Floridians ob serve April 2 as Pascua Florida Day, the day in 1513 that Spanish adventurer Juan Ponce de León made the first known landing in Florida by a European explorer.
Ponce de León, born to a noble family in Spain, first came to the New World in 1493 with Christopher Columbus’s second expedition. He later conquered Puerto Rico and became its first governor. According to tradition, it was there that the Indians told him of an island to the west blessed with not only gold but a magical spring that restored youth and cured illnesses.
In 1513 the eager conquistador sailed from Puerto Rico with three ships to find the island, its gold, and its miraculous fountain. On April 2 he stepped onto a beach somewhere near present-day St. Augustine (the exact spot is uncertain) and claimed the land for Spain. He named it “Florida” because he arrived at Easter time, which the Spaniards called Pascua Florida, the Feast of the Flowers.
The Spaniards sailed around the southern end of Florida, which they still took to be a giant island, and up the west coast. Finding neither gold nor the mysterious fountain of youth, they returned to Puerto Rico.
Eight years later, Ponce de León made a second trip to Florida, this time determined to found a settlement. He landed on the west coast with some two hundred men, horses, cattle, and supplies, but the Spaniards soon found themselves at war with Calusa Indians who shot poison arrows. One of the arrows struck Ponce de León, and the entire expedition fled for Cuba, where the tough old conquistador soon died. He was buried in Puerto Rico, the words “Here rest the bones of a lion” inscribed on his tomb. So ended the legendary search for the fountain of youth.