T.D. Allman is the author, most recently, of “Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State.”
THIS week is the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León’s purported discovery of Florida. Commemorations include the unveiling of “The First Landing,” a larger-than-life statue of Ponce in Melbourne Beach, as well as the introduction by the Postal Service of “La Florida,” a four-stamp series timed to honor what is being presented as the founding moment in our country’s history.
These celebrations are a fiesta of illusion. As Spain’s conquistadors discovered, and we too often forget, Florida is like Play-Doh. Take the goo; mold it to your dream. Then watch the dream ooze back into goo. Contrary to what our school books taught us, Ponce did not discover Florida. He never did much of anything here except get himself killed.
Florida probably was first sighted by Portuguese navigators, or perhaps by the Cabots sailing from England. Either way, it started appearing on maps as early as 1500. By 1510, its distinctive peninsular shape had emerged clearly on maps in Europe. By 1513, when Ponce de Léon first arrived, so many Europeans had visited Florida that some Indians greeted him in Spanish....