Title Character Traits Sources
In the age
of discovery and exploration, the Spanish voyager known as Juan Ponce de León
was recognized all throughout Europe as one of
the utmost explorers of his time. Through his exploits and adventures, the
Spanish conquistador discovered the island
of Puerto Rico and was
one of the first to venture to the North American mainland. While his greatest
claim to fame in modern times is The Fountain of Youth, the mythical fountain
said to bestow youth to all who drink from its miraculous waters,
his achievements far surpass the legend falsely attributed to his name.
circa 1460 in San Servas, Spain, Juan Ponce de León’s
childhood was characterized by poverty, even though he was of noble decent.
Seeking glory, he joined the military, where he served for ten years helping to
from its Moslim occupants. Afterwards, the Spaniard heard stories of Columbus’s adventures in the New World and set sail for
the islands of the Caribbean with Columbus on his
second voyage to the Americas
1503, Ponce de León had become a permanent resident of the island of Hispaniola,
serving as a captain of the Spanish occupants of the region. After suppressing
a rebellion led by the native Tainos peoples, he was promoted to governor of
the eastern half of the island, now present day Haiti. Many of the natives
mentioned an island rich in gold, known as Borinquen. Around the year 1509,
Ponce de León, desiring the wealth and fame associated with discovering such an
island, set sail for what is now known as Puerto Rico.
He established the first settlement in Puerto Rico,
Calparra, and was able to quickly gain control over the island. While initially
greeted warmly by the Tainos residing on the island, he would soon force the
natives into slavery, having them mine for gold while exposing them to European
diseases. In recognition for his conquest of Puerto Rico,
Ponce de Leon was granted the title of Governor of Puerto Rico.
Ponce de León was gaining wealth and power in Puerto Rico,
Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus, had made his own claim to the
island. After a court hearing, Diego was given the title of Governor,
effectively removing Ponce de León from office. In order to avoid shame, Ponce
de León quickly requested permission to explore the regions north of Cuba.
have traditionally linked Ponce de León’s name with a story involving the
Fountain of Youth, a legendary fountain supposedly located on the island of Bimini,
now part of the present day Bahamas.
However, the fable was not attributed to his name until 1565, forty-four years
after his death. Some modern researchers believe the tale was fabricated by the
first Spaniards to recount the tale as a means of insulting and discrediting
the conquistador’s significance. Regardless, Ponce de León did set sale
searching for Bimini in March 1513. One month later, he discovered what he
thought was an island, although he would soon be proven incorrect.
de León most likely landed in the area of what is now St. Augustine, Florida,
the Europeans’ first settlement in the North American mainland. He christened
the land La Florida as the land was rich in
vegetation, and the discovery was made during the Easter Season, which in
Spanish is known as la Pascua Florida.
The three vessels under his command charted the waters south of their landing
point before returning to Puerto Rico. He
returned to Spain the next
year and was permitted the title of provincial governor for any lands he
conquered in Bimini or Florida,
which was still considered to be an island.
failing to conquer the island of Guadalupe in 1515, Ponce de León, having given up the
search for Bimini, ventured off once more toward Florida in 1521. On this journey, he was
accompanied by some 200 other people in an effort to establish a settlement in Florida. Shortly after
their arrival, the Spanish settlers were attacked by Native Americans
inhabiting the southwest coast of Florida.
While many of his crew were killed outright, Ponce de León managed to survive,
but was gravely injured by a poison arrow to the thigh. The survivors made a
desperate escape, sailing for Cuba
with their dying captain in tow. A few days after their arrival in Havana, Cuba,
Ponce de León finally succumbed to his injuries. His body was buried in San Juan, Puerto Rico.