Ponce de León, Juan (c. 1460–1521)

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Ponce de León, Juan (c. 1460–1521)

Juan Ponce de León (b. ca. 1460; d. July 1521). Spanish soldier, governor of San Juan, and leader of the first Spanish expedition to La Florida. He explored the island colony of San Juan (Puerto Rico) beginning in 1508 and served as its governor in 1509–1511.

Ponce de León was born in San Tervás del Compo, Valladolid, Spain. In 1512 he received a royal charter to explore and settle Bimini, an island rumored to be north of the Lucayos (Bahamas). He set sail from Puerto Rico in March 1513 on a course through the Bahamas that took him to the east coast of Florida. Because his arrival coincided with the Feast of Flowers (Easter Holy Week), he named the land La Florida. Ponce then sailed southward past Cape Canaveral and what is now Miami before rounding the Florida Keys and traveling up the Gulf coast to Charlotte Harbor and perhaps beyond. His was the first sanctioned Spanish voyage to the mainland of the United States.

In 1521 Ponce returned to Florida to establish a colony. That attempt failed when the Spaniards were driven off by native peoples and Ponce received a fatal wound.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Spanish America; Florida.


T. Frederick Davis, "Juan Ponce de León's Voyages to Florida," Florida Historical Quarterly, 14 (July 1935): 5-70.

Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages, A.D. 1492–1616 (1974), esp. pp. 499-516.

Robert S. Weddle, Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500–1685 (1985), esp. pp. 38-54.

Additional Bibliography

Fuson, Robert Henderson. Juan Ponce de León and the Spanish Discovery of Puerto Rico and Florida. Blacksburg, VA: McDonald & Woodward, 2000.

                                     Jerald T. Milanich