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United States Seaports: Florida

° Boca Grande ° Fort Lauderdale ° Key West ° St. Augustine
° Oseola and the Seminoles

Florida has one of the longest continuous coastlines in the United States with more than 1,260 miles, and more than 12,000 miles of fishable rivers, streams and canals. Florida s water resources and transportation along them have influenced many aspects of our culture. In Florida, there are both prehistoric and historic sites located offshore and in rivers and sinkholes - from submerged Native American canoes and habitation sites to the remains of sunken steamboats and schooners.

The Florida coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico was very different 12,000 years ago. Because the sea level was lower, the Florida peninsula was more than twice as large as it is now. The people who inhabited Florida at that time were hunters and gatherers, who only rarely sought big game for food.

These first Floridians settled in areas where a steady water supply, good stone resources for tool making, and firewood were available. Over the centuries, these native people developed complex cultures. During the period prior to contact with Europeans, native societies of the peninsula developed cultivated agriculture, traded with other groups in what is now the southeastern United States, and increased their social organization, reflected in large temple mounds and village complexes.

Map of Florida, c. 1839, David H. Burr

Map of Florida. David H. Burr. 1839.

David H. Burr is of one of the first and most important truly American cartographers and map publishers. Burr was born in Bridgeport Connecticut in August of 1803. In 1822 Burr moved to Kingsboro, New York to study law. A year and a half later he was admitted to the New York Bar association. Shortly after being admitted to the Bar, he joined the New York State Militia.

Though largely untrained in the art of Surveying, Burr was assigned to work under Surveyor General of New York, Simeon De Witt, to survey several New York Roadways. Burr was able to negotiate with the governor of New York at the time, De Witt Clinton, to obtain copies of other New York survey work in order to compile a map and Atlas of the state of New York. Recognizing the need for quality survey work of its territory, the government of New York heartily endorsed and financed Burr's efforts. The resulting 1829 Atlas of the State of New York was the second atlas of an individual U.S. State and one of the most important state atlases ever produced. Burr went on to issue other maps both of New York and of the United States in general. This is one from that collection.

The mainland of the North American continent was first sighted by the Spanish explorer and treasure hunter Don Juan Ponce de Leon on Easter, March 27, 1513. He claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida, meaning "Land of Flowers".

Between 1513 and 1563 the government of Spain launched six expeditions to settle Florida, but all failed. The French succeeded in establishing a fort and colony on the St. Johns River in 1564.

Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival of the Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Ponce de Le n in 1513. Sometime between April 2 and April 8, Ponce de Le n waded ashore on the northeast coast of Florida, possibly near present-day St. Augustine. He called the area la Florida, in honor of Pascua Florida ("feast of the flowers"), Spain s Easter time celebration. Other Europeans may have reached Florida earlier, but no firm evidence of such achievement has been found.

Britain gained control of Florida in 1763 in exchange for Havana, Cuba, which the British had captured from Spain during the Seven Years War (1756 63). Spain evacuated Florida after the exchange, leaving the province virtually empty. At that time, St. Augustine was still a garrison community with fewer than five hundred houses, and Pensacola also was a small military town.

The British first split Florida into two parts: East Florida, with its capital at St. Augustine; and West Florida, with its seat at Pensacola. British surveyors mapped much of the landscape and coastline and tried to develop relations with a group of Indian people who were moving into the area from the North. The British called these people of Creek Indian descent Seminolies, or Seminoles. Britain attempted to attract white settlers by offering land on which to settle and help for those who produced products for export. Given enough time, this plan might have converted Florida into a flourishing colony, but British rule lasted only twenty years.

The two Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the War for American Independence (1776 83). However, Spain participating indirectly in the war as an ally of France captured Pensacola from the British in 1781. In 1784 it regained control of the rest of Florida as part of the peace treaty that ended the American Revolution.

When the British evacuated Florida, Spanish colonists as well as settlers from the newly formed United States came pouring in. Many of the new residents were lured by favorable Spanish terms for acquiring property, called land grants. Others who came were escaped slaves, trying to reach a place where their U.S. masters had no authority and effectively could not reach them. Instead of becoming more Spanish, the two Floridas increasingly became more "American."

Florida map showing Seminole Indian Reservation and Villages. 1844.

by 1817, conflicts between the Seminoles and white settlers were escalating and turned into the first of three wars against the United States. Andrew Jackson (before his U.S. presidency) invaded what was then "Spanish Florida," attacked several key locations and pushed the Seminoles further south into Florida.

After several official and unofficial U.S. military expeditions into the territory, Spain formally ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, according to terms of the Adams-On s Treaty.

By 1840 white Floridians were concentrating on developing the territory and gaining statehood. The population had reached 54,477 people, with African American slaves making up almost one-half of the population. Steamboat navigation was well established on the Apalachicola and St. Johns Rivers, and railroads were planned.

On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state in the United States.

By 1848, slavery began to dominate the affairs of the new state.

September 19, 1859, Monday, Racine Daily Journal, Racine, Wisconsin

The Slave Trade in Florida

The St Augustine, Florida, Examiner, of August 20th, contains, an article in which it states that the slave trade in that portion of the United States is unusually flourishing. It says that the traffic is mostly carried on by vessels from Northern ports, and sailed by Northern men. It also publishes, with unblushing effrontery, a copy of an agreement (the original of which it has in its possession) entered into between a Capt. Wickham, of the brig Favorite, of Rhode Island, and a slave trading firm Lewis & Boyd of Cape Coast Castle, Africa, in which they agree to take in exchange for some $7,000 worth of rum, tobacco, cordage, etc, "eighty fair and merchantable negroes," from four feet four and upwards in height, and "in the customary proportion of two-thirds males and one-third females." It further appears that the negroes, per contract, were shipped on board the Favorite, and that they were "landed in the United States, and no mistake." The locality is not mentioned; but the Captain is, perhaps, the man from whom our Florida contemporary obtained the copy of the contract and a view of the ship's outward invoice.

According to this article, the trade must be a very profitable one. And here consists the great danger that this nefarious and inhuman traffic will be revived. Allowing that the slaver landed but fifty negroes, at five hundred dollars each, the profit on the cargo would be as follows.

50 negroes at $500 each
Outlay in cargo-rum, gin, etc.
Contingent expenses, say

According to this and it is a very low estimate the slaver could afford to destroy his vessel after landing his cargo, purchase another and fit her out. But no doubt in most cases from two hundred and fifty to three hundred negroes are landed from one vessel, making the gross proceeds one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

This slave trading is like smuggling. The higher the duties, the more smuggling. The greater demand for negroes, caused by the extension of slave territory, the more slaves from Africa. The passage of the Nebraska Bill has done more to increase the trade than any one thing beside.

New Map of the State of Florida, c.1870
Columbus Drew.

June 23, 1888, American Settler, London, United Kingdom


The Charlotte Harbor Beacon gives the ensuing half a dozen reasons why immigrants should go to Florida :

  • "Because health is paramount to all else and it is admitted officially, and otherwise, that Florida is the most healthy State we have, the mortality being less than in any other. The porous, calcareous and antiseptic quality of the soil absorbs surface water quickly, neutralizes malarial and in connection with the ever-moving sea air dries up decaying vegetation so rapidly that the milder forms of intermittants are encountered, if any and which with proper care may be avoided.
  • Because of its delightful climate both winter and summer, averaging 65* winter and rarely exceeding 90Q in summer, owing to the constant breeze playing across so narrow a country from either side, which enables one to keep cool at any time by seeking the shade.
  • Because the equability of the temperature and pure bracing air laden with balsamic odors from the immense pine forests, and ozone from the ocean, preserves the sound and restores the invalid to health by nature's own remedies, the invariably cool nights ensuring refreshing sleep and good appetite.
  • Because the soil is so easily worked and yields so abundantly, and in such variety that a living can be had with less labour than anywhere else ; the main work is done during the Summer when most needed; you want less clothing and it lasts twice as long, there being neither coal, smut, dust or mud, to make frequent, destructive washing necessary.
  • Because a very small sum will secure you a home and that home cannot be taken from you, the law exempting from any forced sale 160 acres of country or half acre of town land, with all improvements thereon and in addition $1,000 worth of personal property and this without a burdensome tax, the State and country levies for all purposes being about one cent per acre.
  • Because in addition to its becoming so desirable, healthy and economical a county, there is no place where wealth and independence so surely and quickly rewards the industrious and energetic cultivator, tradesman, mechanic, stock-raiser or speculator; the immense yearly increase of population and rapid development of the country by railroads in every direction insures this."

Boca Grande

Boca Grande.In 1888, the U.S. Congress allocated $35,000 for the U.S. Lighthouse Service to build a lighthouse on Boca Grande Pass, the deepest natural port in the state. The Port Boca Grande Lighthouse was lit December 31, 1890. The light was used to mark Boca Grande Pass, the entrance to Charlotte Harbor. A second light, the Charlotte Harbor Light, stood within Charlotte Harbor, and a third, Mangrove Point Light, was at the north end of the harbor marking the port of Punta Gorda.

December 5, 1902, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, USA

Harder than Cervera's Task
Complications That Will Confront the Squadrons of Rear Admirals.

PORT OF SPAIN, Island of Trinidad, December 3. Rear Admiral Sumner has issued an order with respect to the neutrality of Trinidad. With the departure of the gunboat Eagle this morning communication with the shore ceased, and from now the movement of the 'enemy's squadron will be cloaked in mystery. While Admiral Sumner has not indicated when he proposed to sail, the understanding among the officers of the vessels under his command is that the squadron will leave the Gulf of Paria at 5 o'clock tomorrow morning. There is a lighthouse at Boca Grande, the exit from the gulf, and apprehension is felt that the keeper may communicate with the United States Consul, who will telegraph to Rear Admiral Higginson, commanding the defending squadron, the course and speed of the "enemy." Consequently Admiral Sumner proposes when out of sight of land to change his course and speed and then proceed to the spot chosen for the scene of the attack.

It is often the case that the course of warships is followed by boxes and other refuse thrown overboard. Therefore, Admiral Sumner has deduced that such debris must be put in condition to sink Immediately when thrown into the sea, or that it be burned. New code signals for use day and night have been arranged in order to prevent their being, read by Admiral Higginson's scouts.

Though his squadron is stronger than the one commanded by Admiral Cerveria, Admiral Sumner declares that the problem before him is more difficult than that of the Spaniards, as the latter were able to choose ports in Cuba as well as in Porto Rico and Culebra. Moreover, the Spaniards moved from the Cape Verde Islands, while Admiral Sumner's command is close arid is limited in regard to time.

Fort Lauderdale

The city of Fort Lauderdale is named for a fortification built during the Second Seminole War on the banks of the New River. In 1838 Major William Lauderdale led a detachment of Tennessee Volunteers south along the east coast of Florida to capture Seminole agricultural lands and battle the elusive Indian warriors. Altogether, three Forts Lauderdale would be constructed: the first at the fork of the New River; the second at Tarpon Bend; and the third and largest on the beach, at the site of today s Bahia Mar.

After the Second Seminole War ended, southeastern Florida remained a virtual wilderness due to the lack of transportation into the region. In 1892, however, the Dade County government authorized the construction of a rock road between Lantana (in Palm Beach County) and Lemon City (now North Miami). An overnight camp and ferry crossing was established at the New River, and Ohio native Frank Stranahan arrived to take charge of the facilities. He established a flourishing trading post with the local Seminoles, and by 1895 Stranahan s Trading Post was a south Florida landmark.

In 1896 the Florida East Coast Railway reached southward to Fort Lauderdale, providing rapid transportation to south Florida from all parts of the nation. The little village increased in size and was incorporated in 1911 as the City of Fort Lauderdale. In 1915 Broward County was created out of parts of Dade and Palm Beach counties.

S. M. Strite, U.S.N.

St. Augustine

As a result of this incursion into Florida, King Phillip II named Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain's most experienced admiral, as governor of Florida, instructing him to explore and to colonize the territory. Menendez was also instructed to drive out any pirates or settlers from other nations, should they be found there. Menendez arrived off the coast of Florida on August 28, 1565, the Feast Day of St. Augustine. Eleven days later, he and his 600 soldiers and settlers came ashore at the site of the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy. He fortified the fledgling village and named it St. Augustine. Menendez destroyed the French garrison on the St. Johns River and, with the help of a hurricane, also defeated the French fleet.

Pirates of St. Augustine. Pat Croce, Author. Shaun Aunchman, Illustrator.

Thus, St. Augustine was founded forty-two years before the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts - making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent.

In 1586, English corsair Sir Francis Drake attacked and burned the town.

Then in 1668, the pirate Captain John Davis plundered the town, killing sixty inhabitants. After the British established colonies in Georgia and the Carolinas, Spain authorized the building of a stone fort to protect St. Augustine as assaults from the north became more frequent. It was not until 1763 that Spain ceded Florida to England in order to regain the capital of Cuba, ushering in twenty years of British rule in Florida.

Town and Castle of St. Augustine, and the English Camp. St. Augustine, Florida.
Siege Map by Thomas Silver, 1740.
Siege Map by Thomas Silver, 1740.

Siege Map of St. Augustine, Florida, by Thomas Silver, 1740.

British General John Oglethorpe's first unsuccessful expedition against the Spanish at St. Augustine is depicted right. The bird's-eye view depicts the Matanza River, the castle, the North and South Channel and warships in the foreground. General Oglethorpe was the founder of the American colony of Georgia, which was situated as a buffer colony between Spanish Florida and South Carolina. Published in both Gentleman's Magazine in 1740 and An Impartial Account of the Late Expedition against St. Augustine… in 1742. Size includes the key and text.

In 1783, under the Treaty of Paris, Florida was returned to Spanish rule for a period of 37 years. Then Spain sold Florida to the United States of America and US troops took possession on July 10, 1821.

When Seamboats Reigned in Florida. Bob Bass, author.

Soon after the American occupation, St. Augustine suffered a series of setbacks. In 1821, a yellow ever epidemic brought death to many newcomers. The town had finally begun to prosper when the American Civil War broke out. Although Florida had seceded with the rest of the Confederacy, St. Augustine was occupied by Union troops throughout most of the conflict. When the war ended in 1865, the town was three centuries old.

April 29, 1888, Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia

How A Hotel Saved a State

The hotel takes first rank as a developing agent. It was Thomasville's hotels (in Atlanta, Georgia) that gave that city its precedence over its neighbors, and yields it its rich winter revenues. It is the superb Oglethorpe that is building Brunswick up. The "Inn" gives Anniston its boom, and the "Tavern" establishes Decatur as the best of north Alabama towns.

Henry M. Flagler.Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.The most remarkable case of the effect of a hotel on a section, and indeed of hotel building, is the enterprise of Mr. Henry M. Flagler (co-founder of Standard Oil) at St. Augustine. The rivalry between California and Florida had come to a crisis with the opening of last season. The "drift," which in this leisurely and fashionable travel means everything, had set towards the west, and the season of 18S7 was disastrous to Florida. Mr. Flager's amazing enterprise drew attention once more to the land of flowers. The tide of travel changed, and Florida has beaten California signally and for good. The rush of travel to St. Augustine next winter will be unprecedented in the history of pleasure seeking and sight seeing.

Florida needs but to be seen to be appreciated for her own fair sake. Mr. Flagler, in attracting visitors, has simply given the wonderful state a chance to show its manifold beauties and advantages. The result will be increased immigration and investment. Mr. Flagler himself predicts that in a few years Florida will be one of the most important agricultural states in the union. When this is accomplished, it will be strange and yet not strange, that a great hotel has been perhaps the most important element in the advancement and rehabilitation of the state.

Hotel Ponce de Leon, Florida.

The Hotel Ponce de Leon was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style by the New York architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings, and was constructed entirely of poured concrete, using the local coquina stone as aggregate. The hotel also was wired for electricity at the onset, with the power being supplied by D.C. generators supplied by Flagler's friend, Thomas Edison.

Other Immigrants.Other Immigrants: Global Origins of American People.
Other Immigrants: The Global Origins of the American PeopleShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports. 
David Reimers
Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians represent three of every four immigrants who arrived in the United States after 1970. Yet despite their large numbers and long history of movement to America, non-Europeans are conspicuously absent from many books about immigration.

The World of Pirates.The World of Pirates. 
The World Atlas of Pirates: Treasures and Treachery on the Seven Seas: Maps, Tall Tales, and PicturesThe World Atlas of Pirates. 
Angus Konstam
Stunning cartography with engaging and authoritative text. Eighhty maps plot the routes that pirates followed ― whether crossing the world’s great oceans or pursuing their prey through creeks and bays. Colorful archival illustrations, including photographs and images from England's National Maritime Museum and other historic collections, bring the villains, their ships, and their victims to life. Lively text by pirate expert Angus Konstam explains how piracy grew and flourished from the early buccaneers to the rogues of popular legends, how it has been snuffed out, and how it has reared its head again with the machine-gun-toting pirates operating on today’s high seas.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Sea Captains, Ships, Merchants, Merchandise, Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California.

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