History of Florida

From Academic Kids

The history of Florida began at least 12,000 years ago, long before it became a U.S. state.


Spanish rule

Several tribes of Native Americans were living in Florida when Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León arrived in 1513, reportedly searching for the Fountain of Youth. He sighted Florida for the first time, mistaking it for an island, on March 27, and subsequently landed on the east coast of the newly discovered land on April 2. He named the land La Pascua Florida, or "the flowery easter" due to the abundant plant life in the area and to the fact that he arrived during the Spanish Easter feast, Pascua Florida.

Ponce de León returned with equipment and settlers to start a colony in 1521, but they were driven off by repeated attacks from the native population. Hernando de Soto's expedition passed through Florida in 1539, and in 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano established another brief settlement in Pensacola that was abandoned in 1561. The French began taking an interest in the area, as well, leading the Spanish to accelerate their colonization plans. Jean Ribault led an expedition to Florida in 1562, and René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline near what is now Jacksonville in 1564. San Agustín (St. Augustine in English), founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, was the first permanent European settlement in the current territory of the United States. From this base of operations, the Spanish began building Catholic missions throughout what is today the southeastern United States.

Menéndez de Avilés attacked Fort Caroline, killed all the French soldiers defending it (except Catholics), and renamed the fort San Mateo. Two years later, Dominique de Gourgues recaptured the fort from the Spanish and slaughtered all of the Spanish defenders. In 1586, English sea captain and sometimes pirate Sir Francis Drake plundered and burned St. Augustine.

Throughout the 17th century, English settlers in Virginia and the Carolinas gradually pushed the boundaries of Spanish territory south, while the French settlements along the Mississippi River encroached on the western borders of the Spanish claim. In 1702, English Colonel James Moore and the allied Creek Indians attacked and razed the town of St. Augustine, but they could not gain control of the fort. In 1704, Moore and his soldiers began burning Spanish missions in north Florida and executing Indians friendly with the Spanish. In 1719, the French captured the Spanish settlement at Pensacola.

British rule

In 1763, Spain traded Florida (which, at the time, extended south only to around the area of present day Gainesville) to England for control of Havana, Cuba, which had been captured by the British during the Seven Years' War. Almost the entire Spanish population left along with almost all of the remaining indigenous population. The British divided the territory into East Florida and West Florida, and began aggressive recruitment programs designed to attract settlers to the area, offering free land and backing for export-oriented businesses. See West Florida controversy.

During this time, there was a migration of Creek Indians into Florida forming the Seminole tribe.

Britain retained control over Florida during the American Revolutionary War, but the Spanish, by that time allied with the French who were actively at war with Britain, took advantage of the distraction and recaptured portions of West Florida. In 1784, the treaty ending the Revolutionary War returned all of Florida to Spanish control.

Second Spanish rule

Spain offered extremely lucrative free land packages in Florida as a means of attracting settlers, and colonists came in droves from Spain and from the United States. After settler attacks on Indian towns, Indians based in Florida began raiding Georgia settlements, purportedy at the behest of the Spanish. The United States Army led increasingly frequent incursions into Spanish territory, including the 1817 - 1818 campaign against the Seminole Indians by Andrew Jackson that became known as the First Seminole War. Following the war, the United States effectively controlled East Florida.

The Adams-Onís Treaty was signed between the United States and Spain on February 22, 1819 and took effect on July 10, 1821. According to the terms of the treaty, the United States acquired Florida and, in exchange, renounced all claims to Texas.

American rule

Florida Territory became an organized territory of the United States on March 30, 1822.

The Americans merged East Florida and West Florida (although the majority of West Florida was annexed to Orleans Territory and Mississippi Territory), and established a new capital in Tallahassee, conveniently located halfway between the East Florida capital of St. Augustine and the West Florida capital of Pensacola.

As settlement increased, pressure grew on the United States government to remove the Indians from their lands in Florida. Many Indian tribes harbored runaway black slaves, and the settlers wanted access to Indian occupied lands.

In 1832, the United States government signed the Treaty of Payne's Landing with a few of the Seminole chiefs, promising them lands west of the Mississippi River if they agreed to leave Florida voluntarily. The remaining Seminole prepared for war. White settlers pressured the government to remove all of the Indians, by force if necessary. In 1835, the U.S. Army arrived to enforce the treaty.

Missing image

Seminole leader Osceola was involved in a vastly outnumbered resistance during the Second Seminole War. Approximately 4,000 Indian warriors effectively employed hit and run guerrilla tactics with devastating effect against over 200,000 United States Army troops for many years. Osceola was arrested at truce negotiations in 1837. He died in jail a less than a year later.

The war only ended after a full decade of fighting, in 1842. The US government is estimated to have spent about $20,000,000 on the war, at the time an astronomical sum. Many Indians were forcibly exiled to Creek lands west of the Mississippi; others retreated into the Everglades.

On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the United States of America. Almost half of the state's population were black slaves working on plantations.

The Civil War and Reconstruction

Following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Florida joined other slaveholding states in seceding from the United States. Secession took place January 10, 1861 and Florida immediately joined the Confederate States of America. Florida was an important supply route for the Confederate Army, thus Union forces operated a blockade around the entire state. Union troops occupied major ports such as Cedar Key, Jacksonville, Key West, and Pensacola. Though numerous skirmishes occurred in Florida, the only major battle was the Battle of Olustee near Lake City.

After meeting the requirements of Reconstruction, including amendments to the US Constitution, Florida was readmitted to the United States on July 25, 1868.

Tourism industry

During the late 19th century, Florida started to become a popular tourist destination as railroads expanded into the area. Railroad magnate Henry Plant built a luxury hotel in Tampa, which later became the campus for the University of Tampa. Henry Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to Key West and built numerous luxury hotels along the route, including in the cities of St. Augustine, Ormond Beach, and West Palm Beach.

The 1920s were a prosperous time for much of the nation. Florida's new railroads opened up large areas to development, spurring the Florida Land Boom. Investors of all kinds, mostly from outside Florida, raced to buy and sell rapidly appreciating land in newly platted communities such as Miami and Palm Beach. A majority of the people who bought land in Florida were able to do so without stepping foot in the state by hiring people to speculate and buy the land for them. By 1925 the market ran out of buyers to pay the high prices and soon the boom became a bust. A hurricane in 1926 hit Palm Beach and further depressed the real estate market. The Great Depression arrived in 1929, however by that time economic decay already consumed much of Florida from the land boom that collapsed four years earlier.

Florida's first theme parks emerged in the 1930s and include Cypress Gardens (1936) near Winter Haven and Marineland (1938) near St. Augustine. Walt Disney chose Central Florida as the site of his planned Walt Disney World Resort in the 1960s and began purchasing land. In 1971 the first component of the resort, The Magic Kingdom, opened and began the dramatic transformation of the Orlando area into a resort destination with a wide variety of themed parks. Besides Disney, the Orlando area today features theme parks including Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld, and Wet 'n Wild.

Military and space industry

Starting in the early twentieth century and accelerating as World War II dawned, the state has proven itself to be a major hub for the United States Armed Forces. Naval Air Station Pensacola was originally established as a naval station in 1826 and became the first American naval aviation facility in 1917. The entire nation mobilized for World War II and many bases were established in Florida during this time, including Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Naval Station Mayport, Naval Air Station Cecil Field, and Homestead Air Force Base. Eglin Air Force Base and MacDill Air Force Base (now the home of U.S. Central Command) were also developed during this time. During the Cold War Florida's coastal access and proximity to Cuba continuted the development of these and other military facilities. Since the end of the Cold War Florida has seen some facilities close, including major bases at Homestead and Cecil Field, but the military presence is still significant.

Due to Florida's low latitude, it was chosen in 1949 as a test site for the country's nascent missile program. Patrick Air Force Base and the Cape Canaveral launch site began to take shape as the 1950s progressed. By the early 1960s, the Space Race was in full swing and generated a huge boom in the communities around Cape Canaveral. This area is now collectively known as the Space Coast and features the Kennedy Space Center. It is also a major center of the aerospace industry. To date, all manned orbital spaceflights launched by the United States, including the only men to visit the Moon, have been launched from Kennedy Space Center.

Recent history

Florida's populations are continually changing. After World War II, Florida was transformed as air conditioning and the Interstate highway system encouraged migration from the north. In 1950, Florida was ranked 20th among the states in population - in 2003, Florida was ranked fourth. Due to low tax rates and warm climate, Florida became the destination for many retirees, including a large number of Quebecois. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 led to a large wave of Cuban immigration into South Florida. Immigration from Haiti and other Caribbean states continues to the present day.

Hurricanes and tropical storms are an increasing problem stemming from Florida's rapidly developing coastal areas. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 struck Homestead, just south of Miami, and was the most expensive natural disaster in US history. Besides excessive property damage, the hurricane nearly undermined the region's insurance industry.

The western panhandle of the state was damaged heavily in 1995, with storms Allison, Erin, and Opal hitting the area within the span of a few months. The storms increased in strength as the season went on, culminating with Opal's landfall as a Category 3 in October. Florida also suffered heavily during the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, when no less than four storms struck the state. Hurricane Charley made landfall in the Fort Myers area and cut northward through the peninsula, Hurricane Frances struck the Atlantic coast and drenched most of central Florida with heavy rains, Hurricane Ivan caused heavy damage in the western Panhandle, and Hurricane Jeanne caused damage to the same area as Frances, including compounded beach erosion. Damage from all four storms was estimated to be at least $22 billion, with some estimates going as high as $40 billion.

Florida became the battleground of the controversial 2000 US presidential election, when a count of the popular votes held on Election Day was extremely close and mired in accusations of fraud and manipulation. Subsequent recount efforts degenerated into arguments over mispunched ballots and controversial decisions by the Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the Florida Supreme Court. Ultimately the election was decided by a United States Supreme Court ruling that ended all recounts.

Environmental issues include preserving the Everglades and how to respond to pressure to drill for oil in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. To date, large-scale drilling off of the coasts of Florida has been prevented.

Sources and further reading

  • Baptist, Edward E. Creating an Old South: Middle Florida's Plantation Frontier Before the Civil War.
  • Barnes, Jay. Florida's Hurricane History. University of North Carolina Press: 1998. ISBN 0807847488.
  • Brown, Robin C. Florida's First People: 12,000 Years of Human History. Pineapple Press: 1994. ISBN 1561640328.
  • Burnett, Gene M. Florida's Past: People and Events That Shaped the State. Pineapple Press: 1998. ISBN 1561641154.
  • Gannon, Michael. The New History of Florida. University Press of Florida: 1996. ISBN 0813014158.
  • Henderson, Ann L., and Gary R. Mormino. Spanish Pathways in Florida: 1492-1992. Pineapple Press: 1991. ISBN 1561640042.
  • Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. University of Illinois Press: 1999. ISBN 0252067533
  • Taylor, Robert A., and Lewis N. Wynne. Florida in the Civil War. Arcadia Publishing: 2002. ISBN 0738514918.

External links

  • Florida Memory Project ( over 300,000 photographs and documents from the State Archives of Florida

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