State Research Guide: Florida
7/1/2008
Find your family's tale in the Sunshine State.
Everyone loves a good story — especially the Spanish explorers who first discovered Florida. According to legend, famed adventurer Juan Ponce de Leon was seeking the Fountain of Youth in April 1513 when he waded onto Florida's shores and dubbed the land pascua florida (“season of flowers”). Ponce de Leon's expeditions — and rumors of hidden treasures from shipwrecks — set off a boom of Spanish and French exploration there.

But those early European explorers soon discovered rumored riches and eternal youth didn't paint a complete picture of the Sunshine State. They were met with hurricanes, pirates, treacherous coral reefs and shoals, and fierce opposition from Indians.

French interest in Florida, though, caused Spain to step up its own colonization efforts. In 1565, Spain's Pedro Menéndez de Avilés captured the French colony in Florida and established St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the United States. England jumped into the fray and briefly won Florida in 1763, then divided it, with St. Augustine as East Florida's capital and Pensacola as West Florida's.