A Concise History of Florida

A Concise History of Florida

by James C. Clark


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Join author and historian James C. Clark as he chronicles the history of the Sunshine State in this concise and captivating history.

In 1513, Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first set foot on Florida's east coast. The land he discovered was a geographic anomaly so distinctive that astronaut Neil Armstrong said Florida was the first shape on earth he recognized on his return from a visit to the moon 456 years later. This unique state witnessed momentous events from the 1959 arrival of the first Cuban exiles under Fidel Castro to the 1981 launch of the "Columbia," the first space shuttle.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626196186
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date: 09/23/2014
Series: Brief History
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 721,041
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

James C. Clark is a lecturer at the University of Central Florida, where he has taught since 1987. He has become one of Florida's leading historians, and the author of ten books. His work has been honored by the Florida Historical Society, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and the Florida Magazine Association. He lives in Orlando, Florida.

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More than ten thousand years ago, as the great glaciers began to melt, Florida began to take shape. It had the same general shape as it has today, only it was twice as wide. St. Petersburg would have been one hundred miles inland during this period. As the glaciers melted, the sea level rose, and the peninsula of Florida was reduced to its present size. (The Florida peninsula is so distinctive that astronaut Neil Armstrong said Florida was the first shape on earth he recognized as he returned from his walk on the moon.)

Four thousand miles away, ice created a bridge from Siberia to Alaska, allowing people to enter North America. They scattered across the continent and reached Florida nearly sixteen thousand years ago.

The first Floridians hunted animals far different from those found today. They hunted bison, camels, mastodons and mammoths, but when hunting wiped those creatures out, the people turned to more traditional game such as rabbits and deer. Florida's first settlements formed around springs, such as Warm Mineral Springs in present-day Sarasota.

The people who settled along the coastline moved farther inland as the sea level rose. By 5,000 BC, the Florida climate had become what it is today.

The population increased, and the native tribes built villages. Archaeologists have found that around 2,000 BC, the tribes made fired-clay pottery.

By 500 BC, there were established tribes throughout the peninsula, including the Timucuan, Calusa and Apalachee, with smaller tribes in more far-flung locations. The Ais lived near the Indian River, Creeks and Choctaws in the panhandle, the Matacumbes in the Florida Keys and the Tequestas in southeast Florida.

The Timucuans established a number of villages in north-central Florida. They grew corn and gathered fruits and berries. The Timucuan villages featured a cluster of small huts surrounded by a circular twelve- foot-high wall of tree trunks. They had a rigid feudal system with a chief and council.

The Calusa Indians in the southern half of the peninsula lived in nearly fifty villages.

The population estimates vary widely; however, by the time the Europeans arrived, there were between 100,000 and 300,000 people in Florida.

There was one tribe that would become synonymous with Florida that was not present — the Seminoles. They were late arrivals, not moving into Florida until the 1700s.

Although Juan Ponce de León gets the credit for the "discovery" of Florida, there are indications that the peoples of the Caribbean islands, such as Cuba, moved between the islands and Florida much earlier. The people who came might have been looking for slaves and avoided publicizing their voyages. Crude forms of Florida first appear on maps around 1500. One sign that the Spanish had come before is seen in the hostile reaction Ponce de León and other explorers received. The Indians had apparently encountered the outsiders before, and the experience was negative.

The Columbus expedition in 1492 set off waves of Spanish exploration that stretched from Hispaniola to Peru. Florida was a late addition to the Spanish Empire.

The knowledge that there was gold in the New World led to a gold rush by the Spanish. The search for wealth drew people of various backgrounds. Thousands of poor Spaniards enlisted in the military for a chance to claim a share of the wealth. The Spanish practiced a system called primogeniture, which meant that the eldest son inherited the vast majority of the father's wealth, leaving younger sons to fend for themselves and causing many of them to seek fame and fortune in the New World. After Spain's wars with the Moors ended, soldiers sought new adventures.

The adventurers, known as conquistadors, came to conquer the Indians and make their fortune.

Conquistador Ponce de León originally came with the second voyage of Christopher Columbus and was later named governor of Puerto Rico. The son of Christopher Columbus challenged Ponce de León's position as governor, and as a consolation, the king of Spain granted Ponce de León a charter to go look for new lands. On March 3, 1513, his three ships sailed north, and on April 2, they sighted land. He named the cape he rounded "Cape Canaveral," the first European name for a point in North America.

He named the territory La Florida, or "feast of flowers," because it was the Easter season, and he claimed it for the king of Spain.

No one is sure where he landed, the original North American mystery. It was probably near present-day Melbourne, although there are many claims and no proof.

Wherever he landed, the reception was probably not what he expected. The natives attacked and injured three of his crewmen. Ponce de León fought back just enough to get his men to safety. The attack was unprovoked; perhaps the natives had encountered other Europeans who sought to enslave them. When he reached his second landing site at Jupiter Inlet, Ponce de León was attacked again. Then, while sailing around the keys and up the west coast, he was attacked twice more.

For three weeks, he wandered along the coast and then returned to Puerto Rico. It was seven years before he returned. He planned to come back sooner; however, his wife died, and he needed to care for his daughters.

When he did come back, it was to establish a settlement. He brought two hundred settlers — men and women — along with farming implements, plants and animals. Where he landed is unknown, but it was on the southwest coast near Port Charlotte.

The natives there were no friendlier than the ones he had encountered on his voyage seven years earlier. As the Spanish left the ships, the attacks began. There were three attacks, and Ponce de León himself was shot with an arrow in his thigh.

He ordered a withdrawal to Cuba, where he died of infection — perhaps from a poisonous arrow.

There was another expedition in 1528, this one led by Pánfilo de Narváez, whose luck was no better than Ponce de León's. Narváez was a classic conquistador, seeking plunder but finding only misery and death waiting for his three hundred men. Only a handful of the members of the expedition survived.

Hernando de Soto came in 1539 with a royal contract that gave him the power to explore and govern Florida and spread the Catholic faith. He came with 537 men and landed on the west coast of the peninsula.

After landing, he found Juan Ortiz, a survivor of the Narváez expedition who had been living with the natives. They walked and rode their horses for three long years, wandering through what is now the southeastern United States, although their exact route is uncertain. The Spanish claim ran to what is now Washington, D.C., and west to the Mississippi — if they could hold it.

The De Soto expedition spread European diseases throughout the region, wiping out large numbers of natives. Among the dead was De Soto, who died of disease on the banks of the Mississippi and was buried in the river. His men — their number reduced by two hundred — made their way to Mexico.

Luis Cancer arrived in 1549, sent by the viceroy of Mexico with three other missionaries to Tampa Bay. As he went ashore, he was clubbed to death by the natives. The survivors returned to Mexico.

Tristán de Luna arrived a decade later, sent from Mexico with 1,500 settlers and soldiers to the Gulf Coast. He proved to be a terrible leader, and the expedition failed.

The Spanish were ready to give up on La Florida as not worth the money and lives. On September 23, 1561, King Philip II announced that Spain no longer had an interest in settling Florida.

Between 1513 and 1560, not a single Spanish settlement was built.



King Philip II's decision to abandon Florida might have stood if not for the French. Like children who express interest in a toy only when another child wants to play with it, Florida recaptured the Spanish imagination only when France wanted it.

In France, the Protestants — known as Huguenots — sought religious freedom from the government, which often persecuted them. The Huguenots fled to nations throughout Europe and to North America.

In 1562, Jean Ribault was selected to lead an expedition to North America, accompanied by his aide, Renée de Laudonnière. He landed near Cape Canaveral and then sailed north to the mouth of the river the Spanish called the St. Johns, which Ribault renamed River of May, after the month he arrived.

He and the Timucuan Indians became friends, regularly exchanging gifts and food. When Ribault returned to Europe, he made a brief detour along the way to establish a colony in present-day South Carolina.

The British jailed Ribault briefly, and Laudonnière took over the French mission. For centuries, it was thought that the French built Fort Caroline at present-day Jacksonville, but no trace of the fort has ever been found. Recent research suggests that the three-sided fort was located in present-day Georgia, not Florida. The colony had several hundred residents but not enough soldiers. Laudonnière was a weak leader, and his colony was plagued with problems. After being released from jail, Ribault returned to try to salvage the French settlement.

The Spanish were alarmed by the French presence, which was along the Gulf Stream, the route for Spanish ships laden with gold. The Catholic Church also was concerned that the French Protestants would convert the Indians to the Protestant faith.

King Philip II dispatched Pedro Menéndez de Áviles to remove the French settlement. Menéndez sailed with three hundred soldiers and settlers whose occupations ranged from wealthy noblemen to criminals. The group also included female colonists.

In August 1565, the Menéndez fleet reached the mouth of the St. Johns only to find Ribault's five ships blocking the entrance. Menéndez sailed south to a protected harbor and set up camp at St. Augustine, about thirty miles south of the French settlement.

Ribault decided it was time for a dramatic move and set sail to attack the Spanish as they unloaded supplies. A storm came up that pushed his ships past the Spanish fleet and wrecked them on the shore south of St. Augustine.

Menéndez launched two attacks, north overland to the French fort and south to the wrecked French ships. Fort Caroline was built to prevent an attack from the sea, not the land side, and the Spanish captured it easily, killing 142 of the French soldiers before the remainder surrendered. The French ships crashed south of an inlet, and the soldiers could not cross the water. Trapped, they were easy targets for the Spanish.

In groups of ten, the Frenchmen had their hands tied behind them and were executed. The spot became known as Matanzas Inlet — or Massacre Inlet. Only a handful survived — those who were Catholics and young cabin boys.

With the French threat removed, the Spanish controlled the colony for the next two hundred years.



Florida was assigned to the Spanish governmental unit called New Spain, which included Mexico, Venezuela, the Caribbean islands and Central America.

Pedro Menéndez de Áviles and the Spanish were firmly in control, and Menéndez set out to undo the damage previous conquistadors had done in cruel dealings with the Indians. He signed a treaty with the Calusa tribe and began trading with the Indians, although problems with the Timucuans continued. The Timucuans attacked San Mateo and destroyed the fort.

To defend Spain's territory from foreign threat, Menéndez built four forts from St. Augustine to South Carolina. Soldiers were also stationed at Cape Canaveral and Biscayne Bay to guard the Spanish treasure ships sailing along the Florida coast.

Spain found vast wealth in the New World. There was gold and silver by the boatload and islands that produced fortunes in sugar and rice. Florida was the poor relation, a land without any mineral wealth, poor crops and a financial drain on the rest of the empire. Menéndez was a good governor, but it was not a good assignment for any Spaniard interested in wealth or glory. Being named governor of Florida was the bottom rung on the Spanish Empire ladder.

Florida was the only Spanish colony to never show a profit. The wealthy colonies supported Florida, money given grudgingly and usually late. The payment, known as the situado, came once a year and was brought by what became known as the situado ship. The situado ship provided hard currency for the church and government employees — nearly all of the nearly five thousand residents — and also food and drink.

The Spanish crown wanted Menéndez to stay along the shore to protect its treasure-laden ships, an area where it was difficult to grow crops. Farther inland, it was possible to grow crops, but they competed with crops being grown in other areas of the Spanish empire and were discouraged.

The Catholic Church put constant pressure on the king of Spain to maintain Florida to support its missions — the goal was to convert the Indians to Catholicism. The Jesuits came first, establishing missions as far away as Charlotte Harbor, St. Lucie Inlet and Tampa Bay. The job proved to be more than the Jesuits could handle, and they were replaced by the Franciscans, who extended the missions into present-day Georgia and Tallahassee. Shortly after its formation, the mission system came under pressure from colonial powers.

In 1586, the English privateer Sir Francis Drake attacked St. Augustine and destroyed most of the small city. Spain responded by building the massive Fort San Marcos, a fortress made with a mixture of seashells known as coquina. While the fort itself withstood attacks, the neighboring buildings remained targets.

While the Spanish remained concerned about the French expansion, it was England that represented the greatest threat. Gradually, the French and English ate into Spanish claims. In 1588, the British defeated the Spanish Armada, a battle that shocked the world. It marked the beginning of the long, steady decline of the Spanish Empire, which continued over the next three centuries.

The biggest threat to Spain's holdings in North America came from a group of British settlers who landed at Jamestown in 1607. The group settled on land the Spanish considered part of their empire. The Spanish might have been able to wipe out the Jamestown colony if they had acted quickly. Instead, the Spanish abandoned plans to attack. The Jamestown residents nearly starved to death their first year. But when they survived, the British colonies spread south, and the Spanish empire shrank.

The English settled in South Carolina in 1658, and Florida became more of a target. There were raids on St. Augustine in 1665 and 1668. Gradually, the Spanish mission system began to crumble. Queen Anne's War in the early 1700s brought renewed attacks on the Spanish Empire in North America. The war involved Indians, France, England and Spain. In 1702, South Carolina governor James Moore led 1,200 militia members in an attack on St. Augustine. The stone fort held, although Moore destroyed the village and nearby missions.

The impact of the English advances can be seen in the plight of the mission system. In 1655, Spain had seventy friars and claimed twenty-six thousand converted Indians. Half a century later, there were just twenty friars and four hundred converted Indians.

In 1733, Great Britain established the colony of Georgia, which put more pressure on Spanish Florida. Georgia governor James Oglethorpe organized his militia to attack St. Augustine in 1740 and lay siege to the fort in 1742. Spain sent a fleet from Havana to repulse the attack. At the Battle of Bloody Marsh, the Spanish were turned back. It was the last Spanish attempt to hold back the English.



The French and Indian War brought an end to Spanish rule in Florida. From 1754 to 1763, the French and their Indian allies battled the English for control of North America. Spain allied itself with France, and when the French lost, Spain paid a significant price.

During the war, the British captured the crown jewel of Spain's New World empire: Havana. The Spanish desperately wanted it back and offered Puerto Rico and Florida in exchange for Cuba. The British took Florida, giving them the entire East Coast of North America. Spain kept Puerto Rico, and as a consolation prize, Spain received all the land of the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, plus New Orleans.

On July 20, 1763, Britain took control of St. Augustine and the following month moved into Pensacola. By February 1764, only eight of the several thousand Spanish colonists remained. They abandoned hundreds of homes, and most never received any compensation.

Of particular concern to the Spanish was Fort Mose, a colony founded for escaped slaves in 1738, whose population numbered several hundred by 1763. Many Fort Mose residents left for Cuba with the Spanish while some joined Indian tribes.

The British occupied Florida for twenty years; however, their impact might have been more significant than that of the Spanish in their occupation, which lasted nearly two hundred years. The British took control rapidly, breaking Florida into two colonies with capitals in Pensacola and St. Augustine to make their large acquisition more manageable. The dividing line was the Apalachicola River. Like the Spanish, the British learned that Florida was a financial drain and operated it as cheaply as possible.


Excerpted from "A Concise History of Florida"
by .
Copyright © 2014 James C. Clark.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 7

1 Settling Florida 9

2 The French Challenge 15

3 Spanish Rule 19

4 The British Period 25

5 The American Revolution 29

6 Spain Returns 32

7 The First African Americans 37

8 The Territory of Florida 40

9 The State of Florida 45

10 Establishing Education 48

11 The Seminole Wars 51

12 The Civil War 58

13 Reconstruction 68

14 The Early Tourists 74

15 The Everglades 88

16 Presidents and Florida 94

17 Bourbon Florida 101

18 The Spanish-American War 104

19 Sports in Florida 109

20 The New Tourists 115

21 Florida Governors 1868-1950 121

22 Florida Immigrants 126

23 Oranges 131

24 Florida Colleges 141

25 Making Music 147

26 Space Age Florida 152

27 The 1920s 155

28 Florida Writers 165

29 Florida in the Movies 176

30 The Great Depression 182

31 World War II 189

32 Modern Tourism 194

33 Florida Politics 1948-2014 202

34 Hurricanes 208

35 Air Conditioning 215

36 Civil Rights in Florida 218

37 Modern Florida 228

Appendix I: Florida's Counties and Admission Dates 233

Appendix II: Florida Governors 235

Bibliography 239

Index 243

About the Author 256

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