Spanish Voyages of Discovery

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

JUAN PONCE DE LEON CONQUEROR OF PORTO RICO AND DISCOVERER OF FLORIDA.

CHAPTER I. RECONNOITERING EXPEDITION OF JUAN PONCE DE LEON TO THE ISLAND OF BORIQUEN. -- (1508.)

MANY years had elapsed since the discovery and colonization of Hayti, yet its neighbouring island of Boriquen, or, as the Spaniards called it, St. Juan, (since named Porto Rico,) remained unexplored. It was beautiful to the eye as beheld from the sea, having lofty mountains clothed with forest trees of prodigious size and magnificent foliage. There were broad fertile valleys also, always fresh and green; for the frequent showers and abundant streams in these latitudes, and the absence of all wintry frost, produce a perpetual verdure. Various ships had occasionally touched at the island, but their crews had never penetrated into the interior. It was evident, however, from the number of hamlets and scattered houses, and the smoke rising in all directions from among the trees, that it was well peopled. The inhabitants still continued to enjoy their life of indolence and freedom, unmolested by the ills that overwhelmed the neighbouring island of Hayti. The time had arrived, however, when they were to share the common lot of their follow savages, and to sink beneath the yoke of the white man.

At the time when Nicholas de Ovando, Governor of Hispaniola, undertook to lay waste the great province of Higuey, which lay at the eastern end of Hayti, he sent, as commander of part of the troops, a veteran soldier named Juan Ponce de Leon. He was a native of Leon, in Spain, and in his boyhood had been page to Pedro Nuñez de Guzman, Señor of Toral.*

____________________
*
Incas, Garcilaso de la Vega, Hist. Florida, t. iv. c. 37.

-191-

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