In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Spanish Florida

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Early Expeditions, 1513–1540
  • Initial Settlements, 1559–1602
  • The Missions
  • Runaway Slaves and Free People of Color
  • The Contest with Carolina and Georgia
  • Colonial Women
  • The Seminoles and Miccosukees
  • Natural History and the Environment
  • Archaeology
  • Architecture and Material Culture
  • Maps and Images

Latin American Studies Spanish Florida
James G. Cusick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0051


The term “Spanish Florida” is generally applied to the history of Florida from the time of Juan Ponce de León’s exploration in 1513 to the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1821, which transferred Florida to the United States. This general time span has to be adjusted for a brief period of French colonial endeavor in Florida (1562–1565) and for a period of British rule that began in 1763, under provisions of the Treaty of Paris, and that ended in 1781 in the westernmost sections of Florida, following the campaigns of Bernardo de Gálvez during the American Revolution, and in peninsular Florida in 1783, at the conclusion of this war. To make the three centuries of Spanish dominion in Florida more manageable, historians usually partition the colonial era into Exploration (1513–1565), First Spanish Period (1565–1763), and Second Spanish Period (1781–1821). During all this time, the geographical limits of Florida also changed drastically. Original Spanish claims to the area designated the entire American Southeast and the Atlantic seaboard as far north as Newfoundland as part of “La Florida,” a claim depicted on early atlas maps. In the 17th century, Spain maintained this claim rigorously. It eventually acquiesced to French settlement of Mobile and Louisiana, though the boundary with Texas remained in dispute. There was also a brief war with France over possession of Pensacola (1719–1723). Along the eastern seaboard Spain protested English settlement of Virginia in 1607 and attempted to block the founding of Charles Town in 1670. Rival territorial claims on the part of Britain and Spain provoked constant warfare between “La Florida” and the incipient colonies of Carolina and Georgia during the first half of the 18th century. As a result of the French and Indian War, the British acquired Florida and divided it into two colonies. The Florida peninsula became East Florida, with its capital at St. Augustine. West Florida, with its capital at Pensacola, comprised what is today the Florida panhandle plus a long strip of territory along the Gulf of Mexico that included modern-day Mobile and Natchez. This political division continued when Spain regained the Floridas in the 1780s. The panhandle and peninsula were only reunited into a single territory under American jurisdiction. For fully half of Florida’s colonial era, Native Americans made up the majority of the colonial population. In the late colonial period, Florida was distinguished by its small population size, in which Seminoles and Creeks, free people of color and enslaved Africans, and immigrants from many places in Europe, lived in close association.

General Overviews

The study of the Spanish colonial period in Florida encompasses an array of academic disciplines including history, anthropology, historical archaeology, architecture, and historic preservation. Servies 1978 and Servies and Servies 1993 are annotated bibliographies of primary and secondary sources. Weber 1992, covering all the former Spanish borderlands (the Floridas, Louisiana, Texas, the Southwest, and California), provides a panoramic view of colonial life. Gannon 1996 is a standard reference on Florida history with detailed chapters dedicated to colonial Florida. Hoffman 2002 is unmatched for its scholarship and is the most in-depth overview of the entire colonial period in Florida. The marking of the Columbian Quincentennial in 1992 saw extensive publication on Spanish colonial Florida, primarily under the direction of David Hurst Thomas. Thomas 1990 and Thomas 1991 document the state of research at that time, much of it by new scholars who went on to publish major books. Deagan 1991 is part of a series edited by Thomas, this one compiled by the leading historical archaeologist of Spanish colonial sites in Florida and Hispaniola.

  • Deagan, Kathleen A. America’s Ancient City: Spanish St. Augustine, 1565–1763. Spanish Borderlands Sourcebooks 25. New York: Garland, 1991.

    The Spanish Borderlands Sourcebooks vary in format, some being reprints of important articles, others being translations of primary sources. This one focuses on St. Augustine and early Spanish Florida. It identifies the historians and archaeologists who established the modern scholarship on colonial Florida and gives examples of their work.

  • Gannon, Michael V., ed. The New History of Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

    This highly regarded work is an authoritative and readable survey on the history of Florida. All contributors are experts in their subject areas. Roughly half the book deals with the colonial era. Content is reasonably current but needs to be supplemented with reference to subsequent scholarship.

  • Hoffman, Paul E. Florida’s Frontiers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

    This book is the most comprehensive survey of Florida’s colonial history. It often serves, in whole or in part, as a college reader. Hoffman structures Florida’s history as a series of frontier eras, but the real value of the work is in his familiarity with and use of sources.

  • Servies, James Albert. A Bibliography of West Florida. Rev. ed. Pensacola: University of West Florida, 1978

    This bibliography focuses on what are now Florida’s ten westernmost counties and provides entries on publications relating to the history of the area, including the colonial era.

  • Servies, James A., and Lana D. Servies. A Bibliography of Florida. 4 vols. Pensacola, FL: King and Queen, 1993.

    Under publication since 1993, this four-volume set is the accepted and definitive annotated bibliography of publications dealing with Florida, including the colonial period. It is organized by date of publication through 1915, and each volume has an index with 7,500 to 8,000 names and terms to help locate works dealing with those subjects.

  • Thomas, David Hurst. Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands East. Vol. 2. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

    This is the second volume of a three-volume work brought out in commemoration of the Columbus Quincentennial of 1992. The focus is Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. An important historiographic work, a snapshot of new research as it was just getting started.

  • Thomas, David Hurst. The Spanish Borderlands in Pan-American Perspective. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

    Although not as directly oriented to research on Spanish Florida as its companion volume, this work, like Weber 1992, places and discusses Florida within the broader history of the borderlands and colonial Spanish America.

  • Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    Weber’s rich survey treats Spanish Florida within the broader context of the other Spanish borderlands. It incorporates information on politics, law, religion, culture, Native American groups, and other subjects in well-written narrative that provides a sense of what life was like in these Spanish colonies. Weber treats the terms “frontier” and “borderland” as synonyms, a usage not universal among borderland researchers.

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