JUAN PONCE DE LEóN (Spanish pronunciation: ; 1474 – July 1521)
was a Spanish explorer and conquistador . He became the first Governor
Ponce de León returned to southwest Florida in 1521 to lead the
first large-scale attempt to establish a Spanish colony in what is now
the continental United States. However, the native
fiercely resisted the incursion, and de León was seriously wounded in
a skirmish. The colonization attempt was abandoned, and its leader
died from his wounds soon after returning to Cuba. He was interred in
* 5 First voyage to Florida
* 5.1 Fountain of Youth
* 6 Between voyages * 7 Last voyage to Florida * 8 See also * 9 Bibliography * 10 References * 11 External links
Juan Ponce de León
The identity of his parents is still unknown, but he appears to have been a member of a distinguished and influential noble family. His relatives included Rodrigo Ponce de León, Marquis of Cádiz , a celebrated figure in the Moorish wars.
Ponce de León was related to another notable family, the Núñez de
Guzmáns, and as a young man he served as squire to Pedro Núñez de
Guzmán, Knight Commander of the
Order of Calatrava
ARRIVAL IN THE NEW WORLD
Once the war against the
Emirate of Granada ended , there was no
apparent need for his military services at home, so, like many of his
contemporaries, Ponce de León looked abroad for his next opportunity.
In September 1493, some 1,200 sailors, colonists, and soldiers joined
The fleet reached the Caribbean in November 1493. They visited
several islands before arriving at their primary destination in
In 1502 the newly appointed governor,
Nicolás de Ovando , arrived in
Ponce de León prospered in this new role. He found a ready market for his farm produce and livestock at nearby Boca de Yuma where Spanish ships stocked supplies before the long voyage back to Spain. In 1505 Ovando authorized Ponce de León to establish a new town in Higüey, which he named Salvaleón . In 1508 King Ferdinand (Queen Isabella having opposed the exploitation of natives but dying in 1504) authorized Ponce de León to conquer the remaining Taínos and exploit them in gold mining.
Around this time, Ponce de León married Leonora, an innkeeper's daughter. They had three daughters (Juana, Isabel and Maria) and one son (Luis). The large stone house Ponce de León ordered built for his growing family still stands today near the city of Salvaleón de Higüey.
Ruins of Juan Ponce de León's residence at Caparra
As provincial governor, Ponce de León had occasion to meet with the
Taínos who visited his province from neighboring
His first reconnaissance of the island is usually dated to 1508 but there is evidence that he had made a previous exploration as early as 1506. This earlier trip was done quietly because the Spanish crown had commissioned Vicente Yáñez Pinzón to settle the island in 1505. Pinzón did not fulfill his commission and it expired in 1507, leaving the way clear for Ponce de León.
His earlier exploration had confirmed the presence of gold and gave
him a good understanding of the geography of the island. In 1508,
Ferdinand II of Aragon gave permission to Ponce de León for the first
official expedition to the island, which the Spanish then called San
Juan Bautista. This expedition, consisting of about 50 men in one
The expedition was deemed a great success and Ovando appointed Ponce de León governor of San Juan Bautista. This appointment was later confirmed by Ferdinand II on August 14, 1509. He was instructed to extend the settlement of the island and continue mining for gold. The new governor returned to the island as instructed, bringing with him his wife and children.
Back on his island, Ponce de León parceled out the native Taínos amongst himself and other settlers using a system of forced labor known as encomienda . The Indians were put to work growing food crops and mining for gold. Many of the Spaniards treated the Taínos very harshly and newly introduced diseases like smallpox and measles took a severe toll on the local population. By June 1511 the Taínos were pushed to a short-lived rebellion, which was forcibly put down by Ponce de León and a small force of troops armed with crossbows and arquebuses .
Even as Ponce de León was settling the island of San Juan,
significant changes were taking place in the politics and government
Spanish West Indies . On July 10, 1509,
Diego Colón , the son
The political struggle between Colón and Ponce de León continued in
this manner for the next few years. Ponce de León had influential
supporters in Spain and Ferdinand regarded him as a loyal servant.
However, Colón's position as
FIRST VOYAGE TO FLORIDA
Spanish colonization of the Americas
* Inca Empire
* Chibcha * Muisca
* Florida * Aztec Empire
* Chiapas * Guatemala * Petén * Yucatán
* El Salvador * Honduras * Nicaragua
* v * t * e
Rumors of undiscovered islands to the northwest of
The contract stipulated that Ponce de León held exclusive rights to the discovery of Benimy and neighboring islands for the next three years. He would be governor for life of any lands he discovered, but he was expected to finance for himself all costs of exploration and settlement. In addition, the contract gave specific instructions for the distribution of gold, Native Americans, and other profits extracted from the new lands. Notably, there was no mention of a rejuvenating fountain.
Ponce de León equipped three ships with at least 200 men at his own
expense and set out from
The three ships in this small fleet were the Santiago, the San
Cristobal and the Santa Maria de la Consolacion. Anton de Alaminos was
their chief pilot. He was already an experienced sailor, and would
become one of the most respected pilots in the region. After leaving
Puerto Rico, they sailed northwest along the great chain of Bahama
Islands, known then as the Lucayos. On March 27,
For the next several days the fleet crossed open water until April 2,
1513 , when they sighted land which Ponce de León believed was
another island. He named it La Florida in recognition of the verdant
landscape and because it was the
After remaining in the area of their first landing for about five days, the ships turned south for further exploration of the coast. On April 8 they encountered a current so strong that it pushed them backwards and forced them to seek anchorage. The tiniest ship, the San Cristobal, was carried out of sight and lost for two days. This was the first encounter with the Gulf Stream where it reaches maximum force between the Florida coast and the Bahamas. Because of the powerful boost provided by the current, it would soon become the primary route for eastbound ships leaving the Spanish Indies bound for Europe.
They continued down the coast hugging the shore to avoid the strong head current. By May 4 the fleet reached and named Biscayne Bay and took on water at an island they named Santa Marta (now Key Biscayne ) and explored the Tequesta Miami mound town at the mouth of the Miami River. The Tequesta did not engage the Spanish,they evacuated into the coastal woodlands. On May 15 they left Biscayne Bay and sailed along the Florida Keys , looking for a passage to head north and explore the west coast of the Florida peninsula. From a distance the Keys reminded Ponce de León of men who were suffering, so he named them Los Martires (the Martyrs). Eventually they found a gap in the reefs and sailed "to the north and other times to the northeast" until they reached the Florida mainland on May 23, where they encountered the Calusa , who refused to trade and drove off the Spanish ships by surrounding them with warriors in sea canoes armed with long bows. Back of Ponce de León's statue in the Old San Juan , Puerto Rico The statue was made in New York in 1882 using the bronze from English cannons seized after the English attacked San Juan in 1792.
Again, the exact site of their landfall is controversial. The
vicinity of Charlotte Harbor is the most commonly identified spot,
while some assert a landing further north at
On June 14 they set sail again looking for a chain of islands in the
west that had been described by their captives. They reached the Dry
Tortugas on June 21. There they captured giant sea turtles ,
Caribbean monk seals , and thousands of seabirds . From these islands
they sailed southwest in an apparent attempt to circle around
Once they regained their bearings, the fleet retraced their route east along the Florida Keys and around the Florida peninsula, reaching Grand Bahama on July 8. They were surprised to come across another Spanish ship, piloted by Diego Miruelo , who was either on a slaving voyage or had been sent by Diego Colón to spy on Ponce de León. Shortly thereafter Miruelo's ship was wrecked in a storm and Ponce de León rescued the stranded crew.
From here the little fleet disbanded. Ponce de León tasked the Santa
Maria with further exploration while he returned home with the rest of
crew. Ponce de León reached
Although Ponce de León is widely credited with the discovery of
Florida, he almost certainly was not the first European to reach the
peninsula. Spanish slave expeditions had been regularly raiding the
Bahamas since 1494 and there is some evidence that one or more of
these slavers made it as far as the shores of Florida. Another piece
of evidence that others came before Ponce de León is the Cantino Map
from 1502, which shows a peninsula near
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Main article: Fountain of Youth Bahamian love vine (Cassytha filiformis ), Bahamas
According to a popular legend, Ponce de León discovered Florida
while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Though stories of
vitality-restoring waters were known on both sides of the Atlantic
long before Ponce de León, the story of his searching for them was
not attached to him until after his death. In his Historia general y
natural de las Indias of 1535, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés
wrote that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of
Bimini to cure
his aging. A similar account appears in Francisco López de Gómara
's Historia general de las Indias of 1551. Then in 1575, Hernando de
Escalante Fontaneda , a shipwreck survivor who had lived with the
Native Americans of Florida for 17 years, published his memoir in
which he locates the waters in Florida, and says that Ponce de León
was supposed to have looked for them there. Though Fontaneda doubted
that Ponce de León had really gone to Florida looking for the waters,
the account was included in the Historia general de los hechos de los
Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas of 1615. Most
historians hold that the search for gold and the expansion of the
There is a possibility that the
Fountain of Youth was an allegory for
the Bahamian love vine , which locals brew today as an aphrodisiac.
Ponce de León could have been seeking it as a potential
Upon his return to Puerto Rico, Ponce de León found the island in turmoil. A party of Caribs from a neighboring island had attacked the settlement of Caparra , killed several Spaniards and burned it to the ground. Ponce de León's own house was destroyed and his family narrowly escaped. Colón used the attack as a pretext for renewing hostilities against the local Taíno tribes. The explorer suspected that Colón was working to further undermine his position on the island and perhaps even to take his claims for the newly discovered Florida.
Ponce de León decided he should return to Spain and personally
report the results of his recent expedition. He left
During his stay in Spain, a new contract was drawn up for Ponce de
León confirming his rights to settle and govern
Bimini and Florida,
which was then presumed to be an island. In addition to the usual
directions for sharing gold and other valuables with the king, the
contract was one of the first to stipulate that the
to be read to the inhabitants of the islands prior to their conquest.
Ponce de León was also ordered to organize an armada for the purpose
of attacking and subduing the Caribs, who continued to attack Spanish
settlements in the Caribbean. Tomb of Ponce de León in
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in San Juan,
Three ships were purchased for his armada and after repairs and provisioning Ponce de León left Spain on May 14, 1515 with his little fleet. The record of his activities against the Caribs is vague. There was one engagement in Guadeloupe on his return to the area and possibly two or three other encounters. The campaign came to an abrupt end in 1516 when Ferdinand died. The king had been a strong supporter and Ponce de León felt it was imperative he return to Spain and defend his privileges and titles. He did receive assurances of support from Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros , the regent appointed to govern Castile, but it was nearly two years before he was able to return home to Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, there had been at least two unauthorized voyages to "his" Florida both ending in repulsion by the native Calusa Tequesta warriors. Ponce de León realized he had to act soon if he was to maintain his claim.
LAST VOYAGE TO FLORIDA
In 1521 Ponce de León organized a colonizing expedition on two
ships. It consisted of some 200 men, including priests, farmers and
artisans, 50 horses and other domestic animals, and farming
implements. The expedition landed on the southwest coast of Florida,
in the vicinity of
Caloosahatchee River or Charlotte Harbor . The
colonists were soon attacked by
Calusa braves and Ponce de León was
injured when, historians believe, an arrow poisoned with the sap of
the manchineel tree struck his thigh. After this attack, he and the
colonists sailed to
Library resources about JUAN PONCE DE LEóN -------------------------
* Resources in your library * Resources in other libraries
* Allen, John Logan (1997). A New World Disclosed. University of
* Arnade, Charles W. (1967). "Who Was Juan Ponce de León?"
Tequesta, The Journal of the Historical Association of Southern
Florida. XXVII, 29-58.
* Davis, T. Frederick. (1935) "History of Juan Ponce de León's
Voyages to Florida: Source Records." Florida Historical Society
* Fuson, Robert H. (2000).
Juan Ponce de León