Born into nobility, Juan started his career at a young age, serving as a squire to a Knight, and a page to the royal courts of Aragon. He began learning warfare and served in the campaign of Spain against Granada, as they defeated the Moors, and the re-establishment of Spain in 1492, just as Christopher Columbus was asking the Crown to fund his expedition. With the war won, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decided to fund Columbus on his voyage. It is believed that because the war was over, there was no need for the number of soldiers, and so they sent them to the new world, including Ponce de Leon. Years later, he traveled back to Spain and returned with Nicolás de Ovando, to take over for Francisco de Bobadilla - enemy of Columbus and friend of Queen Isabella - as he was under investigation for the ill treatment of the indigenous people (and possibly lying to the crown during Columbus’s investigation). Francisco was originally sent to Hispaniola as a judge, where he imprisoned Columbus and then shipped him back to Spain for trial. Francisco died on his return to Spain, sunk by a hurricane Columbus predicted (that no one believed). Ponce de Leon thwarted an overthrow by the Indigenous people on Hispaniola, and Ovando rewarded him with a new governorship, though this was short-lived because of his many power-hungry rivals. When rumors of a large amount of gold on the nearby island of San Juan Bautista (now known as Puerto Rico) reached Ponce de Leon, he left his post to explore the nearby islands. When he realized he needed more funding, he requested that the crown pay for such an adventure. They funded him with supplies, a ship, and 50 men, and he immediately set sail to the island, establishing a new settlement. While there, he came upon the Bimini people, who spoke of a spring or fountain that would rejuvenate their life, making them young again. This drove Juan to search out more islands of gold, and to begin his search for the Fountain of Youth. He set sail again in 1513, and landed near what is now St. Augustine, Florida, believing it was just another island. He made many different discoveries while exploring, including a gulf stream - a warm body of water moving straight east that Spanish ships could use to quicken their journey back to Spain. Returning to Puerto Rico and then Spain, he reported his finding and was made Governor over Puerto Rico and Florida, and given an army to “protect” them from the local tribes. When he returned to Florida, near modern day Port Charlotte, it is reported that the indigenous people, the Calusa, attacked his men and settlers and mortally wounded Leon, who was shot in the thigh. His men sailed him back to Cuba, where he soon died. Activity: Map Making - Where did Juan Ponce de Leon travel? Draw on this map where he would have sailed. Start in Spain, then to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, St. Augustine, Puerto Rico, Spain, Port Charlotte, Florida, and Cuba. Chart his travels.
Alonso Álvarez de Piñeda (1494–1520) (W5:D4)– Born in Spain, he studied to be a cartographer, or map maker. When he arrived in the Americas, at age 25, Francisco Garay, Governor of Jamaica, commissioned Alonso to find them a new settlement that had inhabitants who he could use for labor and find a way to reach the Pacific Ocean. Jamaica was crumbling, due to its indigenous
people dying of European diseases, like Smallpox, Influenza, and Measles, and the Conquistadors, having nowhere else to explore. Piñeda was obliged to lead Garay’s expedition and use his map making skills to find a new land, taking over for Juan Ponce de Leon, and exploring more of Florida, after his passing.
He quickly set sail from Jamaica with three ships, 270 men, and many supplies, up the West coast of Florida. He mapped the coastline and every river that looked like a possible connection to the Pacific, through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, which together they claimed for Spain, and named Amichel. Piñeda disproved Juan Ponce de Leon’s claim that Florida was an island. He took detailed notes on the inhabitants, and even settlements that he encountered as he sailed around the coast. When he reached Texas, he discovered a land full of indigenous inhabitants, of which he named Corpus Christi Bay, after the day he arrived - the Roman Catholic Feast Day of Corpus Christi. Many of his crew wanted to explore Texas, but there are questions if he left the ship and explored with them or not.
They continued their journey into Mexico, down to the area now called Vera Cruz. Before leaving Jamaica, Governor Garay gave Piñeda a secret charge, to intercept Hérnan Cortés’s flotilla and claim that land for Spain. When they reached Cortés (near modern day Vera Cruz), while sending a landing party to take command, Piñeda’s soldiers were captured. This is also when Piñeda found that Cortés was about to attack the Aztec Empire. Alonso was forced to sail back up the coast to Rio Panuco, near modern-day Tampico, and while exploring the river and repairing his ship, was attacked by Huastec Indians. They destroyed everything and killed everyone in his party. Still, somehow, his map made its way back to Garay and, though inaccurate, was used by dozens of future explorers.
Activity: Cartographer – You are now a mapmaker for the day. Go outside and, without using any current maps, design a map on a blank sheet of paper, marking houses and roads, fences, and other structures, including landscaping and any waterways in your neighborhood. Draw it in the space below and then share it with a family member and see if they can read it.
Now that you have designed your own map, what do you think about them. Are they always easy to make? Are they always easy to read? How useful are they to have?