Florida History Timeline 1513-2023
1513 – On April 2, 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon landed near Melbourne Beach. Although he thought he was on an Island, he named the new land La Florida (meaning pretty to behold) and claimed the “island” for Spain.
1513 – June 21, 1513, de Leon lands on waterless islands near the Keys. He names the islands Las Tortugas after the many turtles found in the warm waters.
1521 – July – Ponce de Leon dies from a fever contracted when wounded by Native Americans when attempting to start a settlement in southwest Florida (exact location unclear).
1539 – Hernando de Soto lands with 9 ships in Manatee County, Florida. The ships carried priests, craftsmen, engineers, farmers, and merchants; some with their families, some from Cuba, and most from Europe and Africa. He traveled along the west coast of Florida and settled a few months near Tallahassee in an Indian village called Anhaica. In December 1539, the first Christmas in America may have been celebrated by the priests traveling with de Soto.
1559 – On August 14, 1559, Don Tristan de Luna y Arellano enters Pensacola Bay. Luna’s plan was to settle the area. He brought with him 2000 people that included soldiers, craftsmen, farmers, and others to begin the building of the settlement.
1562 – Frenchman, Jean Ribault lands near what is now St. Augustine. He claimed the land for the French. Ribault left a contingent of Frenchmen at a fort a few miles north of his landing.
1564 – By 1564 the French were determined to colonize North America. On their second attempt in Florida, Captain Jean Ribault built a fortification named Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River.
1565 – On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in St. Augustine and again claimed all of North America for the Spanish crown. Menendez was well aware of the French fort at the mouth of the St. Johns River.
1565 – On September 20, 1565, Menendez caught the Frenchmen by surprise at Fort Caroline and “put most of them to the sword”.
1567 – 1705 – Spanish missions were established among at least 8 different indigenous tribes in Florida. Some 80 mission centers were scattered throughout Florida.
1568 – Spanish colonists invaded Fort Caroline in 1568, renaming it San Matteo.
1568 – On Good Friday, 1568, Dominique de Gourgues, a French nobleman, invaded and burnt the Spanish Fort San Mateo at St. Augustine.
1569 – Menendez had expelled the French by the spring. He landed again in St. Augustine with almost 200 settlers.
1574 – September 17, 1574, Menendez dies.
1587 – The Spanish built a series of missions (called doctrinas) from St. Augustine to the panhandle. Each was no more than a day’s ride from the other. The network lasted into the 1700s. The goal was to bring Catholicism to Native Americans.
1668 – English Captain Robert Searles leads 100 buccaneers through St. Augustine killing at least 60 people and pillaging food and supplies.
1672 – Spanish start construction of Castillo de San Marcos, a fort to protect St. Augustine and all of “La Florida” from all enemies. The fort was completed in 1695.
1680 – Fort was built by the Spanish on the St. Marks River (in the panhandle) to protect interests near the Apalachee settlements (near what is Tallahassee, today). The fort also facilitated trade that merchants utilized along with Pensacola and St. Augustine.
1702– English Governor Lames Moore of Carolina begins a campaign against Spanish holdings in Florida. While successful in parts of central Florida and Amelia Island, Moore was thwarted in his attempt to route the Spanish from Fort Castillo de San Marcos.
1703-1704 – Moore continues his attacks on Native American villages throughout Florida. Takes 4000 captives back to his base in Carolina.
1740 – Disputes between the Spanish and English continue over the border between the holdings of each country. The English capture Fort Mose as they move towards St. Augustine. Between May and July, English soldiers tried again, unsuccessfully to capture Fort Castillo. They retreated back to Georgia in July.
1743 – English raids continue on Spanish holdings in Florida killing Indian allies, burning villages and destroying missions. However, they did not attempt to overtake Fort Castillio.
1757 – Spanish bring 363 immigrants from the Canary islands to settle an area between St. Augustine and Fort Mose.
Spain’s Hold on La Florida Ends – British Take Over in Florida History Timeline
1763 – Great Britain, France and Spain bring an end to the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War here) by trading holdings in the new world. Spain relinquishes La Florida to Great Britain in exchange for Cuba. Great Britain divides Florida into east and west Florida with the dividing line being the Apalachicola River (note that the west holdings at that time went to the Mississippi River). The designated seat of government was Pensacola for the west and St. Augustine for the east.
1764 – James Grant was appointed Governor of all of the Florida peninsula east of the Apalachicola River. Grant offers land grants to people who wanted to settle in Florida. During this period Grant was willing to work peacefully with Native American tribes. Plantations began to be prosperous.
1765 – The population estimate of west Florida was 2,315 Europeans and 28,000 combined Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek (Muskogee) Nations.
1776 – The thirteen British colonies were getting tired of British rule. Later in this year, the colonies sign The Declaration of Independence. Florida did not participate and was enjoying the prosperity of British rule.
1778 – General Howe of the Continental Army unsuccessfully attempted to capture St. Augustine from the British.
1781 – Spain had sided with the American rebels and captured many of the British forts in West Florida. All of west Florida was under Spanish control until the end of the war.
The History of Florida Timeline Begins in Ernest at the End of the Revolutionary War – Spain Controls Florida Again
1783 – The Revolutionary War ends. Britain had to relinquish territories east of the Mississippi River. However, east and west Florida to the Mississippi River was ceded to Spain.
1783 – 1821 – Several tribes of Native Americans congregate in villages near where Gainesville is today. They called the area Cuscowilla. It was populated by Timucuan, Calusa, Creek and Apalachee nations. This is when the name Seminole originated. The term may originate from words that mean outlaw, free or wild.
During this same period, Spain has difficulty resuming control of Florida. The new Americans to the north were migrating south. Skirmishes between the colonists and the Spanish became more frequent and brutal. Among other issues, the Creeks considered the land theirs. Former landowners, expelled by the British, also felt they had a claim on some land grants. At the same time, many Floridians were beginning to align themselves with the rebel Americans.
1790 – Estimated population of Florida was 2000 people plus Native Americans.
1811 – Upon President Madison’s insistence, congress develops a plan to wrest control of east Florida from Spain.
1812 – The War of 1812 breaks out with the British. The war forestalls any plan the Americans had for Florida.
1815 – The war ends with an agreement to go back to the way things were before the war with a notable exception. Native Americans, mainly Creeks, were not allowed to return to their lands since they aligned themselves with the British during the War of 1812. During this period many runaway slaves had become part of various tribes of Native Americans who welcomed them. Slave owners from other states were permitted to search for slaves in Florida. This was supported by the United States.
1816-1819 – The First Seminole War. Seminoles and Americans disagreed over land rights and the runaway slave issue. With part of his directive being to recapture runaway slaves, Andrew Jackson used his authority to send 3000 troops to east Florida (still held by Spain). In 1817 the soldiers destroyed many Native American villages and push many Seminoles further south in Florida.
Florida History Timeline – Florida Becomes a Territory of The United States
1819 – Adams-Onis Treaty. The United States demands Spain relinquish Florida because it could not control or govern the area protecting American citizen’s rights to land, stopping Indian uprisings, and return of the slaves. The treaty required the United States to pay 5 million dollars for east Florida. Spain also agreed they had no claim on west Florida.
1821 – President Monroe named Andrew Jackson governor of Florida. His term was brief, resigning in December 1821, after forming a system of government and courts in Florida.
1822 – 1834 – President Monroe appoints William Pope DuVal as Jackson’s successor. Under DuVal Florida’s economy grew and disagreements with Native Americans were handled with little conflict.
1824 – Tallahassee is selected to be the capital of Florida since it was halfway between St. Augustine and Pensacola.
1830 – Indian Removal Act – Essentially, all Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River were required to move west of the river. Obviously, not received well by the indigenous peoples, it wasn’t until 1832 that it was purportedly signed. It gave the Native Americans three years to move with American assistance.
1835 – US Army arrives to enforce the Indian Removal Act and subsequent treaties. They were to march from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King in Ocala. Seminoles attacked the army of 110 soldiers killing all but three. In December, General Clinch led another army who were also ambushed. They retreated from near the Withlacoochee River to safe grounds.
1836 – Second Seminole War. While Seminoles were continuing to attack farms, supply lines and American property, a new leader was appointed to lead the Seminole problem. General Thomas Jesup started tracking the Indians.
1837 – Deceit worked two ways. After agreeing to migrate, 700 Indians gathered at Ft. Brooke to be shipped west. After several days of food and alcohol provided by the government, on the night of June 2, 1837, they slipped away during the night.
1837 – General Jesup, under a white flag of truce, offered peace to Osceola and his followers. When they appeared, Jesup captured Osceola, a Seminole leader, and imprisoned him at Fort Castillo in St. Augustine.
1837 – While working for statehood, it was estimated that Florida had only forty-eight thousand of the sixty thousand residents needed to be considered for statehood.
1842 – The Second Seminole War was declared over. By this time there were roughly 1500 Seminoles left. Many died in skirmishes with the army, others moved west to join the Creeks, and still more disappeared into the Everglades in south Florida.
Statehood is a Big Step in the Florida History Timeline
1845 – On March 3, 1845, Florida became a state. Prior to the official designation, Florida had prepared a state constitution. It provided that a governor would be elected every four years and a legislature would be elected. William D. Moseley was Florida’s first Governor. The first state senators elected to congress were David Yulee and James Westcott Jr.
1851 – It’s nice to stay cool. In 1851, Tampa native John Gorrie invented the first mechanical refrigeration system—paving the way for air conditioning.
1855 – The Third Seminole War. This final war was to pursue the remaining Seminole in Florida. Many had refused to move.
1858 – When it was estimated in 1858 that there were less than 100 remaining Seminoles, the war ended. A few hid near the Big Cypress Swamp and are descendants of original combatants. Contributing to all three Seminole wars was the refusal of the Seminoles to return slaves. The black population had integrated with the other native Americans and was a big part of their families and structure.
1860 – Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States to the dismay of many southern states including Florida who wanted to protect the right to own slaves and the right of each state to make their own rules.
1860 – Florida’s population in 1860 was 140,423 (77,746 whites, 61745 slaves, 932 free blacks).
Florida Becomes a Confederate State
1861 – January 10, 1861, delegates to the convention for Declaration of Causes for Seceding voted to secede from the union. Florida was the third state to secede behind Mississippi and South Carolina.
1861 – On April 12, 1861, Confederate Troops fired upon Fort Sumter, the first battle of the Civil War. Florida was the smallest state in the union, but 15,000 troops of the Confederacy came from Florida. One-third of them perished.
1861 – On June 11, 1861, the Union started to create a blockade of all Florida ports starting with Apalachicola and the Union ship USS Montgomery. By mid-1862, almost all main ports were blocked. However, the blockades were “quite leaky” and smugglers were rampant. The result was somewhat crippling to Florida’s exports. Beef and salt were the most important exports to the Confederates.
1861 – John Milton, a staunch Confederate, was elected Governor in October. He served during the Civil War and purportedly shot himself after the Confederates surrendered in 1865.
1862 – One of the few Civil War battles in Florida was the attempt by the Confederate States to take Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola. After several attempts, the Confederates gave up and the Fort remained under Union control for the balance of the war.
1862 – June of this year saw another Civil War skirmish call the Tampa Incident. Here, a Union gunboat entered the Tampa harbor and demanded Tampa surrender. The local militia called The Osceola Rangers refused. The Union gunboat fired upon Tampa for a couple of days. The Rangers refused to give up and the gunboat left the harbor.
1863 – Steamboat Madison was scuttled in Troy Springs by Confederacy to keep Union troops from finding it.
1864 – The largest Civil War battle in Florida took place in February 1864 when Union troops came into Florida to cut off Confederate supply lines and to free slaves so they could join the Union army. The Union troops were met by the same number of Confederate troops at Olustee, west of Florida’s capital. After six bloody hours, the Confederates were successful in repelling the Union forces. The losses on both sides total almost 3000 soldiers making this the biggest battle in Florida.
1865 – On April 26, 1865, Florida surrendered. The Confederacy surrendered on April 9, 1865, but the word didn’t spread for several days. Slavery was ended in America.
Civil War Over – Period of Reconstruction of Florida Begins in the Florida History Timeline
1868 – Cuban war of independence, called the Ten Years War, saw many Cuban cigar makers move their operations across the Florida Straits to Key West.
1870 – Josiah T. Walls was elected to the US House of Representatives as the first black member of congress from Florida.
1873 – Tourism was beginning to take hold by 1873 when 50,000 people visited Silver Springs that year. This was a significant step in the Florida History timeline with regard to tourism.
1877 – Troops are removed from Florida which signaled the end of reconstruction after the Civil War. Politics were divisive with the southern Confederates clashing with the Republican abolitionists. It took federal oversight a dozen years to end cut-throat politics.
1878 – Henry M. Flagler first comes to Florida for his wife’s health. By 1888 Flagler would have built two hotels in St. Augustine – both were the first large buildings to be built with concrete. Both hotels remain today. One is now Flagler College.
1880 – Governor William D. Bloxham negotiates a deal with northern businessman Hamilton Disston to sell one million acres of land between Orlando and Lake Okeechobee for $4 million. The agreement was necessary to pay off Florida’s debt accumulated during reconstruction years and bad investments. The arrangement allowed Disston to also drain other swamp lands to accommodate his dream of development.
1883 – Henry Plant extends his South Florida Railroad from Kissimmee to Tampa. Plant also turns Tampa into a major deep-water port that traded with Cuba and other Caribbean islands. That spurred the growth of Tampa into a shipping metropolis. Plant built a major hotel in Tampa in 1891. He eventually would build a half dozen more.
1883 – William D. Chipley builds a railroad to merge with Henry Plant’s railways all the way to Pensacola, linking the panhandle to the rest of the state. Plant also builds docks and shipping facilities in Pensacola as he had done in Tampa.
1885 – Flagler purchases St. Augustine & Halifax River Railroad. He extends it to Daytona.
1885 – Florida drafts a new state constitution in June that stays in effect until 1968.
1894 – Henry Flagler extends his railroad to Palm Beach. Builds two more luxury hotels to accommodate the elite travelers looking for warm weather. Flagler’s empire would eventually extend all the way to Key West with his railroad and string of hotels.
1896 – Flagler extends his now-named Florida East Coast Railway to Miami at the insistence of Julia Tuttle a founder of the Miami “settlement”. He built the Royal Palm Hotel.
1898 – American War of 1898, known as the Spanish-American War, started after the sinking of the warship Maine in Havana Harbor. Fighting only lasted a few months. Cuba was freed from Spain and the United States ended up with the territories of Puerta Rico, Guam and The Philippines.
1901 – Florida legislature passes a law prohibiting the hunting of “plume birds” used in the making of women’s hats.
1905 – The Buckman Act passes in Florida to provide support for secondary education. A state board was set up to develop a system of higher education. That led to school transformations the yielded schools like Florida State University, Bethune-Cookman College and the University of Florida to name a few.
1914 – First scheduled passenger flight goes from St. Petersburg to Tampa.
1915 – Florida creates a state road department. That coupled with America’s beginning love affair with the automobile may be the beginning of Florida’s tourist invasion.
1917 – The United States goes to war with Germany. All railroads were seized by the government. Tourists heading for Florida declined in 1918 for the first time in a half-century. However, the railroads (and Florida) prospered during the war with movements of troops and supplies throughout Florida in the war efforts.
1919 – The United States ratified the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol. Throughout Florida, local laws prohibited the sale in many areas of the state. A couple areas are still dry.
1919 – Florida outlaws the convict for lease program. This was a system that allowed prisoners to be leased to private industry for their use and abuse. The system was eliminated fully, including local governments in 1924.
1920-1930 – Florida increased roads from 1000 miles of roadway to 3800 miles. By 1926 nine Florida cities had airports. In 1920 the population of Florida was 968,000 people and by 1930 the population was 1,468,000. Tourism was blossoming with an estimated 2.5 million people visiting Florida in 1925. Lynchings declined from eight in 1920 to one in 1930. The number of farms increased in Florida from 54,005 in 1920 to 58,906 in 1930.
1923 – In January 1923, six black residents of Rosewood and two whites were killed in a dispute that centered around the rumor that a black man had assaulted a white woman. The conflict lasted for several days. In a dark period of Florida politics, racial issues were largely ignored.
1923 – Florida legislature passes a law forbidding the teaching of Darwinian theories. Fundamentalists in Florida didn’t want any teachings inconsistent with the Bible. Fundamentalist views applied to gambling and drinking – both of which Florida became famous for!
1923-1925 – The Florida land boom was in full bloom. An estimated 300,000 people moved to Florida in those years of prosperity.
1926 – First Coast Guard station commissioned in Miami.
1926 – Real estate went from boom to bust. Bad publicity, railroad strike, bank failures inflation, and a major hurricane in 1926 killed 400 people and left 50,000 others homeless. People left south Florida in droves. Florida history of hurricanes.
1928 – Another hurricane rips through south Florida leading to flooding around Lake Okeechobee. Over 2000 people died. This was the largest loss of life from a hurricane.
1931 – Florida East Coast and Seaboard Air Line railroads go into receivership. Banks continue to fail as Depression deepens.
1933 – Prohibition ends. Congress implements a number of acts that strengthen banking laws and distribute relief to a number of depression-era industries. One notable creation was the Civilian Conservation Corps. Florida was able to put many people back to work building public projects in the state. People 18-25 who enlisted for the CCC would make $30 a month, $25 of which would be sent straight to their families, while the other five was for the worker to keep. Meals and lodging were provided in a military camp fashion.
1934 – President Roosevelt’s Second New Deal in 1934 created the Works Progress Administration. The WPA was instrumental in building projects in Florida and employing anyone able to work. Everything from bridges to courthouses were built in Florida. Federal funds also built over 500 schools in Florida.
1935 – The Everglades National Park was created. To this day the park is a treasure of ecological foresight. The 1.5 million acres is a Florida attraction that draws hundreds of thousands of people annually.
1935 – Key West went bankrupt. The Governor declared a state of emergency that allowed federal funds to employ hundreds of Key West residents to clean up the city, improve sanitation and clean beaches.
1935 – The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 roars through the Keys killing at least 400 people. The hurricane destroyed Flagler’s Overseas Railroad and the rights were bought by the state. The history of Florida hurricanes details all major hurricanes.
1935 – The Rural Electrification Administration built plants throughout Florida to provide electricity to rural areas including farms.
1937 – The city of Hialeah was the starting point of Amelia Earhart’s ambitious attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
1938 – US Highway 1 was completed to Key West using the old Overseas Railroad rights-of-way.
1938 – Tamiami Trail completed from Tampa to Miami.
1940 – Florida’s economy improved through the late 1930s. By 1940 Florida was sending vegetables like corn, potatoes, peanuts and beans around the country. Cotton and beef were significant sources of revenue. Citrus like tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit were worth over $30 million annually. In the panhandle pulp and paper mills were adding millions of dollars to the economic fortunes of Florida. Seafood along Florida’s Gulf coast became a formidable industry.
World War II Changes Florida Forever in the Florida History Timeline
1941 – World War II, declared after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, united Americans and Floridians into a war effort unheard of in the world. Florida became a major player. There were 172 military installations in Florida by the war’s end. Hotels became barracks for soldiers. Aviation training became a big part of the Florida war effort with 40 aviation training centers.
1941-1945 – the war effort also created new products, techniques and processes. Some of those that impacted Florida include:
- The frozen concentrate of orange juice.
- DDT was discovered to rid plants of bugs that ruined crops (later found to be environmentally harmful in 1962).
- Water was piped through to Key West and other Keys allowing more inhabitable islands.
- With the advent of aviation, Florida benefitted from the advancements in flight, not realized until after the war and subsequent tourism.
1942 – German U-boats (submarines) sunk twenty-four US and Allied freighters and tankers off Florida’s coast. February to July 1942 saw a rash of sinkings.
1943 – One of the war’s strange encounters occurred on July 19,1941. Forty miles south of Key West a US Blimp and a German U-boat battled each other. The blimp, all 250 feet of it, was hit multiple times. However, the actions of the blimp kept the U-boat from sinking two freighters in the area.
1952 – Key West Pinks Discovered – Like Gold to Key West Fishermen.
1967 – 1969 – The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes St. Petersburg as the city with the longest stretch of sun-filled days from February 9, 1967, to March 17, 1969.
1968 –In 1968, the Florida Constitution was changed to give cities and counties Home Rule powers, so each can enact their own ordinances.
1970 – After many legal battles, $12 million was awarded to the Seminole, Miccosukee, and Oklahoma Seminole for lands taken in the 1920s and 1930s to be paid by the state of Florida.
1971 – Disney World opens in Orlando. It becomes the biggest tourist attraction in the world.
1977 – Snow falls in Miami for the first time.
1980 – The Mariel boatlift brought 125,000 Cubans into south Florida. All were looking for a new life in the United States after Fidel Castro opened the borders to leave Cuba.
1986 – On January 28, 1986, in front of a large crowd of observers and a national television audience, the Challenger space shuttle broke apart killing seven crew members including a civilian teacher, Christa McAuliffe. The space program was halted for two years to review safety precautions.
1992 – Hurricane Andrew hits south Florida with Category 5 winds. The storm destroys 65,000 homes, leaves 175,000 people homeless and bankrupts several insurance companies. Andrew was the most expensive storm in Florida’s history (at the time).
2000 – Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan authorized by congress. The act was designed to replace and repair the damages done to the Everglades by decades of drainage and misdirection of water resources. The Everglades was finally recognized as a valuable resource, rather than an impediment to growth.
2000 – The closest presidential election in history looked to Florida to decide who would become President, Al Gore or George Bush. After a month-long series of court battles, Bush was declared the winner by 537 votes which gave him 271 electoral votes of Florida putting him over the 270 needed to win the country’s election.
2010 – Census reveals that more than 1.4 million residents spoke Spanish in Miami. That outnumbers the English-speaking population.
2010 – On April 20, 2010, a BP offshore oil drilling platform explodes killing 11 people. Over the next several weeks almost 5 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. 177 miles of Florida shoreline was covered will oil killing marine life and devasting the tourism industry. In September the well was capped, but the damage to the ecology would take years to repair.
2022 – Hurricane Ian hit Florida on September 28, 2022. This was the deadliest storm since the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that came through the Keys. Ian was a direct hit on the island of Cayo Costa just north of Ft. Myers. The storm surge literally wiped out much of Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel island. The damages included the deaths of 140 people, 57 Billion dollars in storm damage, and hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Find the worst Florida hurricanes.
2022 – Property insurance crisis hits Florida. Rates increase fourfold in some cases. The Florida legislature passes a sweeping insurance bill intended to stabilize the insurance industry. The bill, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis provides some relief to insurers who have been hit with claims from hurricanes Ian and Nicole this year. The bill also speeds up some provisions of the claim process and reduces some litigation costs.
2023 – On May 24, 2023 Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, declares he is running for President of the United States.
2023 – August 30, 2023 – Hurricane Idalia slams into the Big Bend area of Florida causing damage to thousands of homes and businesses. Idalia left a swath of damage clear through Florida into Georgia.
The Florida History Timeline will be updated as we add new events and find significant other Florida historical facts that changed the way we live and love Florida.