To play the slideshow requires Flash 8 or higher. Click here to install/upgrade.

16th Century Explorers of La Florida

Juan Ponce de León (ca. 1474-1521)
Juan Ponce de León y Figueroa was born ca. 1474 In Santervás de Campos in western Spain. As a teenager he was a squire for Don Pedro Núñez de Guzmán during the Reconquista, war to recapture several Spanish kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors.

After to end of the Reconquista (1492) Ponce left Cadiz, Spain, on September 25, 1493, as a member of Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the New World. The small armada of ships arrived in the Caribbean in November 1493.

Ponce de Leon was present when Columbus sighted Dominica, Martinique, Maria Galante, Guadeloupe, Montserrat (named for a mountain near Barcelona), Santa Maria de la Antigua, Saint Croix, Virgin Islands, Jamaica, and San Juan Bautista (Boriquén; Puerto Rico) and when Columbus landed on Puerto Rico.

During the Indian Wars on Española, Ponce de Leon distinguished himself and was rewarded with governorship of eastern part of the island. He became a successful farmer, a rare occupation for a Castilian at the time. Grew yucca which was ground into a flour for bread which kept well for the voyages to Europe.

Juan Ponce was not a greedy slave trader or gold hunter; he was primarily a farmer who earned great respect and supplied most of the explorers who stopped at Española heading to different points west or returning to Europe. He was noted for his fair treatment of Indians and Europeans, a remarkable feat giving the barbarity of that period and he earned the confidence and support of Governor Oviedo and King Ferdinand. Ponce was later named governor of San Juan Bautista and he established first European colony on the island near present day San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Between 1506 and 1513, Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, sued the crown to retain all the entitlements bestowed on his father. Diego won which caused problems for Ponce when Diego arrived in the Indies.

Ponce was forced it give up the governorship of Puerto Rico to Diego Columbus because the king was unable to keep this from happening. Though Ponce did retain the office of military captain for the island. Ferdinand suggested that Ponce should explore the region to the north.

King granted Ponce the governorship of Biminis that included Florida and the Bahamas. This also helped the king to limit the power of the Columbus family in the New World and allowed Ponce to escape Puerto Rico, which was becoming an island prison under Diego.

At his own expense, Ponce outfitted three ships with a total of 65 people including two free Africans, two Indian slaves, one white slave, and one woman. The group set sail on March 3, 1513, from Puerto Rico.

The explorers landed on Sunday, April 3, 1513, and named what they thought was an island La Florida for the Pascua Florida, or feast of flowers celebrated at Easter. Sailing south along the east coast, Ponce made another significant discovery—the Gulf Stream which would later speed treasure ships to Spain.

He continued south past Miami Beach, west through the Florida Keys, and north to the barrier islands near Fort Myers. In this area Ponce encountered the Calusa Indians. There was a small skirmish and afterwards, Ponce sailed away. He backtracked and visited the Dry Tortugas and returned through the Keys and the Bahamas to San Juan Bautista, arriving on October 19, 1513.

Upon his return to Spain, Juan Ponce was knighted—the first New World conquistador so honored.

This was the first authorized exploration of this region. There were two types of exploration, authorized, that is approval from the Castilian and Spanish crowns and unauthorized, unapproved.

Florida had been visited before by unauthorized visits. Europeans looking for slaves. After 1494, slavers had visited the Bahamas Islands to capture slaves.

Las Casas made a statement that in 1511 Castilians had visited the land that became known and La Florida and it appears that it is the first documentation of enslavement of Indians by Europeans from any part of what is now the United States. Additionally to this written record a portion of Florida had been mapped by Andres de Morales de Sevilla who labeled it Isla de Beimeni. This map was added to some of Peter Martyr’s Opera, first published in 1511 and is the first map printed in Castilla that shows any discoveries in the New World.

The idea that Ponce’s primary purpose was to search for the Fountain of Youth is not correct. He was looking for the land of Bimini. Searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth was a secondary mission.

In February 1521, the newly titled Don Juan returned to establish a colony. With two ships and less than 100 people, they settled near Charlotte Harbor. Four months later, Calusa Indians attacked the small colony, killing or wounding many colonists. Don Juan Ponce de León y Figueroa sailed for Cuba where he died of wounds sustained in battle. Some of the survivors of the fail colony sailed to Mexico to join Hernán Cortez.

It would be 44 years before Spain successfully established a permanent presence on the peninsula.

Juan Ponce de Leon Signature Activity

Click here or on signature at right for Juan Ponce de León Signature Activity.

 

Pánfilo de Narváez (1470-1528)
Panfilo de Narváez was from an upper class family who lived in Vallenda, Spain. He joined other conquistadores in the NE World to earn himself a fortune. Between 1509-1512, Narváez took part in the conquests of Jamaica and Cuba. In 1520, Diego Valázquez, Governor of Cuba, sent Narváez to Mexico with a 1000 soldiers to capture Hernán Cortez who was conquering the Aztec Empire and exceeding his authority.

Narváez and his men fought the forces of Cortez on in May 1520 near Veracruz. Narváez lost the battle because many of his soldiers defected and joined Cortez. Following the battle, Narváez’s remaining men also joined Cortez while Narváez himself, was captured and imprisoned in Veracruz for two years.

After his release, Narváez returned to Spain. King Charles V later granted Narváez permission to form and lead an expedition to Florida. In 1527 his armada of five ships with about 600 men set sail for Florida. After reaching the Caribbean, some of his men deserted. He reached Florida in April 1528 landing near Tampa Bay.

He went ashore with the hope of establishing a colony. He had several hundred men, horses and supplies with him, but Narvaez and most of his men died. Eight years later, only four survivors made it to Mexico City. One of those survivors was called Esteban, a black explorer slave. During his journey to Mexico, Esteban learned much about the land. He later led Spanish explorers through what is now the southwestern United States.

Hernando de Soto (ca. 1500-1542)
Hernando de Soto was born around 1500 in Spain to a poor family, but as a member of the Spanish nobility. After obtaining some education in a university, he was invited in 1514 to join an expedition to the Indies, where he and his compatriots explored territories that now comprise Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Later as second in command of Francisco Pizarro’s conquests of Peru and the Incan capital of Cuzco, de Soto further consolidated his wealth. After earning a fortune, de Soto returned to Spain and a life of leisure.

In 1536 King Carols V granted de Soto the title of Governor of Cuba which included La Florida. In April 1538, de Soto departed Spain with about nine ships and 700-1000 men. His fleet arrived at Cuba where they helped Havana after a French attach on the city.

De Soto and his fleet departed Cuba in May 1539 sailing for Florida. About ten days later, des Soto landed at Tampa Bay. He and his men explored the present-day states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. They discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River. After crossing the river, de Soto fell ill and died in late May or in June (the sources do not agree on the date). His men buried his body in the Mississippi River.

Tristán de Luan y Arellano (1519-1573)
Tristán de Luan y Arellano was born in Spain in 1519. He is best known for the short-lived colony at the site of the city of Pensacola, Florida in 1559. De Luna to the New World in 1530-1531. In 1540 he was pat of the Coronado expedition that explored what is now the Southeastern United States and Northern Mexico. Eight years later de Luna put down an Indian revolt in Oaxaca. Luis de Velasco, the viceroy of Mexico, selected de Luna around 1557 to lead an expedition to establish a colony on the Gulf coast. De Luna was given the title of governor of Florida. With about 1,000 colonists, 500 soldiers, and 240 horses and other items and supplies needed to found a colony, de Luna depart Mexico in June 11, 1559 and landed at Pensacola Bay on August 14. Five days later, a hurricane destroyed most of his supplies and most of his ships. The colony held on until he was relieved of his duties and ordered to Spain January 1561. De Luna did return to Mexico in 1567. His expedition left him broke and he died in Mexico City in 1573.

Jean Ribault (1520-1565)
In 1562 a Frenchman Jean Ribault came to Florida to claim land for France. Ribault landed at the mouth of the St. John’s River. He built a stone monument to mark his claim for France, and then continued his journey north and built a fort on the Carolina coast. Ribault left 30 men to run the fort while he returned to France to get supplies. A number of accidents at the fort caused problems for the men, but they were fortunate to be rescued by a passing British ship.

Two years later another Frenchman named Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere led 300 men and four women to Florida to establish a colony. He built Fort Caroline near present day Jacksonville. The colonists ran low on food and became unhappy with
Laudonniere’s leadership. They had decided to leave Fort Caroline. Just then, Ribault arrived with 500 men, 70 women, and supplies. He saved the French colony in Florida.

Then, on August 28, 1565, the King of Spain sent Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to Florida. The King wanted Menéndez to drive the French out of Florida. When Menéndez de Avilés arrived, he immediately marched north to destroy Fort Caroline. Ribault had heard from friendly Native Americans that the Spanish were going to attack. Ribault decided to leave the fort for safety. He sailed south with the majority of his men. The Spanish killed those who remained at Fort Caroline, then sailed south and caught up with Ribault. After a short battle, the Spanish killed most of the French. However, Laudonniere was lucky, he escaped the battle and made it back to France. The location where Menéndez killed Ribault and his men became known as Matanzas, which means “massacre.”

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574)
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was born in Spain in 1519. He ran away to sea at 14 years of age, although he was the son of a Spanish nobleman. After 15 years of service in European waters, he made several voyages to the New World beginning in 1560. In 1565, King Philip II of Spain signed a contract with Menéndez and named him governor of Florida. Menéndez’s mission was to establish a colony in La Florida and to remove the French colony established in Spanish territory. This also provided him an opportunity to try to locate his so Juan, who had shipwrecked in the Bahamas the year before. He never found his son.

Menéndez departed Spain with a small armada of 11 ships and about 2,000 men in July 1565 and arrive in La Florida the following month when he founded St. Augustine. Menéndez quickly destroyed and killed most of the French at Fort Caroline which was renamed San Mateo. He then turned to fight the French relief headed by Jean Ribault. Riabult’s forces were forced to surrender. Menéndez executed them all except for any Catholics (the French in Florida were Huguenot Protestants). He remained in La Florida until he returned to Spain in 1567. He would return one more time. He died in 1574.

 

To learn more about the 16th Century Explorers of Florida, click on the links below:

Juan Ponce de León

Juan Ponce de León by John E. Worth

teachingflorida.org/article/juan-ponce-de-leon

Juan Ponce de León, Spain-Florida Organization

www.spain-florida.org/foundation/index/elearning/lang/en/id/1

Pánfilo de Narváez

Pánfilo de Narváez by John E. Worth

teachingflorida.org/article/panfilo-de-narvaez

Biography of Pánfilo de Narváez by Christopher Minster

latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/coloniallatinamerica/p/narvaez.htm

Pánfilo de Narváez; Explorer

www.enchantedlearning.com/explorers/page/n/narvaez.shtml

Pánfilo de Narváez, Texas State Historical Association

www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fna22

 Hernando de Soto

Hernando de Soto by John E. Worth

teachingflorida.org/article/hernando-de-soto

Hernando de Soto Arrives and Explores Florida

fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/de_soto/de_soto1.htm

Hernando de Soto

www.biography.com/people/hernando-de-soto-38469

Hernando de Soto: Explorer

www.enchantedlearning.com/explorers/page/d/desoto.shtml

Tristán de Luan y Arellano

Tristán de Luan y Arellano

www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fluff

Tristán de Luan y Arellano, Spain-Florida Organization

www.spain-florida.org/foundation/index/elearning/lang/en/id/3

The Tristán de Luan Expedition by Steve Pinson

www.de-luna.com/pal.html

Shipwrecked History: Spanish Ships Found in Pensacola Harbor by John E. Worth

www.americanheritage.com/content/shipwrecked-history

Jean Ribault

Jean Ribault Claims Florida for Spain

fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/ribault/ribault1.htm

Florida of the French

floridahistory.org/french.htm

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés by Michael Gannon

teachingflorida.org/article/pedro-menendez-de-aviles

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Spain-Florida Organization

www.spain-florida.org/foundation/index/elearning/lang/en/id/2

Pedro Menéndez

staugustine.com/history/pedro-menendez

 

 

Site Map  |   Home  |  Native Americans  |  Journal  |  Pioneer Life  |  Land Boom & Bust  |  World War ll  |  Progress  |  People  |  Agriculture  |  Communities  |  Geography  |  Maps & Photos  |  For Teachers  |  Credits  |  Disclaimer  |  Copyright  |  Links  |  Timeline E-L  | 

phone: 561.832.4164  |  fax: 561.832.7965  |  mail: P.O. Box 4364, W.P.B., FL 33402  |  visit: 300 N. Dixie Hwy, W.P.B., FL 33401

© 2009 Historical Society of Palm Beach County  |  all photos courtesy HSPBC unless otherwise noted