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Juan Ponce de León
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Juan_Ponce_de_Leon_statue.jpg
Statue of Juan Ponce de Leon at the Plaza San José in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The statue was made in New York in 1882 using the bronze from English Cannons seized after the English attacked San Juan in 1792.

Juan Ponce de León (c. 1460–July 1521) was a Spanish conquistador. Ponce de León accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. He became the first Governor of Puerto Rico by appointment of the Spanish Crown. He is regarded as the first European known to have visited what is the present day United States of America when he set foot in Florida in 1513.

In 1508, Ponce de León founded the first settlement in Puerto Rico, Caparra (later renamed San Juan). He was greeted with open arms by the Taino Cacique, Agueybana. The Tainos subsequently died in great numbers once they were exposed to the new European disesases the sailors brought with them and which the natives were not yet immune to.

The popular story that Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he sailed for Florida is misconceived. The facts are that upon the death of Columbus who was made military governor of his newly found discoveries for life, the Spanish authorities refused to grant the same privilege to his son Diego Columbus. The Spanish Crown by then had selected Ponce de León to colonize and govern the island of Puerto Rico. In the meantime Diego Columbus had taken his claim to the top court in Madrid and won his rights. Ponce de León was then removed from office and felt his good name had been damaged. Not wishing to serve Diego, Ponce de León obtained title to explore the areas north of Cuba.

Ponce de León sailed into the Bahamas headed toward Florida, then considered by slave hunters and fishermen to be a large island. He was seeking a spiritual rebirth with new glory, honor, and personal enrichment, not a physical rebirth through the waters of the Fountain of Youth.

On March 27, 1513, Ponce de León sighted Florida for the first time, still mistaking it for another island. Later, on April 2, he landed on the east coast of the newly discovered land at a point which continues to be disputed, but was undoubtedly south of present-day St. Augustine. Ponce de León claimed "La Pascua Florida" for Spain, and in 1514 received a commission to colonize the "island," though he would not return until 1521.

On the second visit, Ponce de León and his party were attacked by a tribe of the Calusa (on Pine Island), and de León was injured by a poisoned arrow. After this attack, he returned to Havana, Cuba, where he died.

See also


Preceded by:
Vicente Yañez Pinzón
Governor of Puerto Rico
1508-1511
Succeeded by:
Juan Ceron
Preceded by:
Cristóbal de Mendoza
Governor of Puerto Rico
1515-1519
Succeeded by:
Sánchez Velázquez

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