People lived in Florida 12,000 years ago, but the history of this sunny state traces largely to its roots as a Spanish colony beginning in 1513. Discovered by explorer Ponce de Leon, Florida was once a much larger area than it is now, extending to the Savannah River to the north and to the Mississippi River to the west.
Here are seven events or interesting tidbits about Florida’s history:
Spanish colonization of Florida was difficult. De Leon landed several times on the peninsula, but even when he brought 200 people and 50 horses, attacks by American Indians caused the settlement to fail, according to the Florida Department of State
. In 1539, Hernando de Soto also traveled to Florida, looking for gold and silver and his followers eventually ended up in Mexico. Eventually, pushed on by French attempts to settle the area, the Spanish founded San Augustin, today’s St. Augustine, in 1565.
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Safety Harbor, Florida, is where the Espiritu Santo Springs are located. De Soto gave the area that name in 1539, as he sought the Fountain of Youth. Many travel to the area for the restorative power of the springs.
The English were also interested in Florida, challenging Spain's settlements there. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake burned St. Augustine. But Spain held onto control of the southeastern part of the United States, while the English began to settle farther north in Virginia. Still, the English made forays into Florida, and in 1702 groups of settlers from the Carolina territories attacked and destroyed St. Augustine. Over time, their attacks weakened the Spanish hold.
Britain finally gained Florida in exchange for Havana, Cuba, in 1763, a result of the Seven Years' War, says the Florida State Department. During the Revolutionary War, Florida was loyal to Great Britain; Spain came back into the picture as a French ally, and recaptured Pensacola in 1781 and gained control of the rest of the state by 1784. Florida finally became a territory of the United States when Spain ceded control in 1821.
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In January 1861, Florida seceded from the Union, supporting the south in the Civil War. The war erupted just months later. Although there were a few Civil War battles in the state, most Floridians were suppliers of the Army, working on farms and plantations to supply food and also salt, which helped the army with preservation. Still, there were battles there, including the largest of the war; the Battle of Olustee near Lake City, Florida, was won by the Confederates, but wasn't a deciding factor in the war.
Florida struggled after the Civil War ended, being in debt and with little transportation access that served to cut the area off from the United States. But soon, railroads began to be built and by 1900 there were 3,000 miles of track in the state, leading to a booming economy.
World War II also spurred an economic boom in the state; its mild climate made Florida an excellent choice for training soldiers, according to the FDOS.
The beginning of the space program in Cape Canaveral was pivotal for Florida, says Exploring Florida.
"In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would 'put a man on the moon' before the end of the decade, NASA's space program took on an entirely new sense of importance.
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