Explorers and Travelers, 1492-1700
Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival
of the Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Ponce de Leon
in 1513. Sometime between April 2 and April 8, Ponce de
Leon waded ashore on the northeast coast of Florida, possibly
near present-day St. Augustine. He called the area la Florida,
in honor of Pascua florida ("feast of the flowers"),
Spainos Eastertime celebration. Other Europeans may have
reached Florida earlier, but no firm evidence of such achievement
has been found.
On another voyage in 1521, Ponce de Leon landed on the
southwestern coast of the peninsula, accompanied by two-hundred
people, fifty horses, and numerous beasts of burden. His
colonization attempt quickly failed because of attacks
by native people. However, Ponce de Leon's activities served
to identify Florida as a desirable place for explorers,
missionaries, and treasure seekers.
In 1539 Hernando de Soto began another expedition in search
of gold and silver, which took him on a long trek through
Florida and what is now the southeastern United States.
For four years, de Sotoos expedition wandered, in hopes
of finding the fabled wealth of the Indian people. De Soto
and his soldiers camped for five months in the area now
known as Tallahassee. De Soto died near the Mississippi
River in 1542. In the end, only about three hundred survivors--
half the number that landed with de Soto at Tampa Bay--returned
to Spanish Mexico.
No great treasure troves awaited the Spanish conquistadores
who explored Florida. However, their stories helped inform
Europeans about Florida and its relationship to Cuba, Mexico,
and Central and South America, from which Spain regularly
shipped gold, silver, and other products. Groups of heavily-laden
Spanish vessels, called plate fleets, usually sailed up
the Gulf Stream through the straits that parallel Floridaos
Keys. Aware of this route, pirates preyed on the fleets.
Hurricanes created additional hazards, sometimes wrecking
the ships on the reefs and shoals along Floridaos eastern
Spain was not the only European nation that found Florida
attractive. In 1562 the French protestant Jean Ribault
explored the area. Two years later, fellow Frenchman Reno
Goulaine de Laudonniore established Fort Caroline at the
mouth of the St. Johns River, near present-day Jacksonville.
Text from: A Short History of Florida
Used with the permission of Florida's Division of Historical