Juan Ponce de LeÃ³n
Juan Ponce de LeÃ³n was an effective but cruel explorer for much of his blood-soaked career, but merits inclusion on this list because of the ludicrous aim of one of his voyages. He was probably born in 1474, and his surname testifies to a privileged and aristocratic upbringing also evidenced by his serving as a squire to a fellow nobleman. After becoming a soldier and fighting the Moors during the re-conquest of Spain in 1492, his next notable action came in 1493 when he enlisted as a âgentleman volunteer’ on our old friend Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas.
After years of obscurity, Juan Ponce de LeÃ³n surfaced again in 1504, taking an active part in the HigÃ¼ey Massacre, an event so brutal that BartolomÃ© de las Casas, a Spanish Dominican friar, attempted to report it to the authorities. Ponce de LeÃ³n clearly impressed his betters, however, as he was made governor of the newly conquered territory. His first foray into exploration came with the discovery and settlement of Puerto Rico, where he served as governor before being ousted by Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego, in 1511. Ponce de LeÃ³n now had his sights set on a much bigger prize.
According to contemporary sources, Ponce de LeÃ³n set out in 1513 to find the Fountain of Youth. In Historia general y natural de las Indias (1535), Gonzalo FernÃ¡ndez de Oviedo y ValdÃ©s explains that Ponce de LeÃ³n was seeking the waters of Bimini to cure his aging. Two other sources make the same claim. If the legend is true, Ponce de LeÃ³n was outrageously credulous. What is known is that Ponce de LeÃ³n was sailing around the Bimini area when he reached Florida in 1513, which name he gave to the state, before returning to Puerto Rico a year later.
Having failed to discover the Fountain of Youth, Ponce de LeÃ³n had one more terrible expedition to make, again to Florida, in 1521. This time he aimed to set up a permanent colony, and brought 200 men and a multitude of livestock. Unfortunately, Ponce de LeÃ³n did not count on the reaction of the locals, who responded to the presence of foreigners by attacking them before they could establish a colony. Ponce de LeÃ³n was fatally wounded with a poisoned arrow, and the settlement plans discarded. Given his military background and past viciousness, this defeat represents a serious oversight.