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Painting of Agueybana greeting Juan Ponce de León by Puerto Rican artist Agustin Anavitate.

Native History: Ponce de Leon Arrives in Florida; Beginning of the End

Alysa Landry

This Date in Native History: On April 2, 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the southeastern coast of Florida, claiming the territory for the Spanish crown and forever changing life for Florida tribes.

Born in 1460, Ponce de Leon is credited with being part of Christopher Columbus’ second expedition to the New World in 1493 before he went on to become the first European explorer to land on the Florida peninsula.

Ponce de Leon served as governor of the Spanish colony of San Juan (modern-day Puerto Rico). There, he was known as a conquistador with a reputation for taking Natives as slaves, said Jerald Milanich, emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Florida.

“He found Indians in the Caribbean and was not a nice person,” Milanich said. “He did not hesitate to do whatever he wanted in terms of cruelty to conquer the Native people.”

In 1512, Ponce de Leon received a royal contract that gave him three years to look for a fabled island north of the Bahamas. Believing he would find wealth—or the rumored fountain of youth—Ponce de Leon organized a crew and sailed north in March of 1513.

He made landfall on April 2, likely near present day St. Augustine, though no records of the expedition exist and the exact location is unknown, Milanich said. Most historians cite second-hand records that surfaced about 90 years later.


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