Humans inhabit Florida at least 12,000 years ago. The sea level is much lower than today, and as a result, the Florida peninsula is more than twice as large as it is now. Florida’s first peoples lived mostly on small animals, plants, nuts, and shellfish.
800– 1700 CE
Dubbed "the fierce ones," The Calusa tribe dominates Florida’s Gulf Coast. They escape from Florida to Cuba in the early 1700s after Spanish soldiers and other tribes overrun the region.
At the time of first European contact an estimated 350,000 people belonging to a variety of tribes inhabit Florida.
Europeans first discover the region. A Spanish map from 1502 depicts a Florida-like peninsula.
Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Léon becomes the first European to explore Florida while searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth. He claims the region for Spain and calls it "la Florida" in honor of "La Pascua Florida" ("Feast of Flowers"), Spain’s Easter celebration. He is unable to establish a colony due to attacks from Native Americans.
Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto lands in Tampa Bay in search of gold. He explores central and northern Florida on his way to the Mississippi River and names Espiritu Santo Springs while searching for the Fountain of Youth.
Tristan de Luna y Arellano leads another attempt to colonize Florida. He establishes a settlement at Pensacola Bay; a series of misfortunes causes the settlement to be abandoned after two only years.
Philip II of Spain gives orders to halt colonizing efforts in Florida.
French missionaries settle Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville as a haven for Protestant Huguenots fleeing religious persecution.
Spanish troops arrive and massacre the French Huguenot soldiers in Fort Caroline (sparing only a few Catholics). Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés establishes Saint Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in North America. The fort is renamed Fort San Mateo.
Jesuits establish missions in La Florida, staying until 1572
Led by French nobleman Dominique de Gourgue, French forces return to Florida and slaughter hundreds of Spanish in revenge for the Huguenot massacre. After Spanish surrender, the French and their native allies, the Saturiwa, murder all prisoners. De Gourgue then returns to France.
English captain Sir Francis Drake loots and burns the village of St. Augustine.
Franciscans assume formerly Jesuit missions, eventually running more than 100 in the area.
1700–1799 EARLY EUROPEAN EXPLORATION AND SETTLEMENT
English colonists and their Creek Native American allies attack and plunder Spanish-held St. Augustine.
English forces begin burning Spanish missions in north Florida and executing Native Americans friendly with the Spanish. They attack the Apalachee Native Americans in Florida, driving them into slavery and exile. About 800 Apalachee flee west to French-held Mobile.
The French capture the Spanish settlement at Pensacola. It is restored to Spain in 1722.
The country’s first legally sanctioned free community of ex-slaves is established in St. Augustine, called Fort Mose. Populated by those who escaped from slavery in the British colonies, it serves as the northern defense of the city.
England declares war on Spain over border disputes in Florida. The war is known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear is named for British seaman Robert Jenkins, who exhibited his severed ear in Parliament after Spanish coast guards boarded his ship and cut it off in 1731. The English are victorious, capturing St. Augustine from the Spanish.
Spain cedes Florida to Britain in exchange for Havana, Cuba, which the British captured from Spain during the Seven Years War. Spain evacuates Florida, leaving the region nearly empty. Britain begins recruiting settlers to the area by offering free land and backing for export businesses.
Old Kings Road becomes the first graded road in Florida.
During the Revolutionary War, Spanish troops enter Florida and repossess most of its western region from the British. Settlers attempt revolution several times against Spain.
1800–1849 FLORIDA TERRITORY
The U.S. annexes West Florida from Spain after settlers there rebel against Spanish authority. The following year, in a secret session, Congress plans to annex Spanish East Florida.
During the War of 1812, Spain allows Great Britain to use Pensacola as a naval base.
Led by Andrew Jackson, American troops attack and capture Pensacola, defeating the Spanish and driving out the British.
U.S. troops destroy the Seminole Native Americans’ Fort Apalachicola to punish them for harboring runaway slaves. The following year the First Seminole War begins, pitting Seminoles against the federal government.
(February 22) Spain signs the Adams-Onis Treaty with the United States, ceding Florida to the U.S. after the U.S. renounces its claims to Texas.
Congress combines East and West Florida, thus organizing the Florida Territory. Settlers enter by the thousands. The U.S. government offers land in Oklahoma to the Seminole Native Americans who live in the region, but many refuse to leave.
The Second Seminole War. U.S. troops led by General Thomas Jesup siege the Seminole chief Osceola under a flag of truce. Jesup’s trickery outrages Americans. At the end of the war most Native Americans are forced to move from Florida to Oklahoma.
The first grapefruit trees arrive in Florida from Spain. Today the second largest industry in Florida is agriculture, particularly citrus fruit growing. Florida produces 54 percent of all the grapefruit grown in the nation.
(March 3) After being delayed by Congress’ reluctance to admit another slave state, Florida becomes the 27th state to be admitted to the Union.
1850–1899 STATE OF FLORIDA
The Third Seminole War occurs as white settlers again encroach on lands used by the Seminole. By war’s end, an estimated 100 Seminole are left in Florida, most of whom surrender and are sent west.
(January 10) Florida becomes the third state to secede from the Union.
During the Civil War, Florida provides 15,000 troops and supplies to the Confederacy, but more than 2,000 Floridians join the Union army.
Although most of Florida’s coast is captured by Union troops, Confederate troops win the Battle of Olustee, protecting Tallahassee and Florida’s interior region.
The last Confederate victory of the Civil War occurs at the Battle of Natural Bridge near Tallahassee. A small band of Confederate troops, mostly teenagers from the nearby Florida Military and Collegiate Institute, prevent Union forces from crossing the Natural Bridge. This action stops the Union from capturing the Florida capital, making Tallahassee the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi River not captured by Union forces during the war.
Florida is readmitted to the Union.
African Americans are given the right to vote and are guaranteed other civil rights by the adoption of a new state constitution.
The city of Miami is incorporated. It’s the only major U.S. city founded by a woman, local citrus grower Julia Tuttle. In 1896 its population is just over 300.
The port city of Tampa serves as the primary staging area for U.S. troops bound for the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Many Floridians support the Cuban people’s desire to be free of Spanish colonial rule.
1900–1949 EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Florida’s wineries are wiped out by Pierce’s Disease, a bacterial infection deadly to grapevines. Growers switch to orange trees as a result. In 2006 Florida will produce 74 percent of U.S. oranges.
President Theodore Roosevelt sets aside five acres of Pelican Island to protect pelicans and other birds from hunters. This begins the wildlife refuge system in the U.S.
St. Cloud is founded as a colony for Union veterans. In response to advertisements in the National Tribune, more than 1,000 former soldiers buy land in the area sight unseen.
Railroads expand to Key West, opening new land for development. The growing tourism industry attracts visitors from around the world. Citrus groves expand throughout northern and south-central parts of the state.
The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line offers the world’s first regularly scheduled airline service.
A Ku Klux Klan surprise attack on an African-American residential area of Rosewood kills eight people and the north Florida community is burned to the ground.
Florida abolishes income and inheritance taxes to attract investors.
President-elect Franklin Roosevelt escapes an assassination attempt in Miami. An unemployed bricklayer from Italy, Giuseppa Zangara, fires five pistol shots at the back of Roosevelt’s head from 25 feet away. All five rounds miss their target, but one kills Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago.
World War II. Military bases are established along the coast of Florida, and Miami plays an important role in the battle against German submarines.
The "Voyage of the Damned." The MS St. Louis is turned away from the Florida coast, carrying 907 Jewish refugees from Germany. Also denied permission to dock in Cuba and Canada, the ship eventually returns to Europe, and approximately 260 of the refugees later die in Nazi concentration camps.
Miami Beach pharmacist Benjamin Green invents the first suntan lotion by cooking cocoa butter in a granite coffee pot on the stove.
After World War II tourism continues to be the state’s leading industry, but new industries prosper, including chemical, computer, electronics, and oceanography sectors.
1950–PRESENT MODERN FLORIDA
African Americans defy a city law in Tallahassee and occupy front bus seats. Within a few days, segregation on buses is outlawed in the city.
The first U.S. Earth satellite, Explorer I, is launched from the U.S. Air Force Missile Test Center at Cape Canaveral.
Fidel Castro takes over as leader of Cuba, and the exodus of Cuban refugees to Miami begins. It soon transforms Miami into a major center of commerce, finance, and transportation for all of Latin America. Today Miami is still a center of immigration from Haiti, other Caribbean countries, and Central and South America.
After Cape Canaveral is established as a launch site in the 1950s, the space program generates a huge economic boom for the area, which is now collectively known as the Space Coast. It is a major center of the aerospace industry. To date, all manned orbital spaceflights launched by the U.S. have been done so from Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center.
As a tribute to assassinated president John F. Kennedy, Cape Canaveral is renamed Cape Kennedy. However, most Floridians oppose the name change ("Canaveral" had been in use for 400 years). In 1973 the state restored the previous moniker, although the space center retains the Kennedy name.
Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) becomes a world heavyweight-boxing champion by defeating Sonny Liston in Miami Beach.
(May 13) Florida is the 43rd state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
(October 1) Walt Disney World opens in Orlando after construction costing an estimated $500 to $600 million.
Author and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard secretly purchases a historic hotel in Clearwater and begins to establish the town as home for his Church of Scientology.
A severe cold devastates citrus and vegetable plants, causing President Jimmy Carter to proclaim a state of disaster in 34 Florida counties.
Race riots occur in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood after an all-white jury in Tampa acquits four former Miami police officers of fatally beating an African-American insurance executive. Eighteen people die in the riots.
America’s worst space tragedy on record occurs when the space shuttle Challenger explodes after takeoff from Cape Canaveral. All seven astronauts aboard are killed, including civilian Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space program.
South Florida is devastated by the costliest natural disaster in American history, Hurricane Andrew. The hurricane destroys 25,000 homes and costs billions in aid.
Florida passes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says governments cannot impose a "substantial burden" on people’s freedom of religious expression.
A fire in the Everglades consumes 170,000 acres.
Sport fishermen off the Florida coast save the life of five-year-old Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez. While the boy is in Miami, his father calls for his return to Cuba, setting off an international custody battle between relatives in both countries. In Miami, hundreds of Cuban-Americans protest the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s ultimate decision to return Elian to his father in Cuba.
(November 8) Nineteen thousand presidential election votes are disqualified in West Palm Beach as election officials begin a recount in the contest battle between Democratic nominee Al Gore and Republican nominee George W. Bush.
(November 12) The Palm Beach Canvassing Board decides to recount all county votes, approximately 425,000, by hand. The Florida Supreme Court extends the recount deadline from November 14 to November 26.
(December 8) The Florida Supreme Court orders a manual recount of disputed ballots in all Florida counties
(December 12) The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Florida Supreme Court’s decision, ordering the recount stopped. As a result, Secretary of State Katherine Harris certifies Bush the winner. Both the ruling and the certification immediately come under fire: the former for its split down partisan lines, the latter because Harris works under Bush’s brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush.
A severely brain-damaged woman named Terri Schiavo dies in Florida after the U.S. Supreme Court allows her feeding tube to be removed following an epic legal and medical battle waged in the media and in Congress.
Hurricane Katrina caused an estimated $623 million worth of damage across the state of Florida.
Click to enlarge an image
800: Calusa carving of an alligator's head
1502: Cantino Planisphere Map
1513: Juan Ponce de León
1561: Portrait of Philip II
1565: Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
1586: Sir Francis Drake
1783: Spanish grenadiers and militia pour into Fort George
1816: Trial of Robert Ambrister and Arbuthnot during the First Seminole War
1835: Osceola, Seminole leader
1864: Battle of Olustee
1896: Julia Tuttle, "Mother of Miami"
1903: Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
1933: Mug shot of Giuseppe Zangara
1939: MS St. Louis
1958: Explorer I
1964: Kennedy Space Center with a fly-over by the USAF Thunderbirds
1964: Muhammad Ali
1986: Space Shuttle Challenger's smoke plume after in-flight breakup
1986: Challenger's crew, from left: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik
1992: Infrared image of Hurricane Andrew making landfall in Florida
2000: Protestors surrounded the site of the Palm Beach County recount