Juan Ponce de Leon was a famous sixteenth century Spanish explorer and conquistador who explored modern day Florida. Although he was not the first European to set foot in Florida he did lead the first European expedition of Florida. It is popular belief that he searched Florida for the "Fountain of Youth"; however, there is little credible historical proof that he ever sought to find this legendary place. On this page is a list of interesting facts about Juan Ponce de Leon including when he landed in Florida and why he set sail for Florida. This information is written for both kids and adults.
Introduction - Juan Ponce de Leon
He was born in the village of Santervas de Campos, Spain. The year of his birth is in question; but is believed to be either 1460 or 1474.
Historians believe Ponce de Leon was a member of Christopher Columbus's crew on Columbus's second expedition to the "New World" in 1493.
At some point he settled on the island of Hispaniola (modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti). He prospered in Hispaniola obtaining a huge estate and native slaves from the governor, Nicolas de Ovand, as a reward for his role in putting down a native rebellion.
In 1504 he was appointed the provincial governor of the eastern portion of Hispaniola.
At some point he sailed back to Spain where he got married to a woman by the name of Leonora. They would have three children together.
Upon returning to Hispaniola he heard stories of great riches on the nearby island of Puerto Rico and obtained permission from the governor of Hispaniola to explore there.
He made his first voyage to Puerto Rico sometime between 1506 and 1508.
In 1508 he established the first settlement in Puerto Rico, named Caparra.
In 1509 he sailed back to Hispaniola from Puerto Rico with a bounty of gold and silver. He was appointed governor of Puerto Rico.
His military training in the Spanish army served him well in fighting the Native Americans he encountered on his explorations.
Juan Ponce de Leon Exploration of Florida
In March of 1513, encouraged by King Ferdinand of Spain to discover new lands, Ponce de Leon headed out from Puerto Rico with three ships.
Several days after departing from Puerto Rico his ships reached the east coast of Florida which he believed was an island.
The Spaniards went ashore on the east coast of Florida. The exact location of their landing is not known but believed by many historians to be near Saint Augustine.
Ponce de Leon named the land he discovered Florida (which means flowery) due to the beautiful flowers he saw there and due to the fact it was near Easter, which is called Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers) in Spain.
The Spaniards explored the Florida Keys, and Florida's east coast; travelling up the east coast perhaps as far as Tampa Bay.
The Spanish expedition had several encounters with Native Americans some of which involved fighting and injuries on both sides.
On October 19th of 1513, after approximately eight months of exploration, Ponce de Leon's expedition returned to Puerto Rico.
Juan Ponce de Leon Conclusion
In April of 1514 he returned to Spain where he was knighted by King Ferdinand and given the right to govern Florida.
In May of 1515 Juan Ponce de Leon left Spain and once again sailed for Florida with a fleet of three ships. His mission was to subdue natives who had been raiding Spanish settlements located in the Caribbean. He ended his journey upon hearing that King Ferdinand of Spain had died.
He would sail to Florida one last time in 1521. His expedition of over 200 men reached the southwest coast of Florida where they were attacked by natives. Ponce de Leon was injured in the attack; it is believed he was struck in the leg with an arrow dipped in poison.
The expedition retreated to Cuba where Ponce de Leon died from his wound.
Juan Ponce de Leon is buried in Puerto Rico at the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista.