• Enrique A. Cordero

A Time Travel Through Florida - Part 2 of 5

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

16th Century Through Early 19th Century Florida

The 16th century is marked by discovery as well as by savagery. The European ships landed in Florida around 1513, in an area that was well populated by the Timucua, Apalachee, Ais, Tekesta, and Calusa Indians. These tribes practiced agriculture and hunting for sustenance. It is interesting to note that during this period, the arrival of the first Italians set foot on Florida shores. The captain of the Flagship Santa Maria de la consolación was Giovanni Bono.

The native population at that time was approximately 100,000. Unfortunately, conflicts with the Europeans and their superior weaponry and various maladies decimated the Native Americans. The indigenous people had no immunity to such diseases as smallpox, measles, influenza, and the common cold—all of which proved deadly. Compounding this problem was the fact that many American Indians were captured and enslaved as early as 1520.

By 1528, Pánfilo Narváez traveled from what is known today as Tampa Bay to that area that today comprises Tallahassee. Hernando de Soto also stayed in this area from October 1539 to March 1540. When de Soto arrived, he brought two more Italians: Captain Micer Espindola of Genoa and the Genoese Maestro Francisco Aceituono, an engineer, carpenter, and shipbuilder.

The second half of the 16th century saw an upsurge of exploration and expansion. So, by 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in San Agustín (St. Augustine) and established the first European settlement. To do this, he ousted the French that had settled in that area and captured Fort Caroline, which he later renamed San Mateo.

The conflict between the Spaniards and the French continued. In 1567, the French recaptured the fort of San Mateo. However, the Spanish conquistadores were unstoppable, and they continued to advance as far north as South Carolina. To complicate matters further, the English became involved when they tried to wrest control from the Spanish and the French forces. Their conflict continued until 1740 with the assault on the Castillo de San Marcos.

Finally, in 1586 Sir Francis Drake led the assault on St. Augustine. He and his forces looted and burned the city to the ground. However, Spanish control of the area continued.

By the mid-18th century, the British made a concerted effort to acquire Florida, and around 1763 they exchanged Habana, Cuba (captured by the British during the Seven Years War, 1756-1763). Once in their hands, the British split Florida into two regions: East Florida and West Florida—St. Augustine became the capital of East Florida, and Pensacola became the seat of West Florida.

Spain, however, would not give up its holdings regardless of the British acquisition of Habana and, in 1781, it regained control of Pensacola. The United States took the rest of Florida after the 1784 peace treaty that ended the American Revolution. Up until then, East and West Florida had remained loyal to the British rulers during the revolutionary war.

But the constant geopolitical upheavals continued, leading up to the First Seminole War (1818) commanded by General Andrew Jackson. In the end, the United States bought Florida from Spain for five million dollars in 1821.

Next week we will continue our travel and pause in 19th century Florida. You will meet the great Native American war chief, Osceola, and learn who launched Florida tourism.

Map depicting the different Native American tribes in the State of Florida.