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 and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. Florida is the 22nd most extensive, the 4th most populous, and the 8th most densely populated of the 50 United States. The state capital is Tallahassee, its largest city is Jacksonville, and the Miami metropolitan area is the largest metropolitan area in the southeastern United States.
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, one of the most famous national parks in the world.
Since the first European contact was made in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León – who named it La Florida ( "Flowery Land") 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, it 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.
Archaeological research indicates that Florida was first inhabited by Paleo-Indians, the first human inhabitants of the Americas, perhaps as early as 14 thousand years ago. The region was continuously inhabited through the Archaic period (to about 2000 BC). After about 500 BC the previously relatively uniform Archaic culture began to coalesce into distinctive local cultures. 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 what is now the continental United States to be visited by Europeans. The earliest known European explorers came with the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. According to the "500TH Florida Discovery Council Round Table", on March 3, 1513, Ponce de Leon, organized and equipped three ships which commenced an expedition (with a Crew of 200-including Women and Free Blacks) departing from "Punta Aguada" Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was the historic 1st gateway to the discovery of Florida which opened the doors to the advanced settlement of the USA. They introduced Christianity, Cattle, Horses, Sheep, the Spanish language and more to the land (Florida) that later became the United States of America, 107 years before the Pilgrims landed. Ponce de León spotted the peninsula on April 2, 1513. According to his chroniclers, Ponce de León named the region La Florida ("flowery land") because it was then the Easter Season, known in Spanish as Pascua Florida (roughly "Flowery Easter"), and because the vegetation was in bloom. It is possible Juan Ponce de León was not the first European to reach Florida, however; reportedly, at least one indigenous tribesman whom he encountered in Florida in 1513 spoke Spanish. From 1513 onward, the land became known as "La Florida", although after 1630 and throughout the 18th century, Tegesta (after the Tequesta tribe) was an alternate name of choice for the Florida peninsula following publication of a map by the Dutch cartographer Hessel Gerritsz in Joannes de Laet's History of the New World.
Over the following century, both the Spanish and French established settlements in Florida with varying degrees of success. In 1559, Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano established a colony at present-day Pensacola, one of the first European attempts at settlement in the continental United States. It was abandoned by 1561 due to hurricanes, famine and warring tribes, and the area was not re-inhabited until the 1690s. French Protestant Huguenots founded Fort Caroline in modern-day Jacksonville in 1564. The following year, the Spanish colony of St. Augustine (San Agustín) was established, and forces from there conquered Fort Caroline that same year. The Spanish maintained tenuous control over the region by converting the local tribes, briefly with Jesuits and later with Franciscan friars.
The area of Spanish Florida diminished with the establishment of English colonies to the north and French colonies to the west. The English weakened Spanish power in the area by supplying their Creek and Yamasee allies with firearms and urging them to raid the Timucuan and Apalachee client-tribes of the Spanish. The English attacked St. Augustine, burning the city and its cathedral to the ground several times, while the citizens hid behind the walls of the Castillo de San Marcos.
Florida was attracting a large number of Africans and African Americans from British-occupied North America who sought freedom from slavery. Once in Florida, the Spanish Crown converted them to Roman Catholicism and gave them freedom. Those ex-slaves settled in a community north of St. Augustine, called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, the first freedom settlement of its kind in what became the United States. Many of those slaves were also welcomed by Creek and Seminole Native Americans who had established settlements there at the invitation of the Spanish government.
Great Britain gained control of Florida and other territory diplomatically in 1763 through the Peace of Paris. The British divided their new acquisitions into East Florida, with its capital at St. Augustine, and West Florida, with its capital at Pensacola. Britain tried to develop the Floridas through the importation of immigrants for labor, but this project ultimately failed. 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. They offered land grants to anyone who settled in the 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.
In 1819, by terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in exchange for $5 million and the American renunciation of any claims on Texas that they might have from the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed and as settlement increased, pressure grew on the United States government to remove the Indians from their lands in Florida. To the chagrin of Georgia landowners, the Seminoles harbored and integrated runaway blacks, known as the Black Seminoles, and clashes between whites and Indians grew with the influx of new settlers. In 1832, the United States government signed the Treaty of Payne's Landing with some of the Seminole chiefs, promising them lands west of the Mississippi River if they agreed to leave Florida voluntarily. Many of the Seminoles left at this time, while those who remained prepared to defend their claims to the land. The U.S. Army arrived in 1835 to enforce the treaty under pressure from white settlers, and the Second Seminole War began at the end of the year with the Dade Massacre, when Seminoles ambushed and killed or mortally wounded all but one in a group of 110 Army troops, plus Major Dade and seven officers, marching from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to reinforce Fort King (Ocala). Between 900 and 1,500 Seminole Indian warriors employed guerrilla tactics against United States Army troops for seven years until 1842. The U.S. government is estimated to have spent between $20 million and $40 million on the war, at the time an astronomical sum.
White settlers began to establish cotton plantations in Florida, which required numerous laborers. By 1860 Florida had only 140,424 people, of whom 44% were enslaved. There were fewer than 1000 free African Americans before the Civil War.
On January 10, 1861, before the start of the American Civil War, Florida declared its secession from the Union; ten days later, the state became a founding member of the Confederate States of America. The war ended in 1865. On June 25, 1868, Florida's congressional representation was restored. After Reconstruction, white Democrats succeeded in regaining power in the state legislature. In 1885 they created a new constitution, followed by statutes through 1889 that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites over the next several years. Provisions included poll taxes, literacy tests, and residency requirements. Disfranchisement for most African Americans in the state persisted until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s gained federal legislation to protect their suffrage.
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 boll weevil devastated cotton crops, and early 20th century lynchings and racial violence caused a record number of African Americans to leave the state in the Great Migration to northern and midwestern industrial cities. Forty thousand blacks, roughly one-fifth of their 1900 population, left for better opportunities. Economic prosperity in the 1920s stimulated tourism to Florida. 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 stock market crash and Great Depression, brought that period to a halt.
Florida's economy did not fully recover until the 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 the 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, the second most populous state in the South behind Texas, 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.