Ponce de Leon Lands on Florida

by: Connor Simmons

Ponce de Leon

Juan Ponce de Leon was born in a village named Santervas de Campos in the northern part of the province of Valladolid in the year 1474. He is a descendant of Ponce Velaz,a nobleman from Leon, who was the son of Vela Gutierrez and Sancha de Cabrera. Vela Gutierrez was the great-grandson of Vermudo Nuñez, fifth child of Nuño Vela, count of Alava, who was descended of the kings of Vasconia. Other relatives include Rodrigo Ponce de Leon and Marquis of Cadiz, a celebrated figure in the Moorish wars.

Voyage with Christopher Columbus

After the war against the Emirate of Granada ended, there was no need for Ponce de Leon's military skills at home. He next looked abroad for another opportunity. In September 1493, some 1200 sailors, colonists, and soldiers joined Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. Ponce de Leon was a member of this voyage, one of 200 "gentleman volunteers."

They reached the Caribbean on November 1493. They went to several islands before arriving at at their main destination on Hispaniola. They anchored on the coast of a large island now called Puerto Rico. This was Ponce de Leon's first glimpse of the place that would play a huge role in his future.

First Voyage to Florida

Rumors of undiscovered islands to the northwest of Hispaniola reached Spain by 1511, and King Ferdinand urged Ponce de Leon to find the new lands. Ponce de Leon agreed and on February 1512 a royal contract was sent outlining his rights and authorities to search for "The Islands of Benimy".

According to the "500th Florida Discovery Council Round Table", on March 3, 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon, organized and equipped three ships in order to start his expedition. The crew was composed of 200 people including women and freed slaves. Their expedition started when they departed from Puerto Rico. Ponce de Leon introduced Christianity, cattle, horses, sheep, the Spanish language, and more to Spanish Florida, 107 years before the Pilgrims landed.

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. After leaving Puerto Rico, they sailed northwest along the chain of the Bahama Islands. By March 27, Easter Sunday, they reached the northern end of the Bahamas sighting an unfamiliar island.

For the next few days they crossed open water until April 2, 1513. They then spotted land which Ponce de Leon thought was another island. He named it La Florida because of the landscape and because it was the Easter season, which the Spaniards call Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers). The next day they came ashore to find information and claim the new land.

Fountain of Youth

According to a popular legend, Ponce de Leon discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. It is possible that the Fountain of Youth was an allegory for the Bahamian Love Vine, which locals brewed as an aphrodisiac. Ponce de Leon also could have been seeking it as a potential entrepreneurial venture. Indian servants brewing a "brown tea" in Puerto Rico also may have inspired Ponce de Leon's search for the Fountain of Youth. The conquistador also could have mistook the natives' "vid" (vine) for "vida" (life) - transforming their "fountain vine" into an imagined "fountain of life".

Second Voyage to Florida

In 1521 Ponce de León organized a colonizing expedition on two ships. It consisted of 200 men, including priests and farmers, 50 horses and other domestic animals, and farming equipment. The expedition landed on the southwest coast of Florida. The colonists were soon attacked by the Calusa and Ponce de León was injured when an arrow poisoned with the sap of the Manchineel tree struck his thigh. After the attack, he and the colonists sailed to Havana, Cuba, where he soon died of from the arrow wound. He was buried in Puerto Rico, in the crypt of San José Church.