Ponce de Leon and the Early Exploration of Florida
Juan Ponce de Leon was born in 1460, in Tierra de Campos Paleia, in Leon, Spain (Ponce, 1996). He came from a noble family and entered the royal household as a page for Pedro Nunez de Guzman, at the Court of Aragon. Later, young Ponce de Leon would become a solider for Spain and fight in the battles to drive the Moors from Granada (Blassingame, 1991).
In 1493, Leon sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to America (Ponce, 1996). He was a member of the forces that enslaved the Indians in Hispaniola.This was the European and Spanish way. Few explores would look upon the natives they encountered as anything more than talking animals. For the year of 1502 he was a captain under the governor of Hispaniola, Nicolas de Ovando (Thompson, 1990). During his time as captain he would suppress an Indian uprising. For this he was rewarded with the governorship of Higuey (Blassingame, 1991).
Ponce de Leon would remain in Hispaniola until 1503. In this year he would be intrigued by the tales of gold to be found in Borinquen, known as the modern Puerto Rico (Ponce, 1994). He sailed to explore and settle the island. He landed on August 12, 1508 and soon conquered the island and was granted governorship of the island. There he carved himself a large estate, where he built a castle (Thompson, 1990).
Ovanado was soon replaced with Diego Columbus, as governor of Hispaniola. And Columbus placed Juna Ceron as the new governor of Puerto Rico. For two years Leon fought to keep his governorship, but he was removed from the position. He was advised by King Ferdinand to find new land (Thompson 1990).
The Indians of Hispaniola worked as slaves for the Europeans. They would tell great stories of a place called Bimini. It was a land filled with great riches. Ponce de Leon heard a different story from an old Indian woman. She added an interesting twist to her story. In her tale she told him of a magic fountain that turned middle aged and old persons in to young vibrant men and women. If the riches did not attract Ponce de Leon, the story of this fountain did. He was in his fifties and since his political career had failed, he figured, it was as good a time as any to explore the land (1990).
Ponce de Leon left San German, Puerto Rico on March 3, 1513 and sailed with a fleet of three ships heading northwest toward Bimini. The chain of seven hundred Bahama islands was on his route but time would not allow him to explore each of them. He did visit the island of San Salvador where Columbus made his first landfall two decades before. The crew sighted the coast of America on March 3, 1513. This was Easter Sunday so he named the land Florida after the Spanish name for Easter, Pascua de Flores (Ponce, 1993). The first sighting took place near present day St. Augustine, which was to be founded fifty-two years later (1990).
Six days after they sighted land they found a safe place to dock their ships. The royal banner of Spain was then flown over the new land. They expected the same lack of resistance as they had experienced when they came ashore at Hispaniola, but they were in for a surprise. The natives were fierce fighters and less enthusiastic of the appearance of these strange white men. Although their bow and arrows were not of significance to the Spaniards, but the poisoned arrows they used were. Ponce de Leon only went upon land when it was absolutely necessary. He never had the chance to explore the land for himself (1990).
Ponce de Leon felt it was best to find a safer harbor. The fleet sailed south to the modern-day Cape Canaveral. The ships were caught in the strong current of the Gulf Stream which forced them to struggle for weeks along the Florida Keys. Ponce de Leon finally decided to turn around and head home. He was so overwhelmed with his discovery that he sailed directly to Spain (Ponce 1994).
Ponce de Leon figured that this was a smart move on his part because three ships were not enough to do a proper job exploring the new land. He hoped that the king would give him