Search Website

Florida History and Facts page

Historical Florida

 

12,000BC – 7500 BC

Florida was still inhabited by prehistoric animals. It would have been approximately twice the size it is today. Sea levels would have been around 20-30 feet lower  than today and the land mass would have included half of the Gulf of Mexico and all of Florida Bay. After traveling southward to warmer climates small tribes of primitive hunters crossed the Bering Strait of Asia to America and arrived in Florida in search of food.

Florida history states they became known as the Paleo Indians. They settled in small huts of animal furs. It has been recorded that Florida was one of the last places to have human inhabitants. Evidence of the early settlers can be found in the Warm Mineral Springs just south of Sarasota.

Food sources included the Mastodon, which has been discovered around the Aucilla River region of North Central Florida. Other animals included the saber-tooth tiger, armadillos and horses. Saber-tooth tigers during that era were smaller and had shorter tails than today’s counter-parts.

Around 2000 BC started the invention of pottery making. The early settlers developed weapons from the teeth of sharks, stingray barbs, billfish bills, and from many other sources. Coconuts, various sized shells, bones and other materials were used as eating utensils. This time was also called the "Shell Age" for the Keys but it was also know as the “Stone Age” for the rest of the region.

7500 - 1000 BC

Entered the Archaic Era which brought changes like the development of village life and better food gathering.  In the winter months tribes fished the abundant bays and streams.

1000 BC - 1500 AD

Divided the Florida Indians into many large groupings. Farming and pottery skills, as well as commerce with Indians outside Florida brought in copper, iron, ore and maize.  Exchange for freshwater pearls, conch shells and fish bones were given in trade. This time was known as the Formative Era and the Mississippian Era. 

The groups of Native Americans were not tightly joined so they were known by their cultures. An example would be, around the 500-BC era Northeast Florida was occupied by the St. Johns culture, which survived for more than 1,000 years before finally evolving into the "Timucuan" tribe just before historic times.

So this period has been divided into 3 periods. The first period is known as  the Glades Period and these cultures occupied South Florida and the Keys.  The second period fell between 1500 – 1750 BC. There is much known about this time period because of accounts written by Ponce De Leon and Hernando Fonteneda. The Spanish, French and English all agree that around 1763 most or all of the Florida Native Indians were either dead or had traveled to Cuba.

 Florida History and Facts

1500 - 1750

The Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon set foot near what is now St. Augustine. He claims the territory for Spain which he names "La Florida".

Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon

This period is known as the Historic Contact Period.  Europeans arrived in southeast Florida, southwest Florida and near Lake Okeechobee. The Spanish had political control over the Mayaimi, Tequesta, Ais, Jeaga, and Calusa  tribes.  It has been estimated there were approximately 20K Indians in South Florida when the Spanish arrived. But by the time the English took control in 1763 that population had been reduced to several hundred.

As history tells us Juan Ponce De Leon arrived in Florida in 1513 near present day St Augustine. The area was called Le Florida because of all the beautiful flowers they found in the region.  It is believed that other Europeans reached Florida earlier but there is no solid evidence to support that thought. In 1521 Ponce De Leon attempted to settle the southwestern peninsula of Florida but his attempts failed after attacks from the native Indians.

In 1539 Hernando De Soto launched another exploration team searching for silver and gold, which took his journey to Florida and what is known today as southeastern United States. De Soto and his troops camped for 5 months near Tallahassee before he died in 1542 near the Mississippi River.

In 1559 Trist’an de Lunay y Arellano a  European attempted to colonize Florida. His journey’s took him to the Pensacola Bay area where he started a settlement, but due to a series of misfortunes he was forced to abandon his efforts after two years.

Spain was not the only country that found Florida interesting.

Fort Caroline

The French sent Jean Ribault in 1562 a protestant explorer, then two years later they sent Frenchman René Goulaine de Laudonnière, who established Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River, near present-day Jacksonville.

The French adventurers caused quite some worry for Spain and accelerated her plans for colonization. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés hastened across the Atlantic, his sights set on removing the French and creating a Spanish settlement. Menéndez arrived in 1565 at a place he called San Augustín (St. Augustine) and this became the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. His goal of expelling the French was accomplished by attacking and killing all settlers except for non-combatants and Frenchmen who professed belief in the Roman Catholic faith. Menéndez also captured Fort Caroline and renamed it San Mateo.

The French response occurred two years later, when Dominique de Gourgues recaptured San Mateo and made the Spanish soldiers stationed there pay with their lives. However, this did not halt the Spanish advance. Their plan of constructing forts and Roman Catholic missions continued. The Spanish missions established among native peoples soon extended across north Florida and as far north along the Atlantic coast as South Carolina.

The English, also eager to exploit the wealth of the Americas, increasingly came into conflict with Spain’s expanding empire. In 1586 the English captain Sir Francis Drake looted and burned the tiny village of St. Augustine. However, Spanish control of Florida was quickly regained.

In fact, as late as 1600, Spain’s power over what is now the southeastern United States was unquestioned. When English settlers came to America, they established their first colonies well to the North—at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. English colonists wanted to take advantage of the continent’s natural resources and relentlessly pushed the limits of Spanish power southward into southern Georgia. At the same time, French explorers were moving down the Mississippi River valley and eastward along the Gulf Coast.

The English colonists in the Carolina colonies were very hostile toward Spain. Led by Colonel James Moore, the Carolinians and their Creek Native American allies attacked Spanish Florida in 1702 and destroyed the town of St. Augustine. However, they could not capture the fort, named Castillo de San Marcos. Two years later, they destroyed the Spanish missions between Tallahassee and St. Augustine, killing many native people and enslaving many others. The French continued to harass Spanish Florida’s western border and captured Pensacola in 1719, twenty-one years after the town had been established.

Spain’s adversaries moved even closer when England founded Georgia in 1733, its southernmost continental colony. Georgians attacked Florida in 1740, assaulting the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine for almost a month. While the attack was not successful, it did illustrate the growing weakness of Spanish Florida.

1700s

Britain gained control of Florida in 1763 in exchange for Havana, Cuba, which the British had captured from Spain during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). Spain evacuated Florida after the exchange, leaving the province virtually empty, as most of the Native Americans had by now succumbed to the ravages of European disease and slavery. At that time, St. Augustine was still a garrison community with fewer than five hundred houses, and Pensacola also was a small military town.

The British had ambitious plans for Florida. First, it was split into two parts: East Florida, with its capital at St. Augustine; and West Florida, with its seat at Pensacola. British surveyors mapped much of the landscape and coastline and tried to develop relations with a new group of Native American people who were moving into the area from the North. The British called these people of Creek Indian descent Seminolies, or Seminoles. Britain attempted to attract white settlers by offering land on which to settle and help for those who produced products for export. This plan might have converted Florida into a flourishing colony, but British rule lasted only twenty years.

The two Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the War for American Independence (1776–83). However, Spain—participating indirectly in the war as an ally of France—captured Pensacola from the British in 1781. In 1784 it regained control of the rest of Florida as part of the peace treaty that ended the American Revolution.

1817-1818

First Seminole War.

1821

The United States acquires Florida from Spain as part of a deal to cancel $5 million in debts owed by the Spanish. Florida becomes a territory of the United States.

1824

Newly founded town of Tallahassee is declared the capital of the Florida territory. Tallahassee was chosen because it was halfway between existing governmental centers of Pensacola and St. Augustine.

1835-1842

The second Seminole War is waged.

1836

First railroads begin to operate in Florida.

March 3, 1845

Florida becomes the 27th state to join the United States of America.

1855-1858

The third Seminole War. Only a few hundred Seminoles survive by hiding in the Everglades.

1861

Florida secedes from the Union to join the Confederacy in the US Civil War.

1865

Civil War ends.

1880

Large scale commercial agriculture, cattle-raising and industries such as cigar manufacturing take root. Florida's population reaches an estimated 270,000.

1880-1912

Great railroad-building era. Transportation for goods and people including tourists improves.

1920-1926

Great land boom and rapid population expansion. Population reaches one million.

1930s

Florida becomes America's largest citrus producer.

1945

Two million people live in Florida. An estimated three million tourists visit Florida as large-scale tourism begins.

 

1947

President Truman opens Everglades National Park.

July 20, 1969

Spacecraft Apollo 11, launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, lands on the moon.

1971

Walt Disney World opens near Orlando to become Florida's first major theme park.

April 12, 1981  First Space Shuttle, Columbia, lauched into space from Kennedy Space Center.

1998

Over 40 million tourists visit Florida each year - more than 2 1/2 times its resident population!

Facts

  • Capital: Tallahassee
  • Statehood: March 3, 1845 (27th state)
  • Population: 17,789,864 (year 2005 - ranks 4th in nation)
  • Gross State Product: $599 Billion (2004 est)
  • Land area: 53,927 square miles
  • Highest elevation: 345 feet, Walton County in the Panhandle
  • Mean elevation: 100 feet - half of Florida is less than 100 feet above sea level!
  • Coastline 1,350 miles
  • Rank among states in total area: 22nd
  • US Territory: 1821
  • Taxes: Florida state sales tax is 6 percent with counties allowed to levy up to an additional 1 percent.
  • Time zones: Eastern except in the western panhandle which is Central. Florida adopts Daylight Saving Time.
  • Dominant trees: pines, oaks, cypresses, palms and mangroves
  • Rainfall: ranges from 40 to 60 inches per year
  • State nickname: Sunshine State
  • State song: Suwannee River
  • State animal: Florida Panther
  • State bird: Mockingbird
  • State fish: Atlantic Sailfish (saltwater), Largemouth Bass (freshwater)
  • State flower: Orange blossom
  • State tree: Sabal palm

Florida State Flag
Florida State Flag