Ponce De Leon - Orlando / Florida Guide
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Ponce de Leon was the explorer from Spain who discovered Florida. We all know that, but what else is there to learn about this man?
Ponce (what an unfortunate name! ) was born in 1474 in Vallodolid. He was part of an aristocratic and influential Spanish family. As a young adult he served time as a soldier and fought The Moors.
When he was 19, he joined Christopher Columbus for his voyage to The New World.
First stop was the Caribbean followed later by what we now know as Puerto Rico. This was to play a major part in his adult life.
There is now a gap in the timeline of De Leon' s life but in 1502, the Governor of Puerto Rico asked for his help to crush a rebellion. To thank him for the successful outcome, Ponce was made The Governor of Higuey and also given land and supplied with Native American servants. He was later to try to exploit the Native American further, but more of that later.
And so let us move on to De Leon' s first sight of Florida. He funded 3 ships and 200 men for this exploratory journey and set off on march 4th 1613.
It is though that they first landed in St Augustine (but some argue Melbourne or what is now known as The Ponce De Leon inlet) Certainly, there is The Fount of Youth (which he was seeking) in St Augustine.
He instantly christened the whole country La Florida which may be due to the fact that this was Easter which he would have known as a flower festival. Later, Florida came to be known as just the State.
After a 5 day sojourn, Ponce set sail again and his next stop was Key Biscayne after which they came up the Gulf Coast to land in the Tampa area.
The local Native Americans greeted them with a view to trade goods but ended up trading blows.
Many men on both sides perished in this skirmish. We shall see later why Ponce should have taken this as a warning; but he did not.
Later on (in 1521) De Leon made a more determined effort to colonise Florida. They were hoping to take the fertile area around The Caloosahatchee River. However, the Native Americans known as the Calusa took exception to this and went on the attack.
Ponce was injured by a poisoned arrow and fled back to Havana. Eventually, his body could not withstand the poison and he died.
Ponce de Leon is now buried in San Juan Cathedral and you can still see the home he built for himself in Higuey.
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