Juan Ponce de Leon: Exploring Florida

On January 15, 2013 by Kevin Forde
Juan Ponce De Leon Springs in Florida

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park in Florida, named after the erstwhile explorer

Have you heard the tale of Juan Ponce de Leon, the man who discovered Florida (beside the tribe who already lived there)? It’s got everything you could want in a tale:  Christopher Columbus, the Holy Grail, Spanish people.

Ponce de Leon was born in 1474 (give or take a few years) in Santervas de Campos in northern Spain.  He became an experienced soldier and joined Chris Columbus on his second voyage to the land of the Americas. Once here he settled his family on a rather lovely Caribbean island and became a military commander. Impressing his superiors he was given permission to explore the nearby island of San Juan Bautista. He would become its governor and renamed the island Puerto Rico.

His governorship would only last two years before a fight with Columbus’ son forced him to get his exploring boots on.  He headed north, boldly going where no man had gone before (except the people who already had), in search of new lands,  some shiny treasure and just maybe the Fountain of Youth. The Indians had spoken to Juan of a fountain whose water was said to make old people young again. Ponce de Leon explorations unearthed plenty of loot, the occasional piece of gold but precious little life rejuvenating liquids.

Continuing along the east coast he stumbled upon Florida in April 1513. Not that this was anything like the Florida of today. There were few, if any, beach-side resorts, Disney was only in its infancy and the average in Cape Coral was still a few years under 70.

Ponce de Leon

Juan Ponce de Leon, always pointing

He hit upon Cape Canaveral (and gave it its name), sailed along the Charlotte Harbour Area and eventually made his way inland when he realised him and his crew were not alone.  Relations between the Spanish and Indians were great, initially, then things turned sour and Ponce de Leon and his men wound up taking some hostages before fleeing the scene. They eventually headed back to Puerto Rico.

Not that this Spanish conquistador was finished with Florida.  He returned in 1521 with 200 settlers, horses, tools and a couple of free Disney passes determined to set up a colony. He really should have learned something from his Indian slaughtering brethren and brought an army. The Calusa ambushed the colonizers in the freshwater and Ponce de Leon was shot in the thigh by a poison arrow. He was seriously wounded.

The settlement was wisely abandoned and Ponce de Leon would later die of his wounds.  He is buried in Puerto Rico in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista.