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Document Number: AJ-095
Author: Ponce de León, Juan, 1460?-1521; Herrera y Tordesillas, Antonio de, died 1625; Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernando de, 1478-1557; Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, 1500-1558
Title: History of Juan Ponce de Leon's Voyages to Florida: Source Records
Source: Davis, T. Frederick. "History of Juan Ponce de Leon's Voyages to Florida: Source Records." Florida Historical Society Quarterly. Volume 14, number 1 (July 1935), pages 3-70.
Pages/Illustrations: 68 / 3
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-095/

Author Note

The career of Ponce de León (1460?-1521) was in many ways typical of the Spanish conquistadors. A military officer by training, he served in the campaign that drove the Moslems from Spain in 1492 before joining the second voyage to the New World, Columbus’ 1493 expedition (see AJ-063 to AJ-065). After helping to conquer Hispaniola in 1502-1504 (now the Dominican Republic), he was made governor of its eastern province. Discovering gold in Puerto Rico in 1508, he invaded that island, too, and as its governor enriched himself by trading in real estate, gold, and slaves.

Florida Expedition of 1513

Ponce de León obtained permission in 1512 to explore and colonize Bimini, an island reported to contain a river whose waters had a rejuvenating effect. His vessels left Puerto Rico on March 3, 1513, and reached the east coast of Florida (which received the name from his landfall on the Easter holiday of “Pascua Florida”) on April 2, 1513.

For six weeks he skirted the coastline southward past Cape Canaveral, Palm Beach, and Biscayne Bay to the Keys and Tortugas. He then coasted up the west side of the peninsula as far as the modern city of Naples before turning back to Puerto Rico, where he arrived on September 21, 1513.

Combating Indian revolts on various islands occupied his attention for several years, but in 1521 Ponce de León finally organized a large-scale colonial expedition to settle Florida. When they landed near present-day Charlotte Harbor or Tampa Bay, however, Indian resistance was so fierce that it drove the two hundred Spanish colonists back to their vessels. Ponce de León was wounded by an arrow and died shortly after, when the colonists reached Cuba.

Document Note

No eyewitness accounts survive from the 1513 voyage, but two archival documents related to the expedition are given here. The earliest description of Ponce de León’s explorations was written seventy years later, when Antonio de Herrera compiled his Historia General de los Hechos de los Castellanos en pas Islas Tierra Firme del Mar Oceano, published in 1601. A translation of Herrera's account, which was based on documents in the Spanish archives, is given here.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The basic facts about Ponce de León’s life can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12228a.htm.

The Florida Historical Society maintains a very useful site on the Spanish in Florida at http://www.floridahistory.org/history/conquis.htm#first with materials for teachers and students.

The origins of the “fountain of youth” myth are given in the opening pages of chapter one of Francis Parkman's Pioneers of France in the New World (widely available in libraries or from ftp://sailor.gutenberg.org/pub/gutenberg/etext03/pofnw10), where citations can be sound to the contemporary Spanish sources.

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