1902 Encyclopedia > Florida


FLORIDA, the most southern of the United States of America, is a large projection extending southwards into the Atlantic ocean, its southern and western coasts forming in part the northern and eastern shore line of the Gulf of Mexico.

The name of Florida was in the 16th and early part of the 17th century indefinitely applied to the territory now lying south of Virginia. By its charter the southern boundary of Carolina was fixed at the 29th parallel, thus including about one half of the present State of Florida. In 1738 the stipulated northern boundary of Florida was a line drawn due west from the mouth of the St John's River (called by the Spaniards San Juan) to the little river Vasisa, cutting off all upper or continental Florida. At the time of its cession by Spain to Great Britain in 1763, the territory of Florida extended as far west as the Mississippi river, including portions of the present States of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The present boundaries are comprised between 24° 30' and 31° N. lat., and 80° and 87" 45' W. long.

Florida makes the southern boundary of the State of Georgia, and in part that of Alabama, from which it is separated on the north-west by the river Perdido. The Atlantic washes its eastern, and the Gulf of Mexico its southern and western coasts, constituting a sea-board of more than 1000 miles. On the south-east it is separated from the Bahamas by the Straits of Florida. It points towards Cuba on the south, Havana being about 110 miles from Key West. Its entire length from Perdido river to Cape Sable is about 700 miles, its mean breadth 90 miles. The estimated area of Florida is 59,268 square miles, or 37,931,520 acres, of which 2,373,541 acres were in 1870 included in farms. The population in 1870 was 187,748.

The peninsula proper terminates on the south in Cape Sable ; but a remarkable chain of rocky islets, called the Florida Keys, begins at Cape Florida on the eastern shore, extends south-westerly nearly 200 miles in a direction generally conforming with that of the coast, and ends in the cluster of sand-heaped rocks known as the Tortugas, from the great number of turtle formerly frequenting them. South of the bank on which these Keys rise, and separated from them by a navigable channel, is the long, narrow, and dangerous coral ridge known as the Florida Reef. This group of keys and reefs is washed on the south by the constant current of the Gulf Stream. The most important of the keys is Key West, a nautical corruption of Cayo Hueso or Bone Key, which name originated in the great number of bones found on the island by the Spaniards, supposed to be those of the aboriginal inhabitants. The island was long the haunt of smugglers and pirates, but is now a busy and thriving place, and one of the most im-portant naval stations possessed by the United States, on account of its commanding situation at the entrance of the most frequented passage into the Gulf of Mexico, as well as its nearness to Havana, Kingston, and other important ports of the West Indies, belonging to European powers.

The Gulf coast of the State is intersected by numerous bays, among which are Pensacola, Choctawhatchee, St Andrew's, Appalachicola, Appalachee, Tampa, Charlotte, Ponce de Leon or Chatham, and Florida Bays, the last lying between the Keys and mainland. The chief rivers are St John's, navigable about 100 miles for vessels of moderate draught, and emptying into the Atlantic after a northerly course of 300 miles; Indian River, a long narrow lagoon on the eastern coast, which it is proposed to unite by a canal with the St John's; the Suwanee and Ockloconee, which rise in Georgia and flow into the Gulf of Mexico ; the Appalachicola, formed by the Chattahootchee and Flint rivers, and emptying into the bay of the same name; Choctawhatchee, Escambia, and Perdido, also flowing into the Gulf. The St Mary's makes for some distance the northern boundary of the State. Florida has also numerous lakes, some of which are navigable. Lake Okeechobee, in the Everglades, is about 40 miles long and 30 broad.

Surface and Soil.—The surface is generally level, the greatest elevation being not more than 300 feet above the sea, although old maps represent it as mountainous. The most remarkable feature is the immense tract of marsh filled with islands in the southern part of the state, called the Everglades, and by the Indians "grass-water." Between the Suwanee and Chattahootchee the country is hilly; the western portion of the State is level. De Bow designates the lands as high-hummock, low-hummock, swamp, savanna, and pine. The soil is generally sandy, except in the hummocks, where it is intermixed with clay. These hummocks vary in extent from a few to thousands of acres, and are found in all parts of the State. They are usually covered with a heavy growth of red, live, and water oak, magnolia, pine, and dogwood. When cleared they afford desirable openings for cultivation. The savannas are rich alluvions on the margins of streams or lying in detached tracts, yielding largely, but requiring ditching and dyking in ordinary seasons. In the " barrens, " as the pine forests are called, the soil is very poor, and thickly overgrown with pine and cypress. The district comprised in the Everglades is impassable during the rainy season, from July to October. It is about 60 miles long by 60 broad, covering most of the territory south of Lake Okeechobee, or Big-water. The islands with which this vast swamp or lake is studded vary from one-fourth of an acre to hundreds of acres in extent. They are generally covered with dense thickets of shrubbery or vines, occasionally with lofty pines and palmettos. The water is from 1 to 6 feet deep, the bottom being covered with a growth of rank grass. The vegetable deposit of the Everglades is considered well adapted to the cultivation of the banana and plantain. Another remarkable feature of Florida are the subterranean streams which undermine the rotten limestone formation, creating numerous cavities in the ground called " sinks." These are inverted conical hollows, or tunnels, varying in extent from a few yards to several acres, at the bottom of which running water often appears.

A most remarkable spring, situated 12 miles from Tallahassee, has been sounded with 250 fathoms of line before finding bottom. The outflow forms a beautiful lake, transparent and cold as ice even in the hottest weather. The great sink of Alachua county is a subterranean passage by which the waters of the Alachua savanna are supposed to discharge themselves into Orange Lake. In fact, the geological structure of the State is remarkable, much of its surface seeming a crust through the openings of which underground lakes and rivers force their way.

Towns and Harbours.—Notwithstanding the great extent of its sea-coast, Florida has few good harbours. Besides being a naval station, Key West is a place of considerable importance. Pensacola, Appalachicola, St Mark's, Cedar Keys, Tampa, and Charlotte on the Gulf, and Fernandina and St Augustine on the Atlantic coast, are the principal ports. Of these the harbours of Pensacola and Fernandina are the best. The cities of Florida are Jacksonville, popula-tion in 1870, 6912; Pensacola, 3347; Tallahassee, the capital, 2023; and St Augustine, 1717. Jacksonville, on St John's River, is a flourishing city, much resorted to by invalids from the northern States on account of the salu-brity of its climate. Fernandina, the eastern terminus of the railway which crosses the State to Cedar Keys, on the Gulf of Mexico, has 1722 inhabitants.

Climate.—Florida, except in the vicinity of the swamps, possesses one of the most equable and agreeable climates of the continent. Occupying as it does a situation between the temperate and tropical regions, it enjoys exemption from the frosts and sudden changes of the one and the excessive heat of the other. The mercury, however, sometimes falls to the freezing point, and great damage is done to the orange plantations. The winter climate of the Gulf coast is more rigorous than that of the Atlantic. The seasons partake of the tropical character, winter being dis-tinguishable by copious rains. Statistics show the State to be one of the healthiest, if not the healthiest, of the United States, and its resident population is largely increased in the winter months by invalids from the north, seeking a more genial clime. Jacksonville, St Augustine, and Key West are preferred by this class of visitors, who are every year becoming more numerous. The mean winter tem-perature as observed at Key West was slightly less than that of Havana; while for the months from July to November it was about the same. Besides the advantage of its climate, the semi-tropical character of Florida offers a grateful and striking change of scene to the health-seeker, who leaves the bare forests and frozen streams of New England for a country teeming with luxuriant vegetation and strewed with flowers.

Products.—The productions of Florida are of an essen-tially tropical character : cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar-cane, arrow-root, hemp, flax, coffee, and the cocoa-nut nourish there. The climate is also favourable to the cultivation of the silk-worm and for the cochineal insect. Oranges, bananas, lemons, limes, olives, grapes, pine-apples, grow abundantly, and are of exquisite flavour. Indian corn, sweet potatoes, beans, pease, and such products of a more northern climate as Irish potatoes, barley, buckwheat, hops, &c, are also raised. The cultivation and export of oranges and other fruits have grown to be a considerable source of wealth to the State; and the manufacture of cigars, especially at Key West, is becoming an important industry. The pasturage afforded by the savannas is excellent, cattle requiring little or no attention from their owners, and no housing in winter. Game and fish abound in every part of the state. Deer, wild turkeys, partridges, geese, ducks, and other small game are in all the forests and about all the lakes, rivers, and swamps; green turtle, oysters, sheep's-head, red-fish, mullet, &c, are found on all the coasts, and freshwater fish in all the inland waters. Magnificent sponges are gathered along the reefs, and form a considerable item of trade. Cotton, rice, sugar, tobacco, lumber, fish, and fruits may be considered the most valuable products. From selected statistics, compiled by the United States Government, it appears that Florida produced in 1870—Indian corn, 2,225,056 bushels; oats, 114,204 bushels; cotton, 39,789 bales ; wool, 37,562 ft; rice, 401,687 ft; cane, 553,192 galls.; Irish pota-toes, 10,218 bushels; sweet potatoes, 789,456 bushels; pease and beans, 64,846 bushels; honey, 150,854 ft. Florida cotton is grown almost exclusively in the northern group of counties, but the State is capable of producing the celebrated Sea Island variety, the cultivation of which was formerly confined to a few islands on the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. Appalachicola, formerly a consider-able shipping port for cotton, has been superseded by Fernandina on the Atlantic, The crop of 1876-77 is reported at 34,303 bales, of which 11,214 was Sea Island; but it should be stated that this computation includes only shipments from Florida outports, there being no data whence to estimate accurately the quantity going to ports out of the State by rail. The same remark will apply to the quantity of wool exported.

The wool grown in Florida is long-stapled, of medium and coarse grades, little attention being as yet given to producing fine wools. In 1S78 the flocks had increased to 56,500 head, yielding 200,000 ft of wool.

In 1874 Gadsden county produced on 327 acres planted 216,000 ft of tobacco, of excellent quality, valued at $44,000. East and South Florida rely mainly upon fruit culture. Florida is said to be the only section of the Union where the orange can be grown to any extent with success. There is no fear of winter-killing south of Pilatka. The quality of the fruit and the excellent condition in which it reaches the northern markets render this a most profitable crop.

The forests of Florida form no inconsiderable source of wealth. The live-oak, so valuable in shipbuilding, abounds, also the other varieties of oak, swamp cypress, hickory, pine, magnolia, dogwood, and laurel. The palma christi (castor-oil bean) becomes here a large tree ; on the islands and keys boxwood, satinwood, mastic, and lignum-vitse grow abundantly. The pine is found from Cape Sable to near Indian river. In addition to fruit-bearing species, the pimento, coffee, pepper, clove, and other spice trees and shrubs may be successfully cultivated.

From the official sources of information it appears that in 1870 the value of the live stock on farms was $5,212,157. The number of horses was 11,902; mules and asses, 8,835; milch cows, 61,932 ; draught and other cattle, 322,701 ; sheep, 26,509 ; swine, 158,908. Florida also produced 100,989 ft butter. These numbers will be largely in-creased by the census of 1880.

Manufactures.—These are unimportant, and are chiefly confined to flour and grist mills, lumber mills, and establish-ments for the manufacture of sugar and molasses, their total value in 1870 being $4,685,403. Agriculture and com-merce are the chief resources of the State,—the export of its fibrous products, cereals, fruits, fish, live-oak and other timber, giving employment to a considerable tonnage. Among the mineral productions may be named amethyst, turquoise, lapis-lazuli, ochre, coal, and iron-ore.

Trade.—The coasting trade employs many steamers and sailing craft, plying chiefly between Florida ports and Savannah, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Pen-sacola and Appalachicola are naturally points of shipment for southern Alabama and south-western Georgia. The bulk of foreign merchandise reaches the State from northern ports instead of by direct importation. Key West shows much the largest tonnage of vessels entering or clearing, St John's and Fernandina following in the order named. Shipbuilding is carried on at all the ports, the vessels usually being of small burthen, for coast traffic.

Railways.—In 1876 there were only 484 miles of railway in Florida. The Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Virginia, where the queen had commanded him to afford relief to Sir Walter Raleigh's newly planted colony.

The English colonists of Georgia and Carolina continued to wage war against the Spaniards in Florida. Governor Moore of South Carolina made an unsuccessful attempt on St Augustine in 1702; and General Oglethorpe of Georgia besieged it in 1740 with the same result. Nearly a hundred years later, in 1837, the U.S. engineers found balls thrown by Oglethorpe in the moat of the old Spanish fortress. In 1763 Florida was ceded to Great Britain in return for Havana, captured by Albemarle the previous year. Most of the Spaniards left the country. Vigorous efforts were made by the British Government to promote settlement by liberal grants of land to settlers. Besides a large number of emigrants who came over from Europe, promising settlements were made under the patronage of Lords Eolle and Beresford and Governor Moultrie. In addition to these many royalists emigrated thither from Georgia and Carolina, on the breaking out of hostilities between Great Britain and her American colonies. Twenty years of British possession accomplished more in settling and improving Florida than two hundred years of Spanish rule.

In 1781 Don Bernardo de Galvez, Spanish governor of Louisiana, having previously taken Mobile, besieged and captured Pensacola, thus completing the conquest of West Florida. In 1783 Florida was ceded back to Spain, when the greater part of the English population, estimated at 25,000, left the province and passed into the adjoining states. Some unimportant military operations took place in 1814. In February 1819 a treaty for the cession of Florida to the United States was concluded at Wash-ington, and in 1821 was reluctantly ratified by the king of Spain, thus concluding a long and tedious negotiation. Possession was taken in July by General Jackson, who had been appointed governor of the Floridas by the Govern-ment at Washington. Immigration flowed in rapidly from the southern States, the Bahamas, and even the North Atlantic States; but a great drawback to the prosperity of the newly acquired territory was found in the deter-mined resistance of the warlike nation of Seminole Indians to the encroachments of the whites upon their hunting-grounds. A resolution on the part of the United States Government to remove these Indians led to the long and bloody struggle known as the Seminole War, in which for seven years the Indians successfully defied every effort to subdue them, retreating into the fastnesses of the Ever-glades when closely pressed. Osceola, chieftain of the Seminóles, having been captured by treachery, the war ended in 1842. The remnant of the Indians were removed beyond the Mississippi, and in three years after their expulsion (1845) Florida was admitted into the Union as a State.

On the 10th January 1861, Florida, by a convention assembled on the 3d, seceded from the Union. Fort Marion and the arsenals at St Augustine and Chattahoot-chee were seized on the 7th, the forts and dockyards at Pensacola on the 12th, except Fort Pickens, on Santa Rosa island, which was held by the United States forces. Not being within the line of great military operations, the conflicts between the Federal and Confederate forces were of minor importance. Fernandina, Jacksonville, and St Augustine fell into the hands of the national forces early in 1862. Pensacola was reoccupied by them the same year. In April 1865 President Johnson, by a proclama-tion, declared the restrictions on commercial intercourse with Florida removed; in July William Marvin was named provisional governor. A State convention assembled in October at Tallahassee which repealed the ordinance of secession, Civil government was practically resumed the following year by the election of State officers and a legis-lature. A subsequent State convention met at Tallahassee, January 20, 1868, to form a new constitution, which was ratified by the people in May, a legislature and State officers being chosen at the same election. The State having complied with the enactments of Congress relative to reconstruction resumed its place in the Union. In 1876 the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, republican, as president of the United States, over Samuel J. Tildeu, democrat, was determined by the electoral votes of Florida and Louisiana, which by a decision of the extraordinary commission created by Congress were counted for the former. (S. A. D.)

The foregoing article is reprinted, hy permission of Messrs Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, Mass., from Florida, its History, Condition, and Resources, by S. A. Drake, Boston, 1878.

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