Spain and France in Florida

In 1513 the Spaniards reached Florida; Louis C. Kleber describes how fifty years later the French followed them.

‘And believing that this land was an island, they named it “La Florida”, because it has a very beautiful view of many cool woodlands, and it was level and uniform, and because, moreover, they discovered it in the time of the Feast of Flowers.’ With these words the Royal Historiographer of Spain, Antonio de Herrera, described the moment when Juan Ponce de Leon gazed upon Florida’s shores. The date was April 1513.

Ponce de Leon had accompanied Columbus on the voyage of 1493 when Puerto Rican Indians excited his imagination with information of a wonderful land to the north-west, rich in gold and possessing a fountain with the magical power to restore youth. Ponce de Leon could not forget these stories and his enthusiasm finally brought him a grant from Charles V of Spain to explore the area. At the time of discovery, little consideration was given to the possibility that Florida might not be another island in the Caribbean region.

Ponce de Leon explored westward as far as Pensacola Bay. The Indians were not friendly; but this did not dissuade him and he returned in 1521 with the intention of colonizing Florida for Spain. It was to mean his death. Landing near St. Augustine, his party was fiercely attacked by Indians; Ponce de Leon received an arrow in his thigh, and the Spaniards withdrew with their mortally wounded leader.

Other Spanish expeditions to Florida failed. Such men as Panfilo de Narvaez and Hernando de Soto led well-prepared parties into the hostile land, but it gave them nothing but death and despair in return for their efforts. The West Indies, Mexico and the Isthmus of Darien were more rewarding areas. Furthermore, other vast territories held greater promise of riches.

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