Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Ponce de Leon, Juan

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PONCE DE LEON, Juan (pon'-thay-day-lay'-one), Spanish o Campos, in 1460; d. in Cuba in July, 1521. He was descended from an ancient family of Aragon, was in his youth page of the infante, afterward Ferdinand VII., and served with credit against the Moors of Granada. According to some authorities, he accompanied Columbus in his second voyage to Hispaniola in 1493, but Washington Irving and other modern historians say that he only sailed in 1502 with Nicolas de Ovando (q. v.), who was appointed governor of that island. He took an active part in the pacification of the country, and became governor of the eastern part, or province of Higuey, where the natives had frequent intercourse with those of the island of Borinquen (Porto Rico). From them he acquired information about that island, and hearing that it contained abundance of gold, he obtained permission to conquer it. In 1508 he sailed with eighty Spanish adventurers and some auxiliary Indians, and in a few days he landed in Borinquen, where he was well received by the natives. The principal cacique, Aguainaba (q. v.), accompanied him to all parts of the island, and Ponce collected many samples of gold, and was astonished at the fertility of the soil. In 1509 he returned to Hispaniola to report, and in quest of re-enforcements, but the new governor, Diego Columbus, gave the command of the expedition to Diego Ceron, and sent Ponce as his lieutenant. The latter, through his protector, Ovando, in the court of Spain, claimed the appointment of governor of Borinquen, and in 1510 he obtained it. He sent Ceron to Hispaniola, began the construction of the first city, calling it Caparra, and sent his lieutenant, Cristobal de Sotormayor, to found another city in the southwest near the Bay of Guanica. Soon he began to distribute the Indians among his officers, as had been done in Hispaniola, and Aguainabo's brother and successor, of the same name, began a war of extermination against the invaders. He was defeated in successive encounters, and the natives called the Caribs of the lesser Antilles to their help, but Ponce conquered the whole island. In the beginning of 1512 Ponce was deprived of his government, and, broken in health by wounds, resolved to go in search of the fountain of eternal youth, which, according to the reports of the natives, existed in an island called Bimini. He gathered many of his former followers and other adventurers, sailed on 3 March, 1512, with three caravels from the port of San German, and visited several of the Bahama islands, but was told that the land in question lay farther west. On 27 March he landed in latitude 30° N., a little to the north of the present city of St. Augustine, on a coast which, on account of the abundant vegetation, he called Florida island. He sailed along the coast to a cape, which he called Corrientes, but, disappointed in his search for the fountain of youth, returned to Porto Rico on 5 Oct. and sailed for Spain, where he obtained for himself and his successors the title of adelantado of Bimini and Florida. In 1515 he returned with three caravels from Seville and touched at Porto Rico, where, finding that the Caribs had nearly overpowered the Spanish garrison, he remained to expel them, and founded in the south of the island the city of Ponce. In March, 1521, he made a second attempt to conquer Florida, and, sailing with two ships from San German, reached a point about fifty miles to the south of his former landing-place. He began to explore the interior, but found a warlike people, and, after many encounters with the natives, was obliged to re-embark, with the loss of nearly all his followers. Not desiring to return after his defeat to Porto Rico, he retired to the island of Cuba, where he died shortly afterward, in consequence of a wound from a poisoned arrow. His remains were subsequently transported to the city of San Juan de Porto Rico, and rest in the church of San Jose. A monument has been erected to his memory recently in that city. His autograph, which it is believed has never before appeared in America, was obtained from Spain through the courtesy of Gen. Meredith Read.