Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Florida 500

Juan Ponce de Leon
Image Credit: fineartamerica.com
Today is the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon's discovery of Florida. In search of a "fountain of youth" and the obligatory Spanish goals of God, Glory and Gold (and not always in that order), Ponce de Leon landed on the east coast of Florida on April 2nd, 1513. The discovery was named Pascua de la Florida after the Easter "Feast of Flowers."

The first permanent settlement did not come until 1565 when Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in today's St. Augustine. There, his chaplain celebrated the first Catholic Mass in today's United States.

This is a replica of the baptismal font used
to baptize Ponce de Leon in Spain in 1474.
This replica arrived at the Cathedral-Basilica of
St. Augustine in time for the Anniversary Mass
to be celebrated on April 3, 2013.
The initial discovery of Florida five hundred years ago set off a very rich history for this peninsula, as well as shaping the colonial and naval development for three imperial powers - Spain, France and Britain. Florida provided a vital role because of its location to the Gulf Stream, an oceanic highway of sorts that connects shipping lanes of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico back to Europe via the North Atlantic. Spanish Florida expelled French Huguenots from Ft. Caroline on the St. John's River and the colony became a thorn to its British colonial neighbors to the north. After the Seven Years (a.k.a. French and Indian) War, Florida entered a 20-year period of British rule (1763-1783). Spanish and British architecture is still evident in St. Augustine today. After the U.S. War for Independence, Florida returned to Spanish rule and Loyalist exiles from  the British North American colonies were expelled, causing their second major migration in only a few years. After decades of shaky Spanish rule and an invasion by Andrew Jackson, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819. The territory gained statehood status in 1845. By that time, the capital had moved from St. Augustine to Tallahassee. This was considered an ideal location as it was mid-way between the two most important cities at the time, St. Augustine and Pensacola. In 1861, Florida seceded from the Union, following the lead of six other slave states of the Deep South. Though Florida did not serve a central role in the Civil War due to its sparse population, its geographic location was vital. Florida was a cattle-rich state and its cattle fed the Confederacy. The Battle of Olustee and the occupation of Jacksonville were intended to cut off the cattle supply for the Confederacy, one segment of the Union's "Anaconda Plan." After the Civil War, Florida experienced a tremendous period of growth from the late 1800s well into the twentieth century. Jacksonville flourished as a tourist destination and the trade port of Tampa grew exponentially. Former Rockefeller associate Henry Flagler built railroads in the state. With a railroad to South Florida in the early twentieth century, combined with canal projects that made the land habitable, the development of the Miami region began.  This set off the largest period of growth in the state and a century that would witness an explosion of population due to the country's "sunbelt" migration as well as new job opportunities, including those created by NASA.  Florida's warm climate and sandy beaches already attracted plenty of tourists.  Tourism would explode in the state with the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971. Today, Florida continues to attract both tourists and new residents and remains one of the fastest growing states in the union.

This is simply a short summary of Florida's very rich and dynamic history.  Florida also has a very rich Catholic history which also will be celebrated this week, including a Mass celebrated tomorrow at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine.  The Bishop of St. Augustine, the Most Reverend Felipe Estevez, is certainly well-versed in Florida's Catholic history as evident by his homily given at his installation in 2011 (linked here).  Check out the resources below for more information on Florida history!

Viva Florida!

Book Recommendations:
I had the opportunity to read several books on Florida history as a student at the University of North Florida.  I had the privilege of learning under Dr. Daniel Schafer, one of the leading historians of state history and author of several books on key people in Florida History.  Here are a few of my favorite books on Florida:

  • The New History of Florida edited by Michael Gannon (1996)
  • The Oldest City: St. Augustine Saga of Survival edited by Jean Parker Waterbury and published by the St. Augustine Historical Society (1983)
  • Patrick D. Smith's A Land Remembered (1984).  This is a historical fiction novel set in Old Florida.  The novel portrays three generations of the MacIvey family who experience the frontier history of Florida from the 1860s through the twentieth century.  This book presented such a gripping story that I easily journeyed through its 400 pages in only a few days.  
  • James B. Crook's Jacksonville: The Consolidation Story, from Civil Rights to the Jaguars (2004).  I am certainly an enthusiast for my hometown and this is a great recent history book on Jacksonville!
  • A good read on the Catholic history of St. Augustine is Charles Gallagher's Cross & Crozier: A History of the Diocese of St. Augustine (1999).
Web Resources:


  • Hashtags: #florida500, #vivaflorida
  • @VivaFlorida - Official Twitter handle for the State's 500th Anniversary
  • @StAugustine450 - 450th Anniversary of St. Augustine
  • @FLMemory
Past Blog Posts:

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