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Miami, Florida
Miami is the largest city in Florida. Photo: Getty Images.

The first European settlement in North America

Two-hundred years ago, Florida became part of the United States after the Spanish Crown transferred control to the relatively new country.

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San Agustin (St. Augustine), Florida, founded in 1565, is the oldest city in the U.S. Every year, it celebrates its annexation by donning the colors of the Spanish and American flags. On July 10, 1821, Florida changed its Spanish flag for the United States. During the last celebration, the Spanish ambassador to the U.S. regretted that “the Spanish legacy is not sufficiently known in this country.”

Under Spanish rule, for example, slavery was abolished while it remained in place in the northern British colonies, from which many people fled. Florida was also the first important European settlement in North America, and it occupied a much wider area than it does now.

It was then known as 'La Florida.' Conquistador Ponce de Leon was accompanied on his journey by two Africans slaves who were involved in the expedition. One of them, Juan Garrido, would come later to Mexico with Hernán Cortes.

Slavery in Spanish Territory

In The New History of Florida, by Jane Landers, the historian explains how; even though slavery still existed in some Spanish colonies, the law guaranteed to slaves “certain rights and protections that did not exist in other slave systems.” That is, they could escape from a “cruel master” for “personal safety,” and own and sell property.

While the United States kept interracial marriages illegal until 1967, they were permitted in La Florida. The first wedding was documented in 1565 between a white man and a Black woman. The situation of African-Americans there was not ideal, but it was better than in other places. Many people escaped in canoes to get to reach any point on the peninsula and find refuge.

Florida received so many refugees that in 1693, King Carlos II had to issue a decree that mandated all slaves, men and women that came over escaping the British colonies would obtain freedom if they converted to Christianity.

Hispanic Heritage

Although the United States was founded in 1776, two-thirds of the current territory continued to be part of the Spanish empire. Between 1810 and 1825, most colonies of the Spanish empire became independent, except for Cuba and Puerto Rico which stayed under the power of the world power until the end of the century.

Florida was Spanish starting in 1513. Between 1763 and 1783, it was controlled by the British and until this day, Saint Andrew’s Cross remains in its flag. It was sold for $5 million that Spain never actually charged. Its population emigrated to Cuba, its culture, though, is very much a part of present-day Florida.

In Florida, 22.5% of the population identifies as Hispanic. In cities like Miami, this percentage goes up to 70%. The United States history has been narrated from the Anglo-Saxon point of view, but in recent years, seeing the country from a Hispanic perspective is being vindicated. 

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