Last month, USPS marked the 500th anniversary of the first recorded Spanish expedition to Florida with the release of four new stamps called, simply, La Florida. Brimming with an opulent floral display, these attractive stamps evoke the beauty of the state’s lush vegetation. But we wanted to know more about the historic event they commemorate, so we did a little research.
The first written record of European exploration was the landing of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León in March 1513. Ponce de León (1460–1521) had sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the “New World” in 1493. After serving as governor of the island of Puerto Rico, he obtained a charter in 1512 from King Ferdinand of Spain for exploration of “Bimini” and other lands that were thought to lie to the north. To this day popular belief is that Ponce de León set out to discover the fabled Fountain of Youth, but his charter from the king did not mention such a quest.
Traveling with three ships, Ponce de León came within sight of the peninsula during Easter week of 1513. He named the land La Florida for Pascua Florida (Feast of the Flowers), Spain’s Easter celebration, and for the verdant display of vegetation visible beyond the shore. A few days after that first sighting, he landed on what he believed was an island and formally took possession in the name of the Spanish crown.
Ponce de León’s first visit was brief, but he secured a second royal grant, which made him governor and gave him the authority to colonize La Florida. Setting out in 1521, he chose the southwestern part of the peninsula as the location for his proposed settlement. Native defenders, most likely Calusa, attacked the Spanish, and in the battle Ponce de León was gravely wounded. Unable to continue, he set sail for Cuba, where he died of his wounds.
Several Spanish adventurers came after Ponce de León—treasure hunters and colonizers alike—but they met with little success. Hernando de Soto was among those searching for treasure, traveling the southeastern part of the continent from 1539 until his death in 1542, without ever discovering the cities of gold he sought. In 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano attempted to establish a Spanish settlement at Pensacola Bay, but a series of disasters ended the colony’s brief history in 1561.
Other navigators who came after 1513 had discovered that the “island” named by Ponce de León was actually part of an immense continent. By 1565, when Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the first successful Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, La Florida was the name Spain used to identify the Atlantic coastline as far north as Newfoundland.
In 1845, 332 years after Ponce de León first stood on its shores, Florida became the 27th state of the United States.
La Florida Forever® stamps were issued April 3 in St. Augustine, Florida. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.