Paleo-Indians entered what is now Florida at least 14,000 years ago, after they are believed to have crossed over to North America from Asia. Due to the large amount of water locked up in glaciers during the Wisconsin glaciation, the sea level may have been 100 metres (more than 300 feet) lower than present levels. As a result, the Florida peninsula 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. Over large areas of Florida, the only fresh water available was 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.
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. There were now more people in Florida, and as they were no longer tied to a few water holes in an arid land, they left their artifacts in many more locations. (Archaeologists have learned much about the Early Archaic people of Florida from the spectacular 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 may have been 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 mounds, such as at the Horr's Island. Fired pottery appeared in Florida by 2000 BC. By about 500 BC, the Archaic culture that 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, and 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, although there is continuity in cultural history, suggesting that the peoples of those cultures were also descended from the inhabitants of the Archaic period. Cultivation of maize was adopted in the panhandle and the northern part of the peninsula, but it was absent or very restricted in the tribes that 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.
At the time of first European contact, 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 Ais, Caloosahatchee, Calusa, Jaega, Mayaimi, Tequesta and Tocobaga. The populations of all of these tribes decreased during the period of Spanish control of Florida. At the beginning of the 18th century, tribes from areas to the north of Florida, supplied, encouraged, 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. Most of the villages in Florida were abandoned and the survivors sought refuge at St. Augustine or in isolated spots around the state.
Some of the Apalachee eventually reached Louisiana, where they survived as a distinct group for at least another century. The few surviving members of these tribes were evacuated to Cuba when Spain transferred Florida to the British Empire in 1763. The Seminole, originally an offshoot of the Creek people who absorbed other groups, developed as a distinct tribe in Florida during the 18th century. They are now represented in the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.
Ponce de León may not have been the first European to reach Florida, as he claimed he encountered at least one Indian who could speak Spanish 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. The earliest records of inland Florida are those of conquest survivors. Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition explored Florida's west coast in 1528 but was lost at sea upon his attempted seaward escape to Mexico. One of his expedition's officers, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, survived nine years' trudging between Florida and Mexico, returned to Spain and published his observations. He inspired Hernando de Soto's invasion of Florida in 1539. Members of his expedition later published details of Florida's natives, their lifestyles and behavior. In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano established a brief settlement in Pensacola that was abandoned in 1561.
The French began taking an interest in the area as well, leading the Spanish to accelerate their colonization plans. Jean Ribault led an expedition to Florida in 1562, and his associate René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville in 1564 as a haven for the Huguenots. 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 all the French soldiers defending it (except Catholics), and renamed the fort San Mateo. Two years later, Dominique de Gourgues recaptured the settlement from the Spanish and slaughtered all of the Spanish defenders.
After the initial destruction of Fort Caroline, 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. Roman Catholic missionaries used St. Augustine as a base of operations and established missions throughout what is today the southeastern United States. Missionaries 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 Apalachee Indians (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 officials tolerated and invited runaway slaves into Florida. Invading Seminoles killed off most of the local Indians. Florida had about 3000 Spanish inhabitants when Britain took control in 1763. Nearly all quickly left. Even though in 1783 control of Florida was restored to Spain, Spain sent no more settlers or missionaries. The US took control in 1819.
In 1763, Spain traded Florida (which, at the time, extended south only to around the area of present day Gainesville) to Great Britain for control of Havana, Cuba, which had been captured by the British during the Seven Years' War. Almost the entire Spanish population left along with most of the remaining indigenous population. 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; about 1,400 people indentured by Scottish physician Dr. Andrew Turnbull arrived in July 1768. These people settled at New Smyrna, where they began to farm various crops needed in the Empire, such as indigo, grapes, silk, etc. Most crops did not do well in the sandy Florida soil, and those that did rarely equaled the quality produced in other areas. Colonists eventually tired of their servitude and the increasingly uncompromising nature of Turnbull, who on several occasions used black slaves to whip his unruly settlers. The settlement collapsed and the survivors fled to St. Augustine. Their relatives 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.
During the American Revolutionary War, the Spanish, then allied with the French (who were actively at war with Britain), recaptured most of West Florida, including Pensacola. In 1784, the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War returned all of Florida to Spanish control, but without specifying the boundaries. The Spanish wanted the expanded boundary, while the United States demanded the old boundary at the 31st parallel. In the Treaty of San Lorenzo of 1795, Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the boundary.
Spanish presence was minor during that empire's second rule over Florida. Spain offered extremely lucrative free land packages in Florida as a means of attracting settlers, and foreigners came in droves, especially from the United States. The territory 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 exactly 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".
Throughout this period, Spain offered land grants to anyone who settled in Florida. As a result, hundreds of Americans came into the colony. Once Florida became a U.S. Territory, these grants -- which the U.S. agreed to honor if found valid -- caused years of litigation as settlers attempted to prove the validity of their claims.
On October 27, 1810, parts of West Florida were annexed by proclamation of U.S. President James Madison, who claimed the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase. At first, purchase negotiator Fulwar Skipwith and the West Florida government were opposed to the proclamation, preferring to negotiate terms to join the Union. However, William C. C. Claiborne, who was sent to take possession of the territory, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the West Florida government. Skipwith proclaimed that he was ready to "die in defense of the Lone Star flag." However, Skipwith and the legislature eventually backed down, and agreed to accept Madison's proclamation. Possession was taken of St. Francisville on 6 December, 1810, and of Baton Rouge on 10 December, 1810. These portions were incorporated into the newly formed Orleans Territory. 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.
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.
The Adams-Onís Treaty was signed between the United States and Spain on February 22, 1819 and took effect on July 10, 1821. According to the terms of the treaty, the United States acquired Florida and, in exchange, renounced all claims to Texas. Andrew Jackson formally took control of Florida from Spanish authorities on July 17, 1821 at Pensacola.
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 Orleans Territory 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.
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 108 troops. Between 900 and 1,500 Seminole Indian 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 deception while attending truce negotiations in 1837. First imprisoned at Fort Marion, he died of malaria at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina less than 3 months after his capture. The war dragged on until 1842. The U.S. government is estimated to have spent between US$20 million and US$40 million on the war, at the time an astronomical sum. Almost all of the Seminoles were forcibly exiled to Creek lands west of the Mississippi; about 300 were allowed to remain in the Everglades.
Almost half the state's population were enslaved African Americans working on large cotton and sugar plantations. Like the people who held them, many slaves had come from the coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas, and were part of the Gullah-Gee Chee culture of the Low Country. Others were enslaved African Americans from the Upper South who had been sold to traders taking slaves to the Deep South. In Florida all the peoples created a new creole culture. In the 1850s white settlers were again encroaching on lands used by Seminoles. The United States government decided to make another attempt to move the remaining Seminoles to the West. Increased Army patrols led to hostilities. The Third Seminole War lasted from 1855 to 1858. At its end, US forces estimated only 100 Seminoles were left in Florida. In 1859, 75 Seminoles surrendered and were sent to the West, but some Seminoles continued to live in the Everglades.
On the eve of the Civil War, Florida had the least population of the Southern states. It was invested in plantation agriculture. By 1860 Florida had only 140,424 people, of whom 44% were enslaved. There were fewer than 1000 free people of color before the Civil War.
Following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Florida joined other Southern states in seceding from the Union. Secession took place January 10, 1861 and, after less than a month as an independent republic, Florida became one of the founding members of the Confederate States of America. As Florida was an important supply route for the Confederate Army, Union forces operated a blockade around the entire state. Union troops occupied major ports such as Cedar Key, Jacksonville, Key West, and Pensacola. Though numerous skirmishes occurred in Florida, including the Battle of Natural Bridge, the Battle of Marianna and the Battle of Gainesville, the only major battle was the Battle of Olustee near Lake City.
After meeting the requirements of Reconstruction, including ratifying amendments to the US Constitution, Florida was readmitted to the United States on July 25, 1868. This did not end the struggle for political power among groups in the state.
After Reconstruction, white-elite Democrats wrestled for power until they regained it in 1877, partly through violent actions by white paramilitary groups targeting freedmen and allies to reduce their voting. From 1885 to 1889, the state legislature passed statutes with provisions to reduce voting by blacks and poor whites, which had threatened white Democratic power with a populist coalition. As these groups were stripped from voter rolls, white Democrats established power in a one-party state, as happened across the South.
By 1900 the state's African Americans numbered more than 200,000; 44 percent of the total population. This was the same proportion as before the Civil War, and they were effectively disfranchised. Not being able to vote meant they could not sit on juries, and were not elected to local, state or federal offices. They were not recruited for law enforcement or civil service positions. White Democrats proceeded to pass Jim Crow legislation establishing racial segregation in public facilities and transportation. Without political representation, African Americans were shortchanged in the state. For more than six decades, white Democrats controlled virtually all the state's seats in Congress, which were apportioned based on the total population of the state rather than only on those voting.
During the late 19th century, Florida became a popular tourist destination as railroads expanded into the area. Railroad magnate Henry Plant built at Tampa the luxurious Tampa Bay Hotel, which later became the campus for the University of Tampa. Henry Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to Key West. Along the route he provided for his passengers grand accommodations, including The Ponce de León Hotel in St. Augustine, The Ormond Hotel in Ormond Beach, The Royal Poinciana Hotel and The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, and The Royal Palm Hotel in Miami.
In February 1888, Florida had a special tourist: President Grover Cleveland, the first lady and his party visited Florida for a couple of days. He visited the Subtropical Exposition in Jacksonville where he made a speech supporting tourism to the state; then, he took a train to St. Augustine, meeting Henry Flagler; and then a train to Titusville, where he boarded a steamboat and visited Rock Ledge. On his return trip, he visited Sanford and Winter Park.
After WWI there was a rise in lynchings and other racial violence directed by whites against blacks in the state, as well as across the South and in northern cities. It was due in part from strains of rapid social and economic changes, as well as competition for jobs. Whites continued to resort to lynchings to keep dominance, and tensions rose. White mobs committed murders, accompanied by wholesale destruction of black houses, churches and schools, in the small communities of Ocoee, November 1920; Perry in December 1922; and Rosewood in January 1923. The governor appointed a special grand jury and special prosecuting attorney to investigate Rosewood and Levy County, but the jury did not find sufficient evidence to prosecute. Rosewood was never resettled.
To escape segregation, lynchings, and disfranchisement, forty thousand African Americans migrated from Florida to northern cities in the Great Migration from 1910-1940. That was one-fifth of their population in 1900. They sought better lives, including decent-paying jobs, better education for their children, and the chance to vote and participate in political life. Many were recruited for jobs with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The 1920s were a prosperous time for much of the nation. Florida's new railroads opened up large areas to development, spurring the Florida land boom of the 1920's. Investors of all kinds, mostly from outside Florida, raced to buy and sell rapidly appreciating land in newly platted communities such as Miami and Palm Beach. A majority of the people who bought land in Florida were able to do so without stepping foot in the state, by hiring people to speculate and buy the land for them. By 1925, the market ran out of buyers to pay the high prices and soon the boom became a bust. The 1926 Miami Hurricane further depressed the real estate market. The Great Depression arrived in 1929; however, by that time, economic decay already consumed much of Florida from the land boom that collapsed four years earlier.
Florida's first theme parks emerged in the 1930s and included Cypress Gardens (1936) near Winter Haven and Marineland (1938) near St. Augustine. In the 1960s Walt Disney chose Central Florida as the site of his planned Walt Disney World Resort and began purchasing land. To avoid generating land speculation, he used dummy corporations and willing associates to acquire 27,400 acres (110 km², 43 mi²). In 1971, the Magic Kingdom, the first component of the resort, opened and began the dramatic transformation of the Orlando area into an international resort destination with a wide variety of themed parks. The Orlando area features theme parks including Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld, and Wet 'n Wild.
Due to the low latitude of the state, it was chosen in 1949 as a test site for the country's nascent missile program. Patrick Air Force Base and the Cape Canaveral launch site began to take shape as the 1950s progressed. By the early 1960s, the Space Race was in full swing. As programs were expanded and employees joined, the space program generated a huge boom in the communities around Cape Canaveral. This area is now collectively known as the Space Coast and features the Kennedy Space Center. It is also a major center of the aerospace industry. To date, all manned orbital spaceflights launched by the United States, including the only men to visit the Moon, have been launched from Kennedy Space Center.
The Cuban Revolution of 1959 led to a large wave of Cuban immigration into South Florida, which transformed Miami into a major center of commerce, finance and transportation for all of Latin America. Immigration from Haiti, other Caribbean states, and Central and South America continues to the present day.
Like other states in the South, Florida had many African American leaders who were active in the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1940s and '50s, a new generation started working on issues. Harry Moore built the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Florida, rapidly increasing its membership to 10,000. Because Florida's voter laws were not as restrictive as those of Georgia and Alabama, he also had some success in registering black voters. In the 1940s he increased voter registration among blacks from 5 to 31% of those age-eligible.
The state had white groups who resisted change to the point of attacking and killing blacks. In December 1951 was the notorious bombing of the house of activists Harry Moore and his wife Harriette, who both died of injuries from the blast. Although their murders were not solved then, a state investigation in 2006 reported they had been killed by an independent unit of the Ku Klux Klan. Numerous bombings were directed against African Americans in 1951-1952 in Florida.
The state's population had changed markedly by in-migration of new groups, as well as outmigration of African Americans, 40,000 of whom moved north in earlier decades of the twentieth century during the Great Migration. By 1960 African Americans in Florida numbered 880,186 citizens, but represented only 18% of the state's population. This was a much smaller proportion than in 1900, when according to the census, they comprised 44% of the state's population but numbered 231,209 persons. Since the 19th century, educated black middle classes had developed in numerous cities. By their leadership in Florida and other states, African Americans gained national support and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protected voting for all citizens.
In the years after such legislation, African Americans and other minorities in the South began to vote and participate more fully in the political process.
Florida has historically been at risk from hurricanes and tropical storms. These have presented higher risks and property damage as the concentration of population and development has increased along Florida's coastal areas. Not only are more people and property at risk, but development has overtaken the natural system of wetlands and waterways, which used to absorb some of the storms' energy.
Hurricane Andrew in 1992 struck Homestead, just south of Miami, and was, until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the most expensive natural disaster in US history. Besides heavy property damage, the hurricane nearly destroyed the region's insurance industry.
The western panhandle of the state was damaged heavily in 1995, with storms Allison, Erin, and Opal hitting the area within the span of a few months. The storms increased in strength as the season went on, culminating with Opal's landfall as a Category 3 in October.
Florida also suffered heavily during the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, when four major storms struck the state. Hurricane Charley made landfall in the Charlotte County area and cut northward through the peninsula, Hurricane Frances struck the Atlantic coast and drenched most of central Florida with heavy rains, Hurricane Ivan caused heavy damage in the western Panhandle, and Hurricane Jeanne caused damage to the same area as Frances, including compounded beach erosion. Damage from all four storms was estimated to be at least $22 billion, with some estimates going as high as $40 billion.
Environmental issues include preservation and restoration of the Everglades, which has moved slowly. There has been pressure by industry groups to drill for oil in the eastern Gulf of Mexico but so far, large-scale drilling off the coasts of Florida has been prevented.