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Juan Ponce de León

Explorer

Born: c. 1460
Died: 1521
Birthplace: Santervas de Campos, Spain
Best known as: The guy who claimed Florida for Spain in 1513
Juan Ponce de León was a mariner and explorer of the 16th century who conquered Puerto Rico and claimed Florida in the name of Spain. Although little is known about his early career, Ponce de León is said to have been on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493. Ponce de León made another voyage to the New World in 1502 and settled in Hispaniola, where he excelled under the new governor, Nicolás de Ovando. Ponce de León then served as Puerto Rico's governor from 1509 to 1511, and in 1513 he became the first European to find what is now Florida. With permission from the Spanish crown, Ponce de León explored the islands of Bimini and the western and eastern coasts of Florida. He was probably in search of gold, but it's come down through history that he was looking for a mythical Fountain of Youth. Ponce de León and 200 men tried to colonize Florida in 1521, but were attacked by natives. He was wounded in the attack and died either in Cuba or while en route.
Extra credit: Juan Ponce de León's birthdate is an approximation; some sources list 1474, but documentation is scarce... The years between his voyage with Columbus and when he became a captain for Nicolás de Ovando are also a mystery; it's possible he did not return with Columbus and remained in Hispaniola.

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