On September 27, 1514, the Spanish crown granted the explorer Juan Ponce de León a contract to settle the islands of Bimini and Florida (de León thought the latter was an island). His first contract, granted in February 1512, authorized de León to discover and populate Bimini. For his second voyage, he equipped his fleet and sailed for Florida from Puerto Rico in 1521 with two ships, two hundred men, fifty horses, and a variety of domestic animals and agricultural tools.
Ponce de León landed near Charlotte Harbor on Florida’s west coast, and his arrival did not go unnoticed; the colonists were soon attacked by Calusa Indians, a Native American tribe that controlled most of southern Florida at the time. During the assault, an arrow struck and wounded Ponce de León. He returned to Cuba, where he died as a result of his infected wound that same year.
On his first visit to Florida, in April 1513, Ponce de León landed at the site of modern day St. Augustine. He named the region Florida because of the lush, florid vegetation that grew there. Thinking he had found the island of Bimini, he searched for the mythical Fountain of Youth, said to rejuvenate those who drank from it. Subsequent Spanish incursions in North America led to the founding of a permanent settlement at St. Augustine in 1565.
“‘On February 10, 1521, he [Ponce de Leon] wrote to the emperor: “I discovered Florida and some other small islands at my own expense, and now I am going to settle them with plenty of men and two ships, and I am going to explore the coast, to see if it compares with the lands (Cuba) discovered by Velasquez.…But the captain’s star of fortune was waning. He had a stormy passage, and when he and his men landed they met with such fierce resistance from the natives that after several encounters and the loss of many men, Ponce himself being seriously wounded, they were forced to reembark. Feeling that his end was approaching, the captain did not return to San Juan, but sought a refuge in Puerto Principe, where he died.”
Chapter XI: Calamities—Ponce’s Second Expedition to Florida and Death 1520-1537. In The History of Puerto Rico, from the Spanish Discovery to the American Occupation, by R. A. Van Middeldyk; edited by Martin G. Brumbaugh; New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1903.Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives. Hispanic Division
- Search the Library’s digital collections on the terms Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine, or Florida to find images and documents related to the “Sunshine State.” The Detroit Publishing Company collection is particularly rich in images of St. Augustine.
- For maps of Florida, use the Browse Maps by State feature in the collection Panoramic Maps.
- Read La colonización de Puerto Rico, des de el descubrimiento de la isla hasta la reversión á la corona española de los privilegios de Colón, and The History of Puerto Rico, from the Spanish Discovery to the American Occupation to learn more about Ponce de León and the early history of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. These titles are in the collection Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives.
- Parallel Histories: Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier, a bilingual, multi-format English-Spanish digital library site, explores the interactions between Spain and the United States in America from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. The section “Atlantic & Gulf Coasts” includes information and images relevant to Ponce de León, Hernando de Soto, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and other explorers in the area. Search the collection for other mentions of Ponce de León.