Spanish Florida

Spanish Florida (Spanish: La Florida) was the first major European land claim and attempted settlement in North America during the European Age of Discovery. La Florida formed part of the Captaincy General of Cuba, the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and the Spanish Empire during Spanish colonization of the Americas. While its boundaries were never clearly or formally defined, the territory was initially much larger than the present-day state of Florida, extending over much of what is now the southeastern United States, including all of present-day Florida plus portions of Georgia,[1] Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina,[2] and Louisiana. Spain's claim to this vast area was based on several wide-ranging expeditions mounted during the 16th century. A number of missions, settlements, and small forts existed in the 16th and to a lesser extent in the 17th century; they were eventually abandoned due to pressure from the expanding English and French colonial settlements, the collapse of the native populations, and the general difficulty in becoming agriculturally or economically self-sufficient. By the 18th century, Spain's control over La Florida did not extend much beyond a handful of forts near St. Augustine, St. Marks, and Pensacola, all within the boundaries of present-day Florida.

Governorate of Florida
La Florida (Spanish)
Territory of New Spain
Cross of Burgundy

Spanish Florida after Pinckney's Treaty in 1795
Marcha Real
(Royal March)
CapitalSan Agustín
  MottoPlus Ultra
transl.Further Beyond
 Spanish exploration and settlement
 San Miguel de Gualdape establishment and abandonment
 Initial Pensacola establishment, abandonment, and re-establishment at Presidio Santa Maria de Galve
 Fort Caroline establishment as part of French Florida and Spanish sacking
 St. Augustine establishment
 Santa Elena establishment at Charlesfort and abandonment
Succeeded by
East Florida
West Florida
Today part ofUnited States

Florida was never more than a backwater region for Spain and served primarily as a strategic buffer between New Spain (whose undefined northeastern border was somewhere near the Mississippi River), Spain's Caribbean colonies, and the expanding English colonies to the north. In contrast with Mexico and Peru, there was no gold or silver to be found. Due to disease and, later, raids by Carolina colonists and their Native American allies, the native population was not large enough for an encomienda system of forced agricultural labor, so Spain did not establish large plantations in Florida. Large free-range cattle ranches in north-central Florida were the most successful agricultural enterprise and were able to supply both local and Cuban markets. The coastal towns of Pensacola and St. Augustine also provided ports where Spanish ships needing water or supplies could call.

Beginning in the 1630s, a series of missions stretching from St. Augustine to the Florida panhandle supplied St. Augustine with maize and other food crops, and the Apalachees who lived at the missions were required to send workers to St. Augustine every year to perform labor in the town. The missions were destroyed by Carolina and Creek raiders in a series of raids from 1702 to 1704, further reducing and dispersing the native population of Florida and reducing Spanish control over the area.

Britain took possession of Florida as part of the agreements ending the Seven Years' War in 1763, and the Spanish population largely emigrated to Cuba. The new colonial ruler divided the territory into East and West Florida, but despite offers of free land to new settlers, Britain was unable to increase the population or economic output, and traded Florida back to Spain after the American War of Independence in 1783. Spain's ability to govern or control the colony continued to erode, and, after repeated incursions by American forces against the Seminole people who had settled in Florida, Spain finally decided to sell the territory to the United States. The parties signed the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819, and the transfer officially took place on July 17, 1821, over 300 years after Spain had first claimed the Florida peninsula.

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