The Florida coast along the Atlantic Ocean and
the Gulf of Mexico was very different 12,000 years ago, when people first arrived there.
The sea level, for example, was so much lower that the peninsula was more than double its
present size. The land was populated by many of the same animals that are there today, but
also by camels, giant armadillos, mastodons, and saber-toothed tigers. Today, the land is
populated with giant SUVs, as well as native animals and RVs with Minnesota plates.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon arrived on the northeast coast of
Floridaand there is where we begin to have a written record of Florida history. He
named the land Florida after Pascua Florida, which was the Feast of the
FlowersSpains Easter celebration.
In 1521, de Leon landed on the southwestern coast. He brought with
him 200 people and 50 horses, in hopes of colonizing the area. These hopes came to ruin,
in the face of attacks from native inhabitants. But, de Leon brought fame to the area, and
it soon became a destination for explorers, fortune-seekers, and missionaries.
In 1539, Hernando de Soto launched an expedition in search of gold
and silver, trekking through Florida and on westward for four years. In 1542, De Soto died
near the Mississippi River. Four people did survive this journey, and they pushed on into
In 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano took a stab at colonizing
Florida. He established a settlement at Pensacola Bay, but that failed after a series of
In 1562, the French began to try their hand at colonization. First,
it was Jean Ribault. Two years after his mission failed, René Goulaine de Laudonničre
established Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River. Activity from the French
was enough to motivate Spain to up the ante.
In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in Florida, with the
intention of removing the French and creating a Spanish settlement. He accomplished his
goal of expelling the French, attacking and killing all settlers except for non-combatants
and Frenchmen who professed belief in the Roman Catholic faith. Menéndez renamed Fort
Caroline San Mateo.
Two years after this, the French sent Dominique de Gourgues, who
recaptured San Mateo killed the Spanish soldiers. Yet, the Spanish continued to build
forts and Roman Catholic missions establish Spanish missions. The English, of course,
werent sitting idly by.
In 1586, the English captain Sir Francis Drake looted and burned the
tiny village of St. Augustine. But, the English feared the Spanish and did not seek an
all-out contest for Florida. In fact, early English settlers purposely avoided the Spanish
by settling far north, in Virginia and Massachusetts. The English push on Spanish control
was gradual. Simultaneously, the French explorers were moving east from the Mississippi
River. Spain eventually caved under this pressure.
In 1763, the Brits exchanged Havana, Cuba (which they captured from
Spain in 1763) for Florida. When Spanish settlers evacuated on the heels of that
agreement, Florida was practically free of European occupation.
The first act of the Brits was to split Florida into East Florida and
West Florida. They also tried to develop relations with the Seminole Indians, who were
moving into the area from the north. However, British rule lasted only two decades.
From 1776 to 1783, The War for American Independence raged. But, the
two Floridas were not among the 13 original colonies and so remained under British rule
during that time.
In 1781, Spain (now an ally of France) captured Pensacola from the
In 1784, Spain regained control of the rest of Florida as part of the
peace treaty that ended the American Revolution.
This time, it was the Brits who were forced to evacuate. When they
did, settlers from Spain and the new United States flocked there. Many of the new settlers
responded to favorable Spanish land grants. Others were just escaped slaves.
In 1821, after many skirmishes and a cultural invasion from the U.S.,
Florida changed hands again. Spain formally ceded Florida to the United States, per the
Andrew Jackson, who had commanded troops during the First Seminole
War in 1818, returned to Florida in 1821 to establish a new territorial
governmentwhich merged the two Floridas into one entity. This territory consisted of
a wilderness sparsely dotted with settlements of native Indians, Africans, and Spaniards.
Plantation folks began to arrive in large numbers.
In 1824, Tallahassee became the capital because it was halfway
between the existing governmental centers of St. Augustine and Pensacola.
With the influx of white folks, pressure to remove the Indians (who
lived on desirable land) grew. Seminoles, already noted for their fighting abilities, won
the respect of U.S. soldiers for their bravery, fortitude, and ability to adapt to
changing circumstances during the Second Seminole War (183542).
In 1840, Florida had 54,500 people and the citizens wanted statehood.
On March 3, 1845, Florida became the twenty-seventh state. William D.
Moseley was the new states first governor, and David Levy Yulee, one of
Floridas leading proponents for statehood, became a U.S. Senator.
In 1850, the population was 87,445. This included about 1,00 free
blacks, but also 39,000 black slaves. Slavery became a major issue in the states
politics. Plantation owners, concentrated in the middle of the state, vehemently opposed
an end to slavery. At this time, blacks did not have the right to vote. No Floridian voted
for Lincoln, but right after his election a special convention drafted an ordinance of
In 1861, joined other southern states to form the Confederate States
of America. No major Civil War battles took place in Florida, though Florida provided
about 15,000 troops. When the Union defeated the south, only then did federal troops
occupy Tallahassee. Florida also provided massive amounts of supplies to the
Confederatesand about 2,000 troops to the Union Army.
. During the 1876 presidential election, federal troops still
occupied Florida. The states Republican government and new black voters helped put
Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House.
In the waning years before the 20th century, large-scale
commercial agriculture became important in Florida. In fact, it became a mecca for
cattle-raising and to this day has more cattle than any other state.
Beginning in the 1870s, residents from northern states visited
Florida as tourists to enjoy the states natural beauty and mild climate. Steamboat
tours were quite popular.
In 1855, the legislature passed the Internal Improvement Act, which
afforded public land to investors, especially folks involved in transportation, for little
or no money. Between the Civil War and World War I, railroad construction went on at a
Development projects had a huge impact on agriculture and
manufacturing. For example, citrus farmers could pick oranges in south Florida and have
them in New York markets in a matter of days.
In 1898, the Spanish-American War began. This was a war to liberate
Cuba from Spanish rule. Florida played an
essential role, due to its proximity.
Following World War I, automobile-owning tourists flocked to Florida.
Visitors often stayed, and this spurred development. The Real Estate market went nuts.
With land being sold from buyer to buyer rapidly, and price inflation became ugly.
In 1926, money and credit ran out. As in the dotcom implosion of
2001, banks and investors suddenly stopped trusting "paper millionaires. That
year, and in 1928, severe hurricanes compounded the damage to the economy.
In 1929, the rest of the country sank into the Great Depression.
In 1929, the Mediterranean fruit fly invaded Florida and the
resulting 60% drop in Floridas citrus production dealt another blow to the economy.
World War II then arrived. Floridas year-round mild climate
made it a major training center for soldiers, sailors, and aviators of the United States
and its allies. The training facilities required roads and airports, so when the war ended
Florida had an efficient transportation system in place for existing and incoming
Since World War II, migration from within the U.S. and from western
countries such as Cuba and Haiti made it a major force in the electoral college. In fact,
Florida rapidly moved up through the ranks to become the fourth most populous state in the
U.S. This influx of people has resulted in a diversity of culture and industry.