On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state to join the United States. People first reached Florida at least 12,000 years ago. Because the sea level was much lower then, Florida was nearly twice the size it is today. Florida is the site of the earliest visit to the continental U.S. by European explorers in 1513 and the first European settlement, St. Augustine, was established in 1565. Florida owes its name to Juan Ponce de León who called the area “la Florida,” in honor of Spain’s Eastertime celebration, “Pascua Florida” or “feast of the flowers.”
When the Europeans found Florida, it is estimated that there were at least 200,000 natives, most of whom died from disease and warfare. As the Europeans began to take more land, some Indians, particularly of the Creek Nation, migrated south to Florida. In the 1770s, the Florida Indians became known as “Seminoles” which means “wild people” or “runaway.” They came to find peaceful lands and also provided refuge to runaway slaves. The 1800s saw the First, Second, and Third Seminole Wars that moved more than 3,000 Indians west of the Mississippi.
Today, there are two federally recognized tribes in Florida and a group of unaffiliated or traditional Indians. The Miccosukee Indians are descended from about 100 Mikasuki-speaking Creeks and are located mostly in the Everglades. The Seminoles of Florida call themselves the “Unconquered People” and currently have six reservations throughout Florida. Like the Miccosukees, a few hundred Seminoles remained hidden in the Florida swamps, but they never surrendered and never signed any peace treaties.
Florida was in the middle of struggles between Spain, France, and Great Britain throughout the 1700s. Through its history, five national flags have flown over Florida, being those of Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. Under British rule, Florida was divided into two colonies: West Florida with a capital in Pensacola and East Florida with a capital in St. Augustine. In 1824, Tallahassee became the capital of Florida to split the difference between the two capitals and unify the state.
The state flag of Florida reflects the state’s connection with the Native Americans. It features the state seal on a St. Andrew’s X-shaped cross. The seal shows a Seminole Indian woman spreading flowers in the foreground with a steamboat, the state tree (a Sabal palmetto palm), and the sun in background. The words around the seal state are “Great Seal of the State of Florida” and “In God We Trust.”
Florida’s official page for legislative information is called Online Sunshine, reminding visitors of the state’s official nickname, “The Sunshine State.” In fact, St. Petersburg, the “Sunshine City” holds a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive days of sunshine: 768 days that began in 1967. The U.S. Census Bureau has statistics for Florida on its QuickFacts website.
The Library of Congress has several webpages to learn more about Florida:
- Indigenous Law Portal Florida page
- Guide to Law Online Florida page
- Search results on “Florida” (narrow using facets on the left)
- America’s Story, Explore the States: Florida
- Florida State Guide from Digital Reference Section (click on links on right under picture)