Updated March 3, 2021
The history of Florida after the Native American era is quite a bit more recent than most of the states in the eastern and southern states of the United States.
Yes, it's true we have St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States, but development was extremely slow after that historic founding in 1565.
In fact it wasn't until after the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 that things began to happen in our fair state.
Although it is a relatively young state, there is still a lot of interesting history to learn and heritage sites to be visited.
One of the first things that struck me about Florida when I moved here was how young it was compared to the rest of the country.
Most towns and places in Florida (other than Pensacola and St. Augustine) were settled in the years just before and after the Civil War.
Before then, it was a barren state that many people considered to be uninhabitable.
I first lived in north Florida. These were true southerners, and I learned a lot about Florida and the southern culture from these people.
A good deal of Florida heritage is derived from the Old South, especially in north Florida.
The Florida history timeline begins about 12,000 years ago with the first known human inhabitants.
There were several ancient Native American tribes that lived in Florida thousands of years before the Seminoles arrived.
These tribes are gone, but are remembered in the history of Florida.
There were at least 15 of these tribes in Florida before the Seminoles arrived in the early 1800s.
Most historians break this history of Florida down into at least 11 periods:
1. Early human inhabitants, including ancient Native American tribes that were here long before the Seminoles. Some of these include the Ais, Calusa, Tequesta and Timicua. Today, only the Seminoles remain in Florida.
2. European exploration and colonization(1513-1565). Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed in Florida in 1513. Pensacola and St. Augustine were founded during this period.
3. First Spanish Period(1565-1763). Spain had total control over the Florida peninsula for almost 200 years. During this period the Spanish connected St. Augustine to Pensacola and extended their trail westward to California. The Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine was completed in 1695.
4. British Florida(1763-1784). The British got Florida in 1763 in a land swap for Havana, Cuba after the Seven Years War(1756–63), known as the French and Indian war in American history.
5. Second Spanish Period(1784-1821). The Brits left Florida after losing the Revolutionary War. The Spanish came back for another try.
6. Territorial Period(1821-1845). Spain gave Florida back to the United States. Andy Jackson became governor, and Florida became an American territory. Tallahassee was chosen as the capital because it was about halfway between Pensacola and St. Augustine. Two of the three Seminole Wars took place during this time. Many Florida towns have "Fort" as their first name derived from the forts built during these wars.
7. Statehood(1845-1861). Most of the Seminoles were finally relocated out west, although they never surrendered. In the 1860 Presidential election, no Floridian voted for Abe Lincoln. Florida was deeply Southern in culture and sympathies. Very few supported the Union.
8. Civil War and Reconstruction(1861-1877). Florida was one of the Confederate States of America and was punished for it from 1865-1877 during Reconstruction. The state was physically and financially devastated. Major settlement of north Florida took place during this period as families from war torn Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and elsewhere moved to the state.
9. Florida Development(1878-1926). This was the era of steamers, railroads, dredges, swamp reclamation, new towns, cities, developments, and highways. The citrus industry prospered until the Great Freezes of 1894 and 1895. Florida became a major cattle raising state. The 1920s saw a major land boom in Florida with many new towns being created.
10. The Great Depression in Florida(1926-1940). What the sorry economy didn't destroy, the 1926 Miami hurricane did. The huge land boom of the Roaring Twenties went down with a crash.
11. World War II and the Post-war Boom(1940-2009). Army bases were turned over to Florida cities and counties after the war. The space program began at Cape Canaveral in the late 1940s. Martin Marietta opened in Orlando in the 1950s. Walt Disney World opened in 1971. Continuous economic growth lasted until about 2008. The first year in which population did not increase was 2009. The boom continues to the present with almost 1,000 people moving to the state each day.
Each of Florida's 8 geographic regions has its own interesting history. These pages tell you about that history and also show you the registered historic and heritage sites in that region. All told, Florida has 1,300 such sites.
Florida's railroads were a big part of its history in the years after the Civil War and for decades after. Here is the story of one little railroad:
There are hundreds of local Florida historical societies ranging from small town operations to major metropolitan organizations.
Many of the smaller societies are staffed by volunteers who have an obvious love of history as it relates to their own communities.
The Florida Historical Society is the oldest of these, and is located in Cocoa Village, Florida.
It's collections and journal cover the history of the entire state. Even so, there are local societies that have larger collections and more members.
The Cocoa Village office has an excellent resource library and a cadre of volunteers in addition to a very small and efficient professional staff.
Their efforts help keep Florida history and heritage alive; without them we wouldn't know much about what went on before us.