juan ponce de leon

Life of Juan Ponce de Leon

Born in Palencia, Spain or Santervas de Campos near Palencia
Fights the Moors
Second Voyage of Columbus
Nov 19
Sees Puerto Rico
Sails with Ovando to Hispaniola
Commission to explore Puerto Rico
Becomes Governor of Puerto Rico
Removed as Governor of Puerto Rico – extreme cruelty to Indians the courts for
politics returned island to Diego Columbus
Feb 22
Patent to discover and explore the island of “Bimini”
March 3
Sets sail from Puerto Rico
April 2
Sees land in Florida
April 3
Lands in Florida
April 8
Discovers the Gulf Stream, later the Yucatan Peninsula
Sept 21
Arrives back in Puerto Rico
Returns to Spain
Sept 27
Grant to Settle Florida
Fights revolt on island of Guadeloupe
Feb 20
Sets out to colonize Florida
Dies on Return from Florida after being shot in the leg by a native American


Juan Ponce de León was born in the village of Santervás de Campos in the northern part of what is now the
Spanish province of Valladolid. He served as squire to Pedro Núñez de Guzmán, Knight Commander of the
Order of Calatrava. Ponce de León fought in the Reconquista, most notably in the conquest of Granada.

The New World

He went to the New World on the 2nd voyage of Columbus. Later Governor Nicolas  Ovando, the
governor of Hispaniola appointed him frontier governor of the new province, Higüey. He was awarded land
and Indian slaves for his new province. He established a new town in Higüey, which he named Salvaleón.
Ponce de León married Leonora, the daughter of an innkeeper. They had three daughters, Juana, Isabel and
Maria; and one son, Luis.

Puerto Rico

Ovando would give him permission to explore Puerto Rico(called San Juan de Borinquen or San Juan
Bautista) in 1508. Ovando appointed Ponce de León governor of San Juan Bautista. This appointment was
later confirmed by Ferdinand II on August 14, 1509. (Niufiez de Guzman had become a confidant and aide
of the King.) His conquest of Puerto Rico by Juan Ponce de Leon began in 1508 under a commission
granted him on June 15 of that year by the Spanish governor of the West Indies. Ponce reached the coast of
Puerto Rico on August 12, 1508, explored for a time, established a Spanish post near the site of the modern
city of San Juan, and in the spring of 1509 was again with the governor to report that he had found some rich
gold deposits, had begun their development, and was desirous of certain privileges permitting further action in
that direction. The governor thereupon issued under date of May 1, 1509 a supplementary commission in
which the control of the new deposits is explicitly covered. Under the powers thus granted Juan Ponce
steadily developed the placer deposits of Puerto Rico for the next few years.

Puerto Rico commission

The said Juan Ponce may go to the said island of San Juan and may order the making of the greatest number
of farms that he can for His Highness in the limits of the settlement that he had to make and of the mines that
shall have been discovered in the said island, because such is expedient for the service of His Highness and
the purpose of the settlers that are to go there to colonize; and the expenses that he will make in doing it he
may repay to himself from the profit that shall be had from the said property;

And license is given to the said Juan Ponce that he can make a farming plantation for himself with the Indians
of the said island, of the sort that is customary in the island of Espanola, and that likewise he can provide
some Indians to his lieutenant Gil Calderon in order that he can make tillage for himself, the which is left to
the said Juan Ponce that he may do according as occasion will permit it and without offence to, and distaste
on the part of, the Indians;

Item: That the said Juan Ponce de Leon may cause to gather gold in the mines of the said island, withal, the
very greatest number of people that can; and of all the gold that he might gather His Highness may take away
first of all the fifth, and afterward the remainder may be divided into two parts, one for His Highness and the
other for the said Juan Ponce, without His Highness contributing anything for what will be done in gathering
the said gold; and the other part may be for the said Juan Ponce, as is said, by reason of the effort and
expense that in obtaining the said gold he has to make;

And license is given him, in order that he can get aid for himself in the said island and from the other
neighboring islands, he may open some way, and that he may hold the chiefs and Indians of them provided
that he may not do it by putting the Indians in need should it be contrary to the wish of them, and making
amends for it to his own satisfaction;

Furthermore; That he may return to their country the Caribs that he brought hence, and he may labor to
influence them and may bring it about that the said Caribs return the Indians that they have carried away from
the said island of San Juan; and this done, he may cause them to understand how they are to have knowledge
of the service of God and of the King our lord, and that he may cause the making of a convent in the island of
Santa Cruz where they are;

And license is given him that he can make a brigantine, that there may be of secure navigation the most that
can be, and there may be put in it very good provision and such guard as is proper, that if the said Carib
chiefs should not wish to do that which is right, he may have the said brigantine in order to be able to punish
for it and defend the Indians of the said island of San Juan;

Likewise there is given him license that some Christian persons that are in the said island, officials of
command and others, can consume in the mines of the said island at least eighty cargas of bread, shared
among the persons that it might appear to the said Juan Ponce deserved it, to the e±tent of the said quantity,
paying of the gold that they might acquire the fifth to His Highness as is done in this island;

Furthermore license is given him that in the boat of which Alonzo Sarmino is ship master, in which the said
Juan Ponce has a share, which at this time is fitted out in the port of Santa Domingo, he can carry to the said
island of San Juan his wife and children, and certain swine and young cattle that they have on this island, and
boats; and that with his said wife he may cause to be carried the wife of Pedro Campinaro and the wife of
Diego Gomez, who are in the town of Salvaleon de Yquey, since the said persons, their husbands, are in the
said island;

Item: License is given to the said Juan Ponce that he may discontinue the property that he has in this island
and may hold the Indians that in it are assigned to him, inasmuch as he is going and is occupying himself in the
service of His Highness;

Rule in Puerto Rico

On January 14, 1508 the first school in Puerto Rico was established in Caparra. On August 8, Juan Ponce
de León founded the Caparra Village near the bay on the north coast.

Ponce de León parceled out the native Taínos amongst himself and other settlers using a system of forced
labor known as encomienda. The Indians were put to work growing food crops and mining for gold. Many
of the Spaniards treated the Taínos very harshly and newly introduced diseases like smallpox and measles
took a severe toll on the local population. By June 1511 the Taínos were pushed to a short-lived rebellion,
which was forcibly put down by Ponce de León and a small force of troops armed with crossbows and
arquebuses. Ponce de Leon divided the island into two jurisdictions, the northern, with Capárra as its capital,
under the direct authority of the governor, the southern division, with San German as the capital, under a
lieutenant-governor, the chain of mountains in the interior being the mutual boundary.

The Colon family eventually reestablished their rights and control over Puerto Rico forcing Juan Ponce de Leon out.


King Ferdinand began his suggestions on July 25, 1511 when he told his Treasurer General in America “that,
because I have held him, and continue to hold him a servant of the Crown he should talk with you and should
discuss all that appears to him in which I can do him a favor and he can serve us; especially if he should wish
to take any new settlement in his charge as he did the island of San Juan.” Juan Ponce de Leon obtained from
Charles V on February 23, 1512, a patent authorizing him to discover and people the Island of Bimini, giving
him jurisdiction over the island for life, and giving him the title of Adelantado. There are 17 key points, in the
help of the summaries of Ballesteros Gaibrois and Murga Sanz: (1) He had three years to do the task and 12
months to initiate the expedition from the day the contract was duly signed and registered by everyone
concerned; (2) The expenses of the expedition would be the responsibility of Ponce de Leon; (3) He was
allowed to recruit people from Spain and Espanola; (4) Ponce de Leon had a priority in his claims
of Bimini and the lands discovered if he initiated the expedition within one year; (5) Ponce de Leon should
assume the executive and all the judicial functions in the new territory; (6) He should have the ownership of
all the houses and estates that he will establish with his own funds in these new lands; (7) The construction
and direction of forts is a royal prerogative and therefore not under the jurisdiction of Ponce de Leon; (8)
Ponce de Leon  shall receive for 12 years from the day of the discovery the appropriate “tenth” of all the
revenues and profits, with the exception of those specified as royal properties; (9) The distribution of the
Indians to the Spanish lords should be done by the Crown, but the Crown will give priority in the allotment of
Indians to those who have participated in the Ponce de Leon expedition; (10) Gold and precious metals, plus
other possible valuable commodities, shall be the property of Ponce de Leon and his men, with the
exception of the “tenth” during the first years to the Crown; thereafter, the tax had to be a ninth for the
second year, an eighth during the third, seventh for the fourth, sixth for the fifth year, and from then on, one
fifth; (11) Ponce de Leon should receive the governorship of all the discovered neighboring islands of Bimini
as long as these places are unknown and unassigned; (12) Ponce de Le6n is given the title of Adelantado of
Bimini and of the other lands that he would discover. (13) The exploitation and collection of gold, if there
were some, would be the same as done in Espanola or as ordered by the King; (14) Ponce de Leon was
forbidden to have in his expedition foreigners and people not resident in Spain or Spanish dependencies and
colonies; (15) Everyone in the forthcoming expedition to Bimini before leaving must deposit before the Royal
Officials of Espanola valid bonds; (16) Any frauds and other dishonesties must be reported to the Crown
and its appropriate officials and anyone who was negligent of dispatching such reports should be as severely
punished as those guilty of fraud; (17) Ponce de Leon was required to mail detailed reports of his
discoveries. The King had signed the contract on February 23, 1512 but Ponce de Leon did not register the
expeditionary force until January 29, 1513 at the port of Yuma in the province of Higuey on the island of

There were three ships assigned to this voyage:  the Santiago, the San Cristobal and the Santa Maria de la
. Anton de Alaminos was their chief pilot. The Consolacion carried Ponce de Leon and its
captain was Juan Bono de Quejo. The San Cristobal was captained by Juan Porez de Ortubia. His fleet
consisted of two caravels, well provisioned for a long voyage, and one small bergantina for exploring shallow
inlets and harbors. The Consolacion carried ten sailors, ten civilians and eight cabin or ship boys. Among the
civilians was one woman, identified only as Juana Ruiz, and therefore she was the first European woman to
come to Florida. Among the cabin boys was one named Jorge, who was identified as a African and Juan
Gurraido who was the first African identified in Puerto Rico (and a free man)  and Juan Gonzalez Ponce de
Leon (who had served with Juan Ponce de Leon in the conquest of Puerto Rico), these are the first Africans
in Florida. (Gurraido would later travel with Cortes in the conquest of Mexico.) Among the civilians, there is
listed a “Fernandico, Indian, slave.” Santiago carried eight naval men and six cabin boys. The captain,
identified as “mainmaster”, was Diego Bermfdez. Aboard was also the mare of Juan Ponce de Leon. As
January 29, 1513 he registered his expedition.

On March 3, 1513 the Ponce de Leon expedition for Bimini lifted sail from the Port of San German in Puerto
Rico. On April 2, 1513 they saw land, the expedition landed the following day. He named it La Florida in
recognition of the verdant landscape and because it was the Easter season, which the Spaniards called
Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers). The following day they came ashore to seek information and take
possession of this new land. The precise location of their landing on the Florida coast has been disputed for
many years. Speculation is between the mouth of the St. Johns River and Melbourne Beach. There were
other unknown people who would have been earlier than Juan Ponce de Leon but he would have been the
first official European discover of Florida.

Discovery of the Gulf Stream

They then traveled south. On April 8 the tiniest ship, the San Cristobal, was carried out of sight and lost for
two days. This was the Gulf Stream where it reaches between the Florida coast and the Bahamas. Because
of the powerful boost provided by the current, it would soon become the primary route for eastbound ships
leaving the Spanish Indies bound for Europe. This became Juan Ponce de Leon’s major discovery because it
became the route for ships returning to Spain (and the reason for the creation of the City of St. Augustine.)

They traveled to the west coast of Florida. On the return trip they also discovered a shipwreck with a
survivor by the name of Diego Miruela, whom Ponce de Leon found on Bahama Island on their return trip
from Florida in July, 1513. He was probably a spy sent by the then governor of Puerto Rico.

Return to Spain

After returning to Puerto Rico Ponce de Leon returned to Spain where he was knighted by the King and
given a coat of arms and named Captain General.

Return to Florida

Pedro Nuñez de Guzmán, he secured a second grant dated 27 September, 1514, which gave him power to
settle the Island of Bimini and the Island of Florida. In February of 1521 Ponce de León organized a
colonizing expedition on two ships. It consisted of some 200 men, including priests, farmers and artisans, 50
horses and other domestic animals, and farming implements. The expedition landed on the southwest coast of
Florida, in the vicinity of Caloosahatchee River or Charlotte Harbor. The colonists were soon attacked by
Calusa braves and Ponce de León was injured when, historians believe, an arrow poisoned with the sap of
the Manchineel tree struck his thigh. Ponce de Leon later died in Havana, Cuba, from this wound (in July,
1521). He is buried in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Problems with a Biography of Juan Ponce de Leon

1. Birth date is unknown – there’s even argument over the year. (Some will argue for the year 1474 instead of
2. Genealogy of Juan Ponce de Leon cloudy.
3. There is no original documentation that Juan Ponce de Leon accompanied either Columbus or Ovando.
4. There is no documentation on Juan Ponce de Leon in the New World until 1504.
5.  Juan Ponce de Leon never thought that he discovered Beniny or Beimeni (misnamed Bimini). He named it
La Florida and kept looking
6. All landfall locations are unknown.
7. And lets not even talk of the myth of the Fountain of Youth

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