Juan Ponce de León

Juan Ponce de León (1460 – 1521), the legendary Spanish conquistador, was born in Santervás de Campos, Valladolid, Spain. An adventurer to the heart, Ponce de León, took part in many expeditions and conquests.

Particulars about the great explorer and conquistador suggest that his military expeditions started when he joined the war to conquer Granada (which incidentally happened to be the last Moorish state in the Iberian Peninsula). Thereafter, Juan Ponce de León joined forces with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World.

According to available facts, Ponce de León first set his feet on the site, where present Cockburn Town is located, in the Turks and Caicos Islands. He won over the Tainos inhabiting the eastern part of Hispaniola and was made the Governor of the Province of Higuey for his contribution to Spanish imperialism.

When Juan Ponce de León came to know about the immense wealth of Boriken (present Puerto Rico) and he applied to the Spanish authorities for marching orders to this new land. The first Spanish colony in Puerto Rico, named Caparra was established by Ponce de León in 1508. Later on, however, he shifted his base to San Juan. He subdued every attempt at rebellion, running the governance with such proficiency that in 1509, Ponce de Leon was awarded the governorship of Puerto Rico by the Spanish Crown.

Ponce de León was removed from power in 1512, when Diego Columbus won his ascendancy rights to the lands his father had discovered. The perfect picture of honor that he was, Ponce de León was not to be dispirited. To quench his thirst for glory, he went on to discover new areas north of Cuba in 1513. On April 2 that year, Ponce de León anchored in the Northeastern coast of the present State of Florida. He annexed the land in the name of Spain and christened it “La Florida” (the Spanish for Easter season).

A popular story doing the rounds has it that Ponce de León undertook this voyage to Florida region in search of the Fountain of Youth. The story has its roots in the Memoir of Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda. The Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas also presents this account of his Florida conquest. However, this has often been regarded as one of the many factoids about the great explorer. Admirers of Juan Ponce de León who picture him in respectable lights, link this voyage to his yearning for spiritual rebirth.

Juan Ponce de León returned to Spain in 1514. He took to the waters once again in 1515, when he was commissioned to undertake an expedition to Guadalupe. This expedition failed and he returned to Puerto Rico where he stayed until 1521.

Ponce de León embarked on his last voyage to Florida in 1521. This was a colonizing expedition and his crew consisted artisans, farmers, priests and even animals. On landing on the southwest coast of Florida, they were attacked by the Calusas. Ponce de León was injured by a poisoned arrow. The entire crew fled with the injured explorer in Cuba, where he breathed his last. Juan Ponce de León was buried in the cathedral in Old San Juan.

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