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Florida History, Language and Culture

History of Florida

Florida had been settled some 14,000 years ago, long before the earliest known European contact with the Spanish on 2 April 1513, when Juan Ponce de León caught sight of the peninsula and named it La Florida (florid land). The Spanish and French settled the region over the following two centuries with Spain retaining control until 1763 when the colony went to Great Britain. Spain re-took it in 1783.

After land grants had attracted many Americans to the territory president Andrew Jackson launched a campaign against the Seminole tribe in 1817, encouraging the Spanish to cede the territory to the United States in exchange for $5 million. In 1830 the Indian Removal Act pressured the federal government to remove Native Americans, a process aggravated by the runaway black slave communities that also resisted white settlement.

Florida became the 27th state of the union in 1845 and by 1858, most of the Indians in Florida had been forcibly removed and plantation slavery flourished to the extent that by 1860, 44 per cent of the population were enslaved. Florida seceded from the United States at the start of the civil war in 1861 and remained under military control from the end of the war in 1865 until 1868. Agriculture (citrus, sugar, cotton and cattle) and tourism were mainstays of the state's economy although many of its emancipated African-American population left.

In the 1920s, a couple of hurricanes and the Great Depression devastated the state, but the end of World War 2 marked the start of the state's recovery as the development of air conditioning and the low cost of living attracted a steady migration of people from other parts of the country. Following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Florida became a haven for Latin American immigrants with Haitians, Jamaicans, Colombians and Venezuelans following in successive decades.

Orlando started its ascent as a centre of family tourism with the opening of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. The Mariel Boatlift in 1980, in which Fidel Castro allowed scores of immigrants to cross the Florida Straits, tilted the demographics of the region permanently.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was Florida's most expensive natural disaster, while the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill became the state's biggest man-made disaster.

Did you know?

• Florida's literary links include Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard.

• The state's felony disenfranchisement law meant that in 2014 more than one in ten Floridians – and one in four African-American Floridians – were excluded from voting.

• Florida-born musicians include Jim Morrison, Cannonball Adderley, Gram Parsons, Slim Whitman, the Bellamy Brothers, Lynrynd Skynryd, the Allman brothers, KC & the Sunshine Band, 2 Live Crew and, of course, Miami Sound Machine.

Florida Culture

Religion in Florida

Like most of the USA, the largest religious group in Florida is Protestant, comprised of Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostal, and other denominations. Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, other religions and the non-religious make up the remainder of the population.

Social Conventions in Florida

Floridians are typically American in issuing a genuine 'Have a nice day' to visitors. Some of the old rules of chivalry – men holding doors open for women, the use of 'ma'am' to address a lady – hold fast in northern Florida; in southern and Central Florida, this is less the case.

Language in Florida

English is the official language of the state of Florida, with Spanish and Haitian Creole holding co-official status in Miami-Dade County. Spanish is also increasingly common in Tampa and Orlando.

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