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Florida

Encyclopædia Britannica

1911

FLO'RIDA, the name of the most southerly member of the United States, and the twenty-seventh in order of admission. Including its adjacent islands and its reef-like chain of keys on the south-west, it stretches in N. lat. Between 25° and 31°, and in W. long. Between 80° and 87° 44'. The greater portion of it forms a peninsula stretching south-south-east towards the Bahamas, having the Atlantic on the one side, and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. It adjoins, on the north, the states of Georgia and Alabama. Its greatest breadth, from the Atlantic to the river Perdido, is 360 miles; its greatest length about 400 miles; the average breadth of the peninsular portion upwards of 120 miles; area, 60,000 square miles. The principal rivers are the St John's, running north-east through the peninsula, and entering the sea near Jacksonville after a course of 300 miles; the Suwanee, flowing south from Georgia into the Mexican Gulf at Vacassar Bay; the Appalachicola, the Choctawhatchee, Escambia, and Perdido. The principal towns are Tallahassee, the seat of government, situated near the middle of the northern boundary; St Mark's on the Gulf; St Augustine on the Atlantic, and Spanish capital, and the oldest settlement in Anglo-Saxon America; and Pensacola, a port near the Perdido, in the extreme west of the state, recently rendered so conspicuous in the war of secession.

In physical character, the state, generally speaking, is part of the sandy and marshy belt which forms the immediate seaboard from the Potomac to the Mississippi. Nay, far beyond the average of the contiguous shores in either direction, it may, almost without a metaphor, be described as amphibious. To say nothing of inlets, which carry the tide within fifty miles of every point, the interior may literally be said to teem with fresh water, here and there welling up into considerable streams from springs ranging to 250 fathoms in depth. This is more emphatically true of the south, where an immense district, known as the Everglades, exhibits, as its normal condition, the ordinary phenomena of a casual inundation. Though the surface is thus better adapted to pasturage than to tillage, yet, in favourable localities, the soil, rather through the abundance of heat and moisture than from any inherent fertility, largely yields such productions as sugar, cotton, and rice. Considering that the state shares with the Bahamas the dominion of that grand highway of commerce, the Gulf Stream (q.v.) its inexhaustible growth of timber for ship-building is peculiarly valuable. Its coast and rivers swarm with shoals of fish; while its dependent keys, periodically crusted with salt of the sun's making, furnish the means of curing them. —Florida, so called because of its exuberant vegetation, was first made known to Europeans by Ponce de Leon, who landed near St Augustine in 1512. In 1539 it was explored by Fernando de Soto. Originally, the term F. vaguely indicated among the Spaniards the eastern side of the new continent to the north of Mexico, just as the term California received a similarly loose interpretation on the western coast. Gradually, however, it came to be circumscribed by the encroachments of rival powers- its first definite boundaries being established with reference to the claims of English Georgia and French Louisiana. Even within these limits, it embraced, in addition to the F. of the present day, the maritime borders of Alabama and Mississippi. Thus fixed in position and extent, the colony was ceded to England in 1763, and recovered by Spain in 1781. In 1803, however, Louisiana having been bought by the United States from France, F. became to the former country a commercial and political necessity; and accordingly, in 1821, it was annexed to the great republic by a mixture of force and negotiation.

The same physical character of F. which impairs its economical worth, has added materially to the expense of its occupation. From about 1836 to 1842, the Seminole Indians, protected by their swamps against every civilized appliance but the blood-hound, tasked the resources of the American Union more than any other domain of equal size ever tasked them. Notwithstanding every draw-back, the country, possessing as it does, a comparatively salubrious climate, has made a reasonably progress in wealth and population. In 1870, 2,373,541 acres were under cultivation; and the assessable capital was 32,480,843 dollars. It is only recently that railways have been introduced into Florida. A system of about 700 miles has been projected, and in 1873 there were 434 miles complete. According to the nation census of 1860, the inhabitants numbered 78,686 free, and 41,753 slaves. The latter became free January 1, 1863. A state convention was proposed and approved by the people in May, 1868. The new state legislature adopted the 14th amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and F. was recognized as a state, and her representatives admitted to seats in Congress, notwithstanding the veto of the President. In 1869, an act to establish public schools was passed, and 200 schools established. In 1870, the public debt was $2,185,838. Population (1870), 188,248; (1880) 269,493.

Source:
"Florida." Encyclopædia Britannica. 11th ed. Vol. XXVI. New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Comany, 1911.

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