Ponce De Leon

From Academic Kids

Juan Ponce de León (c. 1460 – July 1521) was a Spanish conquistador. Juan Ponce de León was born in Santervás de Campos (Valladolid). As a young man he joined the war to conquer Granada, the last Moorish state on the Iberian peninsula. Ponce de León accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. He became the first Governor of Puerto Rico by appointment of the Spanish Crown. He is regarded as the first European known to have visited what is now the United States when he set foot in Florida in 1513.

Juan Ponce de León settled in Hispaniola after arriving in the New World. He helped conquer the Tainos of the eastern part of Hispaniola, and was rewarded with the governorship of the Province of Higuey that was created there. While there he heard stories of the wealth of Boriquin (now known as Puerto Rico, and he sought and received permission to go there. In 1508, Ponce de León founded the first settlement in Puerto Rico, Caparra (later relocated to San Juan). He was greeted with open arms by the Taino Cacique, Agueybana, and quickly gained control of the island. As a result, Ponce de Leon was named Governor of Puerto Rico in 1509. Ponce de León and the other conquistadors forced the Tainos to work in the mines and to construct fortifications. The Tainos subsequently died in great numbers after exposure to the European diseases the sailors brought with them and to which the natives had no immunity. Ponce de León, however, became rich while serving as Governor.

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Cacique Agueybana greeting Juan Ponce de León

In 1506, upon the death of Christopher Columbus, who had been appointed lifetime military governor of his newly found discoveries, the Spanish authorities refused to grant the same privilege to his son Diego Columbus. The Spanish Crown by then had selected Ponce de León to colonize and govern the island of Puerto Rico. In the meantime Diego Columbus had taken his claim to the top court in Madrid and won his rights. Ponce de León was then removed from office in 1512 and felt his good name had been damaged. Not wishing to serve Diego, Ponce de León obtained title to explore the areas north of Cuba.

The popular story that Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he discovered Florida is misconceived. He was seeking a spiritual rebirth with new glory, honor, and personal enrichment, not a physical rebirth through the waters of the Fountain of Youth. The Tainos had told the Spanish of a large, rich island to the north named Bimini, and Ponce de Leon was searching for gold, slaves and lands to claim and govern for Spain, all of which he hoped to find at Bimini and other islands. The story of Ponce de León searching for the Fountain of Youth seems to have surfaced in the 1560s in the Memoir of Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, and was later included in the Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas.

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Statue of Juan Ponce de León at the Plaza San José in 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.

Juan Ponce de León equipped three ships at his own expense, and set out on his voyage of discovery and conquest in 1513. On March 27 1513, he sighted an island, but sailed on without landing. Later, on April 2, he landed on the east coast of the newly discovered land at a point which continues to be disputed, but was somewhere on the northeast coast of the present State of Florida. Ponce de León claimed "La Florida" for Spain. Ponce de León named the land La Florida, meaning flowery, either because of the vegetation in bloom he saw there, or because he landed there during Pascua Florida, Spanish for Flowery Passover, meaning the Easter season. Pascua Florida Day, April 2, is a legal holiday in Florida.

Juan Ponce de León then sailed south along the Florida coast, charting the rivers he found, passed around the Florida Keys, and up the west coast of Florida to Cape Romano. He sailed back south to Havana, and then up to Florida again, stopping at the Bay of Chequesta (Biscayne Bay) before returning to Puerto Rico.
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Ponce de Leon resting place

In 1514 Juan Ponce de León returned to Spain and received commissions to conquer the Caribs of Guadalupe and to colonize the Island of Florida. His expedition to Guadalupe in 1515 was not successful, and he returned to Puerto Rico where he stayed until 1521.

In 1521 Juan 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, somewhere in the vicinity of the Caloosahatchee River or Charlotte Harbor. The colonists were soon attacked by Calusas and Ponce de León was injured by a poisoned arrow. After this attack, he and colonists sailed to Havana, Cuba, where he died. His tomb is in the cathedral in Old San Juan.

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