Pensacola (IPA: ) is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle and the county seat of Escambia County, Florida, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 51,923. Pensacola is the principal city of the Pensacola metropolitan area, which had an estimated 461,227 residents in 2012.
Pensacola is a sea port on Pensacola Bay, which is protected by the barrier island of Santa Rosa and connects to the Gulf of Mexico. A large United States Naval Air Station, the first in the United States, is located southwest of Pensacola (near Warrington); it is the base of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The main campus of the University of West Florida is situated north of the city center.
The area was originally inhabited by Muskogean peoples; the Pensacola people lived there at the time of European contact and Creek people frequently visited and traded from present-day southern Alabama. Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna founded a short-lived settlement in 1559. In 1698 the Spanish established a presidio in the area, from which the modern city gradually developed. The area changed hands several times as European powers competed in North America. During Florida's British rule (1763–1789), fortifications were strengthened.
It is nicknamed "The City of Five Flags," due to the five governments that have ruled it during its history: the flags of Spain (Castile), France, Great Britain, the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. Other nicknames include "World's Whitest Beaches" (due to the white sand of Florida panhandle beaches), "Cradle of Naval Aviation", "Western Gate to the Sunshine State", "America's First Settlement", "Emerald Coast", "Redneck Riviera", "Red Snapper Capital of the World", and "P-Cola".
The original inhabitants of the Pensacola Bay area were Native American peoples. At the time of European contact, a Muskogean-speaking tribe known to the Spanish as the Pensacola lived in the region. This name was not recorded until 1677, but the tribe appear to be the source of the name "Pensacola" for the bay and thence the city. Creek people, also Muskogean-speaking, came regularly from present-day southern Alabama to trade, so the peoples were part of a broader regional and even continental network of relations.
The best-known Pensacola Culture site in terms of archeology is the Bottle Creek site, a large site located 59 miles west of Pensacola north of Mobile, Alabama. This site has at least 18 large earthwork mounds; five of which are arranged around a central plaza. Its main occupation was from 1250CE to 1550. It was a ceremonial center for the Pensacola people, and a gateway to their society. This site would have had easy access by a dugout canoe, the main mode of transportation used by the Pensacola.
The area's written recorded history begins in the 16th century, with documentation by Spanish explorers who were the first Europeans to reach the area. The expeditions of Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539 both visited Pensacola Bay, calling it the Bay of Ochuse.
In 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano landed with over 1,400 people on 11 ships from VeraCruz, Mexico. The expedition was to establish an outpost, called Ochuse by de Luna, as a base for Spanish efforts to colonize Santa Elena (present-day Parris Island, South Carolina.) But, the colony was decimated by a hurricane on September 19, 1559, which killed hundreds, sank five ships, grounded a caravel, and ruined supplies. The 1,000 survivors divided to relocate the settlement, but due to famine and attacks by the Pensacola, they abandoned their effort in 1561. About 240 people sailed to Santa Elena, but another storm hit there. Survivors abandoned the settlement and sailed to Cuba. The remaining 50 at Pensacola were taken back to Mexico. The Viceroy's advisers concluded northwest Florida was too dangerous to settle, a view which stood for 135 years.
In the late 17th century, the French began exploring the lower Mississippi River with the intention of colonizing the region as part of La Louisiane or New France in North America. Fearful that Spanish territory would be threatened, the Spanish founded a new settlement in western Florida. In 1698 they established a fortified town near what is now Fort Barrancas, laying the foundation for permanent European-dominated settlement of the modern city of Pensacola. The Spanish built three presidios in Pensacola:
During the early years of settlement, a tri-racial creole society developed. As a fortified trading post, the Spanish had mostly men stationed here. Some married or had unions with Pensacola, Creek or African women, both slave and free, and their descendants created a mixed-race population of mestizos and mulattos. The Spanish encouraged slaves from the southern British colonies to come to Florida as a refuge, promising freedom in exchange for conversion to Catholicism and militia service. Most went to the area around St. Augustine but escaped slaves also reached Pensacola.
After years of settlement, the Spanish ceded Florida to the British in 1763 as a result of an exchange following British victory over France in the French and Indian War (the North American front of the Seven Years' War), and French cession of its territories in North America. The British designated Pensacola as the capital of their new colony of West Florida. From 1763, the British strengthened defenses around the mainland area of fort San Carlos de Barrancas, building the Royal Navy Redoubt.
After Spain joined the American Revolution in 1779 on the side of the rebels, Spanish forces captured the city in the 1781 Battle of Pensacola, gaining control of West Florida. After the war the British officially ceded both West Florida and East Florida to Spain. In 1785 with the founding of the Panton, Leslie Company here, many Creek from southern Alabama and Georgia came to trade, and it developed as a major center. It was a garrison town, predominately males in the military or trade. Americans made raids into the area, and settlers pressured the federal government to gain control of this territory.
In 1821, with Andrew Jackson as provisional governor, Pensacola became part of the United States. The Creek continued to interact with European Americans and African Americans, but the dominant whites increasingly imposed their binary racial classifications: white and black ("colored", within which were included free people of color, including Indians.) But, American Indians and mestizos were identified separately in court and Catholic church records, and as Indians in censuses up until 1840, attesting to their presence in the society. After that, the Creek were not separately identified as Indian, but the people did not disappear. Even after removal of many Seminole to Indian Territory, Indians, often of mixed-race but culturally identifying as Muskogean, lived throughout Florida.
St. Michael's Cemetery was established in the 18th century at a location in a south central part of the city, which developed as the Downtown area. Initially owned by the Church of St. Michael, it is now owned and managed by St. Michael's Cemetery Foundation of Pensacola, Inc. Preliminary studies indicate that there are over 3200 marked burials as well as a large number unmarked.
Tensions between the white community and Indians tended to increase during the Removal era. In addition, an increasing proportion of Anglo-Americans, who constituted the majority of whites by 1840, led to a hardening of racial discrimination in the area. There was disapproval of white men living with women of color, which had previously been accepted. In 1853 the legislature passed a bill prohibiting Indians from living in the state, and provided for capture and removal to Indian Territory.
While the bill excluded half-bloods and Indians already living in white communities, they went "underground" to escape persecution. No Indians were listed in late 19th and early 20th century censuses for Escambia County. People of Indian descent were forced into the white or black communities by appearance, and officially, in terms of records, "disappeared". It was a pattern repeated in many Southern settlements. Children of white fathers and Indian mothers were not designated as Indian in the late 19th century, whereas children of blacks or mulattos were classified within the black community, related to laws during the slavery years.
In 1907-1908 there were 116 Creek in Pensacola who applied for the Eastern Cherokee enrollment, thinking that all Indians were eligible to enroll. Based on Alabama census records, most of these individuals have been found to be descendants of Creek who had migrated to the Pensacola area from southern Alabama after Indian removal of the 1830s.