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 theCourt of Aragon. Later, young Ponce de Leon would become a solider for Spain and fight in the battles todrive 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 Spanishway. 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 thegovernorship of Higuey (Blassingame, 1991). Ponce de Leon would remain in Hispaniola until 1503. In this year he would be intrigued by thetales of gold to be found in Borinquen, known as the modern Puerto Rico (Ponce, 1994). He sailed toexplore and settle the island. He landed on August 12, 1508 and soon conquered the island and wasgranted 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 Columbusplaced Juna Ceron as the new governor of Puerto Rico. For two years Leon fought to keep hisgovernorship, 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 aplace called Bimini. It was a land filled with great riches. Ponce de Leon heard a different story from anold Indian woman. She added an interesting twist to her story.
In her tale she told him of a magic fountainthat turned middle aged and old persons in to young vibrant men and women. If the riches did not attractPonce 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 threeships heading northwest toward Bimini.
The chain of seven hundred Bahama islands was on his route buttime would not allow him to explore each of them. He did visit the island of San Salvador whereColumbus 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 deFlores (Ponce, 1993). The first sighting took place near present day St.
Augustine, which was to befounded fifty-two years later (1990). Six days after they sighted land they found a safe place to dock their ships. The royal banner ofSpain was then flown over the new land. They expected the same lack of resistance as they hadexperienced when they came ashore at Hispaniola, but they were in for a surprise. The natives were fiercefighters and less enthusiastic of the appearance of these strange white men.
Although their bow and arrowswere not of significance to the Spaniards, but the poisoned arrows they used were. Ponce de Leon onlywent 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-dayCape Canaveral. The ships were caught in the strong current of the Gulf Stream which forced them tostruggle 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 enoughto do a proper job exploring the new land. He hoped that the king would give him permission and theequipment to explore his new land. Coming before the king, Ponce de Leon told him about the great islandof Florida. The king agreed that the land should be explored further.
He promised Ponce de Leon that if heconquered it, he would be rewarded with its governorship (1990). Ponce de Leon was kept busy by the Carib Indians in the West Indies. It was not until 1521 thathe departd for Florida. This time he was prepared; he sailed with two armed ships, two hundred men andfifty horses.
The conquistador was to blame for the great fighting force. He had sunk his whole fortune into the expedition to colonize this new land (Ponce, 1993). Little did Ponce de Leon know that Florida’s geography had already been settled. In 1519, thesame year Magellan was searching for a strait into the Pacific Ocean far to the south, Alonzo Alvarez dePineda was searching for the same strait in the area of Florida. He sailed up the coast of Florida and thencontinued west following the coastline until he reached the modern-day city of Tampico, Mexico. On hisway home Pineda came upon a river that he named Rio del Espiritu Santo (River of the Holy Ghost).
It isnow believed that this river was the Mississippi (1990). Ponce was now hoping to find the land of Bimini which he believed to be in the interior ofFlorida, because the coast line was mapped. At this time Leon was in his sixty’s and time was short. Theywere met by a large group of Indians when they made their way to shore. Although the Spaniardswere well equiped, the Indians would defeat them. The Indians had powerful bows and arrows; the arrowswere so strong that they were able to crack helmets.
Many of the men were killed, many more werewounded, including Ponce de Leon. An Indian arrow had pierced his armor and struck him in the thigh. His men carried him off the beach during their retreat (1990). The plans for a settlement were now destroyed. There was no doctor aboard their ship, so thecrew had no choice but to immediately set sail for Havana. Juan Ponce de Leon did not make it; he diedbefore they reached Cuba.
Other explorers would try to follow Ponce de Leon example in the explorationof Florida, but most of them would encounter the same result as he did (1990). Panfilo de Narvaez was the first after Ponce de Leon to come to Florida. He came in 1528,arriving near Tampa Bay with about 400 men. They met the unfriendly natives there, but they also found asmall amount of gold. The Spaniards became very excited with this discovery.
The indians told them thatthey could find the gold in the land of Apalachee which is today the Tallahassee area. They did not findany gold in the land of Apalachee so they decided to turn back. They built rafts and drifted along the coastof Florida. Most of the men were dead by now but a few were able to make it to the coast of Isla deMalhado.
This island was possibly Galveston Island. After eight years only four men survived. One manwas Nunez Cabeca de Vaca who reached Mexico. The survivors told stories of finding wealth in theinterior of Florida.
The stories encouraged many explorers; Marcos de Niza, Coronado, Cabrillo and Soto(Coler & Shofner, 1991). Hernando de Soto and his fleet, with over six hundred people left Cuba and reached the Floridacoast on May 25, 1539. It would be left to Soto to end the mystery surrounding Florida. There he found anindian prisoner, Juan Ortiz.
The natives had no gold or silver, but they told stories of Indians living in theNorth that had an immense amount of gold and silver that they were looking for. Soto went in search ofthose indians only to discover that they had no precious metals. Soto took many natives hostage. Heseized Indian chiefs and many Indian women. He demanded that many Indians be provided as bearers andthe Indian women be provided as concubines for the Spaniards (1991). Soto decided to travel further north in search of the fabled riches.
When he left his camp he tookthe Pensacola chief. He then traveled to the Indian village of Cofitachequi. There he was greeted by thechieftainess, who gave him a string of pearls. There the Spaniards found a vast amount of pearls, about twohundred pounds of them in the local burial sites. They left Cofitachequi and headed north, then towardwest, and finally toward the south.
Hernando de Soto died on May 21, 1542 (1991). The viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco, choose Tristan de Luna y Arellano to head theexpedition to Santa Elena. Luna’s expedition reached Mobile Bay on August 14, but then quickly moved toPensacola Bay. They named Pensacola Bay Santa Maria Filipina, after the Virgin Mary and King Philip IIof Spain. The viceroy ordered Luna to move immediately to Santa Elena.
Luna was then suffering from amental depression and was not able to make the trip to Santa Elena so the viceroy replaced him with Angelde Villafane (1991). ReferencesBlassingame, W (1991). Ponce de Leon. Philadelphia: Chelsea Juniors. Coler, W.
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Thompson, J (1990, November). Ponce de Leon. Stamps, pp 245-246.