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Map of Spanish Florida, c1600

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Spanish Florida: Evolution of a Colonial Society, 1513-1763

From the 16th through 18th centuries, Florida was a remote colonial outpost on the northern frontier of Spain's expansive New World empire. In stark contrast to many of its Spanish colonial neighbors to the south and west, Spanish Florida survived only with an annual monetary stipend from the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and never resulted in a net profit for the Spanish crown. Florida was ultimately maintained primarily for its strategic value in protecting the New World fleets during their annual return from Havana to Spain, and as such, Florida's Spanish residents (mostly garrisoned soldiers and their families) came to be substantially reliant upon labor and food from the indigenous chiefdoms that were eventually assimilated within this evolving colonial society. The success or failure of Spanish Florida was tied intimately to the fate of its predominantly Native American inhabitants, and the sociopolitical and economic system that developed over the course of the colony's two and a half century history represents a remarkable example of a new, multi-ethnic colonial society within an increasingly global world system on the edge of the modern era.

With respect to Native American relations, Spain's colonial strategy in the New World focused more on assimilation and labor than exclusion and commerce, and hence Spanish Florida formed a marked contrast to concurrent British colonial endeavors farther to the north, particularly as regards the direct and explicit incorporation of functioning Native American societies into the political, economic, social, and even religious fabric of the new colonial society.  At its zenith in the mid-17th century, Florida's colonial system was fundamentally based on the multi-regional integration of large Native American populations extending from the lower Atlantic coastline to the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, all under the administration of a single colonial port city at St. Augustine.  The multi-ethnic population of greater Spanish Florida was at that time no more than 5% Spanish, with the remaining population almost wholly dominated by Native Americans distributed in a multiplicity of local and regional provinces, still governed by hereditary native leaders who filled the role of mid-level administrators within a broader Spanish paramountcy.  Corn production and exchange played a primary role in the economic infrastructure of Spanish Florida, with literally hundreds of thousands of pounds being grown annually both in the mission provinces and in fields surrounding St. Augustine.  An extensive web of land and and water transportation routes linked human and natural resources into a functioning colonial society, the scale and complexity of which had never before been witnessed in the same region.  Despite the fact that this system grew and collapsed within the space of less than two centuries, when viewed in anthropological perspective, Spanish Florida can nonetheless serve as an instructive case-study of the evolution and decline of colonial systems in general.

These pages provide an introduction to Spanish Florida, and will be expanded over time with additional information and resources.  For now, the links to the left lead to chronological information, a series of synthetic maps, a complete list of the governors of Spanish Florida during the First Spanish Period, a comprehensive list of Franciscan friars sent from Spain to Florida throughout the colonial era, a list of books for additional reading, and information on present day sites and events.

Viva Florida logo

Between 2009 and 2015, the state of Florida is observing its Spanish heritage through Viva Florida, an awareness campaign designed to highlight the various anniversaries that will be celebrated during this period: the 450th anniversaries of the founding of Spanish colonies at Pensacola (1559) and St. Augustine (1565), as well as the 500th anniversary of the 1513 discovery of Florida by Juan Ponce de León.  The website is presented in English and Spanish, and there is also an online version of the new Florida Spanish Colonial Heritage Trail brochure.  A number of these events and commemorations are sponsored in part by the Spain-Florida Foundation, the goal of which is "to highlight the contributions of Spain to Florida and the U.S., through the organization of commemorative events and programs."

From 1998 to 2003 I constructed and maintained a web site entitled Georgia Before Oglethorpe, focusing on the Spanish period in the modern-day state of Georgia, and including much information of relevance to my current "Spanish Florida" page.  The content of this website has been republished independently (follow link above), though its overall design has been somewhat reworked at the new host site.

Please check back for updates and additions to this page.