History 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. Recorded history
begins with the arrival of Europeans to Florida, beginning with the Spanish
explorer Juan Ponce de León, who explored the area in 1513. Since that time
Florida has had a long history of immigration, including French and Spanish
settlement during the 16th century, as well as immigration from new Native
American groups. Florida was under colonial rule by Spain and Great Britain
during the 18th and 19th centuries before becoming a territory of the United
States in 1822. Two decades later, in 1845, Florida was admitted to the union
as America's 27th U.S. state.
Florida's nickname, the "Sunshine State" due to its generally warm climate,
has fostered developments and migrations throughout the state's history, and
particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries that have created a diverse population
and an urbanized economy. As of 2008, the United States Census Bureau
estimates that the state population was 18,328,340, ranking Florida as the fourth
most populous state in the U.S.
The first land animals entered Florida approximately 24.8 million years ago. Prior
to that time, Florida was Orange Island, a low-relief island sitting atop the carbonate
Florida Platform. Paleo-Indians entered what is now Florida at least 14,000 years ago.
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 present
levels. 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. Across large areas of Florida, fresh water was available only
in sinkholes and limestone catchment basins. As a result, most paleo-Indian activity
was around the watering holes. 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.
Excavations at an ancient stone quarry (the Container Corporation of America site in
Marion County) yielded "crude stone implements" showing signs of extensive wear from
deposits below those holding Paleo-Indian artifacts. Thermoluminescence dating and
weathering analysis independently gave dates of 26,000 to 28,000 years ago for the
creation of the artifacts. The findings are controversial, and funding has not been available
for follow-up studies.
As the glaciers began retreating about 8000 BC, 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. With an increase in population and more water available,
the people occupied many more locations, as evidenced by numerous artifacts.
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 BC. People started living in villages near wetlands and
favored sites that were likely occupied for multiple generations.
The Late Archaic period started about 3000 BC, when Florida's climate had reached current
conditions and the sea had risen close to its present level. People commonly occupied both
fresh and saltwater 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, which
had the largest permanently occupied community in the Archaic period in the southeastern
United States. It also has the oldest burial mound in the East, dating to about 1450 BC.
People began creating fired pottery in Florida by 2000 BC. By about 500 BC, the Archaic
culture, which had been fairly uniform across Florida, began to fragment into regional cultures.
The post-Archaic cultures of eastern and southern Florida developed in relative isolation. 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. Continuity in cultural history suggests that the
peoples of those areas were also descended from the inhabitants of the Archaic period. In the
panhandle and the northern part of the peninsula, people adopted cultivation of maize. Its
cultivation was restricted or absent among the tribes who lived south of the Timucuan-speaking
people (i.e., south of a line approximately from present-day Daytona Beach, Florida to a point
on or north of Tampa Bay.) Peoples in southern Florida depended on the rich estuarine
environment and developed a highly complex society without agriculture.
Native American tribes
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. The populations of all of these tribes decreased markedly during
the period of Spanish control of Florida, mostly due to epidemics of newly introduced
infectious diseases, to which the Native Americans had no natural immunity.
At the beginning of the 18th century, when the indigenous peoples were already much
reduced, tribes from areas to the north of Florida, supplied with arms and occasionally
accompanied by white colonists from the Province of Carolina, raided throughout Florida.
They burned villages, wounded many of the inhabitants and carried captives back to
Charles Towne to be sold into slavery. Most of the villages in Florida were abandoned and
the survivors sought refuge at St. Augustine or in isolated spots around the state. Many
tribes became extinct during this period and by the end of the eighteenth century.
Some of the Apalachee eventually reached Louisiana, where they survived as a distinct
group for at least another century. The Spanish evacuated the few surviving members of
the Florida tribes to Cuba in 1763 when Spain transferred the territory of Florida to the
British Empire following the latter's victory in the Seven Years War. In the aftermath, the
Seminole, originally an offshoot of the Creek people who absorbed other groups, developed
as a distinct tribe in Florida during the 18th century through the process of ethnogenesis.
They are now represented in the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the Seminole Tribe of
Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.
Colonialism: Battleground for Europe
First Spanish rule
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 on March 27, 1513, and thought it was an island, he probably
saw one of the Bahama islands. 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.
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 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
but after a violent hurricane destroyed the area it 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 a largely Huguenot 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. Further down the coast the Spanish
founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, San Agustín (St. Augustine) is the oldest
continuously inhabited European settlement in any U.S. state; it is second oldest only to
San Juan, Puerto Rico in the United States' current territory. From this base of operations,
the Spanish began building Catholic missions.
On September 20, 1565, Menéndez de Avilés attacked Fort Caroline, killing all the French
Huguenot soldiers defending it (sparing only a few 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. The Yamasee
War of 1715-1717 resulted in numerous 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 3,000 Spanish inhabitants when Britain took control in 1763.
Nearly all quickly left. Even though in 1783 control of Florida was restored to Spain after
the Battle of Pensacola (1781), Spain sent no more settlers or missionaries.
In 1763, Spain traded Florida to the Kingdom of Great Britain for control of Havana, Cuba,
which had been captured by the British during the Seven Years' War. It was part of a large
expansion of British territory following the country's victory in the Seven Years War. Almost
the entire Spanish population left, taking along most of the remaining indigenous population
to Cuba. The British divided the territory into East Florida and West Florida. They 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;
Dr Andrew Turnbull transplanted around 1500 indentured settlers, from Minorca, Majorca, Ibiza,
Smyrna, Crete, Mani Peninsula, and Sicily, to grow hemp, sugarcane, indigo, and to produce
rum. Settled at New Smyrna, within months the colony suffered major losses primarily due to
insect-borne diseases and Native American raids. Most crops did not do well in the sandy
Florida soil. Those that survived rarely equaled the quality produced in other colonies. The
colonists tired of their servitude and Turnbull's rule. On several occasions, he used African
slaves to whip his unruly settlers. The settlement collapsed and the survivors fled to safety with
the British authorities in St. Augustine. Their descendants survive to this day, as does the name
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,
Creek Indians migrated into Florida and formed the Seminole tribe.
The two Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the American Revolutionary War.
However, Spain (participating indirectly in the war as an ally of France) captured Pensacola from
the British in 1781. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War and returned all of
Florida to Spanish control, but without specifying the boundaries. The Spanish wanted the
expanded boundary, while the new United States demanded the old boundary at the 31st parallel
north. In the Treaty of San Lorenzo of 1795, Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the boundary.
Second Spanish rule
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 December 6, 1810, and of Baton
Rouge on December 10, 1810. These portions were incorporated into the newly formed Territory
of Orleans. 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.
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 Territory of Orleans 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
As settlement increased, pressure grew on the United States government to remove the Indians
from their lands in Florida. Many settlers in Florida developed plantation agriculture, similar to other
areas of the Deep South. To the consternation of new 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 Seminoles left then, 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). They
killed or mortally wounded all but one of the 110 troops. Between 900 and 1,500 Seminole Indian
warriors effectively employed 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 by deception while attending truce negotiations in 1837. First imprisoned at Fort
Marion, he died of malaria at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina less than 3 months after his capture.
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 remained in the Everglades.
On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the United States of America. Its first governor
was William Dunn Moseley.
Almost half the state's population were enslaved African Americans working on large cotton and
sugar plantations. Like the people who held them, many slaves had come from the coastal areas
of Georgia and the Carolinas. They were part of the Gullah-Gee Chee culture of the Low Country.
Others were enslaved African Americans from the Upper South who had been sold to traders taking
slaves to the Deep South.
In the 1850s white settlers were again encroaching on lands used by Seminoles. The United States
government decided to make another attempt to move the remaining Seminoles to the West.
Increased Army patrols led to hostilities. The Third Seminole War lasted from 1855 to 1858. At its
end, US forces estimated only 100 Seminoles were left in Florida. In 1859, 75 Seminoles surrendered
and were sent to the West, but some Seminoles continued to live in the Everglades.
On the eve of the Civil War, Florida had the least population of the Southern states. It was invested in
plantation agriculture. By 1860 Florida had only 140,424 people, of whom 44% were enslaved. There
were fewer than 1000 free people of color before the Civil War.
Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow
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, the Battle of Marianna and the Battle of
Gainesville, the only major battle was the Battle of Olustee near Lake City.
After meeting the requirements of Reconstruction, including ratifying amendments to the
US Constitution, Florida was readmitted to the United States on July 25, 1868. This did not
end the struggle for political power among groups in the state.
After Reconstruction, conservative white Democrats strove for power until they regained it
in 1877. This was accomplished partly through violent actions by white paramilitary groups
targeting black freedmen and their allies to discourage them from voting. From 1885 to
1889, after regaining power, the white-dominated state legislature passed statutes to
reduce voting by blacks and poor whites, which had threatened white Democratic power
with a populist coalition. As these groups were stripped from voter rolls, white Democrats
established power in a one-party state, as happened across the South.
By 1900 the state's African Americans numbered more than 200,000; 44 percent of the
total population. This was the same proportion as before the Civil War, and they were
effectively disfranchised. Not being able to vote meant they could not sit on juries, and
were not elected to local, state or federal offices. They were not recruited for law
enforcement or other government positions. White Democrats proceeded to pass Jim Crow
legislation establishing racial segregation in public facilities and transportation. Without
political representation, African Americans were shortchanged in the state. For more than
six decades, white Democrats controlled virtually all the state's seats in Congress, which
were apportioned based on the total population of the state rather than only on those voting.
Great Migration, Racism and the Great Depression
After WWI there was a rise in lynchings and other racial violence directed by whites
against blacks in the state, as well as across the South and in northern cities. It was
due in part from strains of rapid social and economic changes, as well as competition
for jobs. Whites continued to resort to lynchings to keep dominance, and tensions rose.
White mobs committed murders, accompanied by wholesale destruction of black houses,
churches and schools, in the small communities of Ocoee, November 1920; Perry in
December 1922; and Rosewood in January 1923. The governor appointed a special grand
jury and special prosecuting attorney to investigate Rosewood and Levy County, but the
jury did not find sufficient evidence to prosecute. Rosewood was never resettled.
To escape segregation, lynchings, and civil right suppression, forty thousand African
Americans migrated from Florida to northern cities in the Great Migration from 1910-1940.
That was one-fifth of their population in 1900. They sought better lives, including decent-paying
jobs, better education for their children, and the chance to vote and participate in political life.
Many were recruited for jobs with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
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 1920s. 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.
During the late 19th century, Florida became a popular tourist destination as railroads
expanded into the area. Railroad magnate Henry Plant built at Tampa the luxurious
Tampa Bay Hotel, which later became the campus for the University of Tampa. Henry
Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to Key West. Along the
route he provided for his passengers grand accommodations, including The Ponce de
León Hotel in St. Augustine, The Ormond Hotel in Ormond Beach, The Royal
Poinciana Hotel and The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, and The Royal Palm Hotel in
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 Rockledge. On his return trip, he visited Sanford and Winter Park.
Florida's first theme parks emerged in the 1930s and included Cypress Gardens (1936) near
Winter Haven and Marineland (1938) near St. Augustine. In the 1960s Walt Disney chose
Central Florida as the site of his planned Walt Disney World Resort and began purchasing
land. To avoid generating land speculation, he used dummy corporations and willing
associates to acquire 27,400 acres (110 km², 43 mi²). In 1971, the Magic Kingdom, the first
component of the resort, opened and began the dramatic transformation of the Orlando area
into an international resort destination with a wide variety of themed parks. The Orlando area
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 became 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, including Naval Air Station Jacksonville,
Naval Station Mayport, Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Naval Air Station Whiting 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 encouraged the
development of these and other military facilities. Since the end of the Cold War, the
military has closed some facilities, including major bases at Homestead and Cecil
Field, but its presence is still significant in the economy.
Due to the low latitude of the state, 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. As programs were expanded and employees joined, the space program
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.
Migrations and the Civil Rights Movement
Florida's populations have been rapidly changing. After World War II, Florida was
transformed as air conditioning and the Interstate highway system encouraged in-
migration from the north. In 1950, Florida was ranked twentieth among the states in
population; 50 years later it was ranked fourth. Due to low tax rates and warm
climate, Florida became the destination for many retirees from the Northeast,
Midwest 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, other Caribbean states,
and Central and South America continues to the present day.
Like other states in the South, Florida had many African American leaders who were
active in the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1940s and '50s, a new generation started
working on issues. Harry Moore built the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP) in Florida, rapidly increasing its membership to 10,000.
Because Florida's voter laws were not as restrictive as those of Georgia and Alabama,
he also had some success in registering black voters. In the 1940s he increased
voter registration among blacks from 5 to 31% of those age-eligible.
The state had white groups who resisted change to the point of attacking and killing
blacks. In December 1951 was the notorious bombing of the house of activists Harry
Moore and his wife Harriette, who both died of injuries from the blast. Although their
murders were not solved then, a state investigation in 2006 reported they had been
killed by an independent unit of the Ku Klux Klan. Numerous bombings were directed
against African Americans in 1951-1952 in Florida.
The state's population had changed markedly by in-migration of new groups, as well
as outmigration of African Americans, 40,000 of whom moved north in earlier decades
of the twentieth century during the Great Migration. By 1960 African Americans in
Florida numbered 880,186 citizens, but represented only 18% of the state's population.
This was a much smaller proportion than in 1900, when according to the census,
they comprised 44% of the state's population but numbered 231,209 persons. Since
the 19th century, educated black middle classes had developed in numerous cities.
By their leadership in Florida and other states, African Americans gained national
support and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965,
which protected voting for all citizens.
In the years after such legislation, African Americans and other minorities in the South
began to vote and participate more fully in the political process.
The state created a Civil Service in the constitutional rewrite of 1968. Until that time,
every time a cabinet officer or governor changed, "three fourths of the employees lost
2000 Presidential election controversy
Florida became the battleground of the controversial 2000 US presidential election
which took place on November 7, 2000, when a count of the popular votes held on
Election Day was extremely close triggering automatic recounts. These recounts
triggered accusations of fraud, manipulation and brought to light voting irregularities.
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 ruled in Bush v. Gore to end all recounts, allowing Secretary of
State Harris to certify the election results. The final official Florida count gave the
victory to George W. Bush over Al Gore by 537 votes, a 0.009% margin of difference.
The process was extremely divisive, and led to calls for electoral reform in Florida.
Everglades, Hurricanes, Drilling and the environment
Florida has historically been at risk from hurricanes and tropical storms. These
have presented higher risks and property damage as the concentration of population
and development has increased along Florida's coastal areas. Not only are more
people and property at risk, but development has overtaken the natural system of
wetlands and waterways, which used to absorb some of the storms' energy.
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 four
major storms struck the state. Hurricane Charley made landfall in the Charlotte
County 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, by Hurricane Katrina
and Hurricane Wilma, while the panhandle was struck by Hurricane Dennis.
Environmental issues include preservation and restoration of the Everglades, which has
moved slowly. There has been pressure by industry groups to drill for oil in the eastern
Gulf of Mexico but so far, large-scale drilling off the coasts of Florida has been prevented.
Governor Charlie Crist requested that the federal government declare the state an agricultural
disaster area because of 13 straight days of freezing weather during the growing season in
When the first Spanish explorers approached the Florida shores in the 16th century as
they searched for rumored gold and eternal youth, a number of native indian tribes had
long resided throughout the peninsula and on its surrounding islands. The southernmost
regions were dominated by the Tequestas and the Calusas, who thrived on the abundance
provided by the sea and the rich coastal lands.
Like the other early Florida tribes, the Tequestas and Calusas eventually disappeared with
the coming of Western civilization and its accompanying diseases and conquering spirit.
Some of the void was filled, though by other natives, Creek Indians who slowly moved into
the southern states. They were neither welcomed nor beloved by the European and American
settlers. They came to be called "Seminoles", a name perhaps corrupted from the Spanish
word cimarron, meaning "wild" or from the Creek words ishti semoli, meaning "wildmen" or
"outlanders" or "separatists".
One contemporary chronicler of explorer Ponce de Leon, observing the chain of islands on
the horizon, said they appeared as men who were suffering; hence they were given the name
Los Martires or "the martyrs." No one knows exactly when the first European set foot on one
of the Keys, but as exploration and shipping increased, the islands became prominent on
nautical maps. The nearby treacherous coral reefs claimed many actual seafaring "martyrs"
from the time of early recorded history. The chain was eventually called "keys", also attributed
to the Spanish, from cayos, meaning "small islands".
In 1763, the Spanish ceded Florida to the British in a trade for the port of Havana. The treaty
was unclear as to the status of the Keys. An agent of the King of Spain claimed that the islands,
rich in fish, turtles and mahogany for shipbuilding, were part of Cuba, fearing that the English
might build fortresses and dominate the shipping lanes. The British also realized the treaty was
ambiguous, but declared that the Keys should be occupied and defended as part of Florida. The
British claim was never officially contested. Ironically, the British gave the islands back to Spain
in 1783, to keep them out of the hands of the United States, but in 1821 all of Florida, including
the necklace of islands, officially became American territory.
In the early 1900's, travel between many of these islands was only possible by boat. A modern
pioneer, Henry Morrison Flagler, claims responsibility for providing the first civilized access to
the Keys. He dreamed of extending the Florida East Coast Railway from Homestead to Key
West. His dream was realized in 1912, after years of extreme physical hardship for the engineers
and laborers who designed and built it.
After the 1935 Labor Day hurricane destroyed the railroad, it was replaced by the Overseas
Highway in 1938. The highway has since been widened and modernized. More than 40 bridges
now connect these islands, like a Caribbean necklace, for more than 126 miles.
Though most of the Florida Keys remained remote and inaccessible until well into the 20th
century, their history glitters with romantic tales of pirates, fortunes gleaned from unfortunate
shipwrecks, brief heydays for several island cities, struggling pioneer farmers and occasional
military occupation. It also holds its share of tragedy resulting from settlers' encounters with
hostile Indians, yellow-fever-bearing mosquitoes, dangerous hurricanes and unpredictable seas.
Information courtesy of Wikipedia and other sources.
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