February 14, 2011
I was inspired to write further about Florida from the writing I did yesterday. Using my blog yesterday as a rough outline, I’ll dive right into the discovery of Florida and its first explorer, Ponce de León.
Born in Spain about the year 1460, Ponce sailed with Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas in 1493. He and his family settled on the island now known as the Dominican Republic (then Hispaniola) where he became the military commander of the post and deputy governor.
Ponce being the kind of guy who wondered what was over the horizon found himself exploring the Caribbean and 1506 discovered a nearby island named Borinquen. During his exploration of the island he discovered large deposits of gold. Soon after, the excited explorer left the island. He returned in 1508 on orders from the King of Spain to explore and colonize the island. He was named Governor, renamed it to Puerto Rico, and two years later was replaced by the King with Columbus’s son.
Things being what they were back then, Ponce still had his ship and some people to work with and took off actively exploring the Caribbean looking for gold and the mystical Fountain of Youth that he had heard about . After making his way around the Bahama’s and Bimini, he found himself sailing off the coast of what is now Northern Florida. On or about April 2, 1513 he landed his ships near present day St Augustine and claimed the beautiful lands in the name of Spain. With rights to name this new wondrous place, he proclaimed it be called La Florida! The Flowery Land.
The quest of exploration took Ponce down the east coast of La Florida, through the turbulent currents off of Cape Canaveral (Cape of Currents), through the keys and to an island which had turtles but no fresh water which he called Dry Tortugas (turtle).
Continuing this quest to find gold and this mythical fountain, Ponce trekked up the west coast of La Florida. Entering the Charlotte Harbor area, or in more modern terms, the Big Carlos Pass at the south end of Ft Myers Beach, they saw the tribal village on Mound Key. Discovering the Calusa were an unfriendly tribe they fled back to their ships and sailed back to Puerto Rico.
In 1521 Ponce de León returned with 200 settlers, horses, tools, and seeds intent on creating a farming colony in the area. As the settlers went inland in search of fresh water, the Calusa ambushed them and Ponce was seriously wounded by an arrow to the thigh. The settlers decided to abandon their settlement and go back to Cuba.
Ponce died of his wounds in Cuba at the age of 61. His name and exploratory nature fueling his quest to find gold and the elusive Fountain of Youth live on.
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