Based on last week’s commemoration, it’s been 500 years since Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida. The problem is, he didn’t discover Florida. And as Florida historian T.D. Allman points out in the New York Times: “He never did much of anything here except get himself killed.”
According to Allman’s article:
Florida probably was first sighted by Portuguese navigators, or perhaps by the Cabots sailing from England. Either way, it started appearing on maps as early as 1500.
By 1510, its distinctive peninsular shape had emerged clearly on maps in Europe. By 1513, when Ponce de Léon first arrived, so many Europeans had visited Florida that some Indians greeted him in Spanish.
Ponce never went anywhere near St. Augustine, the city where he is said to have discovered the Fountain of Youth. He was not an old man. That tale was concocted by Washington Irving more than 300 years later.
Ponce left and then returned on a second voyage.
On that second voyage he achieved one real Florida first, albeit an inglorious one. In a skirmish with native inhabitants, Ponce fired the first shots in what would turn into a 300-year war of ethnic cleansing … Ponce himself was struck by an arrow. The wound wasn’t serious, but the Spaniards were as indifferent to sepsis as they were alert to heresy… he died of fever in Havana, having discovered nothing, founded nothing and achieved nothing.