My friend Travis and I had to use our vacation time before September or lose it. We pondered over our travel destination for that Summer of 1977 and what we could ill-afford. I thought that New Mexico would be the smartest summer destination, Travis argued that Florida would be cheaper and more fun because we could stay at his cousin’s apartment in Orlando which was close to Disney World. Well, the pocketbook settled it. Florida got our nod.
Aside from the high-priced fun at the Disney park, my lasting memories of Florida are of discomfort and inconvenience. What was supposed to be a heavenly August trip to celebrate my birthday, turned out to be a vacation gone wrong. I remember lengthy traffic jams on Interstate 4 and close calls on International Drive and downtown. Travis and I found out that Florida is much more hot and humid in August than we ever imagined. Because Travis’ Monte Carlo didn’t have air conditioning, we were constantly sweaty and uncomfortable.
With these sorry memories in mind, I relate what I learned about the early history of the State of Florida when I brushed up on the background of our vacation destination prior to our departure. I leafed through my battered copy of The Journal of American History I’d bought two years earlier (and also used to verify events for this very condensed historical outline).
I’ll bypass the more than two centuries of Spanish rule over Florida because that merits a lengthy essay of its own. Suffice it to mention that native Americans could live their lives more or less undisturbed. Of course the first continuously occupied settlement in present day United States is Saint Augustine, Florida.
In the earliest years of the US, the native residents of Spanish Florida and their US citizens to the north were often at odds with each other. It was clear to leaders and citizens alike that the nation must gain possession of Florida. After many years of disagreement with Spain, a treaty was finally drawn up with that country for the transfer of territory.
On February 22, 1819, in exchange for $5,000,000 Spain would cede East and West Florida to the United States. Spain ratified the Adams-Onis Treaty in October of 1820 and it was finally ratified in the US on February 19, 1821. General Andrew Jackson was appointed as the military governor. March 30, 1822 the United States merged East and West Florida into Florida Territory. The capital was to be at Tallahassee with William Pope Duval the territorial governor.
The problem was that Tallahassee was in native holdings. The Treaty of Paynes Landing was signed by a chiefs’ council of Seminoles in May of 1832. The Seminoles had three years to relocate out of Florida Territory. The treaty meeting was where chief Osceola voiced his dissent and vowed to fight the United States.
Osceola and his allies started their guerilla raids against the US Army in late 1835. The heat, humidity, and rampant disease helped the Indian forces in the beginning. The US military found the climate to be very hostile and their lack of geographical knowledge of Florida hampered the Army. General Thomas Jesup was able to successfully move against the natives then captured Osceola and most of the important Seminole chiefs. Chief Osceola was imprisoned in South Carolina and later died of malaria.
The Second Seminole War in Florida ground to a halt in 1842. The natives were marched out of the Territory by forced exile to Creek Indian land west of the Mississippi River, with the exception of several hundred who remained scattered throughout the area.
With the end of hostilities and the removal of most of the Native Americans, white settlers moved in to fill the gaps. Towns and cities grew and Florida Territory looked towards statehood. There was some discussion regarding whether Florida should be divided into two States, West Florida and East Florida.
The US Congress prevailed and decided that the Territory should not be divided but instead should enter the Union together as the 27th State. The Florida statehood bill was signed into law on March 3, 1845 by President Zachary Taylor. The first state election was held on May 26, 1845. William D. Moseley was elected as the first governor of the State of Florida.
More settlers migrated into the new State and encroached on the remainder of the Seminole homelands. The Third Seminole War erupted in 1855. The US Army again intervened. The hostilities ended in 1858 with another forced removal of all but a few hundred Seminole people, relegated to the Everglades.
Thus ended the first chapters in the eventful history of the State of Florida.