History of Pensacola

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Pensacola, Florida has had an impressive history, being the first European settlement in the continental United States. Pensacola has been under the possession of the Spanish, French, British, United States, Confederate States, and has remained a part of the United States since the end of the American Civil War.

First Spanish period (1559-1719)[edit]

Pensacola was the first European-inhabited settlement in what would later become the United States of America.

The first multi-year European settlement in the continental United States was Pensacola, which was established at Emanuel Point in East Hill, a small neighborhood in modern Pensacola, by conquistador Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano in 1559. Two years later, in 1561, the settlement and its fleet were destroyed by a hurricane and the site was abandoned. Two survivors managed to walk the arduous journey to Mexico City. Pensacola was permanently reestablished by the Spanish in 1698 and became the largest city in Florida and the capital of the colony of West Florida. Another important Spanish settlement was established at Saint Marks in Wakulla county (San Marcos de Apalache). The Spanish settlers established a unique Creole culture in the region and brought in the first African slaves to the area and introduced the Roman Catholic Church.

Pensacola was the first settlement of Europeans in what is now the United States. The area was first sighted by a European in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Three years later, Don Diego Miruelo became the first European to sail into Pensacola Bay.

Since Pensacola was destroyed and abandoned only two years after it was first founded, many people instead regard St. Augustine, Florida, as the first permanent European settlement in what would become the United States (for this one kept continuosly inhabited ever since its founding). The City of Pensacola, however, still occasionally refers to the area as "America's First Settlement" in advertisements, signs and travel brochures.

The city and its bay were named after the Panzacola Indians, a tribe that lived near the bay when the Spanish arrived. The name was changed to Pensacola to make it easier to pronounce for the Spanish. Despite the original settlement's destruction, the name was preserved and used when the area was re-settled during the 17th Century.

The area was first referred to as "Panzacola" in 1686. Previously, it was known as "Bahía Santa María de Filipina," as it was named so by Tristan de Luna when he founded the area's first settlement. "Panzacola" was affirmed as the area's name by a royal order of Spanish King Ferdinand VI in 1757.

The Spanish resettled Pensacola in 1698 under the direction of governor Andrés de Arriola.

French period (1719-1722)[edit]

The French, who had established earlier settlements further west at Mobile and Biloxi, held Pensacola during this period. Overall, French influences were generally dominant among the Creoles on the Gulf Coast west of Pensacola, with Spanish influences dominant among Creoles in the modern Panhandle. A hurricane drove the French from Pensacola in 1722 and the Spanish moved the town from the storm-vulnerable barrier island to the mainland.

The French captured the settlement in 1719 and remained in control for three years. They burned the settlement upon their retreat in 1722.

Second Spanish period (1722-1763)[edit]

The area was rebuilt, but ravaged by hurricanes in 1752 and 1761.

Population growth remained modest during this period, which was characterized by missionary work with Indians and the development of Pensacola as an important port and military outpost. Conflict with French and British interests was common, although Spain's informal alliance with France meant that the greatest threat was from English pirates, smugglers and especially merchants, whose ability to sell goods more cheaply than Spanish companies diminished local support for the Bourbon monarchy in Madrid.

British West Florida (1763-1781)[edit]

Pensacola, 1885

At the close of the French and Indian War in 1763 the British took control of Pensacola. It is during the British occupation that the area began to prosper. Pensacola was made the capital of British West Florida and the town was laid out in its current form around the Seville Square district by surveyor and engineer Elias Durnford.

At the end of the massive French and Indian War of 1756-1763, the British gained access to inland areas as far west as the Mississippi River and the French were expelled from the North American mainland. Louisiana was transferred from French to Spanish control. West and East Florida were transferred from French and Spanish control to British control. The British colony of West Florida, with its capital at Pensacola, included all of the Panhandle west of the Apalachicola River, as well as southwestern Alabama, southern Mississippi, and the Florida parishes of modern Louisiana. West Florida included the important cities of Pensacola, Mobile, Biloxi, Baton Rouge, and, disputably, Natchez. In 1763, the British laid out Pensacola's modern street plan. This period included the major introduction of the slave-based cotton plantation economy and new settlement by Protestant Anglo-British-Americans and black slaves. British East Florida, with its capital at Saint Augustine, included the rest of modern Florida, including the eastern part of the Panhandle.

During the American Revolution (1775-1783), Georgia, including inland Alabama, revolted against the British crown, but East and West Florida, like the Canadian colonies, remained loyal to the British. Many British Loyalists, or Tories, settled in Florida during this period. Like the French, the Spanish allied themselves with the American rebels. In 1781, in the Battle of Pensacola, the Spanish attacked the British there and succeeded in capturing West Florida for Spain. At the end of the war with the American victory over the British, East Florida was also transferred to Spain.

Third Spanish period (1781-1819)[edit]

The Spanish recaptured Pensacola in 1781 and retained control (excepting three short-lived invasions by American General Andrew Jackson in 1813, 1814, and 1818) until 1821, when the Adams-Onís Treaty ceded all of Spanish Florida to the United States.

The T.T. Wentworth Jr. Museum is built in the 19th century mission style, reminiscient of the Alamo.

The Spanish now controlled the entire Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Valley, a region vital for shipment of American goods such as cotton, tobacco, and corn. This situation was not acceptable for the American Southern settlers of inland Alabama and Mississippi, who were rapidly expanding profitable cotton plantations (and hoping to expel the remaining Indians from the entire region). After the transfer of the vast Louisiana territory from France to Spain and the subsequent purchase of the region by the United States, Spanish East and West Florida were surrounded by American Southern states and territories. Anglo-American settlement of West Florida increased and the Spanish, busy with growing rebellions throughout Mexico and South America, were not able to focus on fortifying the region. In 1810, American settlers in the part of West Florida west of the Pearl River declared the West Florida Republic a state independent from Spain. The region was annexed into the new state of Louisiana in 1812. The residents of the prosperous Alabama and Mississippi territories, eager to avoid being trapped in landlocked states without seaports, agitated to annex more of West Florida. They succeeded in doing so with the military aid of General Andrew Jackson. He captured much of West Florida in the 1810's. He briefly returned Pensacola to Spain but areas further west became part of the new states of Mississippi (1817) and Alabama (1819). In 1819, the United States once again captured Pensacola and, in 1821, all of modern Florida was transferred to the United States. Residents of Pensacola, where Anglo-Southerners now outnumbered Creoles, voted to become part of Alabama. However, as Pensacola was the largest city and most important port in Florida, Pensacola remained part of the new American Florida territory, giving Florida its current borders for the first time.

First United States period (1821-1861)[edit]

A bust of Andrew Jackson at the Plaza Ferdinand VII, where Jackson was sworn in as Governor.

In 1825, the area for the Pensacola Navy Yard was designated and Congress appropriated $6,000 for a lighthouse. The first permanent Protestant Christian congregation (First United Methodist Church) was established in 1827.

The Pensacola area is home to three historic U.S. forts, Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, and Fort McRee, as well as Barrancas National Cemetery. The city and Fort Barrancas were the site of the 1814 Battle of Pensacola. Fort Pickens was completed in 1834. It holds the distinction of being the only Southern fort to be held by the United States throughout the American Civil War.

Andrew Jackson served as Florida's first territorial governor, residing at the capital of Pensacola. He was noted for his persecution of Indians and Creoles, many of whom left the territory to be replaced by an increasing number of Anglo Southern settlers, including many planters and black slaves. To determine a location for a territorital capital, riders on horseback were sent on the Old Spanish Trail from the territory's two main cities, east from Pensacola and west from Saint Augustine. The riders met at the Indian village of Tallahassee, which became the new territorial capital city. As cotton plantations flourished, Florida's growing population came to be 50% slave. In the Panhandle, most slaves outside of Pensacola were concentrated in the new capital of Tallahassee and in the plantation counties near the Georgia border, notably Jackson, Gadsden, Leon, and Jefferson. Sandier areas near the coast were less dominated by plantation agriculture.

On March 3, 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state. Its admission had been slowed by the struggle with the Seminole Indians in sparsely populated South Florida and the need to wait for a free state (Iowa) to enter along with it. North Florida, including the Panhandle, remained the most populated part of the state.

Confederate period (1861-1865)[edit]

When Florida seceded from the Union on January 10th, 1861, remaining Union forces in the city evacuated to Fort Pickens. The Confederacy then held Pensacola until the northern invasion of the city in May of 1862. Fort Pickens was never captured by Confederate forces, a feat not duplicated by any other fort in a seceding state.

In January of 1861, Florida became the third state to secede from the Union and join the newly formed Confederate States of America. Fort Pickens, one of three forts guarding the entrance to Pensacola Bay, was held by Federal troops. In the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, the city of Pensacola and the two Confederate forts fought against an invading United States army and forces stationed at Fort Pickens. Pensacola was conquered by U.S. troops and most of the city was burned. Residents evacuated inland to Greenville, Alabama. The Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Mallory, was a Pensacolian and is buried in the city's historic Saint Michael's Cemetery.

Second United States period (1865-Present)[edit]

General William Dudley Chipley helped rebuild Pensacola after the Civil War. An obelisk was erected in his honor at the Plaza Ferdinand VII.

The ravages of Reconstruction greatly damaged the region's economy, but also allowed newly freed slaves an opportunity that they did not possess prior to the Civil War. Within the years following the end of the Civil War, the Freedman's Bureau helped to establish schools to teach African-Americans and poor whites to read, helping them to become more active participants in the local government and the community as a whole. Florida was readmitted to the Union on June 25, 1868. Within years, Pensacola had for its first time several African-Americans, some who were enslaved only a few years before, serving in local government. One man, Salvador Pons, even served as mayor of Pensacola in 1878. However, with the end of Reconstruction, came a reassertion of white hegemony on the local political landscape that lasted for over a century afterward.

As for the economy, Cotton, worked largely by the sharecropper descendants of freed slaves, remained crucial to the economy but slowly economic diversification and urbanization reached the region. Vast pine forests, their wood used to produce paper, became an economic basis. A brickmaking industry thrived at the turn of the twentieth century. Shipping declined in importance, but the military and manufacturing became prominent. Harvesting of fish and other seafood are also vital. Aside from cotton and pine trees, major crops include peanuts, soybeans, and corn. The Historic Pensacola Museum of Industry gives a detailed account of these turn-of-the-century foundations of the local economy.

Having cultural ties to the old South, racism was very evident in the culture of the city in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1972, newly desegregated Escambia High School endured a bloody race riot after black students fought the school's band and other white students when the band played the school song, "Dixie," at a football game. The school's mascot, a rebel, was subsequently changed to a gator.

The late twentieth century saw a dramatic increase in the beach-based tourism industry and the rapid development of previously pristine wilderness beaches, particularly those around Panama City, Fort Walton Beach and Destin, Florida. The region did not receive the twentieth century influx of northern retirees and Latin American immigrants and remained an Old South stronghold of mostly (excepting military families) native-born residents. Only in the last few decades has the tourism and retiree beachfront development characteristic of peninsular Florida reached the region. However, this development is now rapid and dramatic, despite periodic hurricane damage.

Aerial view of Pensacola ca. mid 1930s

Many barrier island areas have gone from sand dunes and water to condos and houses; other areas remain undeveloped, especially the beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Other notable facts[edit]

From 1885 to 1887, the famous Apache Indian chief Geronimo was imprisoned in Fort Pickens, along with several of his warriors and their families. Fort Pickens is now a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and as such, is administered by the United States Park Service.

Pensacola was the capital of Florida before Tallahassee was founded in 1824.



The statement on this page: "The first European settlement in the continental United States was Pensacola", is not correct.

The first European settlement in what is now the United States was not near Pensacola.

In 1526, more than three decades before the de Luna expedition, another Spanish explorer named Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon with an expedition of three ships carrying 600 settlers and 100 horses, established a settlement on the coast of what is present-day Georgia or South Carolina. This settlement was called San Miguel de Gauldape.

"San Miguel de Gualdape was the first European settlement inside what is now United States territory, founded by Spaniard Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526"


San Miguel de Gauldape has never been found, they are not sure where it was at, it's all speculation. Not to mention it lasted less than 3 months, it hardly can be considered a settlement at all going off of the historical record of what happened there.

""Santa Maria de Ochuse" was the first multi-year European settlement inside what is now United States territory, founded by Spaniard Spaniard Tristán de Luna y Arellano in 1559"