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The Birth of Miami

This movie examines Henry Flagler’s role in the development of the Florida East Coast Railway, the state of Florida itself, and the city of Miami. It examines a historical event and can be shown in a fourth grade social studies classroom to help satisfy the following New Generation Sunshine State.

Timeline of Florida: 1500’s:

  • (1513) Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon landed near (present day) St. Augustine, named it La Florida, and claimed it for Spain
  • (1539) Hernando de Soto explored central and northern Florida
  • (1565) Spanish established St. Augustine, first permanent European settlement
  • (1586) British seafarer, Sir Francis Drake, conquered and burned St. Augustine


  • (1763) Britain gained control in exchange for Havana, Cuba
  • (1781) Spanish captured Pensacola
  • (1783) Spanish troops repossessed Florida
  • (1785-1795) Spain relinquished St. Augustine and Pensacola to England


  • (1803) United States claimed West Florida and Pensacola as part of Louisiana Purchase
  • (1813) Andrew Jackson captured Pensacola
  • (1816) Cannon ball exploded in abandoned British fort, killed almost 300 freed and runaway slaves
  • (1818) General Jackson fought Seminole Indians
  • (1821) General Jackson established new U. S. territorial government
  • (1822) Unified government of Florida established; William Duval first Territorial Governor
  • (1830-1840) Population boomed, settlers arrived
  • (1834-1837) First railroads began operation; second Seminole War occurred, Major Francis Dade and two U S Army troops ambushed and massacred
  • (1837) General Zachary Taylor commanded forces against Seminoles at Lake Okeechobee
  • (1842) Second Seminole War ended with many Indians dead, the rest forced out of Florida
  • (1845) Florida became 27th state
  • (1851) Dr. John Gorrie patented ice making process
  • (1855-1858) Third Seminole War occurred
  • (1861-1865) Civil War began; Florida seceded from Union, joined Confederacy
  • (1868) Florida readmitted to Union
  • (1878) Tourism began at Silver Spring, Hullam Jones invented glass-bottom boat
  • (1881) Phosphate discovered in Peace River Valley
  • (1888) Yellow fever epidemic struck, 40% of Jacksonville population fled, over 400 died
  • (1894-1899) Frosts killed many citrus trees
  • (1898) Embarkation camps created at Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville due to Spanish-American War

The history of Florida can be traced back to when the first Native Americans began to inhabit the peninsula as early as 14,000 years ago. They left behind artifacts and archeological evidence. Written history begins with the arrival of Europeans to Florida, beginning with the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León in 1513. From that time of contact Florida has had a long immigration, including French and Spanish settlement during the 16th century, as well as entry of new Native American groups migrating from elsewhere in the South. Florida was under colonial rule by Spain and Great Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries before becoming a territory in 1822 of the United States. Two decades later, in 1845, Florida was admitted to the union as the 27th US state.

Florida is nicknamed the “Sunshine State” due to its warmer climate that attracted northern migrants since the 1920s. A diverse population and urbanized economy have developed. By 2011 Florida, with over 19 million people, passed New York and became the third largest state in population.

The economy has developed over time, starting with the use of natural resources in logging, mining, fishing, and sponge diving; as well as cattle ranching, farming and citrus growing. The tourism, real estate, trade, banking, and retirement destination businesses followed.

Early history

Shell midden at Enterprise in 1875

Florida used to be Orange Island, a low-relief island sitting atop the carbonate Florida Platform. The first land animals entered Florida approximately 24.8 million years ago.

When glaciation locked up the world’s water, starting 2.58 million years ago, the sea level dropped precipitously. It may have been 100 metres (330 ft) lower than present levels. As a result, the Florida peninsula not only emerged, but had a land area about twice what it is today. Florida also had a drier and cooler climate than in more recent times. There were few flowing rivers or wetlands.

Paleo-Indians entered what is now Florida at least 14,000 years ago.   Across large areas of Florida, fresh water was available only in sinkholes and limestone catchment basins. As a result, most paleo-Indian activity was around the watering holes. Sinkholes and basins in the beds of modern rivers (such as the Page-Ladson prehistory site in the Aucilla River) have yielded a rich trove of paleo-Indian artifacts, including Clovis points.

Excavations at an ancient stone quarry (the Container Corporation of America site in Marion County) yielded “crude stone implements” showing signs of extensive wear from deposits below those holding Paleo-Indian artifacts. Thermoluminescence dating and weathering analysis independently gave dates of 26,000 to 28,000 years ago for the creation of the artifacts. The findings are controversial, and funding has not been available for follow-up studies.

As the glaciers began retreating about 8000 BC, the climate of Florida became warmer and wetter, and the sea level rose. The paleo-Indian culture was replaced by, or evolved into, the Early Archaic culture. With an increase in population and more water available, the people occupied many more locations, as evidenced by numerous artifacts. Archaeologists have learned much about the Early Archaic people of Florida from the discoveries made at Windover Pond. The Early Archaic period evolved into the Middle Archaic period around 5000 BC. People started living in villages near wetlands and favored sites that were likely occupied for multiple generations.

The Late Archaic period started about 3000 BC, when Florida’s climate had reached current conditions and the sea had risen close to its present level. People commonly occupied both fresh and saltwater wetlands. Large shell middens accumulated during this period. Many people lived in large villages with purpose-built earthwork mounds, such as at Horr’s Island, which had the largest permanently occupied community in the Archaic period in the southeastern United States. It also has the oldest burial mound in the East, dating to about 1450 BC. People began creating fired pottery in Florida by 2000 BC. By about 500 BC, the Archaic culture, which had been fairly uniform across Florida, began to fragment into regional cultures.

The post-Archaic cultures of eastern and southern Florida developed in relative isolation. It is likely that the peoples living in those areas at the time of first European contact were direct descendants of the inhabitants of the areas in late Archaic times. The cultures of the Florida panhandle and the north and central Gulf coast of the Florida peninsula were strongly influenced by the Mississippian culture, producing two local variants known as the Pensacola culture and the Fort Walton culture.   Continuity in cultural history suggests that the peoples of those areas were also descended from the inhabitants of the Archaic period. In the panhandle and the northern part of the peninsula, people adopted cultivation of maize. Its cultivation was restricted or absent among the tribes who lived south of the Timucuan-speaking people (i.e., south of a line approximately from present-day Daytona Beach, Florida to a point on or north of Tampa Bay).  Peoples in southern Florida depended on the rich estuarine environment and developed a highly complex society without agriculture.

Native American tribes

Bernard Picart Copper Plate Engraving of Florida Indians, Circa 1721 “Cérémonies et Coutumes Religieuses de tous les Peuples du Monde” (Private Collection of L.S. Morgan, St. Augustine Beach, Fla).

At the time of first European contact in the early 16th century, Florida was inhabited by an estimated 350,000 people belonging to a number of tribes. The Spanish recorded nearly one hundred names of groups they encountered, ranging from organized political entities such as the Apalachee, with a population of around 50,000, to villages with no known political affiliation. There were an estimated 150,000 speakers of dialects of the Timucua language, but the Timucua were only organized as groups of villages and did not share a common culture.

Other tribes in Florida at the time of first contact included the AisCalusaJaegaMayaimiTequesta and Tocobaga. What we know of these tribes are from what was written about them by early explorers such as Alvaro Mexia. The populations of all of these tribes decreased markedly during the period of Spanish control of Florida, mostly due to epidemics of newly introduced infectious diseases, to which the Native Americans had no natural immunity.

At the beginning of the 18th century, when the indigenous peoples were already much reduced in populations, tribes from areas to the north of Florida, supplied with arms and occasionally accompanied by white colonists from the Province of Carolina, raided throughout Florida. They burned villages, wounded many of the inhabitants and carried captives back to Charles Towne to be sold into slavery. Most of the villages in Florida were abandoned and the survivors sought refuge at St. Augustine or in isolated spots around the state. Many tribes became extinct during this period and by the end of the 18th century.

Some of the Apalachee eventually reached Louisiana, where they survived as a distinct group for at least another century. The Spanish evacuated the few surviving members of the Florida tribes to Cuba in 1763 when Spain transferred the territory of Florida to the British Empire following the latter’s victory in the Seven Years War. In the aftermath, the Seminole, originally an offshoot of the Creek people who absorbed other groups, developed as a distinct tribe in Florida during the 18th century through the process of ethnogenesis. They are now represented in the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

Colonialism: Battleground for Europe – First Spanish rule

Juan Ponce de Leó

1527 map by Vesconte Maggiolo showing the east coast of North America with “Tera Florida” at the top and “Lavoradore” at the bottom.

1591 map of Florida by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues

Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida. A legend, unlikely to be true, says he discovered it while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Although it is often stated that he sighted the peninsula for the first time on March 27, 1513, and thought it was an island, he probably saw one of the Bahama islands.   It is Spanish custom to name a place after the nearest Roman Catholic feast.   He arrived on the east coast during the Spanish Easter feast, Pascua Florida, April 7. He named the land La Pascua de la Florida, or “Passion of the Flowers,” or “Passion of the Christ”

Ponce de León returned with equipment and settlers to start a colony in 1521, but they were driven off by repeated attacks from the native population. Pánfilo de Narváez‘s expedition explored Florida’s west coast in 1528 but was lost at sea upon his attempted seaward escape to Mexico. Hernando de Soto’s entered Florida in 1539. In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano established a brief settlement in Pensacola but after a violent hurricane destroyed the area it was abandoned in 1561.

René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville in 1564 as a haven for the Huguenots.   Further down the coast the Spanish founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, San Agustín (St. Augustine) is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in any U.S. state; it is second oldest only to San Juan, Puerto Rico in the United States’ current territory. From this base of operations, the Spanish began building Catholic missions.

On September 20, 1565, Menéndez de Avilés attacked Fort Caroline, killing most of the French Huguenot soldiers defending it.  Two years later, Dominique de Gourgues recaptured the settlement from the Spanish and slaughtered all of the Spanish defenders.

St. Augustine became the most important settlement in Florida. It was little more than a fortress for many years, and was frequently attacked and burned, with most residents killed or fled. It was notably devastated in 1586, when English sea captain and sometime pirate Sir Francis Drake plundered and burned the city. Catholic missionaries used St. Augustine as a base of operations to establish far-flung missions. They converted 26,000 natives by 1655, but a revolt in 1656 and an epidemic in 1659 proved devastating. Pirate attacks were unrelenting against small outposts and even St. Augustine itself.

Throughout the 17th century, English settlers in Virginia and the Carolinas gradually pushed the boundaries of Spanish territory south, while the French settlements along the Mississippi River encroached on the western borders of the Spanish claim. In 1702, English Colonel James Moore and allied Yamasee and Creek Indians attacked and razed the town of St. Augustine, but they could not gain control of the fort. In 1704, Moore and his soldiers began burning Spanish missions in north Florida and executing Indians friendly with the Spanish. The collapse of the Spanish mission system and the defeat of the Spanish-allied ApalacheeIndians (the Apalachee massacre) opened Florida up to slave raids, which reached to the Florida Keys and decimated the native population. The Yamasee War of 1715–1717 resulted in numerous Indian refugees, such as the Yamasee, moving south to Florida. In 1719, the French captured the Spanish settlement at Pensacola.

The British and their colonies made war repeatedly against the Spanish, especially in 1702, and captured St Augustine in 1740. The British were angry that Spanish Florida was attracting a large number of Africans and African Americans in North America who sought freedom from British slavery. The slaves that could escape, once they made it to Florida, were given freedom after they converted to Catholicism. They settled in a buffer community north of St. Augustine, called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, the first settlement made of free slaves in North America.

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake triggered a tsunami that would have struck Central Florida with an estimated 1.5-meter (4 ft 11 in) wave.

Creek and Seminole Native Americans who had established buffer settlements in Florida at the invitation of the Spanish government also welcomed many of those slaves. In 1771, Governor John Moultrie wrote to the English Board of Trade that “It has been a practice for a good while past, for negroes to run away from their Masters, and get into the Indian towns, from whence it proved very difficult to get them back.” When British government officials pressured the Seminoles to return runaway slaves, they replied that they had “merely given hungry people food, and invited the slaveholders to catch the runaways themselves.”

British rule

The expanded West Florida territory in 1767.

In 1763, Spain traded Florida to the Kingdom of Great Britain for control of Havana, Cuba, which had been captured by the British during the Seven Years’ War. It was part of a large expansion of British territory following the country’s victory in the Seven Years War. Almost the entire Spanish population left, taking along most of the remaining indigenous population to Cuba. The British divided the territory into East Florida and West Florida.   They began aggressive recruitment programs designed to attract settlers to the area, offering free land and backing for export-oriented businesses.

East Florida was the site of the largest single importation of white settlers in the colonial period; Dr Andrew Turnbull transplanted around 1,500 indenturedsettlers, from MinorcaMajorcaIbizaSmyrnaCreteMani Peninsula, and Sicily, to grow hempsugarcaneindigo, and to produce rum. Settled at New Smyrna, within months the colony suffered major losses primarily due to insect-borne diseases and Native American raids. Most crops did not do well in the sandy Florida soil. Those that survived rarely equaled the quality produced in other colonies. The colonists tired of their servitude and Turnbull’s rule. On several occasions, he used African slaves to whip his unruly settlers. The settlement collapsed and the survivors fled to safety with the British authorities in St. Augustine. Their descendants survive to this day, as does the name New Smyrna.

In 1767, the British moved the northern boundary of West Florida to a line extending from the mouth of the Yazoo River east to the Chattahoochee River (32° 28′north latitude), consisting of approximately the lower third of the present states of Mississippi and Alabama. During this time, Creek Indians migrated into Florida and formed the Seminole tribe.

When the Colonies’ Declaration was ratified, many Floridians condemned it. The majority were Loyalists that stuck to Britain’s side. Many actually helped lead raids on the American South. One of the disastrous attempts of the U.S.’s attempt to invade East Florida occurred in Nassau County. It was led on May 17, 1777. American Colonel John Baker surrendered to the British.   So the declaration had a more profound effect on Florida than most people realize.

The two Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the American Revolutionary War. However, Spain (participating indirectly in the war as an ally of France) captured Pensacola from the British in 1781. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War and returned all of Florida to Spanish control, but without specifying the boundaries. The Spanish wanted the expanded boundary, while the new United States demanded the old boundary at the 31st parallel north. In the Treaty of San Lorenzo of 1795, Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the boundary.

Second Spanish rule – Main article: Royal Governor of La Florida

Spanish presence was minor during that empire’s second rule over Florida. The region became a haven for escaped slaves and a base for Indian attacks against the U.S., and the U.S. demanded Spain reform. There were almost no Spanish settlers and only a few soldiers. In the meantime, American settlers established a foothold in the area and ignored Spanish officials. British settlers who had remained also resented Spanish rule, leading to a rebellion in 1810 and the establishment for ninety days of the so-called Free and Independent Republic of West Florida on September 23. After meetings beginning in June, rebels overcame the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge (now in Louisiana), and unfurled the flag of the new republic: a single white star on a blue field. This flag would later become known as the “Bonnie Blue Flag.”

In 1810, parts of West Florida were annexed by proclamation of President James Madison, who claimed the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase. These parts were incorporated into the newly formed Territory of Orleans. The U.S. annexed the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory in 1812. Spain continued to dispute the area, though the United States gradually increased the area it occupied.

Seminole Indians based in East Florida began raiding Georgia settlements, and offering havens for runaway slaves. 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. The United States now effectively controlled East Florida. Control was necessary according to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams because Florida had become “a derelict open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them.”   Florida had become a burden to Spain, which could not afford to send settlers or garrisons. Madrid therefore decided to cede the territory to the United States through the Adams-Onís Treaty, which took effect in 1821.

American Frontier – Florida Territor – Main article: Florida Territory

Andrew Jackson served as the first military Governor of Florida

Florida became an organized territory of the United States on March 30, 1822. The Americans merged East Florida and West Florida (although the majority of West Florida was annexed to Territory of Orleans and Mississippi Territory), and established a new capital in Tallahassee, conveniently located halfway between the East Florida capital of St. Augustine and the West Florida capital of Pensacola. The boundaries of Florida’s first two counties, Escambia and St. Johns, approximately coincided with the boundaries of West and East Florida respectively.

Seminole leader Osceola

As settlement increased, pressure grew on the United States government to remove the Indians from their lands in Florida. Many settlers in Florida developed plantation agriculture, similar to other areas of the Deep South. To the consternation of new landowners, the Seminoles harbored and integrated runaway blacks, 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 Seminoles left then, while those who remained prepared to defend their claims to the land. White settlers pressured the government to remove all of the Indians, by force if necessary, and in 1835, the U.S. Army arrived to enforce the treaty.

The Second Seminole War began at the end of 1835 with the Dade Massacre, when Seminoles ambushed Army troops marching from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to reinforce Fort King (Ocala). They killed or mortally wounded all but one of the 110 troops. Between 900 and 1,500 Seminole warriors effectively employed guerrilla tactics against United States Army troops for seven years. Osceola, a charismatic young war leader, came to symbolize the war and the Seminoles after he was arrested by Brigadier General Joseph Marion Hernandez while negotiating under a white truce flag in October 1837, by order of General Thomas Jesup. First imprisoned at Fort Marion, he died of malaria at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina less than three months after his capture. The war ended in 1842. The U.S. government is estimated to have spent between $20 million ($481,655,172 in 2012 dollars) and $40 million ($963,310,345 in 2012 dollars) on the war, at the time, this was considered a large sum. Almost all of the Seminoles were forcibly exiled to Creek lands west of the Mississippi; about 300 remained in the Everglades. ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.