History of Florida

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The History of Florida stretches from the Spanish discoveries to the 21st century. For current conditions see Florida.

In 1900, Florida was largely agricultural and frontier, most Floridians lived within 50 miles of the Georgia border. The population grew from only 529,000 in 1900 to 18.3 million in 2009. The population explosion began with the great land boom of the 1920s as Florida went from an undiscovered frontier to a land speculator's paradise. When the crash came in 1926 prices of houses plunged (as they did again in 2007-09), but the sunshine remained. Hurt badly by the Great Depression and the land bust, Florida kept afloat with relief money. World War II brought new prosperity and many military bases.

After 1940 Florida saw a contest between the Old South and the New South, as northerners poured in with very different values. The Old South defenders resisted, but numbers were against them, as Yankee retirees, Cuban refugees, Latin American businessmen, Haitian refugees, liberal Jews from New York and and fiscal conservatives from the frostbelt poured in at 500 a day, every day, for years. Miami became a bastion of liberalism, drugs and crime, as well as the financial capital of much of Latin America.


Spain established a few small settlements in Florida, most of which were soon abandoned. The most important settlement was at St. Augustine, founded in 1565. It was never more than a fortress, and was repeatedly attacked and burned, with most residents killed or fled. 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. The British and their colonies made war repeatedly. South Carolina launched large scale invasions in 1702 and 1704, which effectively destroyed the Spanish mission system. St Augustine survived, but English-allied Indians such as the Yamasee conducted slave raids throughout Florida, killing or enslaving most of the region's natives. St Augustine itself was captured in 1740. The British and Spanish had been enemies for many decades. The conflicts in Spanish Florida were one part of a larger, global struggle. In the mid-1700s, invading Seminoles killed off most of the remaining local Indians. Florida had about 3000 Spaniards when Britain took control 1763. Nearly all Spaniards quickly left and only a few Britons moved in. Even though in 1783 control was restored to Spain, Spain sent no more settlers or missionaries, and the region was in practice ungoverned and destination of runaway slaves. The US took control in 1819.

20th century


Prohibition had been popular in north Florida, and was opposed in the south, which became a haven for speakeasies and run-runners in the 1920s. During 1928-32 a broad coalition of judges, lawyers, politicians, journalists, brewers, hoteliers, retailers, and ordinary wet Floridians came together around the idea of repealing the ban on alcohol. When the federal government legalized near beer and light wine in 1933, the wet coalition launched a successful campaign to legalize these beverages at the state level. Floridians subsequently joined in the national campaign to repeal the 18th Amendment, which succeeded in December 1933. The following November, state voters repealed Florida's constitutional ban on liquor and gave local governments the power to legalize or outlaw alcoholic beverages.[1]

New Deal

The New Deal (1933-40) changed and reaffirmed the physical, environmental, and intellectual landscape of south Florida. It ranged from the many hum-drum sewers, roads and schools built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to the haunting photographs of rural poverty by the Farm Security Administration (FSA), from the Treasury sponsored post office murals to the work camps for the younf men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and finally to welfare state created by the Social Security program, which brought so many retirees to Florida.

Disney World

To get Walt Disney World, Orlando beat out St Louis and several other sites for this experiment in family fun. Disney World opened in 1971 and immediately became Florida's best known attraction, pulling in tems of millions of visitors a year, spinning off other attractions and vast tracts of housing. Disney forced Florida to broaden its social outlook by offering entertainment to all, without regard to race or language. Despite protest from conservative churches, the company has embraced gay and lesbian patrons who descend on the park for the yearly "Gay Day," organized through private travel organizations. Meanwhile Disney tickets rose from $5.25 in 1975, to $60.00. Tourism does not pay high wages, however, and Orlando has one of the weakest infrastructures in the state; its schools are falling apart.[2]

Further reading

  • Baptist, Edward E. Creating an Old South: Middle Florida's Plantation Frontier before the Civil War. (2002) 2002. 408 pp.
  • Hoffman, Paul E. Florida's Frontiers. (History of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier series.) (2002). 470 pp.
  • Revels, Tracy J. Grander in Her Daughters: Florida's Women during the Civil War. (2004) 221 pp. online review
  • Rivers, Larry Eugene. Slavery in Florida: Territorial Days to Emancipation. (2000). 369 pp. [ online review]
  • Rivers, Larry Eugene and Brown, Canter, Jr. Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord: The Beginnings of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895. (2001). 244 pp. history of the leading black denomination; [ online review]
  • Sprague, John T. The Florida War. (1964), on Seminole war 597 pp.

20th century

  • Colburn, David R. and deHaven-Smith, Lance. Florida's Megatrends: Critical Issues in Florida. (2002). 161 pp. online review
  • Colburn, David R. From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans: Florida and Its Politics since 1940. (2007) 272pponline review
  • Crispell, Brian Lewis. Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America. (1999). 234 pp. politics in 1950s and 1960s
  • Danese, Tracy E. Claude Pepper and Ed Ball: Politics, Purpose, and Power. (2000). 300 pp. politics of 1950s
  • Kleinberg, Eliot. War in Paradise: Stories of World War II in Florida. (1999). 96pp.
  • Manley, Walter M., and Canter Brown. The Supreme Court of Florida, 1917-1972. (2006). 428 pp. online review * Newton, Michael. The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida. (2001). 260 pp.
  • Mormino, Gary. Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida. (2005) 474 pp. online review
  • Stuart, John A., and John F. Stack, eds. The New Deal in South Florida: Design, Policy, and Community Building, 1933-1940. 263 pp. online review

Cities, regions and environment

  • Bartley, Abel A. Keeping the Faith: Race, Politics, and Social Development in Jacksonville, Florida, 1940-1970. (2000). 177 pp. online edition
  • Brown, Canter, Jr. Tampa in the Civil War and Reconstruction. (2000). 246 pp.
  • Kerstein, Robert. Politics and Growth in Twentieth-Century Tampa. (2001). 440 pp.
  • Miller, James J. An Environmental History of Northeast Florida. (1998). 223 pp.
  • Muir, Helen. Miami, USA. (1953) 355 pp.
  • Portes, Alejandro and Rumbaut, Rubén G. Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation. (2001). 406 pp. children of immigrants in Miami
  • Provenzo, Eugene F., and Asterie Baker Provenzo. In the Eye of Hurricane Andrew. (2002). 184 pp. [ online review]
  • Romans, Bernard. A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida. ed. by Kathryn E. Holland Braund, (1999). 442 pp.
  • Williams, John M. and Duedall, Iver W. Florida Hurricanes and Tropical Storms, 1871-2001. (2002). 176 pp. [ online review]


  1. John J. Guthrie, Jr., "Rekindling The Spirits: From National Prohibition to Local Option in Florida: 1928-1935," Florida Historical Quarterly 1995 74(1): 23-39. 0015-4113
  2. Richard Foglesong, Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando (2001); Mormino (2005)