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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 6 (October 1984)

PONCE DE LEON BELONGS TO THE BAHAMAS
by Arne B. Molander

On March 3, 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon began a six-month quest for the Island of Beniny that had been authorized a year earlier in a patent from King Ferdinand.1 His fleet of three vessels sailed slowly from Puerto Rico along the eastern edge of the Bahamas to San Salvador, the landfall of Columbus 21 years earlier. San Salvador's latitude is described as 25°40' in Herrara's account of 1601,2 the only surviving fragment of Ponce de Leon's Journal of discovery. Because this latitude is 100 miles north of the Watlings Island, that today carries that honour, historians have been reluctant to accept the Ponce de Leon description at face value. They point out that the other latitudes in the Herrera account are in gross disagreement with the accepted reconstruction of Juan's own voyage of discovery.

As the originator of a revolutionary Columbus landfall theory based on precise and literal interpretation of his Journal,3 it occurred to me that the historians might also have made a careless assessment of the Ponce de Leon record. That is, maybe the latitudes recorded by Ponce de Leon are actually correct, and it is the accepted reconstruction of his route that is in error! For this reason I decided to see if I could find a better route for Ponce de Leon, one which agreed both with his descriptions of the islands he visited and their latitudes. This paper summarizes my findings.

After leaving San Salvador in late March, Ponce de Leon sailed northwesterly to the coast of Florida, arriving near St Augustine on April 2. He then followed the coast southwest to Cape Canaveral where he anchored before resuming his search for Beniny. It is here where I disagree with the currently accepted Florida Route developed by Davis4 and shown in Figure 1. My contrasting viewpoint is the Abaco Route shown in Figure 2. According to my reconstruction, when Ponce de Leon left Cape Canaveral he returned to the Little Bahama Bank where he spent two futile months in search of the Fountain of Youth. The arguments for my case are presented in ten sequential segments taken from the Herrera account.5

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END NOTES

  1. T. Frederick Davis, History of Juan Ponce de Leon's Voyages to Florida, Jacksonville, 1935 , pp. 8-14. This translation from Documentos Ineditos del Archivo de Indias, XXII. 26 used Beniny in contrast to the Bimini from the Herrera account This paper will employ the former designation in order to avoid confusion with the modern-day Bimini.
  2. Antonio de Herrera, Historia General de los hechos de los Castellanos en las Islasi tierra firme del Mar Oceano, Decada I, Libro IX, Caps. X and XI, 1601.
  3. Arne B. Molander,"The Search for San Salvador," Journal of the Bahams Historical Society, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1982.
  4. T. Frederick Davis, op. cit., pp. 26-49.
  5. Ibid. An eleventh segment explains why Davis and I agree that Andros Island must have been Beniny that Ponce de Leon sought.