Florida – Seminole Wars, Immigration & Disney World

Florida joined the Union as the 27th state in 1845 and is nicknamed the Sunshine State for its mild climate and natural beauty. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who led the first European expedition to Florida in 1513, named the state for the Spanish Easter holiday known as “Pascua Florida,” or the Flower Festival. . European settlers, mainly from Spain, arrived in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spanish, French and English fought for Florida until it became a US territory in 1819.

Florida has long been a migrant state. As European settlers quickly decimated the native population, Florida became home to a Seminole community of natives and slaves who migrated from neighboring states in the 18th century. Beginning in the late 19th century, people from northern states flocked to Florida to escape harsh winters. Many Cubans also immigrated to Miami in the late 19th and 20th centuries, establishing a vibrant Latin American culture.

WATCH: How States took shape on HISTORY Vault

Native Americans in Florida

Hunter-gatherers first arrived in the area now known as Florida over 12,000 years ago. Dominant Native American communities that emerged included the Calusa, Tequesta, and Jeaga tribes in southern Florida and the Apalachee and Timucua peoples in the north. They lived along the coasts as well as near the rivers in the interior of Florida. When the Europeans arrived in the 16th century, they began to sell Aboriginals and brought diseases and wars that decimated the Aboriginal population. Almost all of the local indigenous people had disappeared by the mid-1700s.

In the mid to late 1700s, Native Americans from Georgia, Alabama, and other states, including Creek Nation tribes such as the Miccosukee, migrated to Florida to escape European expansion. They were joined by escaped slaves, as Spain had announced that anyone who went to Florida was free. By the end of the century, this diverse community became collectively known as the Seminoles. The name probably comes from the Spanish word “cimarron” or “wild fugue”.

Florida’s Early Colonial History

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was the first known European to set foot in the area now called Florida when he landed near present-day St. Augustine in 1513. His second expedition in 1521 was unsuccessful to colonize Florida due to Native attacks, although this piqued Spanish interest in the area. Other Spaniards to visit Florida included Hernando de Soto, in 1539, and Tristán de Luna y Arellano, in 1559.

The French also explored Florida, with Jean Ribault landing in 1562 and René Goulaine de Laudonnière establishing Fort Caroline in 1564. However, it was Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés who established the first permanent European settlement in the United States. at a place he called St. Augustin in 1565. Menéndez de Avilés expelled the French and captured Fort Caroline, renaming it San Mateo. Although the French fought back over the years, Spanish military and Catholic missionaries dominated the area and expanded their territory.

During these early years, the English colonizers showed limited interest in Florida. But in the 17th and 18th centuries, English settlers began to migrate south and set their sights on Spanish possessions in Florida, raiding the missions and St. Augustine. At the end of the Seven Years’ War, in 1763, Spain ceded Florida to the British in exchange for Cuba, which England had taken from Spain. The British divided the territory into East Florida and West Florida, both of which remained loyal to England throughout the Revolutionary War. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution and returned Florida from England to Spain, which acted as an American ally in exchange for the Bahamas.

The Seminole Wars

As Americans expanded their territory in the 19th century, they coveted Spain’s fertile land in Florida and saw the promise of freedom there for runaway slaves as a threat. The Seminole Wars began when American militias first attacked and seized Spanish and Seminole lands in 1812. In 1817, the American government officially invaded Florida. In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States with the signing of the Florida Purchase Treaty. As part of the agreement, the United States paid Spain $5 million for damages suffered.

After the U.S. government failed to relocate Indigenous peoples, including the Seminoles from Florida, to modern-day Oklahoma and Arkansas, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1930. The law has forced indigenous peoples east of the Mississippi into modern Oklahoma on what became known as the Trail of Tears. Many Florida Seminoles refused to leave. In 1835, the Seminoles attacked American troops, launching seven more years of bloody battles between the two sides. More than 3,000 Seminoles were forcibly relocated before the US government withdrew in 1842 without signing a peace treaty.

A third phase of the Seminole War broke out in 1855 when the Seminoles attacked American troops for sending patrols into their territory. The Seminole Wars concluded three years later when a treaty was signed giving land to the Seminoles in Oklahoma. Most of the remaining Seminoles in Florida moved to Oklahoma, but about 300 remained. Today, these “undefeated peoples” include two federally recognized tribes: the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Indian Tribe of Florida, both of which belong to the Creek Confederacy.

Civil war

In the 1800s, Florida’s economy was based on crops, cattle, and slaves, putting it at odds with northern states that opposed slavery. In 1861 Florida became the third state to secede from the Union. The following month, it joined with six other southern states to form the Confederate States of America, which quickly sparked civil war.

While most statesmen fought for the Confederacy, and the state provided Confederate troops with food and other important supplies, only two major Civil War battles took place in Florida. On April 26, 1865, Florida officially surrendered to the Union.


While Cubans had already been migrating to nearby Florida for many years, immigration accelerated in the late 1800s when many people who no longer wanted to be under Spanish rule left for the United States. . Cuban workers also moved to Florida to work in sugar, coffee. and tobacco industries.

In 1898, the Spanish-American War began and ended within months, when Spain ceded Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, and Guam to the United States. After the war, Cuba became its own country with increasingly repressive policies, causing more people to leave Cuba for Florida.

From the late 1950s through the 1990s, waves of people emigrated from Cuba to the United States, with most settling in Miami. Along with immigrants from Colombia and Nicaragua, they established a strong Latin American community in the region. Florida has been a destination for Americans leaving neighboring and northern states since the late 1800s for its citrus industry and warm climate.


Thanks to its mild climate, Florida began to develop as a resort destination in the late 1800s. In the 20th century, tourism became one of the state’s most important industries, attracting millions visitors each year. Theme parks began popping up all over Florida, including Walt Disney World Resort. Opened near Orlando in 1971, Disney World is the largest and most visited entertainment complex in the world. Spread over some 30,500 acres (about the same size as San Francisco, California), Disney World attracts around 46 million annual visitors.

space center

Originally a missile test site in the 1940s, Cape Canaveral in Florida became a hub of the US space program in 1950. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth when he took off from Cape Canaveral. Seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon after the launch of Apollo 11 from nearby Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. To this day, Kennedy Space Center remains an active launch pad .

State creation date: March 3, 1845

Capital: Tallahassee

Population: 18,801,310 (2010)

Cut: 65,758 square miles

Nickname(s): The state of the shining sun

Currency: We believe in God

Tree: Sabal Palm

Flower: Orange Blossom

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Bird: mocking bird

Interesting facts

  • Built over a 21-year period from 1845 to 1866, Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West was controlled by federal forces during the Civil War and used to deter supply ships from supplying Confederate ports in the Gulf of Mexico. The fort was also used during the Spanish-American War.
  • In 1944, Miami aviator and pharmacist Benjamin Green developed the first sunscreen widely used to protect himself and other soldiers during World War II. He then founded the Coppertone Corporation.


First Peoples of Florida, nps.gov

“Teacher’s Guide to the Indigenous Peoples of Florida”, floridamuseum.ufl.edu

The Timucua: North Florida’s First Inhabitants, nps.gov

16th Century Colonies, dos.myflorida.com

Seminole History, dos.myflorida.com

History, miccosukee.com

The Long War, semtribe.com

Seminoles, nps.gov

European exploration and colonization, dos.myflorida.com

Florida Frontiers “Florida in the American Revolution”, myfloridahistory.org

Florida: as a British colony, fcit.usf.edu

Acquisition of Florida: Adams-Onis Treaty (1819) and Transcontinental Treaty (1821), history.state.gov

Florida Native American Tribes, History and Culture, visitflorida.com

Seminole Indian Wars, seminolecountyfl.gov

Florida Migration History 1850-2018, depts.washington.edu

Spanish-American War for Cuban Independence, fcit.usf.edu

Strait Crossing, loc.gov

Cuban exiles in America, pbs.org

Transforming a City, loc.gov

Florida Economic Booms, fcit.usf.edu

Florida Tourism, fcit.usf.edu

Cape Canaveral: Launchpad to the Stars, fcit.usf.edu

Apollo 11 Mission Overview, nasa.gov

Florida Orange and Citrus Facts, visitflorida.com


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