Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562

Author: George Bancroft  | Date: 1513

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Ponce De Leon in Florida

NO SOONER had the New World revealed itself to Castile and Aragon than the Spanish chivalry of the ocean despised the range of Europe as too narrow, and offering to their extravagant ambition nothing beyond mediocrity. Blending avarice and religious zeal, they sailed to the west, as if they had been bound on a new crusade, for which infinite wealth was to reward their piety. America was the region of romance, where the heated imagination could indulge in the boldest delusions; where the simple natives ignorantly wore the most precious ornaments; and, by the side of the clear runnels of water, the sands sparkled with gold. To carve out provinces with the sword; to plunder the accumulated treasures of some ancient Indian dynasty; to return from a roving expedition with a crowd of enslaved captives and a profusion of spoils—became their ordinary dreams. Ease, fortune, life—all were squandered in the pursuit where, if the issue was uncertain, success was sometimes obtained, greater than the boldest desires had dared to anticipate. Is it strange that these adventures were often superstitious? Or that they indulged the hope that the laws of Nature themselves would yield to men so fortunate and so brave?

The youth of Juan Ponce de Leon had been passed in military service in Spain; and, during the wars in Granada, he shared in the wild exploits of predatory valor. He was a fellow-voyager of Columbus on his second embarkation. In the wars of Hispaniola he proved himself a gallant soldier; and Ovando rewarded him with the superintendence of the eastern province of that island. From the hills in his jurisdiction he could behold Porto Rico. A visit to the island stimulated his cupidity; and in 1509 he obtained the appointment to its government. His new authority was used to oppress the natives and to amass wealth. But his commission conflicted with the claims of the family of Columbus; and it was revoked.

Yet age had not tempered his passions: he longed to advance his fortunes by the conquest of a kindom, and to retrieve a reputation which was not without a blemish. Besides, the veteran soldier had heard, and like many in Spain believed, that the forests of the new world concealed a fountain which had virtue to renovate life.

On the third of March, 1513, according to our present rule for beginning the year, Ponce embarked at Porto Rico, with a squadron of three ships, fitted out at his own expense, for his voyage to the fabled land. He touched at Guanahani; he sailed among the Bahamas. On Easter Sunday, which the Spaniards call Pascua Florida, and which in that year fell on the twenty-seventh of March, land was seen. It was supposed to be an island, and received the name of Florida from the day on which it was descried, and from the aspect of the forests which at that season were brilliant with bloom. After delay from bad weather, the aged soldier was able to go on shore, in the latitude of thirty degrees and eight minutes; some miles, therefore, to the north of St. Augustine. The territory was claimed for Spain. Ponce remained for many weeks to investigate the coast. He doubled Cape Florida; he sailed among the group which he named Tortugas; and despairing of entire success, he returned to Porto Rico, leaving a trusty follower to continue the search, which was extended toward the bay of Apalachee. The Indians had everywhere displayed determined hostility. Ponce de Leon remained an old man; but Spanish commerce acquired a new channel through the Gulf of Florida, and Spain a province, which imagination could esteem immeasurably rich, since its interior was unknown.

The government of Florida was the reward which Ponce received from the king of Spain; but the dignity was accompanied with the onerous condition that he should colonize the country. Preparations in Spain, and an expedition against the Caribbee Indians, delayed his return. When, in 1521, after a long interval, he proceeded with two ships to select a site for a colony, his company was attacked by the Indians with implacable fury. Many Spaniards were killed; the survivors were forced to hurry to their ships; Ponce de Leon himself wounded by an arrow, returned to Cuba to die. So ended the adventurer, who had gone in quest of immeasurable wealth and perpetual youth.


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Chicago: George Bancroft, "Ponce De Leon in Florida," Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562 in America, Vol.1, Pp.217-220 Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: Bancroft, George. "Ponce De Leon in Florida." Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562, in America, Vol.1, Pp.217-220, Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Bancroft, G, 'Ponce De Leon in Florida' in Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562. cited in , America, Vol.1, Pp.217-220. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from