By Jerry Wilkinson
        Before we leave Florida history for the Keys, please endure a little more Florida history. United States Secretary of State John Quincy Adams reached an agreement with Spanish Minister Luis De Onis in 1819 in which Spain gave the U.S. title to East and West Florida. Final congressional ratification and transfer of flags did not take place until February 19, 1821. The U.S. gave up its claims to Texas and Spain gave the U.S. its rights to the Pacific Northwest. The ownership of Oregon was to be settled between England, Russia and the U.S. In the end, the Americans paid about $4,100,000 to citizens who could prove claims against Spain.

       There were no permanent settlers in Key West until 1822, when permanent settling of the Keys began. Bahamian merchants often made temporary camps and seamen from Mystic, Connecticut used Key West, Tavernier Key and Key Vaca. There was a virtual cavalcade of maritime traffic throughout the Keys, but no one staying and calling it home.
 General Andrew Jackson was appointed Florida's military governor in March 1821, but resigned in November. President James Monroe signed into law a unified government on March 30, 1822 and appointed William DuVal as the first Territorial Governor.
       The new governor was faced with five major problems: a framework of government, old of the interior lands. Tallahassee was selected as the territory capital in 1824, as it was then located in the center of the population, which was mainly in St. Augustine and Pensacola.
       DuVal's most formidable task lay in dispossessing the Indians of land. He got the Treaty of Moultrie Creek ratified in December 1823, but it satisfied neither the Indians nor the whites. It really did not make much difference; the Indians were to be driven out one way or the other. Four years later, most of the land was in the hands of the whites. The cost of Florida's involvement was three wars with the Seminoles that lasted until 1857.
       After considerable struggling among the Whigs, Democrats, Divisionists and Separatists, on March 3, 1845, President John Tyler signed Florida into statehood. Its population consisted of about 35,500 whites, 33,950 slaves and 560 free Negroes. The election for governor and other representatives was set for May 26, 1845. On July 1, James Wescott and David Levy Yulee were elected senators. David Yulee was the first Jewish senator in United States history.
       By Act of Congress in 1850, Florida was given the Swamp Land act, which in effect was an inducement for the building of railroads and canals. More about this later.
       Florida withdrew from the Union on January 11, 1861, but Federal forces continued to hold Fort Taylor in Key West, Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and Fort Pickens in Pensacola. About 15,000 Floridians served for the Confederates and 1,300 for the Union forces. The Confederates defended the interior of Florida by defeating the Union forces at the Battle of Olustee outside of Lake City. Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital to escape occupation by the Union forces.
       On May 20, 1865, with the war over, the Stars and Stripes once again flew over the capitol. The Constitutional Convention convened on October 25 and decreed that slavery no longer existed, but the right to vote was restricted to "free white males of 21 years or more, and none others."
      Florida needed a transportation system badly. Sailing ships, steamboats and stagecoaches were followed by railroads. There were about 400 miles of railroads before the Civil War, but they were short line point-to-point rail systems. Henry B. Plant, in 1884 developed the first major short line in Tampa to serve the west coast.
       Henry M. Flagler built the opulent St. Augustine Ponce de Leon hotel in 1887 and bought a narrow-gauge railroad in 1885 to lend support to the hotel. This was the beginning of the Florida East Coast (F.E.C.) Railway, which was to be extended to Miami in 1896.
       At the start of the Spanish-American War and Miami did not have a deep-water port, so Tampa was used. This, among other things, influenced Flagler to build the Overseas Extension to Key West which was inaugurated on January 22, 1912. Along with the railroad, Flagler was a major developing force on the Florida East Coast. To go to a two page biography of Henry Flagler,  Click HERE and use the back arrow to return here.
       Going back to 1881, Hamilton Disston, the saw blade manufacturer, purchased four million acres of the Everglades at 25 cents an acre to bail Florida out of its deficit spending.
 In 1915, Florida took its first legal steps to create a state-constructed and maintained highway system. Radio Station WDAE in Tampa went on the air in 1922 as Florida's first commercial radio station.
       Florida underwent a land boom, along with a shortage of staples, in the mid-1920s. Two major hurricanes and the 1929 stock market crash sounded the land boom's death knell.  The 1926 hurricane took 200 lives in Miami, only to be outdone by the 1928 hurricane, which drowned some 1,500 people in the Lake Okeechobee area. The Upper Keys then experienced its 400 plus victim hurricane in 1935.
       The Poll Tax was abolished in 1937, as was the state ad valorem tax in 1940. This was countered in 1942 by a two-cent per-gallon gasoline tax for highway bonds, a cigarette tax in 1943 and a 3 percent sales tax in 1949.
       The Florida Turnpike was authorized in 1955 and in 1961, Commander Alan Sheppard made the first manned earth-orbital flights from Cape Canaveral. The name of the Cape was changed to Cape Kennedy in 1963, then back to Cape Canaveral.
        Hurricane Andrew mildly punished the northernmost Upper Keys on August 24, 1992. Now for two adjacent territories which affected Florida Keys history.
       This concludes the history of Florida. For a more comprehensive version, please consult A History of Florida, Charlton Tebeau, 1971/1980 and/or The New History of Florida, Michael Gannon, 1996. Many other fine books are available at most libraries.
       The triangle of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas have their history inter-twined. To go to the History of Cuba,  Click HERE. To go the History of the Bahamas,  Click HERE.  
------The End------ 
To return to the Florida History Room homepage,  Click HERE.
Use Back Arrow to return to reading previous page or: 
To return to the General History homepage,  Click HERE.
Return to Historeum
E-Mail to editor