Letter: Ponce naming of Florida

300-Dana-WilliamsLetter: Ponce naming of Florida

Dana Williams
Lake Worth, Florida

Dear Editor:

The 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s naming of Florida will be celebrated next week in several locations. I will be attending the unveiling of a new bronze statue at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas Reserve on Tuesday, April 2.

Details and free tickets to the event are available here.

Many professional and amateur historians, tourist establishments, and politicians have differing opinions about where and when Ponce landed. I am not inclined to argue about the merits of recreating Ponce de Leon’s voyage, accounting for the bad weather he encountered, the effect of the Gulf Stream, the use of dead reckoning versus celestial navigation, or magnetic deviations.

Antonio De Herrera’s account of Ponce de Leon’s voyage was published in 1601. It is the most detailed official account available. Herrera specifies a date between April 2nd and April 8th and a location north of thirty degrees and eight minutes of latitude. He also notes that Ponce de Leon was seeking a harbor along the coast, but didn’t find one. As the historiographer for King Philip II of Spain, Herrera had access to contemporary documentation that has since been lost.

In July 1935 the Florida Historical Society published an article by T. Frederick Davis tilted “History of Juan Ponce de Leon’s Voyages to Florida: Source Records”. The article includes translations of Ponce’s patent from King of Spain Charles V (1500-1558), and Herrera’s account of Ponce’s voyage from the “Historia General de los Hechos de los Castellanos en pas Islas Tierra Firme del Mar Oceano” (General History of the Acts of the Castillians in the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea).

A pdf version is available for free from American Journeys.