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Rico, and Jamaica. These islands are well called the nursery of Spanish culture in the Western Hemisphere. By 1513 there were seventeen towns on Española alone, in which the life of Old Spain was reproduced in form, though reflecting the colors of savage environment. Mines were worked by enslaved natives; grain was sown and harvested; cotton and sugar-cane were cultivated. The slave trade in negroes and Indiáns flourished. Friars cared for the souls of the faithful. The harbor winds were winged with Spanish sails, homeward bound with rich cargoes, or set towards the coast of the mysterious continent which should one day disclose to the persistent mariner an open strait leading westward to Cathay. In the midst of the crudities of a frontier, hidalgo and official of Española lived joyously and with touches of Oriental magnificence. Gold! It lay in glittering heaps upon their dicing-tables. It stung not only their imaginations but their palates so we learn from the description of a banquet given by one of them, at which, to the music of players brought from Spain, the guests salted their savory meats with gold dust. Is it to be marveled at that men of such hardy digestions should have conquered a wilderness bravely and gayly?
Among these romantic exiles at Española was Juan Ponce de León-John of the Lion's Paunch X who had come to the island with Columbus in 1493, as a member of the first permanent colony. In Ponce's veins flowed the bluest blood of Spain. His family could be traced back to the twelfth century.
Rumors of gold drew Ponce to Porto Rico (1508), which island he “pacified,” after the very thorough Spanish manner, sharing the honors of valor with the famous dog, Bercerillo. This dog, according to the old historian, Herrera, “made wonderful havock among these people, and knew which of them were in war and which in peace, like a man; for which reason the Indians were more afraid of ten Spaniards with the dog, than of one hundred without him, and therefore he had one share and a half of all that was taken allowed him, as was done to one that carried a crossbow, as well in gold as slaves and other things, which his master received. Very extraordinary things were reported of this dog.":
Ponce was made Governor of Porto Rico, but was almost immediately removed, as the appointment had been made over the head of Don Diego Columbus, Governor of Española. Thus dispossessed of office, Ponce sought fame, and wealth, and
* Lowery, Spanish Settlements, p. 133.
perpetual youth, perhaps, in exploration. “It is true," writes Herrera, the royal chronicler, “that besides the principal aim of Juan Ponce de León in the expedition which he undertook, which was to
discover new lands, another was to seek the į fountain of Bimini and a certain river of Florida.
It was said and believed by the Indians of Cuba and Española that by bathing in the river or the fountain, old men became youths.” What more was needed to fire the blood of an adventurer like Ponce, who already possessed influence and a fortune? Nothing, as the event proved. By means of his friends he obtained a patent from King Charles |(1512), later Emperor Charles V, authorizing him to seek and govern the island of Bimini, which rumor placed to the northwest.
What Ponce hoped to accomplish in the enterprise, and also the aims of his brother conquerors, can be gathered from his patent. If Ponce was an explorer and adventurer, he, like the others, hoped also to be a colonizer, a transplanter of Spanish people and of Spanish civilization. Whoever fails to understand this, fails to understand the patriotic aim of the Spanish pioneers in America. The Catholic monarchs were a thrifty pair, and they made the business of conquest pay for itself. The
successes of men like Columbus and Cortés played into their hands. Every expedition was regarded as a good gamble. The expenses of exploration therefore were charged to the adventurer, under promise of great rewards, in titles and profits from the enterprise, if any there might be. Under these circumstances the sovereigns lost little in any case, and they might win untold returns. And so with Ponce. By the terms of his grant he was empowered to equip a fleet, at his own expense, people Bimini with Spaniards, exploit its wealth, and, as adelantado, govern it in the name of the sovereign. In keeping with the method already in vogue in the West Indies, the natives were to be distributed among the discoverers and settlers, that they might be protected, christianized, civilized, and, sad to say, exploited. Though the intent of this last provision in the royal patents of the day was benevolent, the practical result to the natives was usually disastrous.
With a fleet of three vessels, on March 3, 1513, Ponce sailed from Porto Rico and anchored a, month later on the coast of the northern mainland, near the mouth of the St. John's River. Here he landed, took formal possession of the “island,” and named it La Florida, because of its verdant beauty
and because it was discovered in the Easter season. After sailing northward for a day, Ponce turned south again. Twice in landing on the coast he and his men were set upon by the natives. On Sunday, the 8th of May, he doubled Cape Cañaveral, called by him the Cape of the Currents; and by the fifteenth he was coasting along the Florida Keys. The strain of romance in these old explorers is well illustrated by the name which Ponce, seeker of the Fountain of Youth, gave to the Florida Keys. "The Martyrs,” he called them, because the high rocks, at a distance, looked “like men who are suffering.
Ponce sailed up the western shore of the peninsula, perhaps as far north as Pensacola Bay, before he again turned southward, still unaware that Florida was not an island. Anchored off the southern end of Florida, he allowed himself to fall into a snare set for him by natives. These natives told an interesting story. There was nearby, they said, a cacique named Carlos whose land fairly sprouted gold. While Ponce and his officers were drinking in the splendid tale, the Indians were massing canoes for an attack on the Spanish ships. Two battles followed before the painted warriors were driven off and the Spaniards sailed homeward: