Florida's Spanish Periods & General Andrew Jackson

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the two periods of Spanish rule over Florida, and the role General Andrew Jackson played in early Florida history. We will highlight the leading developments and themes surrounding Spanish rule in Florida.

Florida Today vs. Spanish Florida

Perhaps you are one of millions of Americans who have vacationed to Florida. With its tropical weather and miles upon miles of sandy beaches, Florida is among the most popular vacation destinations in the United States. Oh yes, the state is also home to Walt Disney World.

In addition to being a fun place to vacation, Florida also has a rich historical legacy. Florida's history is diverse. Florida history involves complex interactions between Spanish, British, French, and Native American groups. At various times, these various groups competed for control of the area. Perhaps the Spanish were the most influential in early Florida history. After all, the word ''Florida'' is a Spanish word meaning ''land of flowers''. Florida was founded as a Spanish territory. Spain controlled Florida for about 300 years, first between 1513-1763, and then again from 1783-1821.

Spanish Florida was a part of New Spain. New Spain was the name for Spain's North American Empire. In addition to Spanish Florida, New Spain included what is now Mexico, parts of the American Southwest (like Arizona and New Mexico), and various Caribbean islands. Remember that the boundaries of Spanish Florida were not exactly the same boundaries of Florida today. Spanish Florida was not a clearly defined territory. It extended over sections of what is now Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Skirmishes between the Spanish and other groups (like the British or Native American tribes) were commonplace.

An early 16th century map of the Florida peninsula.
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First Spanish rule (1513-1763)

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León is typically credited with being the first European to ''discover'' Florida. The popular myth that he was searching for a magical fountain of youth is probably not true, and at the least highly exaggerated. Ponce de León and his crew landed on the East Coast of Florida in 1513 and claimed the land for Spain.

Early attempts to colonize Spanish Florida were largely unsuccessful. Poor weather and constant skirmishes with the Native American tribe Calusa thwarted the establishment of Spanish settlements. St. Augustine emerged to become the area's first permanent settlement and the capital of Spanish Florida. It was settled in 1565. St. Augustine served as base for Catholic missionary activity throughout the region. The city was also subject to frequent raids at the hands of pirates and the British. In 1686 Sir Francis Drake set fire to the city.

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By the 17th and 18th centuries, Spanish Florida was feeling the squeeze from other foreign powers seeking to expand their territory. The English colonists in the North began to push southward, while the French in the Mississippi region began pushing eastward. Spanish Florida found itself pressured to retain control of its territory. Frequent conflicts broke out all throughout Spanish Florida's ill-defined borders. Spanish Florida also became a popular location for runaway British slaves. This is one reason among many for tension between Spanish Florida and its northern neighbor.

British Rule (1763-1783) and Second Spanish rule (1783-1821)

In 1763 Spain lost control of Florida. Think about that year: 1763. What happened in 1763? In 1763 the Seven Years' War (also known in the U.S. as the ''French and Indian War'') came to an end under the Treaty of Paris. As part of the treaty, Great Britain acquired Spanish Florida. Britain ruled over Florida between 1763-1783, and during this time made efforts to connect Florida to its northern British colonies (like Georgia and the Carolinas).

In 1783 another Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolutionary War, fought between 1775-1783. Spain had been an ally of the United States, and as compensation, sections of Spanish Florida were restored to Spain.

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