Ponce De Leon Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3223 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American

¶ … Dreams and the Legacy of Ponce de Leon

Juan Ponce de Leon lived during a pivotal time in human history. European explorers and adventurers were discovering a new world in the Americas. In the wake of Columbus' voyages, Spanish conquistadores set out in search of treasures in gold, silver, and other precious commodities. The cultures of the Old World clashed with those of the new. The changes wrought resulted in the deaths of untold millions of Native Americans, the destruction of their civilizations, and the implanting of European ideas and concepts in the lands claimed by Spanish and other colonists. Christianity largely replaced Native religions, and Spanish - and later other European tongues - became the primary language throughout much of North and South America. Ponce de Leon was born in Spain in 1460 and fought with the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, during the campaign to conquer Granada - last Moorish stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula.

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Catholic militancy and the drive to preserve and spread Spain's triumphant culture would be dominant themes of Spanish culture and politics for centuries to come. They would profoundly influence Ponce de Leon, and many others like him. Ponce de Leon would make his name in the New World. He would accompany Columbus on Second Voyage, become the first Governor of Puerto Rico, found its first European town, and ultimately be credited with being the first European to set foot in what is now Florida. The Conquistador would enslave the Taino Indians of Puerto Rico and force them to labor in the mines for the enrichment of himself and his associates. Legend would say that he sought the Fountain of Youth in the unknown wilderness of Florida. It was there, in battle with the Calusas that he received his fatal injury from a poisoned arrow. His career typified that of the early European experience in the Americas. Juan Ponce de Leon left an indelible mark on future history and helped shape the world we know today.

Term Paper on Ponce De Leon Assignment

Columbus believed to his dying day that he had indeed discovered the outer reaches of the Far East.

While most others quickly realized that Columbus' Indies were in fact previously unknown lands, they nevertheless believed that these newfound territories contained potentially vast riches gold, silver, gems, spices, and other precious goods. They were also home to many different peoples; peoples whom the first Spanish explorers believed could provide the labor necessary to exploit the wealth of these new lands. Further, these peoples were, in Spanish eyes, savage idolaters without the light of Christianity. For hundreds of years prior to Columbus' first voyage, Spanish history had been defined by the Reconquista - the fight to drive the Muslim Moors from Spain and reunify the country under a Catholic king. This reunification was accomplished in the very year that Columbus set sail on his first voyage of discovery. In that same year too, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued their decree expelling Spain's large Jewish population from the country, thus setting in motion the drive to establish a monolithic state and society, one which would be entirely Roman Catholic in population and outlook. The Spanish Inquisition already existed as a powerful tool for conformity, and would eventually find fertile new ground for its activities in the new discoveries across the Atlantic. The New World's vast native populations would not only be conquered and exploited; they would also be Christianized and Hispanized:

time-honored Mediterranean script is produced in an American setting, casting the natives of the New World as the Islamic bogeymen of the Old.... If the Indians can represent the Muslims, have the Spaniards in fact succeeded in their evangelical mission?

Juan Ponce de Leon and his fellow Conquistadores were merely continuing a centuries old tradition when they set their sights on the wealth and glory potentially awaiting them in the New World.

The Spanish had found some gold in Cuba, but these scant reserves were already running out during Ponce de Leon's time on the Island. Governor Ocampo began to seriously explore the Island in the hopes of finding suitable sites to begin genuine settlement while Juan Ponce de Leon looked farther afield to the as yet unconquered island of Puerto Rico.

Ponce de Leon's journey to Puerto Rico involved both aspects of the Spanish "mission" in the New World. On the way to Puerto Rico, he would put in first at the island of Guadeloupe with the mission of destroying the Carib Indians - a tribe with a fearsome reputation for cannibalism. Ponce de Leon failed in his mission. The landing party he sent ashore was attacked by the Caribs, most of its men killed, and the women seized.

As with other Spanish attempts to vanquish the infidel, this one would not be successful. However, Ponce de Leon did achieve victory in Puerto Rico. The settlement that could not be established amongst the Caribs could be established on this new outpost of Spain's Caribbean empire. Determined to find what gold there might be, Ponce de Leon thoroughly investigated the island. Much smaller than Cuba, it could be, and was, easily overwhelmed by the Spaniards. In his search for quick riches, and in the name of bringing a superior civilization and faith, the native Taino people and culture were quickly obliterated.

Ponce de Leon was granted the governorship of the island despite the claim of Columbus' son to the territories discovered by his father. What Ponce de Leon established on the island was typical of the Spanish approach to controlling the new lands. As Bartolome de Las Casas, the defender of the Native Americans, pointed out,

It was usual behavior for conquerors and colonizers to rename the natives, especially the prominent ones: "It was the custom of the Spaniards to rename capriciously any Indians with Christian names." Juan Ponce de Leon, from the beginning of the colonization of Boriquen (the natives' name for the island of Puerto Rico), felt he had authority to change the names of the main cacique (chief), Agueybana, and of his parents. First the native people considered it an honor; only later did they discover that it was a subtle manifestation of the act of expropriation of which they had been the object.

In these matters, Ponce de Leon showed himself not so much an explorer but a conqueror and exploiter. Much as Spain was doing on a larger scale, he was doing in the lands he personally appropriated. Not only possessions, but lives and cultures came under Spanish control. Identities were transformed and with them a whole new world view appeared. Nonetheless treating the people of Puerto Rico as possessions did not make the actual goods found on the island anymore lucrative for the Conquistador. He refused to allow Columbus' son Diego's claim to Puerto Rico, sending Don Diego Columbus' represents in chains back to Spain. He would not leave the island until compelled to do so by the Spanish crown, and only after having completed its thorough exploitation and the native's extermination:

The peaceful, friendly Arawaks, forced to produce the Spaniards' food, labor in their gold placers, and bear their burdens, died quickly under the oppression. In desperation, the natives rose in a rebellion, which merely hastened their extinction. Within a decade, San Juan was virtually depopulated

At last, with the rights of Diego Columbus restored, and no more riches to be found, Ponce de Leon left the Island in pursuit of another hidden treasure in a fabulous land that lay somewhere to the north - a place now called Florida.

The Spanish historian Herrera was among the first to report that a primary aim of Ponce de Leon's expedition to Florida was to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. He gives the full scope of the Conquistador's mission:

That besides the principal aim of Juan Ponce de Leon in the expedition which he undertook, which was to discover new lands... another was to seek the fountain of Bimini and a certain river of Florida.

It was said and believed by the Indians of Cuba and Espanola that by bathing in the river or the fountain, old men became youths.

In 1512, the Spanish crown gave to Ponce de Leon a three-year contract that granted him the exclusive right to search for and colonize what was described as the island of Bimini. Modern historians are uncertain whether Ponce de Leon actually knew of the legend of the Fountain of Youth or not, though the story of the fountain's existence was widespread among the Native inhabitants of Florida and the surrounding areas.

As well, the story had a European dimension, one that well-reflected contemporary Spanish attitudes toward the New World and its unlimited and unimagined possibilities. Imagination played a key role in formulating these possibilities much as it had in creating the inexhaustible fortunes in gold and silver that were never found in Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Hispaniola. A European legend of Prester John's Fountain of Youth was recorded by Sir John… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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