon

Juan Ponce de Leon, believed to have been born in 1474 in the city of Santervas de Campos, Spain, was the first explorer to have discovered a part of the New World, which he named Florida. He actually was looking for what he believed was the "fountain of youth." The Spanish crown later appointed him as governor of Puerto Rico.

On Christopher Columbus' second voyage from Spain to America, young Ponce de Leon was on board along with his family. When they arrived at one of the islands in the Caribbean, Ponce de Leon decided to settle his family there. The island was Hispaniola, which was eventually called the Dominican Republic. He was appointed as deputy governor and became the military commander.

Ponce de Leon used the island of Hispaniola as a staging area for his other explorations. In 1506, he discovered the island of Borinquen, where he discovered gold. After having found gold, he left the island but was ordered by the king of Spain to return there, re-settle the island and colonize it. He returned there and re-named the island Puerto Rico. He was rewarded by the king and named governor of Puerto Rico. He had been governor for two years, when the king decided to replace him with the son of Columbus, who became the new governor of Puerto Rico as a reward to Christopher Columbus.

Although he was hurt by the actions of the king, Ponce de Leon remained loyal and continued to explore new territories for Spain. He started by sailing north toward Florida, passing the Bahamas. He was not only interested in discovering new land but was also on the lookout for treasure. After his discovery of gold in Puerto Rico, he thought that such treasures were plentiful and within reach. He was also searching for the legendary fountain of youth. The Indians living on the islands were always talking about this magical spring that had the power to make old people become young again.

Ponce de Leon's travels took him to many places, such as the Bahamas and the island of Bimini, but he never did find either the magical fountain nor gold. The King of Spain rewarded Ponce de Leon with the island of Bimini; it was alleged that the fountain of youth was in a nearby island. When he reached land, he thought he had reached the island with the fountain of youth. He had actually landed in North America without realizing it.

Ponce de Leon's ships landed on the east coast of Florida in 1513 and he claimed the land for Spain. He named the newly found territory Florida, "place of flowers." He continued sailing down the east coast of Florida and on the way he encountered very rough currents. He continued sailing south to the Florida Keys. When his exploration of Florida was over, Ponce de Leon returned to Spain.

Ponce de Leon returned to Florida in 1521 to colonize it. His plan was to establish a farming community in Florida. He brought along from Puerto Rico 200 settlers with food, seed, horses and farming equipment and tools. They landed on Estero Bay and Charlotte Bay and immediately traveled inland in search of fresh water. They were ambushed by the Calusa tribe, and Ponce de Leon took a direct hit from an arrow that seriously wounded him in his thigh. The settlers became frightened and decided it was time to abandon the project and headed for Cuba, where Ponce de Leon remained.

Ponce de Leon died in Cuba at the age of 61 as a direct result of his wounded thigh. He is remembered as a great explorer who discovered Florida and went to look for the fountain of youth.

Juan Ponce de Leon: Selected full-text books and articles

Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685 By Robert S. Weddle Texas A&M University Press, 1985
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Florida and the Fountain: Juan Ponce de Leon 1513-21"
FREE! The Spanish Borderlands: A Chronicle of Old Florida and the Southwest By Herbert E. Bolton Yale University Press, 1921
Librarian's tip: Chap. I "Ponce de Leon, Ayllon, and Narvaez"
FREE! Spanish Voyages of Discovery By Washington Irving Belford Clarke, 1885
Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism By Robert Shadle; Ross Marlay; William G. Ratliff; Joseph M. Rowe Jr.; James S. Olson Greenwood Press, 1991
North American Exploration By John Logan Allen University of Nebraska Press, vol.1, 1997
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