In 1493, Ponce joined Columbus’s second voyage and took part in the conquest of Hispaniola (today the Dominican Republic and Haiti). In 1508, he conquered San Juan de Puerto Rico. Four years later, Ponce decided to invest a major part of his fortune in the exploration of lands to the north of Puerto Rico.
He obtained a royal contract from King Ferdinand of Spain to locate an island called Bimini. Ponce armed three ships, well-crewed with sailors and other seamen and left San German port (Puerto Rico) on March 3, 1513. On March 27, Ponce first sighted the Eastern shores of the peninsula and on April 3, 1513 he made landfall, naming the "island" La Florida!
He was given 225 ha (556 ac) of land in San Rafael de Yuma in recompense for his campaigns against the Taino, where he founded the city of Salvaleón (Dominican Republic). He invested his riches in his estate to begin the conquest of Puerto Rico, which he governed from 1508 to 1511.
Casa de Ponce de León in Salvaleón, Dominican Republic, 1505.
On February 23, 1512, Ponce was contracted by King Ferdinand of Spain to "explore, resolve and govern the Island of Bimini".
Ruins of the Ponce de León residence in Caparra, Puerto Rico.
Juan Ponce de León decided to invest a major part of his capital in exploring the lands to the north of Puerto Rico. He armed three ships, well-crewed with sailors and other seamen, and left San German port (Puerto Rico) on March 3, 1513. It was on March 27 that he first caught sight of La Florida.
Agreement with Juan Ponce de León. March 23, 1512.
Encounter between the Calusa Indians and Ponce de León, in 1513. Illustration by Merald Clark.
They called it la Florida because it afforded very pretty views of hosts of shady groves, and it was flat, and level, and also because they discovered it at Easter time (‘Pascua Florida’)". Herrera, "On the sailing of Juan Ponce de León".
A section of the Freducci map showing the part of La Florida and the keys explored by Ponce de León, in 1513. “Carta Nautica Conte di Ottomanno Freducci d'Ancona”, 1514-1515. Archivio di Stato di Firenze.
After facing serious economic problems, which forced him to mortgage his entire fortune, he left Puerto Rico on February 21, 1521, with two caravels, fifty horses, two hundred men and several friars.
Ponce de León: discovery of La Florida and other islands, February 10, 1521.
He arrived south of Tampa bay, where he met with hostility from the natives, who fell upon them as soon they landed. Juan Ponce de León, fatally wounded, died in Havana a few days later. "Adelantado" (literally, he who goes before others) was a noble title granted to few Spanish conquistadors.
Drawing of Juan Ponce de León in Florida.
Juan Ponce de León on a Spanish stamp.