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           Pine Island Florida

                Local History


First voyage to Florida

Spanish colonization of the Americas

Calusa Indian relics

Calusa Indians, the shell people.

Rumors of undiscovered islands to the northwest of Hispaniola had reached Spain by 1511, and Ferdinand was interested in forestalling further exploration and discovery by Colón. In an effort to reward Ponce de León for his services, Ferdinand urged him to seek these new lands outside the authority of Colón.[30] Ponce de León readily agreed to a new venture, and in February 1512 a royal contract was dispatched outlining his rights and authorities to search for "the Islands of Benimy".[31]


The contract stipulated that Ponce de León held exclusive rights to the discovery of Benimy and neighboring islands for the next three years. He would be governor for life of any lands he discovered, but he was expected to finance for himself all costs of exploration and settlement. In addition, the contract gave specific instructions for the distribution of gold, Native Americans, and other profits extracted from the new lands. Notably, there was no mention of a rejuvenating fountain.[32][33]




Ponce de León equipped three ships with at least 200 men at his own expense and set out from Puerto Rico on March 4, 1513.[34] The only contemporary description known for this expedition comes from Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, a Spanish historian who apparently had access to the original ships' logs or related secondary sources from which he created a summary of the voyage published in 1601.[35][36] The brevity of the account and occasional gaps in the record have led historians to speculate and dispute many details of the voyage.


The three ships in this small fleet were the Santiago, the San Cristobal and the Santa Maria de la Consolacion.[34] Anton de Alaminos was their chief pilot. He was already an experienced sailor, and would become one of the most respected pilots in the region. After leaving Puerto Rico, they sailed northwest along the great chain of Bahama Islands, known then as the Lucayos. On March 27, Easter Sunday, they sighted an island that was unfamiliar to the sailors on the expedition. Because many Spanish seamen were acquainted with the Bahamas, which had been depopulated by slaving ventures, some scholars believe that this "island" was actually Florida, as it was thought to be an island for several years after its formal discovery.[37] Other scholars have speculated that this island was one of the northern Bahama islands, perhaps Great Abaco.[38]

ponce de Leon Copyrighte image
copyrighted ship image

For the next several days the fleet crossed open water until April 2, 1513,[34] when they sighted land which Ponce de León believed was another island. 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).[34] The following day they came ashore to seek information and take possession of this new land.[39] The precise location of their landing on the Florida coast has been disputed for many years. Some historians believe it occurred at St. Augustine;[40] others prefer a more southern landing at a small harbor now called Ponce de León Inlet;[39] but many now agree that Ponce came ashore even farther south near the present location of Melbourne Beach.[41][42][43] The latitude coordinate recorded in the ship's log closest to the landing site, reported by Herrera, was 30 degrees, 8 minutes, most likely exaggerated to enforce land claims to justify the removal of French Protestants nearly 50 years later. This sighting was recorded at noon the day before with either a quadrant or a mariner's astrolabe, and the expedition sailed north for the remainder of the day before anchoring for the night and rowing ashore the following morning. This latitude suggests that the landing took place somewhere in the vicinity of Ponte Vedra Beach, north of St. Augustine. However replication of this journey now proves it impossible to sail against the current to such a northern latitude.[37]

After remaining in the area of their first landing for about five days, the ships turned south for further exploration of the coast.[34] On April 8 they encountered a current so strong that it pushed them backwards and forced them to seek anchorage. The tiniest ship, the San Cristobal, was carried out of sight and lost for two days.[44] This was the first encounter with the Gulf Stream where it reaches maximum force 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.[45]


They continued down the coast hugging the shore to avoid the strong head current. By May 4 the fleet reached and named Biscayne Bay and took on water at an island they named Santa Marta (now Key Biscayne) and explored the Tequesta Miami mound town at the mouth of the Miami River. The Tequesta did not engage the Spanish,they evacuated into the coastal woodlands. On May 15 they left Biscayne Bay and sailed along the Florida Keys, looking for a passage to head north and explore the west coast of the Florida peninsula. From a distance the Keys reminded Ponce de León of men who were suffering, so he named them Los Martires (the Martyrs).[44][45] Eventually they found a gap in the reefs and sailed "to the north and other times to the northeast" until they reached the Florida mainland on May 23. Encountering the Calusa Native Americans who refused to trade and drove off the Spanish ships by surrounding them with warriors in sea canoes armed with long bows.[46][47]

ancient ship copyrighted image
Ponce public statue



Ponce de León's statue in the Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, was made in New York in 1882 using the bronze from English cannons seized after the English attacked San Juan in 1792.[48]


Again, the exact site of their landfall is controversial. The vicinity of Charlotte Harbor is the most commonly identified spot,[44] while some assert a landing further north atTampa Bay or even Pensacola.[49] Other historians have argued the distances were too great to cover in the available time and the more likely location was Cape Romano orCape Sable.[49] Here Ponce de León anchored for several days to take on water and repair the ships. They were approached by Calusa Native Americans who might have been initially interested in trading but relations soon turned hostile.[44] Several skirmishes followed with casualties on both sides and the Spaniards took eight Indians captive.,[50] including one to become a translator.[51] On the 4th of June, there was another encounter with natives near Sanibel Island and the Calusa in war canoes, with the Spanish sinking a fourth of them. An unsubstantiated claim to justify Spanish retreat.[51]


On June 14 they set sail again looking for a chain of islands in the west that had been described by their captives. They reached the Dry Tortugas on June 21.[51] There they captured giant sea turtles, Caribbean Monk Seals, and thousands of seabirds. From these islands they sailed southwest in an apparent attempt to circle around Cuba and return home to Puerto Rico. Failing to take into account the powerful currents pushing them eastward, they struck the northeast shore of Cuba and were initially confused about their location.[52]

Once they regained their bearings, the fleet retraced their route east along the Florida Keys and around the Florida peninsula, reaching Grand Bahama on July 8. They were surprised to come across another Spanish ship, piloted by Diego Miruelo, who was either on a slaving voyage or had been sent by Diego Colón to spy on Ponce de León. Shortly thereafter Miruelo's ship was wrecked in a storm and Ponce de León rescued the stranded crew.


From here the little fleet disbanded. Ponce de León tasked the Santa Maria with further exploration while he returned home with the rest of crew. Ponce de León reached Puerto Rico on October 19 after having been away for almost eight months. The other ship, after further explorations returned safely on February 20, 1514.[53]


Although Ponce de León is widely credited with the discovery of Florida, he almost certainly was not the first European to reach the peninsula. Spanish slave expeditions had been regularly raiding the Bahamas since 1494 and there is some evidence that one or more of these slavers made it as far as the shores of Florida.[54] Another piece of evidence that others came before Ponce de León is the Cantino Map from 1502, which shows a peninsula near Cuba that looks like Florida's and includes characteristic place names.[55]

Spanish New world map
La Floridas

Ponce de León decided he should return to Spain and personally report the results of his recent expedition.[44] He left Puerto Rico in April 1514 and was warmly received by Ferdinand when he arrived at court in Valladolid. There he was knighted,[51] and given a personal coat of arms, becoming the first conquistador to receive these honors. He also visitedCasa de Contratación in Seville, which was the central bureaucracy and clearinghouse for all of Spain's activities in the New World. The Casa took detailed notes of his discoveries and added them to the Padrón Real, a master map which served as the basis for official navigation charts provided to Spanish captains and pilots.[65]


During his stay in Spain, a new contract[66] was drawn up for Ponce de León confirming his rights to settle and govern Bimini and Florida, which was then presumed to be an island. In addition to the usual directions for sharing gold and other valuables with the king, the contract was one of the first to stipulate that the Requerimiento was to be read to the inhabitants of the islands prior to their conquest. Ponce de León was also ordered to organize an armada for the purpose of attacking and subduing the Caribs, who continued to attack Spanish settlements in the Caribbean.[67]

Tomb of Juan Ponce de León in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista


Three ships were purchased for his armada and after repairs and provisioning Ponce de León left Spain on May 14, 1515 with his little fleet. The record of his activities against the Caribs is vague. There was one engagement in Guadeloupe on his return to Spain and possibly two or three other encounters.[68] The campaign came to an abrupt end in 1516 when Ferdinand died. The king had been a strong supporter and Ponce de León felt it was imperative he return to Spain and defend his privileges and titles. He did receive assurances of support from CardinalFrancisco Jiménez de Cisneros, the regent appointed to govern Castile, but it was nearly two years before he was able to return home to Puerto Rico.


Meanwhile, there had been at least two unauthorized voyages to "his" Florida both ending in repulsion by the Native Calusa Tequesta warriors. Ponce de León realized he had to act soon if he was to maintain his claim.


Last voyage to Florida In 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.[69] The expedition landed on the southwest coast of Florida, in the vicinity of the Caloosahatchee River or Charlotte Harbor. On several occassions, Spanish Galleons were anchored just inside the island tips of Boca Grande, Spanish for "Big Mouth" as the water was near 60' deep. 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.[70] After this attack, he and the colonists sailed to Havana, Cuba, where he soon died of the wound. He was buried in Puerto Rico, in the crypt of San José Church from 1559 to 1836, when his remains were exhumed and later transferred to the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista.[71]

Tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon public
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