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Florida: The Original Battleground State

The Spanish and French fought over Florida for years before it joined the United States.

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Florida, with its usually mild climate and sandy beaches, is a popular vacation spot as well as a place where people love to retire and live out their golden years. Its popularity originated centuries ago as countries fought over it in a political tug of war.

The first written records of Europeans in the area began in 1513 when the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon went ashore on the northeast coast of Florida, near the present-day St. Augustine. He was also the first to name the new land, calling it la Florida, in honor Spain’s Eastertime celebration of Pascua Florida, which means “feast of flowers.”

A few years later, in 1521, Ponce de Leon landed on the southwestern coast of the peninsula, this time bringing about 200 people, horses, and other beasts of burden. His goal was to colonize the area, but the attempt failed because the native people were not thrilled with the intrusion and attacked the budding settlement.

In 1539, Hernando de Soto sought gold and silver, starting his own expedition through Florida. His quest lasted for about four years. He and his soldiers camped in the area now known as Tallahassee. In 1542, de Soto died, as did his quest.

By this time, word of this new territory had spread and Spain, which regularly shipped goods up the Gulf Stream through the straits that run alongside the Florida Keys, looked eagerly towards acquiring the land for itself. Spanish ships were constantly being preyed on by pirates, so the new area could make their lives just a little easier.

In 1562, the French became involved when Jean Reibault explored the area. Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere followed two years later and ended up establishing Fort Caroline. The arrival of the French concerned Spain. Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived in San Augustin (St. Augustine) and established the first permanent European settlement for Spain. He attacked and killed all the French settlers there, except for those who claimed to believe in the Roman Catholic faith. Fort Caroline was then renamed San Mateo.

More explorers came to the region and Spain and France continued their tug of war struggles, but the Spanish were able to hold dominance for a couple of centuries. That was, until the British took notice and decided to get a piece of the pie, too.

After the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), Britain gained control of Florida by giving Havana, Cuba (which the English had captured during the war) to Spain. After Spain evacuated the area, there were hardly any people to populate the newly acquired land. Britain started advertising to draw more people in, but then the American Revolutionary War broke out. Even though most of those in Florida were loyal to Great Britain, it still resulted in a lot of “Americans” moving to the area. As part of a treaty, Spain reacquired some of the Florida area it had lost, as well.

American military units started exploring the area and after several expeditions and battles, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. General Andrew Jackson was instrumental in negotiating the treaty and led the battle called the First Seminole War.

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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