Juan Ponce de Leon Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Sarah Meers

Sarah has taught elementary education for 10 years and has a master's degree in Education Leadership.

Meet Ponce de Leon, a famous Spanish solider and explorer who is not only credited with naming Florida, but also built settlements on many Caribbean islands. You'll learn about this influential man who helped expand the Spanish empire during the 1500s.

Early Life

What would you do if the king of Spain came to you, gave you a bunch of money, and told you to go find him a new island? How cool would that be? That is just what happened to a famous conquistador named Juan Ponce de Leon. A conquistador is a Spanish explorer, and this explorer dedicated his life to finding new lands and riches for Spain.

Ponce de Leon was born into a royal family in Spain in the mid-to-late 1400s. Even though he was born as a royal, his family was actually poor. When he was old enough, Ponce de Leon went to work as a page for a knight named Pedro Nunez de Guzman. This experience gave him the skills he needed to eventually become one of the most famous Spanish conquistadors of the 1500s.

Ponce de Leon
Ponce de Leon

Career

After working with Guzman, he was asked to join Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World. Like most soldiers, Ponce de Leon was obsessed with fame and fortune, so in 1493 he agreed to go. He was part of a 1,200 person voyage that survived many harsh conditions, such as lack of food and water and bad weather. Sadly, people on this voyage ended up turning Native Americans into slaves to help start colonies in the new lands.

After returning to Spain, he began his own expeditions for the king. An expedition is a trip made for a specific purpose. In this case, the purpose of the expedition was to gain more land for Spain. In 1504, Ponce de Leon led the exploration and settlement of current day Haiti and Dominican Republic. During the settlement, he started farms and set up a defense system to build a colony for Spain. As a reward, he was named the governor of the colonies.

In 1508, the fortune hungry conquistador set sail to conquer, or take over using military force, another area. He also was in search of riches. He took 50 soldiers with him to what is now known as Puerto Rico. After conquering the native people of the island, he used them for slaves. Ponce de Leon found gold on this new island, and started a new settlement for Spain. The king again rewarded him by naming him Governor of Puerto Rico.

Juan Ponce de Leon was known for being more fair to the natives than other explorers.
Leon with natives

In 1512, Ponce de Leon set sail on yet another expedition. This time he was not only looking for land and riches for his home country; he was also in search of the Fountain of Youth. The Fountain of Youth was a mythical body of water that natives said would make people young again.

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