Historic Markers Across Florida

Juan Ponce de Leon (1474-1521)-Explorer and Florida's First Governor

Marker ID:  
Location: on FL A1A in Juan Ponce de Leon Landing Park at Melbourne Beach, FL
County: Brevard
Coordinates: N 28° 00.622    W 080° 31.795
  28.01036666    -80.52991666
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: WMPZF5


Juan Ponce de Leon was born in 1474 in San Tervas del Campo, Valladolid province, in central Spain. The distinguished Leon family dynasty was among the first to join Queen Isabella in her bid to bring together the many feudal warlords in Castile and Aragon under one Spanish monarchy. Previous historical work related to Ponce de Leon erroneously report that he was born from humble birth in the year 1460. The prominent scholar Aurelio Tio in a search of both private and public archives in Spain documented that Juan Ponce de Leon was born in 1474 of noble birth and that he was the brother of the celebrated general Rodrigo Ponce de Leon. Aurelio Tio's findings are reported in Samuel Eliot Morison's account of Ponce de Leon and his 1513 voyage in The European Discovery of America (1974).

At age nineteen, already a seasoned warrior, Juan Ponce de Leon joined Christopher Columbus's second voyage to serve the crown in the Indies, where he distinguished himself by subduing, colonizing, and governing the island later known as Puerto Rico. In 1513, Ponce de Leon decided to move on to a more exciting and profitable exploration voyage. His seven-month, 780-nautical-mile exploration voyage into unknown waters, set the stage for subsequent European colonization in North America. Yet past and current historical literature degrades the discoveries and accomplishments of Ponce de Leon by erroneously picturing him as a vain conquistador who only stumbles into Florida while looking for a mythical fountain of youth. His charter from the crown authorized him to see and conquer the rumored wealthy island or land of Beimeni to extend the Spanish empire, with no mention of a fountain of youth. And contrary to current consensus he landed at Melbourne Beach, 125 miles south of St. Augustine, the generally accepted landing site on the shore of Florida (Gannon; Peck).

The native inhabitants of the New World did not have a fountain of youth in their legends nor was Ponce de Leon looking for it. The Arabic legend of a fountain of youth was introduced into European literature by the epic, medieval French, Roman d'Alexandre (1935), Peter Martyr (Pietro Martire d'Anghiera) later associated the Eurasian legend of a fountain of youth with the New Word, locating it in the Bay of Honduras, but did not tie it to Ponce de Leon's voyage (McNutt). The sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo was solely responsible for attaching the legend to Juan Ponce's voyage and to Florida adding an unfounded comment that the relatively young and virile Juan Ponce was looking for a fountain of youth to cure his sexual impotence.

Juan Ponce de Leon died in 1521 from wounds received in a doomed attempt to found a colony among the indomitable Calusa in Florida. This failure, hardly unique in the period, should not detract from his epic 1513 voyage that opened the shores of North America to European colonization.
Douglas T. Peck, Independent Historian

The Track of Juan Ponce de Leon's Voyage March 3-April 2, 1513
(1) March 3- Departed "Punta Aguade" (Puerto Rico) on a heading of northwest by north.
(2) March 8-Anchored at "El Viego" (Grand Turk) after a 3 1/2 days Sail.
(3) March 9- Anchored at "Caycos" (e. Caicos) after an easy day's sail.
(4) March 10-Anchored at Yaguna" (N. Caicos) again after an easy day's sail.
(5) March 11-12-Hove-to off "Amaguayo" (Mayaguano) after an overnight sail.
(6) March 13-Passed "Manegua" (Samana Cay) during an overnight sail.
(7) March 14-25- Anchored at "Guanahani" (San Salvador), provisioned and re-rigged the vessels for the anticipated long ocean passage to Beimeni.
(8) March 27-Passed "unidentified island" (Eleuthera) on a heading of northwest.
(9) March 29-30-Hove-to during storm, changed heading to west-northwest.
(10) April 2-3-Anchorage and landing, 28 degrees latitude, south of Cape Canaveral.

Landmarks of Juan Ponce de Leon's Voyage
This is a scaled drawing of the northwest portion of Peter Martyr's map of the Indies. The numbered arrows indicate landmarks during Juan Ponce de Leon's 1513 voyage.
(1) Departure from Punta Aguada on the western edge of Puerto Rico, March 3, 1513.
(2) Anchored at El Viejo (Grand Turk), the first island on the Banks of the Babueca.
(3) Passed and identified (from Indian guides) five islands in the Lucayans (Bahamas).
(4) Stayed 10 days on Guanahani (San Salvador) preparing for ocean passage to Beimeni.
(5) Landed on coast of Florida at 28 degrees latitude (Melbourne Beach), April 3, 1513.

Juan Ponce de Leon's charter from the Crown authorized him to seek and conquer the legendary land of Beimeni to extend the Spanish empire, with no mention of a Fountain of Youth. Martyr's map which was in existence well before Ponce de Leon's voyage graphically shows why he set his course in a northwesterly direction into unknown waters seeking the legendary land of Beimeni. And when he landed on the low and barren shore of Florida in the exact position that Beimeni should have been (as shown on Martyr's map) he naturally realized it was not the exotic land of Beimeni and at first believing it was just another relatively unimportant island of the Bahamas, named it "La Florida" because it was discovered in the Spanish Easter season of "Pascua Florida."

Dead Reckoning Traverse Board
During the fifteenth century, sailors navigated by "deduced" or "dead" reckoning (DR). This was the method used by most sailors of this era. DR navigation requires that each change in course, distance, and speed be recorded by the helmsman so the navigator could plot the ship's position on a chart. Speed and distance was measured every hour. The officer of the watch would keep track of the speed and course sailed every hour by using a toleta, or traverse board. This was a simple visual recording device; a peg-board with holes radiating from the center along every point of the compass. The peg was moved from the center along the course traveled, for the distance made during that hour. After four hours, another peg was used to represent the distance made good in leagues during the whole watch. At the end of the day, the total distance and course for the day was transferred to the navigator's chart and each ending position would be the starting point for the next day's course and distance measurement.

Juan Ponce de Leon 1474-1521
On April 2, 2013 Brevard County will be celebrating the Quincentennial Anniversary of the Landing of Juan Ponce de Leon at Melbourne Beach, Florida and The President of the United States, The King and Queen of Spain, The Governor of Florida, as well as other governmental, civic leaders and the general public will be invited to participate in a Celebration. We believe the Anniversary is of interest to our entire nation to participate.

The weeklong Celebration is expected to include Mass, Opening Ceremony, Re-enactment of the Landing, Air Force Fly Over, Tall Ship Exhibition Gala, Cultural Festivals, Exhibitions from Local Schools, Arts and Crafts, Unveiling of the Statue and Building, and Closing Ceremony.

Florida Historian Colonel Douglas T. Peck concluded from his research that Ponce de Leon landed bear Melbourne Beach which is 125 miles south of the previously accepted landing site of St. Augustine. Colonel Peck's findings are found in his book "Ponce de Leon and the Discovery of Florida (1993)" and registered in the "Oxford Companion to Exploration (2007) An Encyclopedia of Worldwide Exploration ad Discovery". In agreement with his findings, on April 2, 2005 the Florida Department of State issued a Historical Land Marker recognizing Melbourne Beach as the probable location of Juan Ponce de Leon's landing.

On this journey, Juan Ponce de Leon brought with him the first Spanish European woman, Juana Jimenez, and the first free black African man, Juan Garrido, who set foot on the Florida Peninsula. Juan Ponce de Leon also achieved being the First Governor of Puerto Rico 1508, First European to set foot in the Northern Hemisphere, First Governor of Florida 1513, and First Chief Justice of Florida. He discovered the Gulf Stream, Biscayne Bay, The Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas, Tampa Bay, and Charlotte Harbor.

With direct relation to the Voyage of Juan Ponce de Leon's discovery and naming of La Florida, known today as Florida, he established the first Thanksgiving, and the first school hospital and bank on this land that we now call the United States of America. Along with his discovery came the cradle of Christianity in North America.

U.T.B.-United Third Bridge, Inc. and the Florida Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Inc. are organizations committed to excellence, with a clear vision and a passion for delivering outstanding results. Through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Brevard County Board of Commissioners, the organizations jointly support the desire to provide an educational facility dedicated to Hispanic Cultural heritage through corporate, philanthropic, donations and grant funding.
We are asking for your support to help fund these projects with the purchase of engraved pavers or through sponsorships to contribute to the completion of the Statue and the Hispanic Cultural facility. The facility will contribute to the future growth of Brevard County's long lasting tourism and will provide employment, marketing, and outreach opportunities for all businesses and residents within the local community.

If you need additional information, please call 321-863-5165 or 321-253-0363; or e-mail utblopez@aol.com or info@fprhcc.org

Brevard County Board of County Commissioners,
Brevard County Parks and Recreation,
UTS, Inc, Florida Puerto Ricans/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Inc.