Juan Ponce de Leon; 1474 – 1521

By | October 3, 2013

Juan Ponce de Leon; Spanish explorer, first Governor of Puerto Rico, volunteer on Christopher Columbus’ second voyage, and seeker of the Fountain of Youth.

Juan Ponce de Leon statue
downtown St. Augustine
Juan Ponce de Leon

The history of St. Augustine begins with Ponce de Leon. It is thought by many historians that St. Augustine is where he landed on his first voyage.

As the first European to explore our shores, he played an important role in Florida history.

He began his travels as a volunteer on Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the “New World” in 1493.

They sailed to Hispaniola and then on to the island of Puerto Rico. He had his first glimpse of the land he would eventually call home.

Leading many of his own expeditions he became a very respected Spanish explorer and was the first Conquistador to be knighted by King Ferdinand.


Juan Ponce de Leon y Figueroa


Born in the village of Santervas de Campos in Spain.

Fought in the Spanish campaigns to defeat the Moors.
Volunteered to sail with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the “New World”. Then returned to Spain for several years.
Returned to Hispaniola with Nicolás de Ovando, newly appointed Governor.
Appointed frontier governor after crushing a Tainos rebellion on the island. He was given a large land grant and labor with which to farm.
Established a new town, Salvaleon. Married Leonora and had three daughters and one son.
First official expedition to Puerto Rico.
Ponce de Leon returned to Hispaniola.
August 14, Appointed Governor of Puerto Rico. Returned to the island with his family.
Succeeded by Juan Ceron as Governor of Puerto Rico.
Set out to discover new lands. April 2, sighted land thought to be another island. Named it La Florida in honor of the Easter season which the Spaniards called Pascua Florida or Festival of Flowers.
Claimed “La Florida” for Spain.
The precise landing spot is unclear although many historians believe it was St. Augustine.
Discovered the Gulf Stream.
Sailed south around the tip of Florida then up the west coast exploring further.
Returned to Puerto Rico.
Returned to Spain. First Conquistador to receive the honor of Knighthood and a personal coat of arms from King Ferdinand. Documented discoveries and added to the Padron Real, the official navigation chart used by Spanish Captains.
New contract drawn up confirming Ponce de Leon’s rights to settle and govern La Florida.
Left Spain to return to Puerto Rico. Restored as Governor.
Organized what would be his last expedition back to La Florida. He was shot by a Calusa brave with a poisoned arrow. The expedition sailed to Havana, Cuba where he died.

Legend has it that Juan Ponce de Leon had heard stories of youth restoring waters and set out to find them. Several historical writings tend to substantiate this legend. Others believe the hope of finding gold and new lands were far more enticing.

The Fountain of Youth right here in St. Augustine is thought to be the landing spot of Juan Ponce de Leon’s first expedition. You will definitely want to visit this fascinating historic site.

Our St. Augustine history is rich and it all began with Juan Ponce de Leon, the man who discovered Florida.

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