Juan Ponce de Leon
by Sean Quinn
If you thought that you had a chance to live forever in eternal youth, would you dedicate your entire life to trying to find the "Fountain of Youth"? A lot of people would because, what is spending the first sixty or seventy years of your life looking for it when, once you found it, you would become immortal and have the rest of eternity to make up for those lost years. This is almost exactly what Juan Ponce de Leon thought. Therefore he dedicated a major portion of his life searching for the so called "Fountain of Youth". He lived to be sixty-one years old and he never found what he was looking for. Although he failed in his ultimate goal of finding the "Fountain of Youth", he did accomplish many other outstanding feats along the way, from his extremely successful military career with the Spanish military to his conquest and colonization of the West Indies.
In 1460, Juan Ponce de Leon was born as the son of a noble Spanish family. As he grew older, Ponce de Leon wanted to work in the Spanish royal court and he accomplished this goal by becoming a simple page for the royalty of Spain. Later, becoming bored as a page, Ponce de Leon decided to become a military man. He did this and took part in many battles. The two most notable battles are the re-conquest of Spain from the Moors and the battle to regain the Spanish land of Franada. Ponce de Leon fought valiantly in these battles and was given many military honors.
As we all know, in 1492, Columbus discovered the New World. But most people do not know that, while on his second voyage to the New World, Columbus asked Ponce de Leon to accompany him. Ponce de Leon accepted and they traveled off to the island of Haiti in the Caribbean Sea. When he arrived in the West Indies, Ponce de Leon decided to settle in the Spanish colony on the western side of the island of Haiti. There he was made a deputy and he fought against the Arawak Indians in the conquest of the eastern part of Haiti. Following Ponce de Leon's latest victory, the Governor of Hispaniola sent him to Puerto Rico to explore the island. While in Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon found his old friend Columbus and they then searched the island together. Ponce de Leon found gold on the island and gave it the name of Puerto Rico which is translated as "rich port". After Puerto Rico was firmly under Spanish control, Ding Ferdinand appointed Ponce de Leon as the governor of the island. Ponce de Leon had the honor of setting up the first settlement on the island and he named it Caparra. In only a few years, Ponce de Leon had become a very rich man by selling gold, slaves, and land to anybody that wanted them. While selling his goods, Ponce de Leon began to hear tales of an island named Bimini which supposedly possessed many great riches. One of these riches was the "Fountain of Youth". The Indians told him that the waters of the fountain were magical and that whoever drank them but be restored to eternal youth and with it gain immortality. This story interested Ponce de Leon very much and that is when he decided to devote his life to finding the "Fountain of Youth".
In 1512, Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, had Ponce de Leon removed from his spot as governor of Puerto Rico. Ponce de Leon petitioned King Ferdinand to give him permission to find, conquer, and them colonize the island of Bimini. On March 3, 1513, Ponce de Leon left the island of Puerto Rico with three ships and the intent to take over Bimini. He made a brief stay on the island of San Salvador and then sailed northwest in search of the "Fountain of Youth". On April 2, 1513, Ponce de Leon landed on what he believed to be the island of Bimini and claimed it in the name of Spain. He also renamed it Florida. At the landing site he later set up St. Augustine, the first European settlement on the North American mainland.
Since Ponce de Leon thought that Florida was an island, he decided to try and figure out it's dimensions by sailing up the Atlantic coastline. It is popularly believed that he traveled as far north as Okefenokee Swamp. He eventually grew tired of sailing north and not finding the tip of the "island" and returned southward. He stopped at the Santa Cruz River and made a landing at Cape Canaveral. Ponce de Leon then went up the western coast of Florida and made a stop at Pensacola. Then he hooked around back into the Florida Keys and he also explored Miami Beach. This trip ended on September 21, 1513. Although he did not find the "Fountain of Youth", his trip did accomplish a lot, for example, he discovered the Gulf Stream which is still important to this day for shipping lanes and for leisure travel. He also mapped out most of Florida's coastline.
After his exploration of Bimini Island, Ponce de Leon again became involved with the Spanish military. He took part in the suppression of a revolt in Puerto Rico; afterwards, he was named captain general of Puerto Rico. After being named captain general, Ponce de Leon returned to Spain. There he gave his account of what he had found in Florida. King Ferdinand was very pleased and he appointed Ponce de Leon as the governor of Florida and he asked him to set up a colony there. He sailed back to the West Indies in 1517, there he became involved in a military expedition against the Carib Indians and he fought in the conquest of Trinidad. Meanwhile, many other explorers were exploring the coasts of Florida.
Eventually in 1521, Ponce de Leon started organizing the colonization of Florida. He took two ships with two-hundred soldiers and settlers and headed for Florida. They landed on Sanibel Island and were immediately attacked by either the Calusa or the Seminole Indians. In the battle, Ponce de Leon was gravely wounded by an arrow. As Ponce de Leon lay on his death bed, the attempt to colonize Florida was given up. In 1521, back in Cuba, Ponce de Leon died as a direct result of the injuries that he had suffered in battle.
Though he died at the time when he was about to gain a lot of glory, Juan Ponce de Leon still accomplished many great things. Being the governor of Florida would have granted him the land of Florida and everything attached to it. That would have been the entire continent of North America. But he never lived to realize this. He also discovered the Gulf Stream which added Spain in shipping goods from the New World back to Europe. Ponce de Leon was also an accomplished military leader. Although he never found the "Fountain of Youth", Ponce de Leon is still an immortal because his accomplishments will keep him alive in all of the history books.
King, Ethel M., The Fountain of Youth and Juan Ponce de Leon, Random House, 1963
Cummings, W.P., The Exploration of North America, Prima, 1974Back to the main page