(Thanks to our guest blogger and US State banknote series enthusiast, J. Barry Wright )
The Florida State Dollar features the portrait of Juan Ponce de Leon on the face of the banknote.
Ponce De Leon was very important to the history of Florida because he started the never-ending immigration of paradise seekers to the state. Ponce accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World. They settled in Puerto Rico. A few years later he left Puerto Rico and discovered the mainland. As being the first explorer to land in Florida he established a pathway to colonization through the establishment of missions. In order to attract settlers and to appease his investors, he started the myth of “The Fountain of Youth.”
When he first arrived he fell upon the Timucuan Indians. The chiefs of these tribes were all over six feet tall and the Spaniards considered them to be godlike. Ponce De Leon speculated that it must be the water that made them so imposing and thus the legend of the fountain originated.
Ponce de Leon was amazed at the flora and fauna of pre-colonial Florida and one can only imagine how Florida exuded raw beauty and exotic sights and smells. He named it La Florida (flora).
Lush vegetation and long white beaches were commonplace and many exotic animals like the manatees and herons shown on the back side of the state dollar were seen for the first time by white men.
Ponce’s arrival was an ominous one for the Native Americans. Many Indians died from diseases after exposure to the Europeans. Ponce de Leon had returned to Puerto Rico when he learned of an Indian rebellion, He sailed back to the mainland with 500 troops to quell the uprising of the Carolina Indians tribe. Ponce de Leon sustained a wound during this attempt to quell the rebellions. He died upon his arrival in Puerto Rico.
The manatees are shown on the backside of the Florida State Dollar. These eerie looking creatures suffered heavy losses as a result of boat propellers. The population rebounded from this slaughter but they are still closely watched as they sit on the brink of being an imperiled species.
There is much speculation about manatees and mermaids. Many historians postulate that sailors labeled manatees “mermaids”. I, for one, cannot imagine being so inebriated that I would mistake one of these homely creatures as beautiful maidens of the seas. Then again maybe sailing for months at a time without the sight of a woman would alter my perception.
The manatee population has suffered over the years but over the past 25 years it has made a comeback. The first protection of the manatees was issued by the English all the way back to the 18th Century. The Endangered Species Act of 1966 first acknowledged the manatees as being endangered in 1967. This started a series of legislations over the years to protect them.
The Save the Manatee Club (www.savethemanatee.org) organization is the most prominent US organization that champions the cause of manatee protection. It is promoted and endorsed by Jimmy Buffett and Alec Baldwin.
Sea World is a major player in the rescue of the beleaguered manatee. Sirenian Project International (www.sirenian.org) is a grassroots organization composed of scientists, students, teachers and conservationists whose goal is to provide education and aid for the manatees. Sirenian has provided us with this hyperlink where you can track the manatee population.
May they prosper on for many more years to come.