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Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León


Pedro Menendez Aviles
Pedro Menendez Aviles

The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed on the Atlantic Coast of what is now Florida, probably at or near Melbourne Beach, early in April 1513. He is generally credited with being the first European to set foot in Florida, although he may have been preceded by slavers from the Spanish-held island of La Isla Española (Hispaniola) in the Caribbean Sea. In 1521 Ponce de León returned with two shiploads of colonists to found a settlement on the Gulf Coast, probably in the vicinity of Charlotte Harbor, but he was driven off, mortally wounded, by a Native American attack. A dubious legend of later years attributed his explorations in Florida to a quest for a magic fountain of youth.

Later explorations gave Spain a claim to the vast, uncharted area north and west of the peninsula.

For many years the name La Florida, given by Ponce de León to the peninsula, was applied by Spain to the entire Atlantic coastline of North America as far north as Newfoundland. In 1528 an expedition of 300 men led by Pánfilo de Narváez landed on the Gulf coast, probably at Tampa Bay. The party marched northward through forests and swamps to the area north of Apalachee Bay. Having found no gold there, and beset by continual Native American attacks, they set out for Mexico in crude wooden barges. Most of the members of the expedition were drowned when a sudden storm swamped the barges near Texas. In 1539 the quest for gold brought explorer Hernando de Soto and a force of more than 600 Spanish soldiers to the Tampa Bay area. After exploring the land to the north and northwest, they ventured westward, and, in 1541, discovered the Mississippi River.

French and Spanish Rivalry


In 1562 Spanish claims to Florida were challenged by Jean Ribault, a French naval captain, who discovered the mouth of the Saint Johns River and thought it a likely site for a French settlement.

Two years later René Goulaine de Laudonnière, one of Ribault’s officers, established Fort Caroline there. Spain, a Roman Catholic country, objected to the French settlement for religious as well as political reasons because the French colonists were Huguenots, or Protestants. In 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the newly appointed Spanish governor of La Florida, commanded a colonizing expedition that landed 64 km (40 mi) south of Fort Caroline and established San Agustín (now Saint Augustine), the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. Menéndez led a successful overland attack on Fort Caroline, while a French fleet, which was attempting to attack Saint Augustine, was destroyed by a violent storm. The Spaniards massacred most of the French at Fort Caroline and executed all but a few survivors of the shipwrecked fleet. Three years later, in revenge for the Fort Caroline massacre, a French expedition destroyed the Spanish garrison there. However, no further French settlements were made on the peninsula. "Florida" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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