Early Florida History Part One
Spanish conquistadors are the bedrock of early Florida history. These were individuals who were set out with the task of conquering and settling a land. They were explorers, but were also considered to be mercenaries since they often sought treasure and were entitled to a portion of whatever they found. The kings saw this as a fair trade and it was also a great motivator for getting people to launch out into the great unknown.
You have to understand that in the lat 1400s, there were two common misconceptions about the earth. The first was that it was flat. If you sailed long and far enough you would sail right over the edge. After all, many people were familiar with waterfalls, so it only stood to reason that the earth had edges that were massive waterfalls waiting to send you careening toward your death.
The second misconception was that there were great and terrible sea monsters that lie beneath the surface of the ocean. They were waiting to swallow up anything that crossed their path. As such, finding explorers was difficult at times. The treasure bounty made it easier to recruit hesitant explorers.
One such explorer was Ponce de Leon. He was commissioned by Spain to voyage across the sea to the Americas and had been exploring the waters off the coast of Florida. His first voyage was in the year 1493, with Christopher Columbus of all people. Over time, Ponce de Leon discovered the island of Puerto Rico and some of the Bahamas, but he was absolutely fascinated with the so-called fountain of youth. The local Indians spoke of this magical, legendary spring of water that supposedly made old people young again. Ponce de Leon was in search of this very place and happened to discover Puerto Rico, Bimini Island of the Bahamas, and the coast of Florida in the process.
His first encounter with Florida was the city of St. Augustine. Hungry for gold and still searching for the fountain of youth, his exhibition landed in March of 1513. He promptly claimed the land for Spain.
Named after the patron saint St. Augustine because the conquistador first saw the coastline on his feast day, he was amazed at the beautiful beaches and many flowers that he saw upon landing. As such, he named the place “La Florida” which means “place of flowers” in Spanish. Yet, the history of the state would be anything but “rosey” moving forward.
Check back with us on Part 2 of 3 of the history of early discovery of Florida….the story of conquistadors, treasure maps, and the fountain of youth!
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