The Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de León was poor, and like many explorers in similar situations, he sought fortune and fame as a soldier, where he received education in fighting skills, religion and manners. He served a knight named Pedro Nunez de Guzman and later helped in the 10-year conquest of Granada, a Muslim kingdom in southern Spain. Afterwards, he heard stories of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus and volunteered to go along on a return trip. In 1493, he was one of the 1,200 men who set out for the island of Hispaniola, which is known today as the Dominican Republic and Haiti. To know more about this great conquistador, let us take a look at his accomplishments.
1. He Conquered Puerto Rico.
In the early 1500s, Ponce de León spent most of his time in Hispaniola, where he established farms, distributed land rights, helped build buildings to strengthen defense and worked to set up an island economy. Then, the Indians told him that he would find gold on a neighboring island called Boriquien, which is now Puerto Rico. Four years passed and he decided to cross over and did conquer the island. During the invasion, he shared honors with a famous greyhound dog, named Bercerillo, as story tells that the Indian settlers on the island were more afraid of 10 Spaniards with the dog than 100 without him.
2. He Was Governor Of Puerto Rico.
After he conquered Puerto Rico, he was appointed as its governor by King Ferdinand of Spain. Under his rule, the island became popular with other settlers, as it was well run by him, with many natural resources and a large number of slaves. Also, Ponce de León was noted for his non-violent treatment of the locals there, which was rare among conquistadors for the time.
3. He Discovered Florida.
In March 1513, Ponce de León departed from Puerto Rico, and about 30 days later, he and his crew anchored near the mouth of the St. Johns River, which is on the northeast coast of Florida. He was impressed with its beautiful flowers, and having landed on the island on Easter, he named the land “Florida”, which was taken from the Spanish Pascua Florida or flowery Easter.
4. He Discovered The Bahama Channel.
While traveling south from Florida, he encountered strong current of the Gulf Stream, which poured through a channel—which later became the route of the treasure ships on their return voyage to Spain and is known today as the Bahama Channel. After this, he continued sailing the East Coast and then up the Gulf Coast to the Pensacola Bay. When he returned to Spain, his voyage let him discover several small islands that were crowded with tortoises, thus naming them the Tortugas.
In his colonizing expedition to Florida, Ponce de León landed on the island’s southwest coast, specifically in the vicinity of Charlotte Harbor or Caloosahatchee River. However, he and his group were soon attacked by Calusa braves, injuring Ponce de León with an arrow that is believed to be poisoned. After this, the colonists sailed to Havana, Cuba, where Ponce de León soon died of the wound. He was buried in Puerto Rico in the crypt of San José Churchfrom.