Florida: The Sunshine State
Geography and Industry
Florida is mostly a giant peninsula surrounded on three sides by salt water, and is possibly the flattest state in the Union. It's true! Florida is even flatter than such plains states as Kansas and Nebraska. It's also a huge state, one of the largest in the country.
Have you ever visited a wetland? Well, Florida is home to the Everglades, which is a unique type of country: it is part swamp and part cypress forest, and all wetland. In fact, it's one of the largest wetlands in the world. Like many other things in Florida, the Everglades country is huge. It covers a lot of the southern tip of the state, and much of it lies within the Everglades National Park.
In the north, Florida is covered by a combination of pine and palmetto forests. There are many swamps in the northwestern part of the state as well, in addition to such large rivers as the Perdido River and the St. Mary's River. On Florida's east coast there are a lot of barrier islands: long, thin islands that protect the coastline from the tides, and naturally prevent erosion.
Speaking of islands, don't forget the Florida Keys. They are a chain of islands that extend southwestward from the southern tip of Florida for hundreds of miles out into the Gulf of Mexico. And they even have a highway that runs between them!
ALL ABOUT Florida
LARGEST CITY: Jacksonville
POPULATION: 15,982,378 (2000 Census)
STATE BIRD: Mockingbird
STATE TREE: Sabal Palmetto Palm
STATE FLOWER: Orange Blossom
STATE MOTTO: “In God We Trust”
STATEHOOD: March 3, 1845
POSTAL ABBREVIATION: FL
Native Americans have been active in Florida for at least the past 10,000 years. When Juan Ponce de Leon explored Florida for Spain in 1519, there were thousands and thousands of Native Americans (mostly members of a language group called the Apalachee) living there. We know very little about these people, because so many died after the explorers came into their land. The Spaniards who followed Ponce de Leon to Florida in the decades afterward brought European diseases like smallpox, influenza, and whooping cough that made the Indians sick enough to die. On top of that, the Spanish explorers who came to Florida, looking for the same gold and silver they had found in South America and Mexico, tried to enslave the native population, killing many of them outright in the struggle. It was a horrible time to be a Native American in Florida!
In 1819, Spain sold Florida to the United States for $5,000,000. Why? First, the Spanish military had been weakened by recent wars in Europe. The Spanish government was afraid that the United States would simply move in and take Florida from Spain without Spain receiving anything in return. Second, at about this time, an American army under the command of General Andrew Jackson chased Seminole Indians from southern Georgia into Florida. The Spanish were not able to stop Jackson and his militia. This incident convinced the Spanish that if they didn't sell Florida to the United States, they would soon lose it anyway.
By 1845 Florida had enough American citizens living in its borders to become a state. Just sixteen years later, Florida sided with the other southern states, and helped found the Confederacy.
Florida saw almost no fighting during the Civil War. The Union Navy did seize a few strategic coastal towns, though. After the Civil War, Florida experienced a huge real estate boom. People made millions buying and selling Florida property.
Real estate is still an important and money-making industry in Florida even today. But can you guess what Florida's most important industry is today? Here's a hint: “I'm going to Disney World!” That's right, tourism is the answer. Every year, millions of people from all over the world visit Florida on vacation, and not just to see Disney World. They also visit Miami's restaurants and shops, take boat cruises that begin in Jacksonville, and enjoy the miles and miles of beaches all along Florida's coastline.
You know about Jamestown in Virginia, and about Plymouth in Massachusetts, but do you know about St. Augustine in Florida? It is the oldest city in North America. Spanish settlers established it in 1565, almost fifty years before Jamestown!
WORDS TO KNOW
Seminoles are members of the Creek Nation of Indians. Their name means “separators,” because they left the Creek homeland in Alabama and moved south, into Florida, during the eighteenth century. From Florida, the Seminoles encouraged runaway slaves and members of other tribes to join them and intermarry with them.