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Who Discovered Florida?

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Florida, according to history books, was discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. When Ponce de Leon landed in Florida, he claimed it on behalf of Spain, since the Spanish crown funded his explorations. It was recognized as part of the new world and was named Florida by Ponce de Leon, but there are several points of contention amongst historians as to which explorer actually discovered Florida first.

Juan Ponce de LeonJuan Ponce de Leon.

Europeans landed on Florida much earlier than 1513

Most historians do agree that Europeans made it to Florida well before 1513, for the simple fact that when Ponce de Leon went ashore, he was met by several natives who spoke and understood Spanish, as well as encountering natives that were quite hostile towards him and his crew. This hostility is attributed to the poor treatments the natives might have gotten from other explorers who had landed in Florida years before Ponce de Leon.

John Cabot and his son, Sebatian

Juan Ponce de Leon's route to FloridaRoute taken by Juan Ponce de Leon to reach Florida. He left San German, Puerto Rico in early 1513 and reached St. Augustine, Florida in late March, 1513.

Many historians hold fast to the notion that Florida was discovered by Italian Englishmen John Cabot and his son, Sebastian who are reputed to have landed there in 1496. In fact, historians claim that the Cabots followed the eastern coast of North American down to Cape Florida. This fact, however, is conjecture from letters and other writings, but was never proven as John Cabot’s ship carrying his map and globe foundered and was lost, so his discoveries were never authenticated or recognized by the English crown.

Ponce de Leon gets the credit

Despite Ponce de Leon not being the first explorer to land in Florida, he gets the credit since he named it and his discovery was officially recognized by Spain. Additionally, before discovering Florida, Ponce de Leon sailed on a ship captained by Christopher Columbus, and landed on the Caribbean then went on to their ultimate destination, Hispanola. It is thought by most historians of today that this journey with Columbus fueled Ponce de Leon’s desire to explore even more of the new world, eventually resulting in the founding of Florida. In addition to being credited with Florida’s discovery, Ponce de Leon is also associated with the discovery of the fountain of youth, believed to be in Florida, along with being named the first governor of Puerto Rico, appointed by the Spanish crown.

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