Explorer. Spanish Explorer of the New World and early Spanish colonial Governor. He is remembered for discovering Florida and claiming it for Spain, while searching for the Fountain of Youth, said to restore youth and vitality to those who drink its waters. Born in 1474 to a noble family in Santervas de Campos, Spain, he served as a page in the court of King Ferdinand V, and in 1492, fought with the Spanish troops that drove the Moors out of Grenada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. In 1493, he sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World, becoming a soldier in the colony on the island of Hispaniola. From 1502 to 1504, he led Spanish forces against the eastern province of Hispaniola, an area then called Higuey (now Dominican Republic), and after defeating the Indians, was made Governor of Higuey as a reward for his service. In 1508, he led an expedition to Puerto Rico, where he discovered gold, and within a year, conquered the Indians living there. As a result of his gold discovery, he became one of the richest men in the New World and the King of Spain made him Governor of Puerto Rico. When political rivals had him removed as Governor in 1512, he obtained permission to search for and colonize an unknown island called Bimini, said to be the site of the legendary Fountain of Youth. In April 1513, he landed in eastern Florida, and sailing south and then north around the tip of Florida to its west coast, he thought it to be a large island. He named the land Florida, meaning "full of flowers" for the beautiful flowers he found growing there. While returning to Puerto Rico, he landed on the Yucatan coast, which he thought was the undiscovered island of Bimini. The next year, he returned to Spain to report to the King on his discoveries, and received orders to colonize both Florida and Bimini, and to rid Hispaniola and Cuba of the Carib Indians, as they were fierce cannibals. For the next six years, he would fight the Carib Indians, then in 1521, he returned to Florida with 200 men and enough supplies to establish a colony as the King had ordered. Landing on the west coast of Florida, near Charlotte Harbor, he was attacked by the Florida Indians and wounded by an arrow in the stomach. Most of the Spanish soldiers and colonists were killed. He and a few survivors returned to Cuba, where he died from his wound a month later.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson