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Johnson History Museum: Rotating Exhibit Gallery

Claiming La Florida: On Board with Juan Ponce de León

Temporary Exhibit examines Juan Ponce de León and life on board a 16th century Spanish ship. On display November 6, 2012 - June 29, 2013.

“Claiming La Florida: On Board with Juan Ponce de León" is a new temporary exhibition to open in November 6, 2012, at the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum in the restored 1916 Court House in downtown West Palm Beach, to mark the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León claiming Florida for Spain.

After decades of warfare to expel the Muslim Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, Queen Isabela of Castilla and King Ferdinand of Aragon needed to find a source of income to replenish their coffers so they could carry their war to expand Christianity across the Mediterranean Sea. They decided to increase the country’s income by participating in the lucrative spice trade with India. When Christopher Columbus suggested that there was a way to sail west to reach the East Indies, Isabela decided to back his plan to find a new trade route.

The European discovery of what came to be called the New World in 1492, provided new opportunities for unemployed soldiers, including Juan Ponce de León y Figueroa. He first crossed the Atlantic Ocean with Columbus’s second voyage. He drops off the official records for the next nine years, reappearing in 1502, when he helped put down an Indian uprising on Hispaniola. His skills as a warrior, farmer, and businessman lead to the governorship of Puerto Rico. Political turmoil caused King Ferdinand to suggest Ponce undertake a voyage of discovery to “Beimini.” While Juan Ponce de León did not find today’s Bimini, he found a much larger land and named it La Florida a week after Easter in 1513.

Visitors to the museum will learn about Juan Ponce de León and life aboard ship, in the 16th century. They will also learn about the legends surrounding Ponce and his successes and failures. Ultimately, through understanding the challenges Juan Ponce de León faced and the pressures of exploration he and other conquistadors had to surmount, visitors will understand why it took more than fifty years for Spain to finally establish a permanent colony in La Florida.

To learn more about Juan Ponce de León, explorers of La Florida, and life on board a 16th century Spanish ship, click on the below links:

Life on Board a 16th century Spanish Ship
The Columbian Exchange
16th Century Navigation Tools
What did Sailors Eat?
On Board Medical Treatment
16th Century Explorers of Florida


The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm. Docent tours are available by calling 561-832-4164 ext 104. Admission is free.

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