From 20th-century historian and navigator Douglas Peck’s 1993 book “Ponce de Leon and the Discovery of Florida,” we have this pungent quote: “Juan Ponce de Leon is a romantically popular but little understood figure in history whose life has all the aspects of a bed of riddles covered by a hazy blanket of myths.”
Peck, described in his 2014 obituary as an “iconoclastic seafarer,” set out to challenge long-held conclusions about Ponce de Leon, particularly the conventional belief that his first voyage to Florida brought him ashore at St. Augustine. Peck went so far as to attempt to re-create the explorer’s journey in his sailing yacht, the Gooney Bird. In the process, he became something of a lightning rod among Florida historians.
Historical records place Ponce de Leon in Hispaniola in 1502, serving as a captain under Nicolas de Ovando, the royal governor. After crushing a local Taino Indian revolt, Ponce de Leon gained recognition and was appointed provincial governor of the eastern section of the island. Having received a handsome land grant and slaves, he attained success in farming.
Sometime between 1502 and 1505, Ponce de Leon married Leonor, the daughter of an innkeeper in Hispaniola. The couple ultimately had four children: Juana, Isabel, Maria and Luis.