Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to explore what is now the state of Florida. He was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he happened upon the now state in the United States of America.
1. Shipmate of Christopher Columbus
After sailing with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493, Ponce de Leon remained in Santo Domingo, an island south of Florida, to search for the fountain that was said to produce a liquid that when drunk would allow a person to never grow old.
2. Search for the Fountain of Youth
The “Fountain of Youth” was supposed to be in Bimini, an island of the Bahamas. Leon was allowed to first go to and search this island and was financed as a reward for his services to Spain. Ponce de Leon organized the expedition to search for the Fountain of Youth and landed near the city that is now known as St. Augustine, in Florida. He didn’t realize that he was on the North American continent and named the land Florida, which means flowery in Spanish. After leaving Florida and sailing through the Florida Keys to Cuba, he returned to Spain without finding the Fountain of Youth.
3. Second search for the Fountain of Youth
Five years after his first quest for the Fountain of Youth, Leon sailed back on another voyage in 1521. A group of Native Americans attacked the men when they landed on the west coast of Florida. Leon was shot by an arrow and taken back to the ship for treatment. Then they sailed for Cuba where Leon died of his wounds in 1521.
4. First Governor of Puerto Rico
Ponce de Leon was the first Governor of Puerto Rico and was appointed to the post by the Spanish Crown. Previous voyages of Ponce de Leon showed that there was gold in Puerto Rico and this gave him some favor with the Spanish Crown. Because of the great success of the voyage to Puerto Rico, which the Spanish then called San Juan Bautista, Leon was named governor of the land.
5. Discovery of Florida
Ponce de Leon was said to have discovered Florida by accident. Many before Leon undertook the search for the Fountain of Youth, but his search led him to Florida and he didn’t even know he had discovered it. He thought he was on an island.
6. Discovery of the Gulf Stream
The discovery of Florida also lead to the discovery of the Gulf Stream which made voyages to and from Spain faster and easier. While de Leon didn’t discover it himself, he was instrumental in the discovery because of the voyage he was on.
7. Cathedral and burial in Old San Juan
Ponce de Leon is buried in a tomb inside the Cathedral in Old San Juan. A bronze statue of him rests on the land and pays tribute to his voyage to Puerto Rico.
8. Removal as Governor of Puerto Rico
Political rivalries took their toll on the Governorship of de Leon. After the death of Columbus, his son wanted to take over all the titles that were awarded to his father. His success meant that de Leon was stripped of his title of Governor of Puerto Rico.
9. First Spanish settlement in North America
St. Augustine was the site where Ponce de Leon landed on his first quest for the fountain of youth. There he established what was the first Spanish settlement in North American, although he didn’t even know that it was North America at the time.
10. Distinguished military leader
Ponce de Leon was a decorated military leader in Spain and knew a lot about battle and commanding armies. He was responsible for the subjugation of the island of Hispaniola, which became a very important Spanish colony.
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