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History of Florida

Archaeological finds indicate the first inhabitants of Florida arrived over 12,000 years ago during the Pleistocene era. Over the next several thousand years, the inhabitants would create complex societies which built large burial mounds and traded with inhabitants to the southeast.

Several tribes of Native Americans were living in Florida when Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513. He named the land la Florida, or "the land of flowers", due to the abundant plant life in the area and to the fact that he arrived during the Spanish Easter feast, Pascua Florida. Ponce de Leon was reportedly searching for the Fountain of Youth.

Ponce de Leon returned with equipment and settlers to start a colony in 1521, but they were driven off by repeated attacks from the native population. Hernando de Soto's expedition passed through Florida in 1539, and in 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano established another brief settlement in Pensacola that was abandoned in 1561.

Spanish Rule

The French began taking an interest in the area, as well, leading the Spanish to accelerate their colonization plans. Jean Ribault led an expedition to Florida in 1562, and René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline near what is now Jacksonville in 1564. San Augustín (St. Augustine in English), founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, is the first permanent European settlement in North America, and is the oldest continually occupied city in the United States. From this base of operations, the Spanish began building Catholic missions throughout the southeastern United States.

Menéndez de Avilés attacked Fort Caroline, killed all the French soldiers defending it (except Catholics), and renamed the fort San Mateo. Two years later, Dominique de Gourgues recaptured the fort from the Spanish and slaughtered all of the Spanish defenders. In 1586, English sea captain and sometimes pirate Sir Francis Drake plundered and burned St. Augustine.

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 the allied 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. In 1719, the French captured the Spanish settlement at Pensacola.

British Rule

In 1763, Spain traded Florida (which, at the time, extended south only to around the area of present day Gainesville) to England for control of Havana, Cuba, which had been captured by the British during the Seven Years' War. Almost the entire Spanish population left along with almost all of the remaining indigenous population. The British divided the territory into East Florida and West Florida, and began aggressive recruitment programs designed to attract settlers to the area, offering free land and backing for export-oriented businesses.

During this time, there was a migration of Creek indians into Florida forming the Seminole tribe.

Britain retained control over Florida during the American Revolutionary War, but the Spanish, by that time allied with the French who were actively at war with Britain, took advantage of the distraction and recaptured portions of West Florida. In 1784, the treaty ending the Revolutionary War returned all of Florida to Spanish control.

Second Spanish Rule

Spain offered extremely lucrative free land packages in Florida as a means of attracting settlers, and colonists came in droves from Spain and from the United States. After settler attacks on Indian towns, Indians based in Florida began raiding Georgia settlements, purportedy 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.

American Rule

Florida became a United States territory on March 30, 1822.

The Americans merged East Florida and West Florida, 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.

As settlement increased, pressure grew on the United States government to remove the Indians from their lands in Florida. Many Indian tribes harbored runaway black slaves, and the settlers wanted access to Indian occupied lands.

In 1832, the United States government signed the Treaty of Payne's Landing with a few of the Seminole chiefs, promising them lands west of the Mississippi River if they agreed to leave Florida voluntarily. The remaining Seminole prepared for war. White settlers pressured the government to remove all of the Indians, by force if necessary. In 1835, the US Army arrived to enforce the treaty.

Seminole chief Osceola led the vastly outnumbered resistance during the Second Seminole War. Approximately 4,000 Indian warriors effectively employed hit and run guerrilla tactics with devastating effect against over 200,000 United States Army troops for many years. Osceola was arrested at truce negotiations in 1837. He died in jail a less than a year later.

The war only ended after a full decade of fighting, in 1842. The US government is estimated to have spent about $20,000,000 on the war, at the time an astronomical sum. Many Indians were forcibly exiled to Creek lands west of the Mississippi; others retreated into the Everglades.

On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the United States of America. Almost half of the state's population were black slaves working on plantations. Following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Florida joined other slaveholding states in seceding from the United States to form the Confederate States of America after seceding from the Union on January 10, 1861.

During the late 19th century, Florida started to become a popular tourist destination.

Recent History

After World War II, Florida was transformed air conditioning and the Interstate highway system increased the tourist traffic and encouraged migration from the north. Florida became the destination for many retirees, including a large number of Quebecois.

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