500 years ago, Juan Ponce de Léon did not discover Florida. Traces were found of Spanish slaves coming from the Bahamas, who had visited first, without ever staying for long.
500 years ago though, in 1513 -- in a time when some Catholic theologians were still convinced that the Earth was flat, sailing from newly discovered Puerto Rico, Spanish explorer Ponce de Léon reached what he named La Florida, where Native Americans were thriving since 12,000 years. He reached this land almost 100 years before the first English settlers of Jamestown landed further north, in nowadays Virginia.
The English claimed that the same land was discovered in fact by John Cabot, who did sail to the same continent, but most probably further up North, most likely in Maine or Canada. Christopher Columbus hopped from island to island, zigzagging between Central and South America a decade before, but never touched the North American continent.
Of course we must not discard the probable hypothesis that the Paleo-Indians crossed over to the American continent about 15,000 years ago. Archaeological finds and new DNA studies suggest that the first migrants from Asia could have walked to present Alaska when the two continents were not yet separated by water. But let's not drift away from Florida.
This is known: De Léon left in the spring of 1513 and reached the New World with three ships, the Santiago, the San Cristobal, and the Santa Maria de la Consolacion, along with 200 men. On Easter Sunday, land was sighted, and was baptized La Florida, derived from Pascua Florida (the feast of flowers in Spanish.)
We later dropped the La, and kept Florida.
Their first landing spot is believed to have been somewhere north of the actual city of St. Augustine. Exploring further south, the navigators arrived a month later into Biscayne Bay, named after Biscay Bay in the Atlantic Ocean, off the southwest coast of France and the northern part of Spain, skirting a part of the Basque country -- de Léon was believed to have Basque ancestors.
Then circling around the then deserted Florida Keys, the sailors went up the west coast all the way to nowadays Pensacola. A few encounters with local tribes proved hostile to settlement for now. They took to the sea again and went back home to Puerto Rico, via Cuba.
Some eight years later, Ponce de Léon returned to Florida's southwest coast, this time with a plan for a more definite colonization in mind. His two ships carried supplies, horses, farmers, domestic animals, artisans of all trades, and priests.
The Calusa Indians attacked the fresh settlers soon after their arrival, and de Léon was injured by a poisoned arrow. He quickly returned to Cuba with the would-be colonists, and there, he died from his wounds. He was buried in Puerto Rico.
He came once, he came twice, he was killed in Florida. He never found a fountain of youth. Some settlers managed to create colonies and thrive in various parts of the peninsula, all the way to today's specimens of beach lovers, alligator chasers, pink scooters aficionados and fabulous island-life opportunities. The explorers knew what they were doing when they came there first.
500 years, so few, so new, it reminds us of how young our country is.
500 years, crumbs on the timeline history of the World.
1513-2013, Florida is 500 years old, Happy Birthday dear state.
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