Sanibel and Spanish Explorers
While it is debated through archaeologist who the first of the Spanish explorers to discover Sanibel was, it is mostly accepted Ponce De Leon did around 1513. It is said that he claimed the island for himself under the right of discovery rule instilled by King Ferdinand of Spain and called the island Santa Isybell, after his Queen Isabella, which later translated to Sanibel. There are, however, differentiating thoughts as to how the island was actually named and spelled, but this seems to be the one most widely accepted. De Leon battled with the Calusa for years, as he tried to instill missionary priests on Sanibel and surrounding areas to convert the Indians, which was deemed unsuccessful. It is claimed that he didn’t want to massacre the Calusa, as did his successors. During a surprise attack, Ponce De Leon was wounded in the leg and returned to Cuba where he died nine days later.
Most of the other Spanish expeditions after this came near Sanibel and Captiva however did not directly land on the islands. In the early to mid 1700’s, with battles between British and Spanish raging, and disease introduced by these forces, Sanibel and Captiva became all but deserted as the Calusa left.