Five flags of Florida (not including the current State Flag of Florida).

The history of Florida can be traced back to when the first Native Americans began to inhabit the peninsula as early as 14,000 years ago. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León first arrived and explored the area in 1513.

Prehistory of Florida[]

Paleo-Indians entered what is now Florida 14,000 years ago, soon after they are believed to have crossed over to North America from Asia. Due to the large amount of water locked up in glaciers during the Wisconsin glaciation, the sea level may have been 100 metres (more than 300 feet) lower than it is today. As a result, the Florida peninsula had a land area about twice what it is today. Florida also had a drier and cooler climate than in more recent times. There were few flowing rivers or wetlands. Over large areas of Florida the only fresh water available was in sinkholes and limestone catchment basins. As a result most paleo-Indian activity was around the watering holes, and sinkholes and basins in the beds of modern rivers (such as the Page-Ladson prehistory site in the Aucilla River) have yielded a rich trove of paleo-Indian artifacts, including Clovis points.[1]

As the glaciers began retreating about 8000 BCE, the climate of Florida became warmer and wetter, and the sea level rose. The paleo-Indian culture was replaced by, or evolved into, the Early Archaic culture. There were now more people in Florida, and as they were no longer tied to a few water holes in an arid land, they left their artifacts in many more locations. (Archaeologists have learned much about the Early Archaic people of Florida from the spectacular discoveries made at Windover Pond.) The Early Archaic period evolved into the Middle Archaic period around 5000 BCE. People started living in villages near wetlands, and favored sites may have been occupied for multiple generations. The Late Archaic period started around 3000 BCE, when Florida's climate had reached current conditions and the sea had risen close to its present level. People now lived everywhere there were fresh or salt water wetlands. Large shell middens accumulated during this period. Many people lived in large villages with purpose-built mounds, such as at the Horr's Island. Fired pottery appeared in Florida by 2000 BCE. By about 500 BCE, the Archaic culture that had been fairly uniform across Florida began to fragment into regional cultures.[2]

The post-Archaic cultures of eastern and southern Florida developed in relative isolation, and it is likely that the peoples living in those areas at the time of first European contact were direct descendants of the inhabitants of the areas in late Archaic times. The cultures of the Florida panhandle and the north and central Gulf coast of the Florida peninsula were strongly influenced by the Mississippian culture, although there is continuity in cultural history, suggesting that the peoples of those cultures were also descended from the inhabitants of the Archaic period. Cultivation of maize was adopted in the panhandle and the northern part of the peninsula, but was absent or very restricted in the tribes that lived south of the Timucuan-speaking people (i.e., south of a line approximately from present-day Daytona Beach to a point on or north of Tampa Bay.[3]

Native American tribes[]

Bernard Picart Copper Plate Engraving of Florida Indians, Circa 1721 "Cérémonies et Coutumes Religieuses de tous les Peuples du Monde" (Private Collection of L.S. Morgan, St. Augustine Beach, FL)

At the time of first European contact, Florida was inhabited by an estimated 350,000 people belonging to a number of tribes. The Spanish recorded nearly one hundred names of groups they encountered, ranging from organized political entities such as the Apalachee, with a population of around 50,000, to villages with no known political affiliation. There were an estimated 150,000 speakers of dialects of the Timucua language, but the Timucua were only organized as groups of villages, and did not share a common culture. Other tribes in Florida at the time of first contact included the Ais, Calusa, Jaega, Mayaimi, Tequesta and Tocobaga. All of these tribes diminished in numbers during the period of Spanish control of Florida. At the beginning of the 18th century, tribes from areas to the north of Florida, supplied, encouraged, and occasionally accompanied by white colonists from the Province of Carolina, raided throughout Florida, burning villages, killing many of the inhabitants and carrying captives back to Charles Towne to be sold as slaves. Most of the villages in Florida were abandoned and the survivors sought refuge at St. Augustine, or in isolated spots around the state. Some of the Apalachee eventually reached Louisiana, where they survived as a distinct group for at least another century. The few surviving members of these tribes were evacuated to Cuba when Spain transferred Florida to the British Empire in 1763. The Seminole, originally an offshoot of the Creek people who absorbed other groups, developed as a distinct tribe in Florida during the 18th century, and are now represented in the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

Spanish rule[]

Juan Ponce de León

According to popular legend, unlikely to be true, Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Although it is often stated that he sighted the peninsula for the first time, mistaking it for an island, on March 27 1513, he probably actually saw one of the Bahama islands.[4] He landed on the east coast of the newly discovered land on April 2. He named the land La Pascua Florida, or "Flowery Easter," probably due to the abundant plant life in the area or to the fact that he arrived during the Spanish Easter feast, Pascua Florida. However, Ponce de León may not have been the first European to reach Florida, as he claimed he encountered at least one Indian who could speak Spanish [5] 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. The earliest records of inland Florida are those of conquest survivors. Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition explored Florida's west coast in 1528, but was lost at sea upon his attempted seaward escape to Mexico. One of his expedition's officers, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, survived nine years trudging between Florida and Mexico, returned to Spain and published his observations. He inspired Hernando de Soto's invasion of Florida in 1539. Members of his expedition later published details of Florida's natives, their lifestyles and behavior. In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano established a brief settlement in Pensacola that was abandoned in 1561.

Timucua Indians at a shrine they set up around a column erected by the French in 1562.

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 his associate René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville in 1564 as a haven for the Huguenots. San Agustín (St. Augustine), founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in any U.S. state; it is second oldest only to San Juan in the United States' current territory.

From this base of operations, the Spanish began building Catholic missions.

1591 map of Florida

On September 20, 1565, 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 settlement from the Spanish and slaughtered all of the Spanish defenders. After the initial destruction of Fort Caroline, St. Augustine became the most important settlement in Florida. It was little more than a fortress for many years, and was frequently attacked and burned, with most residents killed or fled. It was notably devastated in 1586, when English sea captain and sometime pirate Sir Francis Drake plundered and burned the city. Roman Catholic missionaries used St. Augustine as a base of operations, and established missions throughout what is today the southeastern United States. Missionaries converted 26,000 natives by 1655, but a revolt in 1656 and an epidemic in 1659 proved devastating. Pirate attacks were unrelenting against small outposts and even St Augustine itself.

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 allied Yamasee and 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. The collapse of the Spanish mission system and the defeat of the Spanish-allied Apalachee Indians (the Apalachee massacre) opened Florida up to slave raids, which reached to the Florida Keys and decimated the native population.[6] The Yamasee War of 1715-1717 resulted in large numbers of Indian refugees, such as the Yamasee, moving south to Florida. In 1719, the French captured the Spanish settlement at Pensacola.

The British and their colonies made war repeatedly against the Spanish, especially in 1702, and captured St Augustine in 1740. The British were angry that Spanish officials tolerated and invited runaway slaves into Florida. Invading Seminoles killed off most of the local Indians. Florida had about 3000 Spaniards when Britain took control 1763. Nearly all quickly left. Even though in 1783 control was restored to Spain, Spain sent no more settlers or missionaries. The US took control in 1819.

British rule[]

The expanded West Florida territory in 1767.

In 1763, Spain traded Florida (which, at the time, extended south only to around the area of present day Gainesville) to Great Britain 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 most 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.

East Florida was the site of the largest single importation of white settlers in the colonial period, about 1,400 people indentured by Scottish Physician Dr. Andrew Turnbull arrived in July 1768. These people settled at New Smyrna, where they began to farm various crops needed in the Empire, such as indigo, grapes, silk, etc. Unfortunately for them, most crops did not do well in the sandy Florida soil, and those that did rarely equaled the quality produced in other areas. Colonists eventually tired of their servitude and the increasingly uncompromising nature of Turnbull, who on several occasions used black slaves to whip his unruly settlers. The settlement collapsed and the survivors fled to St. Augustine. Their relatives survive to this day, as does the name New Smyrna.

In 1767, the British moved the northern boundary of West Florida to a line extending from the mouth of the Yazoo River east to the Chattahoochee River (32° 28′north latitude), consisting of approximately the lower third of the present states of Mississippi and Alabama. During this time, there was a migration into Florida of Creek Indians, who would form the Seminole tribe.

During the American Revolutionary War, the Spanish, then allied with the French (who were actively at war with Britain), took advantage of the distraction and recaptured portions of West Florida, including Pensacola. In 1784, the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War returned all of Florida to Spanish control, but without specifying the boundaries. The Spanish wanted the expanded boundary, while the United States demanded the old boundary at the 31st parallel. In the Treaty of San Lorenzo of 1795, Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the boundary.

Second Spanish rule[]

East and West Florida in 1810

Spanish presence was minor during that empire's second rule over Florida. Spain offered extremely lucrative free land packages in Florida as a means of attracting settlers, and foreigners came in droves, especially from the United States. The territory became a haven for escaped slaves and a base for Indian attacks against the U.S., and the U.S. demanded Spain reform. There were almost no Spanish settlers and only a few soldiers. In the meantime, American settlers established a foothold in the area and ignored Spanish officials. British settlers who had remained also resented Spanish rule, leading to a rebellion in 1810 and the establishment for exactly ninety days of the so-called Free and Independent Republic of West Florida on September 23. After meetings beginning in June, rebels overcame the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge (now in Louisiana), and unfurled the flag of the new republic: a single white star on a blue field. This flag would later become known as the "Bonnie Blue Flag".

Throughout this period, Spain offered land grants to anyone who settled in Florida. As a result, hundreds of Americans came into the colony. Once Florida became a U.S. Territory, these grants -- which the U.S. agreed to honor if found valid -- caused years of litigation as settlers attempted to prove the validity of their claims.

On October 27, 1810, parts of West Florida were annexed by proclamation of U.S. President James Madison, who claimed the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase. At first, purchase negotiator Fulwar Skipwith and the West Florida government were opposed to the proclamation, preferring to negotiate terms to join the Union. However, William C. C. Claiborne, who was sent to take possession of the territory, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the West Florida government. Skipwith proclaimed that he was ready to "die in defense of the Lone Star flag." However, Skipwith and the legislature eventually backed down, and agreed to accept Madison's proclamation. Possession was taken of St. Francisville on 6 December 1810, and of Baton Rouge on 10 December 1810. These portions were incorporated into the newly formed Orleans Territory. The U.S. annexed the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory in 1812. Spain continued to dispute the area, though the United States gradually increased the area it occupied.

After settler attacks on Indian towns, Seminole Indians based in East Florida began raiding Georgia settlements, purportedly 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. Andrew Jackson formally took control of Florida from Spanish authorities on July 17, 1821 at Pensacola.

American rule[]

Andrew Jackson served as the first military Governor of Florida.

Seminole leader Osceola

Florida 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. The boundaries of Florida's first two counties, Escambia and St. Johns, approximately coincided with the boundaries of West and East Florida respectively.

As settlement increased, pressure grew on the United States government to remove the Indians from their lands in Florida. To the chagrin of Georgia landowners, the Seminoles harbored and integrated runaway blacks, and clashes between whites and Indians grew with the influx of new settlers. In 1832, the United States government signed the Treaty of Payne's Landing with some of the Seminole chiefs, promising them lands west of the Mississippi River if they agreed to leave Florida voluntarily. Many of the Seminoles left at this time, while those who remained prepared to defend their claims to the land. White settlers pressured the government to remove all of the Indians, by force if necessary, and in 1835, the U.S. Army arrived to enforce the treaty.

The Second Seminole War began at the end of 1835 with the Dade Massacre, when Seminoles ambushed Army troops marching from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to reinforce Fort King (Ocala), killing or mortally wounding all but one of the 108 troops. Between 900 and 1,500 Seminole Indian warriors effectively employed hit and run guerrilla tactics against United States Army troops for seven years. Osceola, a charismatic young war leader, came to symbolize the war and the Seminoles after he was arrested at truce negotiations in 1837 and died in prison less than a year later. The war dragged on until 1842. The U.S. government is estimated to have spent between US$20 million and US$40 million on the war, at the time an astronomical sum. Almost all of the Seminoles were forcibly exiled to Creek lands west of the Mississippi; about 300 were allowed to remain in 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[]

The Battle of Olustee was the only major Civil War battle fought in Florida.

Following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Florida joined other Southern states in seceding from the Union. Secession took place January 10, 1861 and, after less than a month as an independent republic, Florida became one of the founding members of the Confederate States of America. As Florida was an important supply route for the Confederate Army, 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, including the Battle of Natural Bridge and the Battle of Gainesville, 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[]

Shamu, a popular SeaWorld attraction.

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.

In February 1888, Florida had a special tourist. President Grover Cleveland, the first lady and his party visited Florida for a couple of days. He visited the Subtropical Exposition in Jacksonville where he made a speech supporting tourism to the state; then, he took a train to St. Augustine, meeting Henry Flagler; and then a train to Titusville, where he boarded a steamboat and visited Rock Ledge. On his return trip, he visited Sanford and Winter Park.

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 of the 1920's. 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. The 1926 Miami Hurricane 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[]

A Space Shuttle launch.

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 continued 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.

Since 1945[]

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 twentieth among the states in population; 50 years later it was ranked fourth.[7] Due to low tax rates and warm climate, Florida became the destination for many retirees from the Northeast and Canada. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 led to a large wave of Cuban immigration into South Florida, which transformed Miami into a major center of commerce, finance and transportation for all of Latin America. Immigration from Haiti and other Caribbean states continues to the present day.

2000 Presidential election controversy[]

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, "hanging chads," and controversial decisions by the Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the Florida Supreme Court. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court ended all recounts and let stand the official count by Harris, which was accepted by Congress.

Hurricanes and environment[]

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, until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the most expensive natural disaster in US history. Besides heavy property damage, the hurricane nearly destroyed 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. In 2005, South Florida was struck twice again by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma. The panhandle was struck by Hurricane Dennis in 2005 as well.

Environmental issues include preservation and restoration of 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.

See also[]


  1. ^ Milanich. (1998) Pp. 3-12
  2. ^ Milanich. (1998) P. 12-37
  3. ^ Milanich. (1998) P. 38-132
  4. ^ [1]- retrieved June 17, 2006.
  5. ^ Hale G. Smith and Marc Gottlob. 1978. Spanish-Indian Relationships: Synoptic History and Archaeological Evidence, 1500-1763, in Milanich, Jerald and Samuel Proctor. Tacachale: Essays on the Indians of Florida and Southeastern Georgia during the Historic Period. Gainesville, Florida: The University Presses of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-0535-3
  6. ^ Gallay, pp. 144-147
  7. ^

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 0-8078-4748-8.
  • Brown, Robin C. Florida's First People: 12,000 Years of Human History. Pineapple Press: 1994. ISBN 1-56164-032-8.
  • Burnett, Gene M. Florida's Past: People and Events That Shaped the State. Pineapple Press: 1998. ISBN 1-56164-115-4.
  • Gallay, Alan. The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717. Yale University Press. 2002. ISBN 0-300-10193-7.
  • Gannon, Michael. The New History of Florida. University Press of Florida: 1996. ISBN 0-8130-1415-8.
  • Henderson, Ann L., and Gary R. Mormino. Spanish Pathways in Florida: 1492-1992. Pineapple Press: 1991. ISBN 1-56164-004-2.
  • Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. University of Illinois Press: 1999. ISBN 0-252-06753-3
  • Milanich, Jerald T. Florida's Indians From Ancient Time to the Present. University Press of Florida. 1998.
  • Milanich, Jerald T.. Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. University Press of Florida. 1995. ISBN 0-8130-1360-7
  • Peirce, Neal R. The Deep South States of America: People, Politics, and Power in the Seven Deep South States. 1974
  • Sobel, Robert The Money Manias: The Eras of Great Speculation in America, 1770-1970 (1973) reprinted (2000)
  • Taylor, Robert A., and Lewis N. Wynne. Florida in the Civil War. Arcadia Publishing: 2002. ISBN 0-7385-1491-8.

External links[]

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