- early years and career
- exploration of puerto rico
- fountain of youth
- ponce de leon in florida
Juan Ponce de León, born into Spanish nobility, was a soldier and explorer who served as governor of the eastern province of Hispaniola when he decided to explore a nearby island, now known as Puerto Rico. Searching for a supposed fountain of youth located on an island known as Bimini, Ponce de León led an expedition to the Florida coast in 1513. Thinking it was the island he was looking for, he sailed back to colonize the region in 1521, but he was fatally wounded in a Native American attack shortly after his arrival.
early years and career
Born in 1460 into a noble family in León, Spain, Juan Ponce served as a page at the royal court of Aragon. He later became a soldier, fighting in the Spanish campaign against the Moors in Granada. After he ended the war, he may have participated in the second voyage to the West Indies led by Christopher Columbus in 1493.
did you know? Juan Ponce de León died in Cuba, but his remains were later transferred to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they rested in the San Juan Cathedral. Puerto Rico’s third largest city, Ponce, is named after the explorer.
Almost a decade later, he was serving as a captain in the force commanded by Nicolás de Ovando, Spain’s royal governor of the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). After Ponce de León put down a Native American riot, Ovando rewarded him with the governorship of the eastern province of Hispaniola.
exploration of puerto rico
rumors of a place called boriquen—where large gold deposits were found—led ponce de león to the nearby island of san juan bautista, as puerto rico was then known. The Spanish crown gave Ponce de León permission to explore the island in 1508-09. (he may have unofficially traveled there on his account before then).
On the official expedition, he took 50 soldiers and a single ship and founded a settlement in Caparra, near what is now San Juan. When he returned to Hispaniola for supplies, Ponce de León was appointed governor of Puerto Rico, although he had many rivals for his influence and was soon displaced by Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus.
fountain of youth
Encouraged by the Spanish crown to discover more land, Ponce de León reportedly decided to follow rumors he had heard from local natives about an island called Bimini, home to a magical spring or fountain whose waters would rejuvenate those who drank from it.
In search of this “fountain of youth,” as well as more land and gold, he set sail from Puerto Rico in March 1513. The following month, the expedition landed on the coast of what is now Florida, near the site of present-day st. Augustine
read more: how st. Augustine became the first European settlement in the Americas
ponce de leon in florida
Coast of continental North America. He named the site Florida, not only because they landed around Easter time (pascua florida in Spanish), but also because of the region’s lush, flowery vegetation.
on that first expedition to florida, ponce de león explored the coast, including the florida keys, and discovered the gulf stream, the warm ocean current that would help future spanish ships maneuver their way home from the new world. he then returned to puerto rico and headed for spain, where he was appointed military governor of florida and given permission to colonize the region.
He was also ordered by the Spanish crown to raise an army to put down a native uprising in Puerto Rico, and he sailed there with a small fleet in mid-1515.
In February 1521, Ponce de León set out from San Juan on his second expedition to Florida, accompanied by two ships and some 200 people—plus horses, tools, and seeds—to establish an agricultural colony. They landed on the southwestern coast of Florida, near what is now the port of Charlotte, with the intention of founding a colony.
The exact circumstances of what happened next are uncertain, but it appears that in July 1521 local natives attacked the group of settlers, leaving Ponce de León mortally wounded by an arrow in the thigh. His comrades sailed back with him to Havana, Cuba, where he died.
Ponce de León never found the fountain of youth, perhaps because he never looked for such a thing, according to the researchers. no mention of a mythical source appears in any records or documents from that time, and some historians believe it was a tale designed to discredit ponce del león by making him look foolish.
however, today there is a 15 acre park on st. Agustine, Florida, named the Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. The park is located where Spanish explorers and missionaries established a small settlement beginning in 1565. Among other archaeological finds, human remains discovered on the property have been identified as the oldest known Native American Christian burial in the United States
Ponce de León: Florida’s first Spanish explorer. university of south florida: exploring florida. ponce de leon never searched for the fountain of youth. Smithsonian magazine. Juan Ponce de Leon. the museum and park of the sailors. timeline of significant events. fountain of youth archaeological park