ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- James Ponce rehearsed Monday on Ponte Vedra Beach for a historical re-enactment. Tuesday, he will put on a costume and portray Don Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spaniard who first landed on Florida.
Ponce claims he is a relative of Ponce de Leon's.
Ponce said a genealogical study was done in the 1950s by a woman at the historical society, and she determined the Ponce name indeed that of Ponce de Leon.
Mrs. Elenor Philips Barnes did the research by going through documents for many years.
In a New York Times story from 1961 about the Ponce family, it reads: There is believed to be a distant connection between this Ponce family and Ponce de Leon, discovered of Florida. Both family branches originated with the same Ponce, Count of Cabrera. The local researcher, Mrs. Barnes, declares that the present James Ponce "is definitely from the Minorcan branch through the middle of the sixteenth century, and from that time back through 1170 on the mainland in Catalonia."
Ponce's father, James Ponce, Sr., was often photographed because he first portrayed Ponce de Leon starting in the 1960's.
He helped "out the state of Florida, traveling in showcases throughout the country," Ponce explained.
As for the costume, Ponce said "we have three sets of uniforms, and they were made in Spain as replicas of the uniforms that Ponce de Leon wore."
James Ponce, Sr. died last year, but his son looks just like him. It makes one wonder if that's what Ponce de Leon looked like.
Ponce grinned and said, "I think through the genes that come over hundreds of years. There has to be a very similar appearance."
This week, Florida celebrates 500 years since the explorer stepped foot on North America's mainland, and now it's James Ponce Jr. who now dons the costume.
"It makes me feel very good to carry on [my father's] legacy, and the family legacy by representing myself as Ponce de Leon. I think he'd be very proud," Ponce said.
James Ponce Jr. will portray Ponce de Leon at noon Tuesday on Ponte Vedra Beach just across from the North Beach parking lot of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. It's very close to the latitude recorded on ship by one of Ponce de Leon's crew members.