Juan Ponce de Leon

Juan Ponce de Leon

Juan Ponce de Leon - Explorer (c1460/74 - 1521)

Juan Ponce de Leon was an explorer and conquistador who had sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the new world, and is credited with being the first European to land in Florida. He was also responsible for setting up the first settlement on Puerto Rico.

This page details facts about Juan Ponce de Leon's life and the events that shaped his history.

Juan Ponce de Leon the Explorer - Fun Facts for Kids !

1: Juan Ponce de Leon is commonly believed to have been born in 1460, although newer evidence shows 1474 as a possible date. His birthplace was Santervas de Campos a village in Spain. Although his parents have not been identified, he was born into a noble family and served as a page to Pedro Núñez de Guzmán in the Royal Court of Aragon.

2: Not much is known of his early life, however it is known that Juan Ponce de Leon fought for the Spanish in Granada, during the campaigns that saw the defeat of the Moors.

3: On 25 September 1493 he sailed to the New World with Christopher Columbus as a volunteer on his second voyage.

4: It is unclear what Juan Ponce de Leon did over the next few years, however in 1504 he was serving under Nicolas de Ovando, the Governor of Hispaniola. At this time the native Tainos were rebelling against the Spanish and Ovando dispatched Juan Ponce de Leon to suppress the rebellion.

5: As a reward for his success, Juan Ponce de Leon was made Provincial Governor of the eastern side of Hispaniola, which was known as Higuey. With this position he was granted a substantial amount of land with enough Indian slaves to farm it.

6: In 1505 Juan Ponce de Leon founded the town of Salvaleon in Huguey, before turning his attention to Puerto Rico where he had heard that there was a lot of gold to be found. It was around this time that he married Leonora, with whom he had three daughters and a son.

7: In 1508 he was give permission by King Ferdinand II to explore Puerto Rico. He left Hispaniola on 12 July with one ship and fifty men. Arriving in San Juan Bay, he ventured inland where he set up a house and storage facility. This was to become Caparra, the first settlement on Puerto Rico.

8: In 1509 Juan Ponce de Leon returned to Hispaniola with a good amount of gold. The success of the expedition resulted in King Ferdinand II appointing him Governor of Puerto Rico. The appointment, on 14 August 1509, came with an instruction to extend the settlement and carry on mining for gold, which was achieved with the use of forced labour.

9: On 28 November 1511 Diego Colon, the son of Christopher Columbus, replaced Juan Ponce de Leon as governor. This followed many years of wrangling with Ferdinand over the powers awarded to Columbus and his heirs.

10. In February 1512 Ferdinand granted Juan Ponce de Leon a contract to seek out the new lands that were rumoured to exist to the north west of Hispaniola. The contract allowed for him to be Governor of all lands he discovered, however he had to finance the expedition himself.

11. Juan Ponce de Leon set off with three ships and two hundred men on 4 March 1513. On 2 April he sighted land. Thinking it was another island and being Easter, which the Spanish called ‘Pascua Florida’, he named it ‘La Florida’.

12: It is generally believed that Juan Ponce de Leon landed somewhere between the places now known as St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach. He stayed in the area for a few days before setting sail and heading south and sailing along the Florida Keys. The small fleet then headed north again, reaching the Florida mainland in May 1513.

13: It is generally accepted that Juan Ponce de Leon landed in the area of Charlotte Harbour, although he may have landed as far north as Tampa Bay. He anchored there while he made repairs and took on supplies, however hostile encounters with the Calusa resulted in him sailing away.

14: Juan Ponce de Leon arrived back at Puerto Rico on 19 October 1513, and found that Caparra had been attacked and destroyed by Caribs.

15: In April 1514 Juan Ponce de Leon returned to Valladolid in Spain where he was received by King Ferdinand II. While there, he secured a contract which gave him the rights to settle and govern both Bimini and Florida.

16: He was also instructed to subdue the Caribs to prevent their continued attacks on the Spanish settlements. Leaving Spain with three ships on 14 May 1514 Juan Ponce de Leon began his campaign against the Caribs. There are only vague records of this expedition, however it is believed the campaign came to a stop when King Ferdinand II died in 1516.

17: In 1521 Juan Ponce de Leon set out to colonise Florida with two ships and around 200 men. As before, he landed in the area of Charlotte Harbour. It wasn’t long before the Calusa attacked them and Juan Ponce de Leon was injured by a poisoned arrow.

18: The expedition left Florida and sailed to Havana, Cuba where Juan Ponce de Leon died from his wound.

19: His remains are interred in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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