Florida is a state in the southeastern region of the United States, bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the south by the Straits of Florida. Florida is the 22nd most extensive, the 3rd most populous, and the 8th most densely populated of the 50 United States. The state capital is Tallahassee, the largest city is Jacksonville, and the largest metropolitan area is the Miami metropolitan area.
Much of Florida is a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Straits of Florida. Its geography is notable for a coastline, omnipresent water and the threat of hurricanes. Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, encompassing approximately , and is the only state that borders both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the state is at or near sea level and is characterized by sedimentary soil. The climate varies from subtropical in the north to tropical in the south. Some of its most iconic animals, such as the American alligator, crocodile, Florida panther and the manatee, can be found in the Everglades National Park.
Since the first European contact was made in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León – who named it La Florida ( "The Flowery") upon landing there during the Easter season, Pascua Florida – Florida was a challenge for the European colonial powers before it gained statehood in the United States in 1845. It was a principal location of the Seminole Wars against the Indians, and racial segregation after the American Civil War.
Today, Florida is distinguished by its large Hispanic community and high population growth, as well as its increasing environmental concerns. Its economy relies mainly on tourism, agriculture, and transportation, which developed in the late 19th century. Florida is also known for its amusement parks, the production of oranges and the Kennedy Space Center.
Florida culture is a reflection of influences and multiple inheritance; Native American, European American, Hispanic and African American heritages can be found in the architecture and cuisine. Florida has attracted many writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, and continues to attract celebrities and athletes. It is internationally known for golf, tennis, auto racing and water sports.
By the 16th century, the earliest time for which there is a historical record, major Native American groups included the Apalachee (of the Florida Panhandle), the Timucua (of northern and central Florida), the Ais (of the central Atlantic coast), the Tocobaga (of the Tampa Bay area), the Calusa (of southwest Florida) and the Tequesta (of the southeastern coast).
Florida was the first part of the continental United States to be visited by Europeans. The earliest known European explorers came with the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. De León spotted the peninsula on April 2, 1513, and he named the region La Florida ("flowery land").
In 1565, the Spanish colony of St. Augustine (San Agustín) was established. Spain maintained tenuous control over the region by converting the local tribes to Christianity. The area of Spanish Florida diminished with the establishment of English colonies to the north and French colonies to the west. The English attacked St. Augustine, burning the city and its cathedral to the ground several times.
Florida attracted numerous Africans and African Americans from adjacent British colonies in North America who sought freedom from slavery. The Spanish Crown gave them freedom, and those freedmen settled north of St. Augustine in Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, the first free black settlement of its kind in what became the United States.
Great Britain controlled Florida from 1763 to 1783. Great Britain gained control of Florida through the Peace of Paris and exchanges of possessions with Spain. The British divided their new acquisitions into East Florida, with its capital at St. Augustine, and West Florida, with its capital at Pensacola, by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. East Florida and West Florida did not send any representatives to Philadelphia to draft the Declaration of Independence.
Spain received both Floridas after Britain's defeat by the American colonies and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles in 1783, continuing the division into East and West Florida.
Joining the United States; Indian Removal
Spain offered land grants to anyone who settled in the Florida colonies, and many Americans moved to them. After settler attacks on Indian towns, Seminole Indians based in East Florida began raiding Georgia settlements, purportedly 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.
Upon full ratification in 1821, the Adams-Onís Treaty ceded East Florida and West Florida to the United States in exchange for $5 million and the American renunciation of any claims on Texas. President James Madison was authorized on March 3, 1821 to take possession of East Florida and West Florida for the United States and provide for initial governance. Andrew Jackson served as military governor of the newly acquired territory, but only for a brief period. On March 30, 1822, the United States merged East Florida and part of West Florida into the Florida Territory.
Some Seminoles remained, and the U.S. Army arrived in Florida, leading to the Second Seminole War (1835–42). Following the war, approximately 3,000 Seminole and 800 Black Seminole were removed to Indian Territory. A few hundred Seminole remained in Florida in the Everglades.
White settlers continued to encroach on Seminole lands, and the United States intervened to move the remaining Seminoles to the West. The Third Seminole War (1855–58) resulted in the forced removal of most of the remaining Seminoles, although hundreds of Seminole Indians remained in the Everglades.
Slavery, Civil War, and Disenfranchisement
White settlers began to establish cotton plantations in Florida, which required numerous laborers, which they supplied by buying slaves in the domestic market. By 1860 Florida had only 140,424 people, of whom 44% were enslaved. There were fewer than 1,000 free African Americans before the Civil War.
Following the Civil War, Florida's congressional representation was restored on June 25, 1868. After Reconstruction, white Democrats regained power in the state legislature. In 1885 they created a new constitution, followed by statutes through 1889 that disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites.
Until the mid-20th century, Florida was the least populous Southern state. In 1900 its population was only 528,542, of whom nearly 44% were African American, the same proportion as before the Civil War. The boll weevil devastated cotton crops.
Forty thousand blacks, roughly one-fifth of their 1900 population, left the state in the Great Migration. They left due to lynchings and racial violence, and for better opportunities. Disfranchisement for most African Americans in the state persisted until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s gained federal legislation in 1965 to enforce protection of their constitutional suffrage.
20th century growth
Economic prosperity in the 1920s stimulated tourism to Florida and related development of hotels and resort communities. Combined with its sudden elevation in profile was the Florida land boom of the 1920s, which brought a brief period of intense land development. Devastating hurricanes in 1926 and 1928, followed by the Great Depression, brought that period to a halt. Florida's economy did not fully recover until the military buildup for World War II.
The climate, tempered by the growing availability of air conditioning, and low cost of living made the state a haven. Migration from the Rust Belt and the Northeast sharply increased Florida's population after the war. In recent decades, more migrants have come for the jobs in a developing economy.
With a population of more than 18 million according to the 2010 census, Florida is the most populous state in the Southeastern United States, and the fourth most populous in the United States.
Note: Florida was a Spanish possession until transferred to the United States by treaty, concluded in 1819 but not in full effect until 1821. Florida was made a territory in 1822 with essentially its present boundaries, and was admitted as a State on March 3, 1845. From 1830 on, all parts of Florida have had census coverage.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
Ancestry.com has the following vital record databases for Florida:
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Florida family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.