ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY … JUAN PONCE DE LEON “DISCOVERS” LA FLORIDA
It was five hundred years ago today, on April 2, 1513, that three ships under command of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León dropped anchor off the coast of an unknown “island” he named La Florida, in honor of the Easter season, or “Pascua Florida.” The following day, Ponce de León and his men rowed ashore and ceremonially took formal possession of the land for the kingdom of Spain. Historians have since disputed the precise location of their landfall, some arguing in favor of St. Augustine, with others pointing to more southerly locations on the east coast of Florida. Boosters of particular locations, however, have never been content to let fact or scholarly conjecture get in the way of celebration!
Although Ponce de León is popularly credited with the “discovery” of Florida, most historians assume that Spanish slavers seeking Indian laborers had unofficially landed and stolen away some of the natives of the peninsula at an earlier date. Historians have also discounted the legend that he came looking for a “fountain of youth.” The contract he signed with King Ferdinand a year before setting out on his voyage of discovery, for example, authorized him to search for the “Islands of Benimy,” invested him with the title of governor for life of all lands he discovered at his own expense, but made no mention whatsoever of a rejuvenating fountain. But the stuff of myth and legend remain an easier sell than the sober facts of history, as seems evident from these ephemeral items from the Wolfsonian library collection.
GIFT OF VICKI GOLD LEVI
“FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH” MECHANICAL WORK, GIFT OF SILVIA RIPSTEIN