Juan Ponce de León
Juan Ponce de León

Juan Ponce de León

The state of Florida achieved a significant milestone in 2013, the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León’s arrival on Florida’s east coast.

The 500th anniversary of Florida is noteworthy because it recognizes the state as the location of the first discovery of the land that would become the United States. Ponce de León’s convoy of explorers was the first group of Europeans to document such a landing and give the name La Florida to the discovery.

Who is Ponce de León?

Born in the village of Santervás de Campos in the province of Valladolid, Spain in 1474, Juan Ponce de León became a page to the prince of Castile who later became King Ferdinand of Castile. Ponce was a soldier, a sailor and explorer who lived from 1474 to 1521.

What did Ponce de León do?

In 1493, as a young man, Ponce de León was aboard one of the fleets of Spanish ships in what became known as Christopher Columbus’ second voyage. The expedition established a permanent Spanish colonial presence in the New World. As a prominent Spaniard, Ponce eventually was named Governor of Puerto Rico by King Ferdinand in 1511. Then on March 3, 1513, under a license the King granted him to explore and discover lands reputed to lie to the north of Hispaniola and the Island of Bimini, Ponce set sail with two caravels, Santiago and Santa María de la Consolación; and a galley like craft, the bergantín San Cristóbal.

By March 27 he’d seen the mainland of Florida and sailed north presuming it to be an island. At noon on April 2, 1513, Ponce de León’s navigator, Anton de Alaminos, recorded their location at thirty degrees eight minutes north latitude, just south of present day Ponte Vedra Beach. The next day Ponce de León and his men came ashore and claimed La Florida for Spain, becoming the first documented visitors of European culture to Florida’s coast. By stepping foot in Florida, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, by many accounts, discovered mainland America. La Florida in colonial times extended north to Canada and west to Mexico.

When Juan Ponce de León and his men arrived in 1513, the Americas were already populated by hundreds of thousands of Native peoples. The story of people in America begins thousands of years ago with Native Americans. The indigenous lifeways of the people before Ponce, as well as that intriguing period in history when New World cultures met old, will be interpreted in St. Augustine through 2015, the 450th commemoration of the city’s founding by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. In addition, the rich cultural history of the native Timucuan Indians in St. Augustine and Florida will be celebrated.

Where did Ponce de León Come Ashore?

Ponce and his landing party first came ashore in La Florida on April 3, 1513. Because historical documents identifying the exact landing location have been lost, whether or not Ponce landed on Florida’s Historic Coast has been debated. Scholarly studies indicate that Ponce de León first sighted and named the land La Florida on Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513, and sailed north. On April 2, according to a surviving navigational fix from his voyage, Ponce’s three-ship fleet was at 30 degrees, 8 minutes north latitude – just south of present day Ponte Vedra Beach. The Herrera account states that Ponce and his landing party first came ashore in La Florida the following morning, April 3, 1513.