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So you think that the traditional
American celebrations of Thanksgiving
Day and Christmas began with
the pilgrims in Plymouth Rock,
Massachusetts and Jamestown, Virginia?
Think again. As the first-recorded
European to set foot on the continental
U.S., Ponce de León’s arrival predated
the settlement of Plymouth Rock
and Jamestown by 107 and 94 years,
respectively. Florida’s Spanish settlers
were the first to celebrate traditional
holidays and the first to grow citrus
plantations and start cattle ranching.
Need further proof of the role that
Florida played in U.S. history and
identity? Consider the following:
Africans arrived with the Spaniards in
the 16th century. French settlers came
in 1564. Spanish missions appeared in
1573. Runaway slaves from northern
plantations were granted asylum in St.
Augustine in 1687. Britain took control
of Florida from 1763 until 1783, when
it went back to Spain. From 1817 to
1818, the U.S. government fought the
Seminole Indians in the first of three
Florida became the 27th state in
1845. It joined southern states in the
Confederacy and fought in the Civil
War between April 1861 and April 1865.
During the 1898 Spanish-American War,
Florida helped Cubans win freedom
from Spanish rule. From 1920 to 1926, a
land boom attracted investors. After the
1929 Great Depression and the Second
WorldWar, the agriculture, military,
space and tourism industries drew
immigrants and visitors. On May 5, 1961,
the first American astronaut – Alan
Shepard – was launched into space from
Cape Canaveral Space Center (Cape
Kennedy). Walt Disney World opened in
Orlando in 1971.
Story by Barb and Ron Kroll
Today’s Florida is a product of its history. Although Native Americans occupied the region 12,000 years ago, documented history
didn’t begin until Ponce de León landed here in 1513 and named it La Florida – the flowery land.
Since then, five flags (Spain, France, Great Britain, the United States and the Confederate States of America) have flown over the
state. Each nation contributed to its cultural heritage. Look around the next time you visit the Sunshine State and you’ll see the
diversity of its architecture, music, art, foods, language and festivals. By uniting Old and NewWorld cultures, Florida shaped the
foundation for the United States of America.
Significant Dates
Re-enactment of the landing of Ponce de León