Last week for the anniversary post, I wrote about Massasoit’s Treaty. That was regarding the Wampanoag people and how they kept the Plymouth Colony alive. But over a hundred years earlier, on this day in 1513, Juan Ponce de León first made sight of what would become the political laughing stock of the United States: Florida!
Ponce was of noble birth. So after there were no more wars to fight at home, he signed up on Columbus’ second voyage to the New World. After about a decade of roaming around spreading disease and probably just outright murdering local peoples, he found himself in Hispaniola where he was put in charge of killing the local people who, for some reason, had a problem with being enslaved. As a result, Ponce got into the slave owner aristocrat business himself.
Anyway, enslaving populations to mine for gold can only keep a man’s attention for so long. So at the urging of the King of Spain, he went off looking for other lands and more people to “exploit.” And that’s how he discovered Florida. The native people they met there seemed to have quickly figured out that Ponce and company were not to be trusted. Hostilities erupted. After eight months of exploring, they returned Puerto Rico. Then Ponce went back to Spain and then back to Puerto Rico. But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.
In 1521, Ponce put together an expedition of a couple hundred men to go back to Florida to colonize the place. The Calusa people attacked them, leading to Ponce being mortally wounded. The expedition retreated to Cuba, where Ponce died. Of course, it isn’t that happy a story, because eventually the Calusa were wiped out. I’m not saying that they wonderful people or anything. But at least they didn’t travel all over the world enslaving people.
Today we morn this important moment in the European slave trade.