St. Augustine, Florida
Founded by Huguenots (French Protestants)


In 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon claimed the Florida region for Spain. He named the region Florida, probably because he arrived there a few days after Easter, which the Spanish called Pascua Florida (Easter of the Flowers). In 1565, the Spaniards established St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in what became the United States. Britain gained control of Florida in 1763 but ceded it back to Spain in 1783. After the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783), Florida was the only part of southeastern North America that did not belong to the United States.

Burial mounds found along Florida's western coast show that Indians lived in the region at least as long as 10,000 years ago. About 10,000 Indians lived in the Florida region when Europeans first reached its shores. The Indians belonged to at least five main tribes. The Calusa and the Tequesta in the south and the Ais on the Atlantic coast of the central part of the peninsula hunted and fished for a living. The Timucua in the central and northeast regions and the Apalachee in the northwest were farmers and hunters.

Explorer Ponce de Leon reached Florida in 1513, a few days after Easter. He had been searching for the island of Bimini, which the Spanish thought lay north of Cuba. Some stories said Bimini was the site of the Fountain of Youth. Ponce de Leon claimed the region for Spain and named it Florida, probably in honor of Pascua Florida, Spanish for Easter. He returned to Florida in 1521 to start a colony but was wounded in a battle with Indians and soon died.

In 1528, a Spaniard named Panfilo de Narvaez led an expedition of about 400 men to Florida's southwestern coast. He traveled northward searching for gold. But shipwrecks killed Narvaez and many of his men. Another Spaniard, Hernando de Soto, landed an expedition in the Tampa Bay area in 1539. He led his men beyond the Florida region and in 1541 became the first European to reach the Mississippi River.

In 1564, a group of Huguenots (French Protestants) established a colony on the St. Johns River. They built Fort Caroline near what is now Jacksonville. King Philip II of Spain sent a sea captain named Pedro Menendez de Avilés to drive the French from Florida. Menendez and his men arrived in Florida in 1565. They founded St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. They massacred the French forces and ended French attempts to settle in eastern Florida.

The Spaniards spent much of the next 200 years trying to teach their way of life to the Florida Indians. Meanwhile, English colonists established settlements to the north of Florida, and France started colonies to the west. In the mid-1700's, wars broke out between the colonists of Great Britain and France. Spain sided with France. In 1762, British forces captured Cuba. In 1763, Spain gave Florida to Britain in exchange for Cuba.

Britain divided the Florida region into two separate colonies -- East Florida and West Florida. West Florida included the part of the region west of the Apalachicola River. It also included parts of what are now Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. East Florida included the rest of the Florida region. British control of Florida lasted until Spanish forces marched into West Florida in 1779, during the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783). The British, already weakened by war, surrendered West Florida to Spain in 1781. Spain regained control of all Florida in 1783.

The second Spanish period lasted until 1821. In the early 1800's, Florida was the only part of southeastern North America that did not belong to the United States. Indians and runaway slaves and prisoners took refuge in the Florida region. In 1812, a group of eastern Florida settlers rebelled and declared their independence from Spain. But the Spaniards stopped the rebels.

During the War of 1812 (1812-1815), Spain let Britain use Pensacola as a naval base. In 1814, American troops led by General Andrew Jackson stormed into Florida and seized Pensacola. During the First Seminole War (1817-1818), Jackson captured Fort St. Marks on the Gulf of Mexico. He then defeated the Seminole Indians. Finally, in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain agreed to turn Florida over to the United States. The United States did not actually pay any money to Spain for Florida. However, it agreed to pay $5 million to U.S. citizens for property damages.

Florida formally came under U.S. control in 1821. Andrew Jackson served as temporary governor until 1822, when Congress organized the Territory of Florida, and William P. Duval became the first territorial governor.

Thousands of American settlers poured into Florida. One of the major problems they faced was finding enough land for settlement. Seminole Indians lived in some of the territory's richest farmland. The U.S. government offered land in the Oklahoma region to the Seminole if they would leave Florida territory. Some of the Seminole accepted the offer, but others refused to leave their homes. In the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), most of the band was wiped out. This war and the Third Seminole War (1855-1858) resulted in the forced resettlement of more Seminole, but a few hundred of the band fled into the swamps and remained in Florida.

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