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Juan Ponce de León (Watts Library)

What I Learned Section 1 -- Answer the Following Questions:
1. What year was Juan Ponce de León born?
1460. Juan Ponce de León was born in the town of Santervás de Campos, in the Spanish kingdom of León. He was a younger son of a noble family which means he would not inherit any wealth or property. Younger sons often became priests or knights, and Ponce de León decided to become a knight.

Noble families sent their sons to other households to train to be a knight when they were seven years old. Ponce de León went to live with Pedro Núñez de Guzmán who was an important Spanish nobleman. Ponce de León served as his page. A page's duties were to take care of his master's clothing, help him to dress, and serve his food. In exchange, Ponce de León learned to read and write, ride a horse, hunt, and fight with a sword.

Ponce de León became Núñez de Guzmán's squire at the age of fourteen or fifteen. As a squire, Ponce de León cleaned and cared for his master's armor and weapons, and fought beside him in battle.

In the late 1480's, Ponce de León was a knight. He joined the military campaign to drive the Moors out of Spain. Did you know Moors were people from northern Africa who spoke Arabic and practiced Islam? In 711, the Moors invaded Spain, and by 718, they had conquered all of Spain except for the narrow mountainous region across the north. The war between Spain and the Moors lasted several hundred years. The Spanish regained control one province at a time.

In the 1480's, the Moors held the province of Granada (in the far south) as their last stronghold in Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain wanted to defeat the Moors and reunite Spain under one rule. In January, 1492, the Spanish armies captured Granada and drove the Moors out of Spain. Did you know Ponce de León fought at this battle?

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2. Juan Ponce de León sailed with Christopher Columbus on one of Columbus' four voyages to the New World. On which voyage did Ponce de León sail with Columbus?
Second Voyage. Ponce de León sailed to the Americas on Christopher Columbus' Second Voyage in 1493. The Europeans built a settlement on Hispaniola called Isabella. They then moved to Santo Domingo. While many of the Europeans wanted to get rich quickly and return to Spain, Ponce de León decided to settle in Santo Domingo.

In 1502, Ponce de León married a Spanish woman named Leonor. She was the daughter of an innkeeper in Santo Domingo. They had three girls and one boy. Their names were Juana, María, Isabel, and Luis.

In 1504, the governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, sent Ponce de León to put down a revolt in Higüey (an eastern province of Hispaniola). Ponce de León was successful. He was appointed deputy governor of Higüey and was in charge of building two towns in Higüey. They are Salvaleón (on the coast) and Santa Cruz de Aycayagua (farther inland). Ponce de León and his family lived in a stone house in Salvaleón.

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3. Who were the Taino?
The people who inhabited the Caribbean islands for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived in 1492. Taino means noble or gentle. Did you know the Taino came to the Caribbean islands by canoe from South America?

The Taino lived in small villages. Each village was ruled by a chief, called a cacique. The Taino slept in swinging beds called hamacas which are similar to present-day hammocks. The Taino hunted, fished, and farmed. They grew pineapple, sweet potato, corn, squash, and cassava. Cassava is a bushy plant with greenish-yellow flowers and long, thick roots. It is native to the tropical region of the Americas. The plant grows up to 8 feet high, and the roots grow up to 3 inches thick and 3 feet long. Did you know Ponce de León grew cassava near his home on the eastern shore of Hispaniola?

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4. What year was Juan Ponce de León appointed governor of Puerto Rico?
1509. Hispaniola Governor Nicolás de Ovando sent Ponce de León to San Juan Bautista to look for gold. Ponce de León took five ships and two hundred people. They found gold, established a permanent colony, and created a foundry for processing and refining gold.

On August 8, 1508, Ponce de León founded the town of Caparra near a large, beautiful bay on the north coast. He named the bay Puerto Rico which means "rich port" in Spanish. Gradually people began calling the island Puerto Rico instead of San Juan Bautista.

In 1509, King Ferdinand of Spain officially appointed Ponce de León as the first governor of Puerto Rico.

In 1511, Diego Columbus was given the right to govern all the lands his father, Christopher Columbus, had discovered. Diego Columbus replaced Ponce de León as governor of Puerto Rico.

Ponce de León had heard stories about a beautiful island called Bimini, located to the north of Cuba. He decided to look for Bimini. These stories included tales of a fountain of youth.

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5. What is the Fountain of Youth?
A legend of a spring or stream whose clear, sparkling waters have the power to restore youth. Anyone who drank from the imaginary spring would remain young forever. It was believed to be located on Bimini. Did you know Bimini is an island located to the north of Cuba?

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6. What year did Juan Ponce de León explore Florida?
1513. In February, 1512, King Ferdinand of Spain gave Ponce de León permission to locate and colonize Bimini. On March 3, 1513, Ponce de León sailed from San Germán, Puerto Rico, with three ships and sixty people. The ships were called the Santa María de Consolación, the Santiago, and the San Cristóbal. They sailed northwest to the Bahamas, a chain of numerous small islands north of Cuba. Ponce de León explored the Bahamas for almost a month.

Ponce de León and his three ships sailed north, and sighted land on March 27, 1513. The next day, Ponce de León went ashore, claimed the land for Spain, and named it La Florida. Many historian believe the name comes from "Pascua Florida" (the Spanish term for Easter) because Ponce de León was there during the Easter season.

Did you know another significant discovery took place in the Americas in 1513? Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed Central America and became the first European to see the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean.

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7. What is the Gulf Stream?
A swift-flowing, underwater stream originating in the western Caribbean Sea.

On April 8, 1513, Ponce de León and his three ships sailed south along the east coast of Florida. Although favorable winds filled their sails, a heavy current slowed them down. Ponce de León had discovered the Gulf Stream.

The Gulf Stream is one of the world's most powerful ocean currents. It flows into the Gulf of Mexico and through the Straits of Florida (the narrow channel between the tip of Florida and Cuba). Then the Gulf Stream carries warm water northeast along the North American coast to the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland. By riding the Gulf Stream, ships could sail quickly to Europe. The Gulf Stream became an important trade route between the Americas and Europe.

Did you know Ben Franklin gave the Gulf Stream its name? Franklin believed it originated in the Gulf of Mexico. He was the first scientist to study the Gulf Stream extensively. He charted its course and recorded its temperatures, speeds, and depths.

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8. Describe ONE of the following explorations of Juan Ponce de León:
Los Martires: Ponce de León continued south along the Florida coast and rounded the Florida Keys (a string of small islands). Ponce de León thought the islands' rocky profiles looked like suffering people, and he called the islands Los Martires, or the martyrs.

Dry Tortugas: Ponce de León thought Florida was a large island, and he tried sailing around it. On May 8, 1513, Ponce de León and his three ships stopped at a group of small islands. There were many sea turtles on the islands so Ponce de León named it Tortugas which is Spanish for turtles. The word "dry" was added to the name of the islands because no freshwater was found. The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of seven small coral islands about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. Did you know these islands became the Dry Tortugas National Park in the United States in 1992?

Sanibel Island: Ponce de León sailed around the southern tip of Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. He made his way north along the gulf coast of Florida as far as present-day Sanibel Island.

Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico: Ponce de León landed on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. He thought it was another island.

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9. What year did Juan Ponce de León die?
1521. On February 21, 1521, Ponce de León set out to colonize Florida. He took two ships and two hundred people. He landed on the west coast of Florida, near Sanibel Island.

A fight broke out between Ponce de León's men and a group of Indians. Ponce de León was struck in his thigh with an arrow. He sailed to Cuba to receive medical attention. In July, 1521, Ponce de León died from this wound in Havana, Cuba.

In 1908, Ponce de León's remains were returned to Puerto Rico. He is buried in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, in the capital city of San Juan. The inscription on his tomb reads: "Beneath this stone repose the bones of the valiant Lion whose deeds surpassed the greatness of his name." Did you know León is the Spanish word for "lion?"

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What I Learned Section 2 -- Define the following words:
Colony: A territory that is far away from the country that governs it

Conquistador: Spanish person who explored and conquered the Americas during the late 1400's and 1500's

Expedition: A journey made for a definite purpose or the group making such a journey

Moors: People from northern Africa who speak Arabic and practice Islam

Ottoman: Another name for Turkey or its people

Province: A part of a country having a government of its own

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Bonus Questions (Answer 1 of the Following Questions for Your FREE Bookmark):
a. Why were the Europeans looking for a new Trade Route to Asia?
In 1453, the Ottoman Empire closed the main overland trade route between Europe and Asia.

The Europeans liked to trade with Asia for its jewels, silks, and spices. The Spices came from the Moluccas Islands which were located between the Philippines and Australia. Did you know these islands were also called the Indies or the Spice Islands?

The main overland trade route from Europe to Asia passed through Constantinople. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople and closed the trade route. The Europeans needed to find a new trade route to continue trading with Asia. In 1415, Portugal looked for a sea passage to Asia around the coast of Africa. In 1498, Vasco da Gama sailed from Portugal around the tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean to Calcutta, India.

Before da Gama was successful, Christopher Columbus believed he could sail west across the Atlantic Ocean to reach Asia. Although Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, he asked King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to sponsor his voyage. Once the fighting between Spain and the Moors ended in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to finance the voyage. They were hoping increased trade with Asia would rebuild Spain's wealth and power that had depleted during the years of fighting the Moors. Christopher Columbus' voyages, however, landed in the Americas rather than Asia.

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b. Describe Christopher Columbus' first and second voyages to the Americas.
The First Voyage:
On August 3, 1492, Columbus sailed from Spain with three ships (the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María) and ninety men. On October 12, Columbus and his men reached land. They thought it was Asia, and they called the people Indians because they believed the people were from India. Columbus named the island Hispaniola and established a small fort called La Navidad. Today, Hispaniola is known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

After seven months, Columbus returned to Spain with gold, exotic tropical plants, colorful parrots, and six Indians. As it turns out, Columbus had not reached Asia. Instead, he landed in the Americas. The Americas were two vast continents previously unknown to the Europeans.

The Second Voyage:
Columbus made a second voyage to the Americas to establish a colony. This voyage left on September 25, 1493, from Cadiz, Spain. This time, there were seventeen ships and 1,500 men, including Juan Ponce de León. The men included sailors, mapmakers, farmers, artisans, and priests. The mission was to establish a settlement, mine for gold, and convert the natives to Christianity.

The voyage stopped at the Canary Islands to restock their supplies. It set sail again on October 12, 1493. Did you know this was one year after Columbus first landed in the Americas? After three weeks, the voyage reached a new island, and Columbus claimed it for Spain. He called it Dominica. At every new island, Columbus claimed it for Spain and gave it a Spanish name. Later, Ponce de León would do the same thing.

On November 19, 1493, Columbus reached an island he named San Juan Bautista. This island would later play an important role in Ponce de León's life. Today, San Juan Bautista is known as Puerto Rico.

When Columbus returned to Hispaniola, Fort Navidad had been destroyed. Columbus decided to establish another colony about 75 miles to the east. He called this new settlement Isabella. Ponce de León was one of the soldiers who protected Isabella. Today, Isabella is located in the Dominican Republic.

Isabella turned out to be a poor location for a town because it was built on marshy ground. The colonist eventually abandoned Isabella and built a new town named Santo Domingo near the southern coast of Hispaniola.

Read More about Christopher Columbus and the Times in Which He Lived.

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c. What is the Epic of Gilgamesh?
A long Babylonian poem written about 2000 B.C. It is one of the oldest and greatest works of world literature. It is written in ancient cuneiform script on twelve clay tablets. Cuneiform is an ancient form of writing using a combination of wedge-shaped marks to form syllables and words.

The poem recounts the many adventures of Gilgamesh and his search for eternal life. Gilgamesh was the king of the ancient city of Uruk. According to the poem, Gilgamesh became afraid of death after his dearest friend, Enkidu, died. He sought out a wise old man to learn the secret of immortality, and the wise man reluctantly told him the plant of eternal youth grew at the bottom of the sea. Gilgamesh dove into the water and found the plant. On his way home, a snake stole the plant, and Gilgamesh returned to Uruk to live out the rest of his days.

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d. Define ONE of the following words:
Coat of Arms: A set of colorful symbols a knight painted on his shield to identify his family and indicated his status.

El Cid: One of the most famous Spanish knights. In 1094, he captured Valencia from the Moors. The Song of the Cid is a long poem composed in the 12th century celebrating El Cid's deeds. Did you know this is one of the oldest Spanish writings still in existence?

Alhambra: A palace and fortress in Granada, Spain, built by the Moors between 1248 an 1354. It is famous as an outstanding example of Moorish architecture.

Hispaniola: An island where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. Today, the western one-third is the Republic of Haiti, and the eastern two-thirds is the Dominican Republic.

Smallpox: One of the deadliest diseases for American Indians.

Borinquén: The Taino Indian name for the island now known as Puerto Rico. It means "land of the brave lord" in the Taino language. Puerto Ricans still use the Taino word to refer to their home and themselves. For example, Puerto Rico's national anthem is called "La Borinqueña."

San Juan: The capital of Puerto Rico. It was founded in 1521, by Spanish colonists from Caparra. It is also the largest city in Puerto Rico with a population of about half a million people.

The Island of Bimini: Today, there are two tiny islands in the Bahamas called North Bimini and South Bimini. The two islands together measure nine square miles. They are located off the lower east coast of Florida.

The Seven Cities of Cíbola: A story told to Spanish explorers about seven rich cities in a land call Cíbola where the streets of Cíbola were paved with gold and the building were adorned with precious jewels. In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an expedition in search of the Seven Cities of Cíbola. He discovered six Zuni Indian villages near present-day Gallup, New Mexico, and thought he found Cíbola. However, Coronado never discovered gold or other riches at this location.

Saint Augustine: The oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. In 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the city of Saint Augustine, near the site where Ponce de León first stepped ashore on the east coast of Florida in 1513. Today, about 12,000 people live in St. Augustine.

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e. Make a Juan Ponce de León Timeline.
Juan Ponce de León born

1492: Spain defeats the Moors; Christopher Columbus explores the Caribbean

1493: Ponce de León sails with Columbus on his second trip to the Caribbean

1508: Spanish colonists led by Ponce de León colonize Puerto Rico

1509: Ponce de León becomes governor of Puerto Rico

1513: Ponce de León explores Florida

1521: Ponce de León dies in Havana, Cuba

1565: St. Augustine, Florida, founded

1908: Ponce de León's body returned to Puerto Rico and reburied

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f. Use five of the words in Section 2 in a sentence.
Virginia was a colony of Great Britain before it became a part of the United States.

Hernando Cortés was a Conquistador.

Sacagawea was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The Moors and Spain fought a war.

The Ottoman Empire controlled Constantinople in the 1450's.

Canada has provinces instead of states.

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g. Have a parent or friend give you a spelling test with EACH of the words in Section 2.

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More Valuable Information about Juan Ponce de León:
Juan Ponce de León (Enchanted Learning)
Juan Ponce de León (Florida History)
Ponce de León and the Fountain of Youth (Social Studies for Kids)
Juan Ponce de León (Discoverers Web)
Florida Map and QUIZ (Enchanted Learning)
Florida of the Conquistador (Florida History)

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