The U.S. Territory of Florida

United States -#1271 (1965)

United States -#1271 (1965)

On March 30, 1822, the Spanish provinces of Florida Oriental (East Florida) and Florida Occidental (West Florida) — divided by the British in 1763 following the French and Indian War (the Seven Years’ War) out of the former Spanish territory of La Florida — became the United States  Territory of Florida. This organized incorporated territory existed until March 3, 1845, when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Florida. Ceded to the United States as part of the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty, it was governed by the Florida Territorial Council.

Florida was first discovered in 1513 by Juan Ponce de León who claimed peninsular Florida for Spain during the first official European expedition to North America. On March 3, 1513, his expedition departed from Punta Aguada, Puerto Rico, sailing north in three ships. In late March, he spotted a small island (almost certainly one of the Bahamas) but did not land. On April 2, Ponce de León spotted the east coast of the Florida peninsula and went ashore the next day. The exact location has been lost to time. Assuming that he had found a large island, he claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida, because it was the season of Pascua Florida (“Flowery Easter”) and because much of the vegetation was in bloom. After briefly exploring the area around their landing site, the expedition returned to their ships and sailed south to map the coast, encountering the Gulf Stream along the way. The expedition followed Florida’s coastline all the way around the Florida Keys and north to map a portion of the Southwest Florida coast before returning to Puerto Rico.

Popular legend has it that Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he discovered Florida. However, the first mention of Ponce de León searching for water to cure his aging came more than twenty years after his voyage of discovery, and the first that placed the Fountain of Youth in Florida was thirty years after that. It is much more likely that Ponce de León, like other Spanish conquistadors in the Americas, was looking for gold, land to colonize and rule for Spain, and Indians to convert to Christianity or enslave.

Ponce de León probably was not the first Spaniard to reach Florida, although he was the first to do so with permission from the Spanish crown. Evidence suggests that Spanish raiders from the Caribbean had conducted small secret expeditions to Florida to capture Indian slaves. The Native Americans encountered by Ponce de León were hostile at first contact, and he met an Indian in Florida who knew some Spanish words.

Other Spanish voyages to Florida quickly followed Ponce de León’s return. Sometime in the period from 1514 to 1516, Pedro de Salazar enslaved as many as 500 Indians along the Atlantic coast of the present-day southeastern United States. Diego Miruelo visited what was probably Tampa Bay in 1516, Francisco Hernández de Cordova reached southwest Florida in 1517, and Alonso Álvarez de Pineda sailed and mapped all of the Gulf of Mexico coast in 1519. Pánfilo Narváez and Hernando de Soto landed near Tampa Bay in the mid-1500s and wandered as far north as the Appalachian Mountains and as far west as Texas in largely unsuccessful searches for gold and other riches.

In 1562, a group of Huguenots led by Jean Ribault arrived in Spanish Florida to establish a colony in the territory claimed by Spain. They explored the mouth of the St. Johns River, calling it la Rivière de Mai (the River May), then sailed northward and established a settlement called Charlesfort at Port Royal Sound in present-day South Carolina. Spain learned of this French expedition through its spies at ports on the Atlantic coast of France. The Huguenot nobleman René de Laudonnière, who had participated in the expedition, returned to Florida in 1564 with three ships and 300 Huguenot colonists. He arrived at the mouth of the River May on June 22, 1564, sailed up it a few miles, and founded Fort Caroline.

Desiring to protect its claimed territories in North America against such incursions, the Spanish Crown issued an asiento to Menéndez, signed by King Philip II on March 20, 1565, granting him expansive trade privileges, the power to distribute lands, and licenses to sell 500 slaves, as well as various titles, including that of adelantado of Florida. This contract directed Menéndez to sail for La Florida, reconnoitre it from the Florida Keys to present-day Canada, and report on its coastal features, with a view to establishing a permanent colony for the defense of the Spanish treasure fleet. He was ordered as well to drive away any intruders who were not subjects of the Spanish crown.

On July 28, Menéndez set sail from Cádiz with a fleet led by his 600-ton flagship, the San Pelayo, accompanied by several smaller ships, and carrying over 1,000 sailors, soldiers, and settlers. On the feast day of St. Augustine, August 28, the fleet sighted land and anchored off the north inlet of the tidal channel the French called the River of Dolphins. Menéndez then sailed north and confronted Ribault’s fleet outside the bar of the River May in a brief skirmish. On September 6, he returned to the site of his first landfall, naming it after the Catholic saint, disembarked his troops, and quickly constructed fortifications to protect his people and supplies.

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the contiguous United States. In May 1566, as relations with the neighboring Timucua Indians deteriorated, Menéndez moved the Spanish settlement to a more defensible position on the north end of the barrier island between the mainland and the sea, and built a wooden fort there. In 1572, the settlement was relocated to the mainland, in the area just south of the future town plaza. Confident that he had fulfilled the primary conditions of his contract with the King, including the building of forts along the coast of La Florida, Menéndez returned to Spain in 1567. After several more transatlantic crossings, Menéndez fell ill and died on September 17, 1574.

In 1566, the Spanish established the colony of Santa Elena on what is now Parris Island, South Carolina. Juan Pardo led two expeditions (1566-7 and 1567-8) from Santa Elena as far as eastern Tennessee, establishing six temporary forts in interior. The Spanish abandoned Santa Elena and the surrounding area in 1587.

In 1586, English sea captain Francis Drake plundered and burned St. Augustine, including a fortification that was under construction, while returning from raiding Santo Domingo and Cartagena in the Caribbean. His raids exposed Spain’s inability to properly defend her settlements.

The Jesuits had begun establishing missions to the Native Americans in Florida in 1567, but withdrew in 1572 after hostile encounters with the natives. In 1573, Franciscans assumed responsibility for missions to the Native Americans, eventually operating dozens of missions to the Guale, Timucua and Apalachee tribes. The missions were not without conflict and the Guale first rebelled on October 4, 1597, in what is now present-day coastal Georgia.

The extension of the mission system also provided a military strategic advantage from British troops arriving from the North. During the hundred-plus year span of missionary expansion, disease from the Europeans had a significant impact on the natives, along with the rising power of the French and British. During the Queen Anne’s War, the British dismantled much of the missions. By 1706, the missionaries retracted from their mission outposts and returned to St. Augustine.

Spanish Governor Pedro de lbarra worked at establishing peace with the native cultures to the South of St. Augustine. An account is recorded of his meeting with great Indian caciques (chiefs). Ybarra (Ibarra) in 1605 sent Alvaro Mexia, a cartographer, on a mission further South to meet and develop diplomatic ties with the Ais Indian nation, and to make a map of the region. His mission was successful. In February 1647, the Apalachee revolted. The revolt changed the relationship between Spanish authorities and the Apalachee. Following the revolt, Apalachee men were forced to work on public projects in St. Augustine or on Spanish-owned ranches. In 1656, the Timucua rebelled, disrupting the Spanish missions in Florida. This also affected the ranches and food supplies for St. Augustine.

Throughout the seventeenth century, English and Scottish colonists from the Carolina and Virginia colonies gradually pushed the frontier of Spanish territory south. In the early eighteenth century, French settlements along the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast encroached on the western borders of the Spanish claim.

Starting in 1680, English and Scottish soldiers from Carolina and their Native American allies repeatedly attacked Spanish mission villages and St. Augustine, burning missions and killing and enslaving Indians. In 1702, James Moore led an army of colonists and a Native American force of Yamasee, Tallapoosa, Alabama, and other Creek warriors under the Yamasee chief Arratommakaw. The army attacked and razed the town of St. Augustine, but could not gain control of the fort. Moore in 1704 made a series of raids into the Apalachee Province of Florida, looting and destroying most of the remaining Spanish missions and killing or enslaving most of the Indian population. By 1707, the few surviving Indians had fled to Spanish St. Augustine and Pensacola, or French Mobile. Some of the Native Americans captured by Moore’s army were resettled along the Savannah and the Ocmulgee rivers in Georgia.

In 1696, the Spanish had founded Pensacola near the former site of Ochuse. In 1719, the French captured the Spanish settlement at Pensacola.

During the eighteenth century, the Native American peoples who would become the Seminoles began their migration to Florida, which had been largely depopulated by Carolinian and Yamasee slave raids. British Carolina’s power was damaged and the colony nearly destroyed during the Yamasee War of 1715–1717, after which the Native American slave trade was radically reformed.

In 1763, Spain traded Florida to Great Britain in exchange for control of Havana, Cuba, which had been captured by the British during the Seven Years’ War. As Britain had defeated France in the war, it took over all of French Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, except for New Orleans. Finding this new territory too vast to govern as a single unit, Britain divided the southernmost areas into two territories separated by the Apalachicola River: East Florida (the peninsula) and West Florida (the panhandle).

The British soon began aggressive recruiting to attract colonists to the area, offering free land and backing for export-oriented businesses. In 1764, the British moved the northern boundary of West Florida to a line extending from the mouth of the Yazoo River east to the Chattahoochee River (32° 22′ north latitude), consisting of approximately the lower third of the present states of Mississippi and Alabama, including the valuable Natchez District.

During this time, Creek Indians began to migrate into Florida, leading to the formation of the Seminole tribe. The aboriginal peoples of Florida had been devastated by war and disease, and it is thought most of the survivors accompanied the Spanish settlers when they left for other colonies (mostly French) in 1763. This left wide expanses of territory open to the Lower Creeks, who had been in conflict with the Upper Creeks of Alabama for years. The Seminole originally occupied the wooded areas of northern Florida. Under pressure from colonists and the United States Army in the Seminole Wars, they migrated into central and southern Florida, to the Everglades. Many of their descendants live in this area today as one of the two federally recognized Seminole tribes in the state.

Britain retained control over East Florida during the American Revolutionary War, but the Spanish, by that time allied with the French who were at war with Britain, recaptured most of West Florida. At the end of the war the Peace of Paris (1783) treaties (between the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Spain) ceded all of East and West Florida to Spanish control, though without specifying the boundaries.

Spain gained possession of West Florida and regained East Florida from Britain in the Peace of Paris of 1783, and continued the British practice of governing the Floridas as separate territories: West Florida and East Florida. When Spain acquired West Florida in 1783, the eastern British boundary was the Apalachicola River, but Spain in 1785 moved it eastward to the Suwannee River. The purpose was to transfer San Marcos and the district of Apalachee from East Florida to West Florida.

After American independence, the lack of specified boundaries led to a border dispute with the newly formed United States, known as the West Florida Controversy. The two 1783 treaties that ended the American Revolutionary War had differences in boundaries. The Treaty of Paris between Britain and the United States specified the boundary between West Florida and the newly independent U.S. at 31°. However, in the companion Peace of Paris between Britain and Spain, West Florida was ceded to Spain without its boundaries being specified. The Spanish government assumed that the boundary was the same as in the 1763 agreement by which they had first given their territory in Florida to Britain, claiming that the northern boundary of West Florida was at the 32° 22′ boundary established by Britain in 1764 after the Seven Years’ War. The British line at 32° 22′ was close to Spain’s old claim of 32° 30′, which can be justified by referring to the principle of actual possession adopted by Spain and England in the 1670 Treaty of Madrid. The now independent United States insisted that the boundary was at 31°, as specified in its Treaty of Paris with Britain.

Spain claimed far more land than the old British West Florida, including the east side of the Mississippi River north to the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. This expanded claim was based on Spain’s successful military operations against the British in the region during the war. Spain occupied or built several forts north of the old British West Florida border, including Fort Confederación, Fort Nogales (at present-day Vicksburg), and Fort San Fernando (at present-day Memphis). Spain tried to settle the dispute quickly, but the U.S. delayed, knowing that time was on its side. By Pinckney’s Treaty of 1795 with the United States, Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the border, ending the first West Florida Controversy. Andrew Ellicott surveyed this parallel in 1797, as the border between the United States and Spanish territories.

In the early nineteenth century, Spain offered generous land packages in Florida as a means of attracting settlers, and attracted substantial numbers, both from Spain and from the United States. After settler attacks on Indian towns, Indians based in Florida began raiding Georgian settlements, purportedly at the behest of the Spanish.

Runaway slaves had been sheltered for many years by the Florida natives, called Seminoles by Americans. They lived in a semi-feudal system; the Seminoles gave the now “free” blacks protection, while the former slaves shared crops with the natives. Although the escaped slaves were still considered inferior by the Seminoles, the two groups lived in harmony. The slaveholders in Georgia and the rest of the South became furious over this state of affairs as slaves continued to escape to Florida.

In West Florida from June to September 1810, many secret meetings of those who resented Spanish rule, as well as three openly-held conventions, took place in the Baton Rouge district. Out of those meetings grew the West Florida rebellion and the establishment of the independent Republic of West Florida, with its capital at St. Francisville, in present-day Louisiana, on a bluff along the Mississippi River.

Early in the morning on September 23, 1810, armed rebels stormed Fort San Carlos at Baton Rouge and killed two Spanish soldiers “in a sharp and bloody firefight that wrested control of the region from the Spanish.” The rebels unfurled the flag of the new republic, a single white star on a blue field. The republic lasted until December 10, when Baton Rouge surrendered to U.S. Army troops. Congress passed a joint resolution, approved January 15, 1811, to provide for the temporary occupation of the disputed territory and declaring that the territory should remain subject to future negotiation. On March 11, 1811, rebellious elements again raised the Lone Star flag of the West Florida Republic, forcing Governor Claiborne to dispatch troops to enforce his authority. Spain did not agree to relinquish its title to any of the West Florida territory occupied by the United States until 1819.

The United States Army led increasingly frequent incursions into Spanish territory, including an 1810–1812 filibuster campaign by George Mathews (with participation by the U.S. Navy) that became known as the Patriot War of East Florida. The 1812 invasion of East Florida was perceived by many as ill-advised. President Madison withdrew his support and the Spanish authorities were promised a speedy exit of the American troops.

In 1818, after years of additional conflicts involving natives, fugitive slaves, and settlers, General Andrew Jackson wrote to President James Monroe, who had been inaugurated in March 1817, informing him that he was invading Florida in what became known as the First Seminole War. Jackson’s force departed from Tennessee and marched down to the Florida panhandle. Spanish officers surrendered coastal fortifications at Fort San Marcos (also known as Fort St. Marks) in Florida Oriental; and about six weeks later, Fort Barrancas and Pensacola in Florida Occidental.

Following the war, the United States effectively controlled East Florida. By this time, the United States was also concerned about the armed blacks in Spanish Florida, who became known as the Black Seminoles. Slaveholders wanted to reclaim fugitive slaves, and slave raiders entered the territory.

The Adams-Onís Treaty, also known as the Transcontinental Treaty, was signed on February 22, 1819, by John Quincy Adams and Luis de Onís y González-Vara, but did not take effect until after it was ratified by Spain on Octovber 24, 1820 and the United States on February 19, 1821. According to the terms of the treaty, the United States acquired Florida and inherited Spanish claims to the Oregon Territory, while ceding all its claims on Texas to Spain (with the independence of Mexico in 1821, Spanish Texas became Mexican territory). The United States also and pledged to indemnify up to $5,000,000 in claims by American citizens against Spain. Spanish goods received exclusive most favorable nation tariff privileges in the ports at Pensacola and St. Augustine for twelve years.

President James Monroe was authorized on March 3, 1821, to take possession of East Florida and West Florida for the United States and provide for initial governance. Andrew Jackson served as the federal military commissioner with the powers of governor of the newly acquired territory, but only for a brief period. On March 30, 1822, the United States merged East Florida and part of what formerly constituted West Florida into the Florida Territory. William Pope Duval became the first official governor of the Florida Territory and soon afterward the capital was established at Tallahassee, but only after removing a Seminole tribe from the land.

The central conflict of Territorial Florida was the Seminole inhabitants. The federal government and most white settlers desired all Florida Indians to migrate to the West. On May 28, 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act requiring all Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi River. The Act itself did not mean much to Florida, however it laid the framework for the Treaty of Paynes Landing which was signed by a council of Seminole chiefs on May 9, 1832. This treaty stated that all Seminole inhabitants of Florida should be relocated by 1835, giving them three years. It was at this meeting that the famous Osceola first voiced his decision to fight.

Beginning in late 1835, Osceola and the Seminole allies began a guerrilla war against the U.S. forces. Numerous generals fought and failed, succumbing to the heat and disease as well as lack of knowledge of the land. It was not until General Thomas Jesup captured many of the key Seminole chiefs, including Osceola who died in captivity of illness, that the battles began to die down. The Seminoles were eventually forced to migrate. Florida joined the Union as the 27th state on March 3, 1845. By this time, almost all of the Seminoles were gone, except for a small group living in the Everglades.

Scott #1271 was first placed on sale at the Saint Augustine, Florida, post office on August 28, 1965, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first continuous permanent European settlement in the New World. A stamp identical in design, except for the necessary differences in the caption and denomination, was released simultaneously in Spain. Designed by Brook Temple, the 5-cent stamp depicts a Spanish explorer with Spain’s royal banner in the background and was printed on the Giori press in panes of fifty. An initial printing of 114 million stamps was authorized.

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