Juan Ponce de Leon was a Spanish explorer, who discovered Florida. He was born in Santervas de Campos, in present day Valladolid province of Spain, in 1474. As per the records, in September 1493, he accompanied Christopher Columbus as one of the 'gentlemen volunteers' on Columbus' second voyage to colonize new territories in America.
In 1504, Juan Ponce de Leon was made the frontier governor of Higuey, after he suppressed the rebellion by native Tainos in this area. The following year, he established the town of Salvaleon in Higuey, and married Leonara, the daughter of a humble innkeeper. The couple had four children; three daughters: Juana, Isabel, and Maria, and one son, Luis.
First Official Voyage
He embarked on his first official expedition to the island called San Juan Bautista in 1508. He set sail from Hispaniola on June 12 with 50 men. The mission was to tap the precious natural resources in this region. After collecting precious metals, he decided to return to Spain in 1509.
The expedition was a great success, and Ponce was appointed the Governor of San Juan Bautista by King Ferdinand II. He was given the responsibility to extend settlement in the area and continue mining for precious metals. After a struggle with Diego Colon, the son of Christopher Columbus, Ponce lost his position as the Governor and had to return to Spain.
Discovery of Florida
On March 4, 1513, Ponce set sail from Puerto Rico to find the yet undiscovered islands to the northwest of Hispaniola. His fleet consisted of 3 ships: Santiago, San Cristobal, and Santa Maria de la Consolacion. Their chief pilot was Anton de Alaminos.
Sailing northwest, they first sighted unfamiliar land on April 2, 1513. They halted at this place mistaking it for an island. Ponce was mesmerized by the beautiful landscape of this place. He named it La Florida, owing to the ongoing Easter season, which was known as Pascua Florida in Spanish.
After resting at this place for a few days, the crew set sail for further exploration with the hope of finding more unexplored places. On July 8, 1513, they reached the Grand Bahama, an island in the Bahamas. Ponce gave the responsibility of continuing the expedition to the crew of Santa Maria and decided to return home with rest of the fleet.
They returned to Puerto Rico on October 19, 1513, while Santa Maria reached on February 20, 1514. In April 1514, Juan Ponce de Leon reached Spain to submit the account of this voyage to the King. He was granted knighthood and was given a personal coat of arms, thus becoming the first conquistador to get this honor.
Second Voyage to Florida
In 1521, Ponce once again set out for Florida. This colonizing expedition consisted of 2 ships and 200 men. They touched the southwest coast of Florida, near Charlotte harbor. As soon as they landed, they were attacked by the native Americans known as the Calusas.
In the encounter that followed, Ponce was hit by a poisoned arrow. The crew sailed off to Havana, Cuba, where Ponce succumbed to the wound.
Though this has been a topic of debate for a long time, some historians believe that Ponce left for his first voyage to Florida in search of the fountain of youth. Others believe that the expansion of the Spanish empire and the search for wealth were the only motives behind his voyages.