Ponce de León was also related to another notable family, Núñez de Guzmán, and as a young man he served as squire to Pedro Núñez de Guzmán, Knight Commander of the Order of Calatrava. A big contemporary chronicler, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, states that Ponce de León became an experienced soldier fighting in the Spanish campaigns thatdefeated the Moors in Granada and completed the re-conquest of Spain in 1492.
Arrival in the New World (Puerto Rico)
Chief Agueybana greeting Juan Ponce de León
The fleet reached the Caribbean in November 1493, and visited several islands before arriving at their primary destination in Hispaniola. In particular they anchored on the coast of a large island the natives called Boriquen but wouldeventually become known as Puerto Rico. This was Ponce de León's first glimpse of the place that would play a major role in his future.
Around this same time, Ponce de León married Leonora, the daughter of an innkeeper. They had three daughters, Juana, Isabel and Maria; and one son, Luis. He built a large stone house for his growing family—a house that still stands today near the city of Caparra.As provincial governor, Ponce de León had occasion to meet with the Tainos who visited his province from neighboring Puerto Rico. They told him stories of a fertile land with much gold to be found in the many rivers. Inspired by the possibility of riches, Ponce de León requested and received permission from Ovando to explore the island.
His first reconnaissance of the island is usuallydated to 1508 but there is evidence that he had made a previous exploration as early as 1506. This earlier trip was done quietly because the Spanish crown had commissioned Vicente Yáñez Pinzón to settle the island in 1505. Pinzón did not fulfill his commission and it expired in 1507, leaving the way clear for Ponce de León.
His earlier exploration had confirmed the presence of gold and gave him agood understanding of the geography of the island. In 1508, Ferdinand II of Aragon gave permission to Ponce de León for the first official expedition to the island, which the Spanish then called San Juan Bautista. This expedition, consisting of about 50 men in one ship, left Hispaniola on June 12, 1508 and eventually anchored in San Juan Bay, near today's city of San Juan. Ponce de León searchedinland until he found a suitable site about two miles from the bay. Here he erected a storehouse and a fortified house, creating the first settlement in Puerto Rico, Caparra. Although a few crops were planted, they spent most of their time and energy searching for gold. By early 1509 Ponce de León decided to return to Hispaniola. His expedition had collected a good quantity of the precious metalbut was running low on food and supplies.
The expedition was deemed a great success and Ovando appointed Ponce de León governor of San Juan Bautista. This appointment was later confirmed by Ferdinand II on August 14, 1509. He was instructed to extend the settlement of the island and continue mining for gold. The new governor returned to the island as instructed, bringing with him his wife and...