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I'm In Florida,So Here's Story About Ponce de Leon And Other American Myths

Painting of Agueybana greeting Juan Ponce de León from U.S. Military. Painting by Puerto Rican artist Agustin Anavitate. (Source: Wikipedia)From the New York Times:

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.

Sounds about right.

There are so many popular mythologies about the United States, its discovery and founding and a lot of it is based around the fact that these myths were taught to us as "facts" in school. I don't know what the kiddies textbooks look like today, but I was taught in the First Grade that Columbus' voyage was dangerous and that he discovered America. (Yet why is it called "America" and not "Columbia"? Hmmm?) I was also taught that George Washington could not tell a lie and admitted to chopping down some cherry tree. (That story was invented by a man who wanted Washington to seem more noble. He was already the First President, but ... you know ... let's make him Jesus while we're at it and have the dude walk on water while crossing the Delaware.)

My favorites are myths involving European encounters with the native population. Like the "mystery" of Roanoke, Va. that's not so much of a mystery of a "lost" colony, but a failed colony that let everybody know (by carving on a tree) that they went off to live with a nearby tribe on Croatoan Island. But oooh, they disappeared, right? Even though people reported seeing some blue eyed natives running around.

Or Pocahontas. I don't even know where to start with what's wrong in every iteration of that story from the one I was taught in elementary school to the Disney movie. It's all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

History, as they say, is written by the victors, which is why we have so much gunk in the way of learning the truth about the Alamo or Davy Crockett or General Custard and his "last stand." The most Native Americans didn't write their side of the story down so we could read what it was like to live through an apocalypse from disease where 90 percent of your population died off, then have the survivors encounter a strangely evasive new kind of people who think you can own land when land is supposed to be like air and water, free. 

Well, they showed them. In the most devastating way possible.

But truth be told, even what was left of the native population didn't go down without a fight. The Seminole of Florida were especially hardy and fierce thanks to tactics, fighting skills and that murderous, mosquito filled swamp that is Florida.

From The New York Times:

On that second voyage he achieved one real Florida first, albeit an inglorious one. In a skirmish with native inhabitants, Ponce fired the first shots in what would turn into a 300-year war of ethnic cleansing. More American soldiers would die trying to subdue Florida than in all the Indian battles in the West.

Today Florida is still a land of myths. Just last year people thought some meth heads and bath salts users were kicking off the zombie apocalypse. There's also those Scientologists and the city they own in Clearwater that the Tampa Bay Times stays investigating because of all the torture, mysterious deaths and missing persons surrounding it. Florida teen Trayvon Martin was killed here, and despite the efforts to turn this thing into Roshamon, George Zimmerman still sounds like an allegedly murderous wackadoo playing Batman because they wouldn't let him be a cop. 

Myths tell us a lot about ourselves and our country. It's about how we want to paint over the rough parts (ethnic cleansing, slavery, etc.) and focus on the quaint, the noble and the morality of our countries heroes even though they were all living through highly amoral times, many tainted by it.

Even beloved Washington owned slaves (he freed them upon his death). He didn't have children though, yet everyone I've ever met with the last name Washington is black. But no one wants to entertain the idea of whether or not Washingon had some kids with the help versus his former slaves all taking their master's surname because he was such a great guy ... who owned them.

But those were the times. I don't judge a lot of the behavior of anyone who was a victim of them. 


The Snob is still on vacation, but ... um ... I like to write. I'll be back full-time on Thursday.

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Reader Comments (3)

You asked why America isn't named Columbia instead? You might already know the answer, Danielle, but I'll tell it anyway.

Christopher Columbus (real Italian name: Cristoforo Colombo) was attempting to explore a new trade route to India, and actually believed he had successfully reached India, as we all learned in school. Columbus was not an educated guy and had never been to India, so how would he have known the difference? But on one of his later voyages (he made several, before being appointed governor of what would later be the Dominican Republic -- and ruling it really badly), Columbus brought along a fellow countryman, Amerigo Vespucci. Upon reaching their destination and then getting to know the locals, Amerigo, who was an educated man, likely turned to Columbus and said something to the effect of: "Cristoforo, you idiot, I don't know where we are -- but it definitely ain't India!"

When he returned to Europe, Amerigo wrote a couple of letters, one of which was later published under the title Novus Mundus, the New World. In it, he explained that Columbus had accidentally found a set of continents previously unknown to Europeans. It also included a bunch of stories detailing (what Vespucci saw as) the wild and crazy sex practices of the indigenous people. It was basically Native Americans Gone Wild, and was a huge bestseller, by 16th century standards.

Having first learned about them from Amerigo Vespucci's accounts, European cartographers named the lands of the Western Hemisphere after Vespucci on their maps, and that was that.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersmartacus

@ smartacus

Ha! Nerd.

Wait. I also knew this fact. So I am calling you something that I am. I too am a nerd for history. Thanks for filling in the background info though!

April 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton


Yes, I am a bit of a history nerd. This is particularly true when it comes to quirky or amusing historical facts -- like the origin of the name of the Americas, for example.

I'm sure Florida is associated with some of the odder pieces of history, so you'll get your fill of them while you're down there. After all, this is a state in which people wrestle gators for public entertainment and sinkholes eat people.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your vacation!

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersmartacus
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