With it 660 miles of beautiful beaches, more than 8,000 lakes
which measures 700 square miles),
more than 33 springs and 4,500 islands,
is an American aquatic paradise.
And since the earliest of times,
has meant the dream of a new life in
paradise for many:
escaping the British; Spaniards and Greeks
looking for a better life; Cuban refugees dreaming of political freedoms and tourists
escaping cold weather and industrial cities.
The "Sunshine State"
has always been a place where almost
everyone is from somewhere else.
People first reached
at least 12,000 years ago.
The rich variety of environments in prehistoric
also supported a
large number of plants and animals.
Written records about life in
began with the arrival of the
Spanish explorer and adventurer
Juan Ponce de León
Sometime in April, Ponce de León waded ashore on the northeastern coast of
possibly near present-day St. Augustine.
He called the area
in honor of Pascua Florida ("the feast of the flowers"),
Spain's Easter time celebration.
Other Europeans may have reached
earlier, but no firm evidence of
this has been found.
Britain gained control of
in 1763 in exchange for Havana, Cuba,
which the British had captured from Spain during the Seven Years' War (1756-63).
Spain evacuated Florida after the exchange, leaving the province virtually empty.
The British had ambitious plans for Florida. First, it was split into two parts:
East Florida, with its capital at St. Augustine; and West Florida, with its seat at Pensacola.
British surveyors mapped much of the landscape and coastline and tried to develop relations
with a group of Indians who were moving into the area from the North.
The British called these people of
descent "Seminolies", or
The two Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the
War for American Independence, however, Spain regained control of the rest of
Florida as part of the peace treaty that ended the American Revolution.
Finally, after several official and unofficial U.S. military expeditions into the territory,
Spain formally ceded Florida to the United States in 1821
As a territory of the United States,
Florida was particularly attractive to people from
the older Southern plantation areas of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia,
who arrived in considerable numbers.
Florida's native population, the name
of Osceola has remained familiar after more than a century and a half.
Osceola was a
Seminole war leader who refused to leave his homeland in Florida.
noted for their fighting abilities, won the respect of U.S. soldiers for their bravery,
fortitude, and ability to adapt to changing circumstances during the Second Seminole War (1835-42).
Today, reservations occupied by Florida's Indian people exist at Immokalee,
Hollywood, Brighton (near the city of Okeechobee), and along the Big Cypress Swamp.
In addition to the
Seminole Indians, the
Miccosukee Tribe also calls
Prior to the Civil War,
Florida had been well on its way to becoming another of the southern cotton states.
Afterward, however, the lives of many residents changed.
The Ports of
again flourished due to the demand for lumber and
forest products to rebuild the nation's cities.
Beginning in the 1870s, residents from northern states visited Florida as tourists to
enjoy the state's natural beauty and mild climate.
Steamboat tours on
winding rivers were a popular attraction for these visitors.
In 1898, national attention focused on
Florida when the
The port city of
served as the primary staging area for U.S. troops bound for the war in Cuba.
Many Floridians supported the Cuban people's desire to be free of Spanish colonial rule.
By the turn of the century,
Florida's population and per capita wealth were increasing rapidly;
the potential of the
"Sunshine State" appeared endless.
By the end of World War I, land developers had descended on this virtual gold mine.
With more Americans owning automobiles, it became commonplace to vacation in
Many visitors stayed on, and exotic projects sprang up in southern
Some people moved onto land made from drained swamps.
Others bought canal-crossed tracts through what had been dry land.
The real estate developments quickly attracted buyers, and land in
was quickly sold and resold. Profits and prices for many developers reached inflated levels.