Friday, March 31, 2023

The Real History of Florida: A blog by Warren Bull

 Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Real History of Florida: A blog by Warren Bull

Governor Ron Desantis of Florida is a polarizing political figure with strong support in the state. He was re-elected with 59.4% of the vote. Regardless of your opinion about some of his policies, I believe we should all support his efforts at least in one area.  His stated goal is to have real history taught. As he said to students about his ideas for when his plan is implemented, "You're learning the real history. You're learning the real facts. It's not going to be done in a way to indoctrinate students with whatever modern agenda someone may have." 

Sure, there are other problems in the state. For example:

As early as 2050 much of the Florida coastline could be underwater. Flooding would affect Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay, and any other major center touching saltwater. Note: But much of the state would still be above water.


Within a few decades of release, starting in the 1980s, invasive Burmese and hybrid pythons had devoured just about every living mammal in their new home. Today, wildlife officials estimate that Florida’s invasive pythons have eliminated up to 99% of the furred creatures that once called the Everglades home. 

For perspective on just how out of balance the python is, captured individuals in the Everglades have measured nearly 19 feet in length while the next largest US snake is the eastern indigo which measures up to 8.5 feet in length.

According to wildlife biologists, it’s highly unlikely that Florida will ever be rid of its invasive snakes, hybrid or otherwise. The reason for this is that the hybrid pythons now live across 1,000 square miles of the Florida Everglades and estimates of their population top 100,000 snakes. That’s a lot of ground to cover for extermination.

Note: So, Floridians will have to learn to live with the snakes.

But let’s get back to education and real history.  A few relevant events include,

By Chelle Koster Walton

1513 -- Juan Ponce de Leon makes the first European landfall somewhere in the vicinity of St. Augustine claiming La Florida for Spain. Note: It is unclear whether he discussed the “discovery” with the people already living in the area or, if he did, what their response to the claim was. Consider that on his second visit, natives shot poisoned arrows at him

1559 -- Florida's first settlement is started. It ended with starvation.

1600-1700 -- Spain is on a mission to "educate" (convert to Catholicism) Florida's native people. Its priests build more than 30 missions along the northeast coast and westward.

1564-1723 -- Spain and France battle to claim the area.

1763 -- At the end of the Seven Years' War, England gives Cuba to Spain in exchange for St. Augustine. Note: Residents pack up and sail to Cuba helped by the people there.

1776-80 -- Florida, now British, supports the Motherland during the American Revolution, providing a safe haven for thousands of Tories.

1783 -- St. Augustine is again swapped, ending up once more in Spanish hands.

1785-1795 -- Spain relinquishes St. Augustine and Pensacola to England.

1803 -- The United States of America claims West Florida and its capital Pensacola as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

1813 -- England is not so keen on giving up Pensacola and General Andrew Jackson arrives to drive the British out.

1818 -- Jackson's actions spark the first of two skirmishes with the Seminole Indians.

1821-1823 -- Jackson becomes Florida's provisional governor when the U.S. purchases Florida and its capital St. Augustine from Spain. Tallahassee becomes the new capital.

1830-1840 -- Boom! Florida's first flush of settlers arrives by steamboat and the population grows from 15,000 to 34,000.

1835-1842 -- Seminole Wars, the sequel.

1845 -- It's official: Florida becomes the 27th state with 66,500 people.

1861-1865 -- It's official: Florida becomes a non-state when it secedes from the Union. Florida provisions Confederate troops with salt, beef, and bacon during the Civil War.

1959 -- Fidel Castro's assumption of power results in the first influx of Cuban immigrants to Florida. Note: This was a voluntary movement.

1980 -- Nearly 125,000 more Cuban immigrants arrive in the Mariel boatlift. Note: Castro empties prisons and psychiatric hospitals. These people are expelled from Cuba.


Let’s us learn a bit more about Seminoles 

The Seminole people primarily came from the Creek Indians who had moved into Florida from southern Georgia and Alabama. From 1805 through 1816 there was increasing friction between white settlers, Florida Indians, and the Creek Confederation. The Seminoles began hiding runaway slaves who had escaped from southern plantations into Spanish Florida. Note: the escaped slaves became full members of the group. Others who did not fit into society were also welcomed. The group was never a tribe in the traditional sense of the word.

On November 21, 1817, General Gaines sent 250 men from Fort Scott in Georgia to arrest Chief Neamathla; gunfire was exchanged thus starting the beginning of the First Seminal Indian War. Note: Seminoles did not start the conflict.

In March of 1818 General Andrew Jackson crossed into Florida attacking the Spanish fort at St. Marks with 3,500 men and then marched east to the Suwanne River and attacked the village of Chief Boleck. Many Indians escaped into the swamps. Jackson was unable to find or capture the Seminoles thus ending the First Seminole Indian War. Note: Seminoles did not start this conflict either. Jackson pretty much just declared victory and left.

In 1819 Florida was sold by the Spanish to the United States. There were about 5,000 Seminole Indians who claimed Florida’s 32 million acres of land as their own. In 1823 under the treaty of Moultrie Creek, they gave up their claim which resulted in reducing their land to 4 million acres, with no access to their cultivated lands, game, and either ocean. Then President Jackson in 1830, signed the Indian Removal Act requiring the relocation of the Seminoles to Oklahoma.

Osceola, a young Seminole leader organized opposition to the relocation. The Second Seminole Indian War began on December 28, 1835, when Osceola and a band of warriors killed the Indian Agent and four other whites at Fort King. On the same day, Chief Micanopy’s warriors attacked Major Dade and his troops, killing Major Dade and 105 of his 108 men. Three days after the killing of Major Dade on the banks of the Withlacoochee River, 250 Seminole Indians led by Osceola and Alligator attacked General Clinch and 750 U.S. Troops. This saved most of the Seminole villages in the area.

On February 28, 1836, General Edmund Gaines with 1,100 troops from New Orleans was crossing the Withlacoochee River, he also was attacked by Osceola with more than 1,500 warriors. Lt. James F. Izard was killed during the battle; when the fort was constructed it was named Ft. Izard in his honor during this 10-day battle. This was the only battle involving the entire force of Seminole warriors. The war Chiefs of Osceola, Alligator, and Jumper were all involved, resulting in the only time when U.S. soldiers were held under siege by the Indians.

After this major battle, the Seminoles broke into small guerilla bands and moved south attacking by surprise and disappearing into the swamps.

Between 1835 and 1842, almost 3,000 Seminoles were removed to Oklahoma. For every two Indians removed, one American soldier died. The Second Seminole War was the bloodiest and longest in United States history. In 1842, the U.S. government withdrew and the Seminole Indians never signed a peace treaty.

Chief Billy Bowlegs lead an attack in December 1855 beginning the Third Seminole War.  Note: This article finally ditched the word “Indian.” As noted earlier the group included more than indigenous people. 

This was done in protest of the U.S. government sending patrols into Seminole territory. Some negotiations ended with a treaty being signed giving Seminoles land in Oklahoma.

The Florida Seminoles crept quietly deep into the Everglades. Their descendants over the years have fought the good fight and have prospered by teaching the old ways, providing for their young and old, and preserving their heritage through education, museums, trusts, and holdings. Note: They never surrendered. 

How about slavery?

1619 was the date the first African was sold into slavery on the North American continent, but slavery in Florida existed earlier. 

On the heels of Ponce de León’s claiming Florida, the Spanish empire tried to create settlements in its new territory. For example, in 1526 another Spanish explorer, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, tried to establish a Spanish settlement at San Miguel de Gualdape in what was then La Florida (the current Georgia or South Carolina coast.) The Ayllón group included both Spaniards and African slaves who were brought as mining and agricultural workers. The settlement collapsed, First, some of the Spaniards mutinied against Ayllón. Then the African slaves burned down the mutineers’ housing and went to live with Native Americans in the area.

While the historical record on early slavery in Florida is thin, scholars have uncovered the ways in which it was endorsed and exploited by the Spanish crown, while being challenged and resisted by the very slaves forcibly brought across the Atlantic through the slave trade. 

Note: The real fact is that slavery failed over and over again in Florida. From the beginning, slaves fought the system. That is an important part of real history. It is also important to recognize that it is a real fact that Floridians have always used violence to oppress and kill people they hate and fear. 

During the depression in the 1920s, when the KKK elsewhere was shrinking. Florida had an estimated 30,000 members. 

In 1951 the Florida Klan declared war on “hate groups” listing, among others, the NAACP, B’nai B’rith, the Catholic Church, and the Federal Council of Churches. So many bombings took place that the KKK was called “The Florida Terror.” 

Note: The so-called “hate groups” did not do the bombings.

I would hate to get involved in political controversy so let me stop here and say that I am strongly supportive of teaching the real facts of Florida History.


  1. Facts have always been inconvenient to politicians -- and the more a politician insists only their view is correct, the more inconvenient facts become.

  2. Having lived in Florida as a child, this made for such an enlightening read.

  3. Having lived in Florida for more than 40 years I join you in supporting DeSantis’s desire to teach history as it was (to the extent we know it with necessary corrections to previously amended history) and avoid revisionist history. It’s important to know what happened, warts and all, to avoid making the same mistakes.

  4. I think the current climate in the official trend toward education can be summed up in the cliche that "History is written by the victors." It's an effort to reshape the narrative.

  5. I've visited St. Augustine and learned a small amount of early Florida history. Thanks for augmenting my skimpy knowledge.