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Saturday, May 28, 2022

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European discovery of Florida

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on April 2, 2013

First documented European landing on what is now the United States

On 2 April 1513 (500 years ago, for those who have lost count), a fleet of three Spanish ships commanded by Juan Ponce de León sighted land west of the Bahamas.  He believed it to be another island and named it La Florida (the Flowery Isles) in recognition of its verdant landscape.  Ponce de León landed the next day and took possession in the name of the Kingdom of Spain.  The exact location of the landing is unknown, but was somewhere between what is now St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach, with many favoring Ponce de León Inlet, just south of Daytona Beach.  After a few days replenishing water and other supplies, the ships turned south.  On 8 April, they encountered a current that pushed the ships north.  It was the first documented European encounter with the Gulf Stream.  They avoided its strongest effects by sailing just off shore.  On 4 May, they entered what is now called Biscayne Bay.  After a few days tanning on South Beach, they headed off for the Florida Keys, which Ponce de León called Los Martires (the Martyrs).  Finding a passage between some keys, they sailed northwest, landing near present-day Charlotte Harbor on 23 May.  While resupplying and repairing the ships, they were approached by Native Americans.  Relations quickly went south.  In the ensuing conflict, there were casualties on both sides and several natives were captured.  After a brief stop in the Dry Tortugas, the expedition followed the Gulf Stream east and north to the Bahamas and then returned to Puerto Rico.  In 1521, Ponce de León took two ships back to La Florida to establish a colony.  On board were approximately 200 men, including priests, farmers, and artisans.  They brought horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, and farming implements.  The ships landed near Charlotte Harbor.  They were soon attacked by the local Calusa natives, who remembered their last encounter and quickly recognized a threat to their way of life.  Ponce de León was wounded, possibly by a poisoned arrow.  The ships returned to Cuba, where Ponce de León succumbed to his wound.  His body is now buried in Puerto Rico, where he had served as the first Spanish Governor.  Except for a twenty year British occupancy (1763-1783), Florida was under Spanish dominion until ceded to the United States in 1819.

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