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World Explorers: Ponce de León

5 minutes

(female narrator) Juan Ponce de León is known for his quest for the Fountain of Youth, a spring granting everlasting life. Did this Spanish explorer really search for the fountain, or is there more myth than truth to this legend?

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: Ponce de Leon.

(Describer) On a timeline, a pointer moves to 1474. A map zooms in on western Europe, then Spain.

Born in 1474 to a noble Spanish family, Ponce de León squired for a Spanish knight and became a fierce soldier. After fighting against the Moors in Spain, he sought his fortune abroad.

(Describer) In an animation, two tall ships cross the Atlantic.

In 1493, he joined Christopher Columbus's second expedition to the New World and became one of the first conquistadors.

(Describer) An old map of an island is shown.

Ponce de León was a captain of the Spanish military, responsible for settling the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, now known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When the native Taíno tribe rebelled against the Spanish conquerors, he crushed the uprising and enslaved the people. For this, he was rewarded with substantial land and made a governor of Hispaniola in 1504. In 1508, Ponce de León explored the neighboring island Borinquen and confirmed rumors of gold. He conquered Borinquen for Spain and renamed the island Puerto Rico, meaning "Rich Harbor."

(Describer) Men on horseback face a family on foot.

On this island too, he enslaved the Taíno population. Using a system of forced labor known as encomienda, he divided the natives between himself and other settlers. As a result of contact with the Europeans, the Taíno of both Puerto Rico and Hispaniola were exposed to smallpox and measles, diseases for which they had no immunity. They were decimated within decades. Ponce de León sailed northwest from Puerto Rico in 1513 with three ships and 200 men. According to the popular legend that has persisted from the time of his death to today, he sailed off, seeking the fabled Fountain of Youth. For centuries, tales of mythical waters hidden in an exotic locale-- waters that could reverse aging and cure illness-- tantalized Europeans. The Taíno told their own stories of a fountain of youth, rumored to be on an island called Bimini. On his northwest voyage, Ponce de León would have sailed near Bimini, but there is no evidence he searched for the Fountain of Youth. Historians have determined that Ponce de León left Puerto Rico not to seek mythical life-sustaining waters, but rather to search for undiscovered islands and gold for Spain. King Ferdinand promised to make Ponce de León lifelong governor of any lands his discovered. Sighting land in spring, 1513, de León thought he had discovered a new island

and named the region La Florida, meaning "Flowered," He explored the lush coast for more than two months, but never realized he had landed on mainland North America. At the peninsula's southern tip, he encountered the Gulf Stream-- a strong, oceanic current-- noting that it was faster than the wind. The Gulf Stream became the seafaring superhighway across the Atlantic back to Europe for hundreds of years. Ponce de León never found gold in Florida. After suffering numerous attacks by the Calusa Indians, he retreated that summer. In February, 1521, he and 200 settlers returned to Florida in hopes of establishing a colony he could govern. But five months later, the settlement was attacked by Calusa warriors. Ponce de León was wounded in the battle. He and the remaining settlers fled the colony and sailed to Havana, Cuba. Ponce de León died in Havana in July, 1521.

(Describer) Two statues of him are shown.

One of the first conquistadors to explore the New World, Juan Ponce de León colonized much of the Caribbean and was the first European to reach mainland North America. Although his Florida colony failed, it laid the foundation for the eventual Spanish settlement of Saint Augustine, the first permanent colony in what would become the United States. Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: Ponce de Leon. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

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Juan Ponce de León was famous for his quest for the fountain of youth. But is there more myth than truth to this legend? Learn more about his journeys to the Caribbean and the Americas. Part of the "World Explorers" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 5 minutes

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Episode 1
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