Tourism has long been a vital component of Florida’s economy. In order to promote tourism and to celebrate St. Augustine’s unique role as the first continuous European settlement in North America, Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward approved legislation in June 1907 to bring the remains of Juan Ponce de Leon, Spanish explorer and European discoverer of Florida, from their resting place in Puerto Rico. The legislation called on the governor to appoint a five person commission to locate Ponce de Leon’s remains in Puerto Rico and to report on the feasibility of removing them to St. Augustine.
Governor Broward appointed the following men to the commission in July 1907: former Governor Francis P. Fleming, President of the Florida Historical Society; the Right Reverend William John Kenny, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine; A.M. Taylor, manager of the Casino, a popular club in St. Augustine’s Hotel Alcazar, and founder of the Florida State Elks Association; Eugene Masters, a prominent St. Augustine merchant; and Thomas J.L. Brown, a Jacksonville contractor. The commission never had a chance to perform its duty, however. Between the passage of the act and the appointment of the commissioners, the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico gave the Spanish residents of San Juan permission to move Ponce de Leon’s remains from the Church of San Jose to the Cathedral of San Juan de Bautista, where his remains were entombed in August 1908, and where they reside to this day.
Apparently, Florida’s lawmakers were not aware that Ponce de Leon’s body had lain in the Church of San Jose since the sixteenth century. Ponce de Leon died in Cuba in 1521 as a result of wounds received fighting Indians during his second voyage to Florida, but his remains were transferred to Puerto Rico, which he had originally conquered for Spain in 1508-1511. Although the United States had controlled Puerto Rico since the Spanish-American War in 1898, American officials did not interfere with the Church’s decision to move Ponce de Leon’s remains within San Juan. Florida’s bid to claim Ponce de Leon’s remains for St. Augustine failed before it ever began.
Ch 5715 – No. 120
An Act to provide for the appointment of a Commission to locate the
present resting place of the remains of Ponce de Leon, and to arrange, if
feasible, for their removal to our State.
Whereas, the remains of Ponce de Leon, the discoverer of Florida, are now said to be interred in Porto Rico, and lie unmarked in any suitable
or appropriate manner by the government which he served; and,
Whereas, the people of Florida desire to honor the grand old Knight of
Leon, who was the first to plant the white man’s banner of civilization
on the Western Continent, and believe that his ashes should find a
resting place in the land which he discovered; and,
Whereas, The people of St. Augustine, who annually celebrate the landing of Ponce de Leon, are desirous of providing a fit sepulcher for his remains
near the site of his greatest achievement; therefore,
Be it Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
Section 1. That the Governor be and his is hereby authorized and
directed to appoint a commission of five persons to locate the burial
place in Porto Rico of Ponce de Leon, and, if feasible, to arrange for
the removal of his remains to St. Augustine, the “mother city” of the
State and Nation.
Section 2. That this Act shall take effect immediately upon its passage
and approval by the Governor.