Florida State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Florida State History

Parrot in a Florida tree. People first lived in Florida at least 12,000 years ago. The rich variety of environments in prehistoric Florida supported a large number of plants and animals. The animal population included most mammals that we know today. In addition, many other large mammals that are now extinct (such as the saber- tooth tiger, mastodon, giant armadillo, and camel) roamed the land.

The Florida coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico was very different 12,000 years ago. The sea level was much lower than it is today. As a result, the Florida peninsula was more than twice as large as it is now. The people who inhabited Florida at that time were hunters and gatherers, who only rarely sought big game for food. Modern researchers think that their diet consisted of small animals, plants, nuts, and shellfish. These first Floridians settled in areas where a steady water supply, good stone resources for tool making, and firewood were available. Over the centuries, these native people developed complex cultures. During the period prior to contact with Europeans, native societies of the peninsula developed cultivated agriculture, traded with other groups in what is now the southeastern United States, and increased their social organization, reflected in large temple mounds and village complexes.

Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival of the Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. Sometime between April 2 and April 8, Ponce de Leon 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 Eastertime celebration. Other Europeans may have reached Florida earlier, but no firm evidence of such achievement has been found.

French adventurers prompted Spain to accelerate her plans for colonization. Pedro Menendez de Aviles hastened across the Atlantic, his sights set on removing the French and creating a Spanish settlement. Menendez arrived in 1565 at a place he called San Augustin (St. Augustine) and established the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. 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. Menendez captured Fort Caroline and renamed it San Mateo.

Beautiful blooming flower.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.

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, the two Floridas 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-Onis Treaty.

Andrew Jackson returned to Florida in 1821 to establish a new territorial government on behalf of the United States. What the U.S. inherited was a wilderness sparsely dotted with settlements of native Indian people, African Americans, and Spaniards.

Florida became the twenty-seventh state in the United States on March 3, 1845. William D. Moseley was elected the new state's first governor, and David Levy Yulee, one of Florida's leading proponents for statehood, became a U.S. Senator. By 1850 the population had grown to 87,445, including about 39,000 African American slaves and 1,000 free blacks.

During the Civil War, Florida was not ravaged as several other southern states were. Indeed, no decisive battles were fought on Florida soil. While Union forces occupied many coastal towns and forts, the interior of the state remained in Confederate hands

During the final quarter of the nineteenth century, large-scale commercial agriculture in Florida, especially cattle-raising, grew in importance. Industries such as cigar manufacturing took root in the immigrant communities of the state.

Florida Historic Figures

Andrew Jackson
1767-1845: On March 10, 1821, U.S. President James Monroe appointed General Andrew Jackson Commissioner of the United States to take possession of Florida and gave him the full powers of governor. Jackson accepted the office only on the condition that he could resign as soon as the territorial government was organized. On July 17, 1821, Spain transferred Florida to the United States, and Jackson sent his resignation to the president in November. In all, Andrew Jackson visited Florida only three times: in 1814 during the War of 1812, in 1818 during the First Seminole War, and in 1821 to organize the first territorial government. Andrew Jackson was born in South Carolina on March 15, 1767. He became a national hero after defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He was elected president of the United States in 1828; reelected in 1832; and served until March 3, 1837. After his last term in office, Jackson retired to his plantation, "The Hermitage," in Tennessee, where he died on June 8, 1845.


William Dunn Moseley
1795-1863: Born in North Carolina in 1795, William Moseley pursued a legal career in his native state before moving to Florida in 1835. Florida became the 27th state of the Union on March 3, 1845, and in the first statewide election for governor that year, Moseley successfully ran against one of the best-known public figures in the state, former territorial Governor Richard Keith Call. As governor, Moseley encouraged agriculture in the state, especially the planting of citrus, avocados, tobacco, and cotton. He was a strong supporter of states' rights and favored the establishment of state-funded public schools. The state capitol was completed and fully occupied in the first year of his administration. After his term of office, Moseley moved to Palatka, where he became a planter and raised citrus fruit. He died on January 4, 1863


William Pope DuVal
1784-1854: William DuVal was born at Mount Comfort, Va., in 1784. At the age of 14, he left home for the Kentucky frontier, settling in Bardstown to study law. In 1822 he moved to Florida, where he was appointed a territorial judge. He served about a month at St. Augustine before President James Monroe appointed him governor of the Florida territory. He later was reappointed by Presidents Adams and Jackson. DuVal's administration was noted for its peaceful relations with Florida's Indians and for the establishment of Tallahassee as the territorial capital. DuVal moved to Texas in 1848 and died on March 18, 1854.


Richard Keith Call
1792-1862: Richard Call, the namesake of his uncle, a Revolutionary War hero, was born in Virginia on October 24, 1792. He came to Florida in 1814 as the personal aide of Andrew Jackson, returned with him to Pensacola in 1821 to set up the new territorial government, and decided in 1822 to make Florida his home. He served as a member of the Legislative Council, a delegate to Congress, and, finally, territorial governor. Call led the Florida militia in fighting the Seminoles during his first term. During his second administration as governor, he moved the territory closer to statehood and tried to minimize the financial problems that Florida experienced because of bank failures and the national business depression. Call built an estate in Tallahassee, called "The Grove," in the 1830s. The structure, now on the National Register of Historic Places, later became the home of another governor, LeRoy Collins, and his wife Mary Call Collins, a descendant of Governor Call. Richard Keith Call died at The Grove on September 14, 1862.


Madison Starke Perry
1814-65: Madison Perry was born in Prince William Parrish, S.C., in 1814. He came to Florida in the 1830s and became a leader among the area's plantation owners. As governor, Perry helped bring about the settlement of a long-standing boundary dispute with Georgia and encouraged the building of railways. During the years before the Civil War, Governor Perry foresaw the possibility that Florida might secede from the Union, and in 1858 urged the reestablishment of the state's militia. Florida did secede three years later, on January 11, 1861. After his term as governor ended, Perry served as colonel of the 7th Florida Regiment until illness forced his retirement. He died at his Alachua County plantation in March 1865.