Florida was named for the day on which it was discovered (April 2, 1513)
by Spanish explorer Ponce de León, who called it La Florida in honor of
Pascua Florida, the Spanish Feast of the Flowers at Eastertime.
Florida is located in the southeaster, a long peninsula bordered on the
north by Georgia and Alabama, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and on
the west by the Gulf of Mexico.
At 58,681 square miles, Florida is the 21st largest state. The highest
elevation is in Walton County at 345 feet while the lowest elevation is
the Atlantic Ocean at sea level
Florida was settled long before Europeans had discovered the peninsula.
Some estimates suggest that Native Americans had arrived in Florida as
early as 10,000 years before the first Europeans. European voyages of
discovery began when Columbus discovered the islands of the "New World" in
Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival of the
Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Ponce de León in 1513. Sometime
between April 2 and April 8, Ponce de León waded ashore on the northeast
coast of Florida, possibly near present-day St. Augustine. He called the
area la Florida, in honor of Pascua Florida ("feast of the flowers"),
Spain’s Easter time celebration. Other Europeans may have reached Florida
earlier, but no firm evidence of such achievement has been found.
French settlement of Florida began in 1562 as Huguenots, French
Protestants, established themselves on the St. Johns River not far from
the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine. This settlement was easily
conquered by the Spanish, but Spain's early dominance of Florida was
threatened over time by the expansion of English colonies from the north
and French colonies from the west. By 1702, the English had sacked St.
Augustine and, by 1719, the French had taken Pensacola.
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. 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. The Apalachicola River became the boundary
The two Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the War for
American Independence (1776-83). Spain entered the war on the patriot side
and as an ally of France in June 1779. The seizure of Pensacola from the
British in May 1781 came at the end of the largest battle ever fought in
Florida. In 1783, Spain regained control of the rest of Florida as part of
the peace treaty that ended the American Revolution.
Americans joined the battles for Florida in 1803, following their purchase
of Louisiana from the French. The history of Florida during this period is
one of territorial gain and loss until 1821, when Spain ceded Florida to
the United States of America.
Florida became the 27th State to united under America on March 3, 1845.
When the British evacuated Florida, Spanish colonists as well as settlers
from the newly formed United States came pouring in. Many of the new
residents were lured by favorable Spanish terms for acquiring property,
called land grants. Others who came were escaped slaves, trying to reach a
place where their U.S. masters had no authority and effectively could not
reach them. Instead of becoming more Spanish, Florida increasingly became
more "American." Finally, after several official and unofficial U.S.
military expeditions into the territory, Spain formally ceded Florida to
the United States in 1821, according to terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty.
What the U.S. inherited was a wilderness sparsely dotted with settlements
of native Indian people, African Americans, and Spaniards.
As a territory of the United States, Florida was particularly attractive
to people from the older Southern plantation areas of Virginia, the
Carolinas, and Georgia, who arrived in considerable numbers. After
territorial status was granted, the two Floridas were merged into one
entity with a new capital city in Tallahassee. Established in 1824,
Tallahassee was chosen because it was halfway between the existing
governmental centers of St. Augustine and Pensacola.
As Florida’s population increased through immigration, so did pressure on
the federal government to remove the Indian people from their lands. The
Indian population was made up of several groups-primarily, the Creek and
the Miccosukee people; and many African American refugees lived with the
U.S. government spent $20 million and the lives of many U.S. soldiers,
Indian people, and U.S. citizens to force the removal of the Seminoles. In
the end, the outcome was not as the federal government had planned. Some
Indians migrated "voluntarily." Some were captured and sent west under
military guard; and others escaped into the Everglades, where they made a
life for themselves away from contact with whites.
By 1840 white Floridians were concentrating on developing the territory
and gaining statehood. The population had reached 54,477 people, with
African American slaves making up almost one-half of the population.
Beginning in the 1870s, residents from northern states visited Florida as
tourists to enjoy the state’s natural beauty and mild climate. Steamboat
tours on Florida’s winding rivers were a popular attraction for these
By the turn of the century, Florida’s population and per capita wealth
were increasing rapidly; the potential of the "Sunshine State" appeared
endless. By the end of World War I, land developers had descended on this
virtual gold mine.
One of the most significant trends of the postwar era (1945-1960) has been
steady population growth, resulting from large migrations to the state
from within the U.S. and from countries throughout the western hemisphere,
notably Cuba and Haiti.
Since the 1950s, Florida’s public education system and public places have
undergone great changes. African American citizens, joined by Governor
LeRoy Collins and other white supporters, fought to end racial
discrimination in schools and other institutions.
Today, Florida attractions, such as the large theme parks in the Orlando
area, bring millions of visitors to the state from across the U.S. and
around the world.
The 1998 census showed Florida's population at 14,916,000. The State
Capital is Tallahassee, other major cities or towns include Daytona Beach,
Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Piece, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Key
West, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, Saint Augustine, St. Petersburg,
West Palm Beach.