Geography and Landforms:

Florida is made up of three geographic land areas: The Atlantic Coastal Plain, the East Gulf Coastal Plain and the Florida Uplands. The Atlantic Coastal Plain covers the eastern part of Florida, and is low and level. This area includes the Big Cypress Swamp, the Everglades, and the island chain known as the Florida keys. The East Gulf Coastal Plain encompasses the coastal areas that border the Gulf of Mexico, and also includes parts of the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades, as well as the barrier islands along the west coast of the peninsula. The Florida Uplands run along the northern edge of the Florida Planhandle, and includes parts of the central area of the peninsula. This area is characterized by low rolling hills of red clay. There are both hard and softwood forests. This area also includes Florida's highest point, Britton Hill, which is only 345 feet above sea level and the lowest state high point in the nation.

Florida is 22nd largest of the 50 states, but contains 11,761 square miles covered by water, making it the 3rd "wettest" state behind Alaska and Michigan. Major rivers include the St. Johns, the St. Marys and the Suwannee River, and major lakes are Lake Okeechobee and Lake George.


The first European explorer to come to Florida was Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. He first came ashore on the northeast coast of Florida near present-day St. Augustine. He called the area la Florida after Spain's Eastertime celebration Pascua Florida ("feast of the flowers").

By 1521, Ponce de Leon visited Florida again on another voyage and brought with him 200 settlers and 50 horses. Unfortunately, attacks by native people led to the failure of this potential colony. Despite this, Florida had become a desirable place for explorers, missionaries and others looking for treasure.

Another treasure hunter was Hernando de Soto, who was exploring throughout what is now the southeastern portion of the United States. De Soto and his soldiers spent four years looking for the fabled wealth of the native peoples, and spent five months camped in the area that is now Tallahassee, Florida.

Neither de Soto nor any of the other explorers ever found the great treasure they were looking for in Florida, but that didn't stop more of the Spanish conquistadores from sailing in and around the area with their ships laden with gold and silver from conquests in Cuba, Mexico and Central and South America. Knowing this, the area became popular with pirates looking to capture the ships and take the treasure for themselves. Hurricanes and other weather hazards added to the danger for ships in the area.

In 1562, a French explorer Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere established the first non-Spanish colony in the Florida by building Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville. This French settlement prompted Spain to increase its efforts to settle Florida under her own flag. In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles established the first permanent European settlement at San Augustin (St. Augustine). He expelled the French and renamed Fort Caroline as San Mateo. For a number of years, the Spanish and the French battled for control of the territory. The Spanish eventually gained the upper hand. By 1600, Spain's power over what is now the southeastern section of the United State was unquestioned. As a result, when English explorers sought to establish colonies in the new world, they chose sites in New England or along the mid-Atlantic coast.

As time went on, however, English and French settlers pushed closer and closer to these Spanish strongholds, and conflict was inevitable. In 1763, the British gained control of Florida in trade for Spanish control over Havana, Cuba as a result of the provisions of the treaty ending the French and Indian War. The British ambitiously split Florida into two colonies, East and West Florida, and began mapping the territory and trying to establish relations with the native people there, whom the British called Seminolies or Seminoles. These people were actually part of the Creek tribe that had settlements throughout the East Coast of America.

However, Spain still set its sights on Florida, and was able to capture the town of Pensacola from the British during the time of the American Revolution. When the Revolution ended, Florida again came under Spanish rule. It was too late, however, and the colony was soon overrun with settlers looking for easy land grants and slaves who were looking for a place outside their masters' authority. Eventually, Spain ceded the territory of Florida to the United States in 1821 under the terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty.

Andrew Jackson, recently a hero of the War of 1812, was sent to the area to establish a U.S. territory, and merged the two Floridas into one with a capitol in Tallahassee. Increased settlement from other U.S. states forced further conflict with the Seminole natives. Many white settlers were in favor of relocating the Seminoles to land west of the Mississippi River, to the area now known as Oklahoma. A series of conflicts, known as the Seminole Wars, were the result. In the end, some of the Indians "migrated," but many escaped into the interior of the state, into the area of the Everglades, and along with escaped African slaves, developed communities of their own.

By the 1840s, Florida had a large enough population to gain statehood, and in 1845, became the 27th state in the U.S. Just prior to statehood, nearly half the population was African American, and following statehood, that proportion remained almost constant. With tension growing throughout the South on the issue of slavery, that issue began to dominate the political affairs of the state. In 1861, Florida joined the rest of the southern states in seceding from the Union and forming the Confederate States of America.

No major battles during the Civil War took place on Florida soil, but the state provided provisions and men to both sides of the conflict. In fact, over 2,000 Floridians, both white and black, joined the fight on the Union side. Ultimately, the South was defeated, and the state was occupied by Federal troops in 1865, where they remained for nearly eleven years.


After the years of "reconstruction" following the Civil War, Florida's economy was influenced by large scale commercial agriculture. The citrus fruit industry grew, and other enterprises focused on Florida's rich natural resources became important. These included such resources as natural sponges, and the mining of phosphates. Beginning in the 1870s, people from the northern part of the United States began to travel to Florida to enjoy the climate, and tourism became more central to the state's economy.

This increase in tourism also brought growth in the transportation industries, as people wanted easier ways to reach Florida. Once in place, railroads could also easily transport citrus fruit and other commodities back north.

By the end of World War I, land developers descended upon the state, hoping to make money selling land to people who had increased access to Florida for vacations and second homes. Swamp land was drained to make more land available, but unfortunately, the stock market crash in the late 1920s meant fewer people had disposable income for vacations.Those who were involved in land speculation lost fortunes. This time was followed by several severe hurricanes and an invasion by the Mediterranean fruit fly which hurt the citrus crops.

Since World War II, Florida's economy has become more diverse. Tourism, cattle, citrus, and phosphate have been joined by a host of new industries that have greatly expanded the numbers of jobs available to residents. Electronics, plastics, construction, real estate, and international banking are among the state's more recently-developed industries.

First Inhabitants:

The first people to live in Florida probably arrived at least 12,000 years ago. Florida's environment and climate meant the area was rich with plants and wildlife and included most of the mammals that live there today. In addition, Florida was home to other large animals that are now extinct including the saber-tooth tiger, the mastodon, and the giant armadillo. Because the sea level was much lower 12,000 years ago, the Florida peninsula was more than twice the size it is today. The people who lived in this area were hunters and gatherers who lived on small animals, plants, nuts, and shellfish. They settled in areas that had a steady water supply, ample stone for making tools, and sufficient firewood.

Over the years, these people developed a sophisticated culture, and began to farm the land, trade with other groups of people in the area and organized themselves into political and social groups. They built temple mounds for worship and lived together in villages.

Books Related To Florida

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever - Marla Frazee
(978-1430108481) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 3
Eamon's grandparents show Eamon and his friend James a great time during their summer holidays.

Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate DiCamillo
(978-0763607760) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-6, Lexile: 610, ESL level: 3
India finds lots of interesting things to pass her time with after her minister father moves them to a small town in Florida: a new dog (Winn-Dixie), a job in a pet store, and some unusual friends.

Copper Sun - Sharon Draper
(978-0689821813) , Fiction
Interest level: 8-12, Lexile: 820, ESL level: 3 - 4
Two servant girls, one a slave, escape to a Spanish colony in Florida where they seek sanctuary.

Everglades - Jean Craighead George
(978-0064461948) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 1-3, Lexile: 660, ESL level: 2 - 3
This book shows and tells readers about the evolution of the Florida Everglades and the effect "civilization"" has had on its unique ecosystem."

The Great Pig Search - Eileen Christelow
(978-0618049103) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, Lexile: 260, ESL level: 2
Bert and Ethel find their missing pigs in strange places as they search for them in Florida.

How Many Days to America: A Thanksgiving Story - Eve Bunting
(978-0395547779) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, Lexile: 460, ESL level: 2 - 3
Caribbean boat people brave many dangers in an attempt to get to the U.S. where they can celebrate a meaningful Thanksgiving.

La Noche Buena: A Christmas Story - Antonio Sacre
(978-0810989672) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-4, ESL level: 2 - 3
Nina enjoys learning about the Cuban side of her family's Christmas traditions as she spends a Florida Christmas away from her New England home.

S is for Sunshine: A Florida Alphabet - Carol Crane
(978-1585360123) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Florida.

The Secret River - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
(978-1416911791) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-4, Lexile: 720, ESL level: 3
Calpurnia and her dog catch sufficient fish to feed neighbors and all the forest animals she wants in this classic children's tale.

Strawberry Girl - Lois Lenski
(978-0064405850) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-6, Lexile: 650, ESL level: 3
This children's classic details the story of Birdie and her family working hard on their drought-ridden Florida farm.

The Yearling - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
(978-0020449317) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-8, Lexile: 750, ESL level: 3 - 4
After a young boy comes to love the fawn he has raised, he must decide how she will live when she matures.

Famous Citizens:

Zora Neale Hurston
Although author Zora Neale Hurston was actually born in Alabama, she considered Florida her home. She attended Howard University and had her first manuscript published there. Later, she moved to New York and became part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s along with other African American writers like Langston Hughes. Her most powerful work is usually considered to be Their Eyes are Watching God.

Osceola was a Seminole Indian who led his people in resisting the US Government's attempts to relocate native people to areas west of the Mississippi. He was eventually captured and imprisoned, and then died at Fort Moultrie. Following his death, over 4,000 Seminole Indians were relocated to the area now known as Oklahoma.

Janet Reno
Born in Miami, Florida, Janet Reno is the first woman to hold the office of Attorney General of the United States, having been nominated to the position by President Bill Clinton. Prior to holding that position, she served as State Attorney for Florida. She may be best remembered for her involvement in two highly controversial events: the return of young Elian Gonzalez to his family in Cuba, and the decision to attack the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas. Despite a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, Reno stayed involved in politics, and made an unsuccessful run for Governor of Florida in 2002.

Ben Vereen
Born in Miami, Florida, Ben Vereen won a Tony award for his performance as the "Leading Player" in Bob Fosse's musical, Pippin. Despite a near fatal car accident in 1992, Vereen has continued to sing and dance on Broadway, and has also appeared on television and in film.

Capital: Tallahassee
Entered Union: March 3, 1845
Population: 19,893,297
Area 65,755
Bird Mockingbird
Flower Orange Blossom
Nickname: Sunshine State
Governor Rick Scott

Places to Visit in Florida: (Click the links to learn more.)

Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth - St. Augustine
Ponce de Leon landed in Florida in 1513 searching for a Fountain of Youth. This attraction offers tours of the area including an Indian Village, a Spring House (site of a spring de Leon found) and an Indian Burial Ground.

Kennedy Space Center - Kennedy Space Center
The site of the US Space Program, visitors can meet astronauts, tour facilities, see an actual Saturn moon rocket and learn about the history of the space program.

Dinosaur World - Tampa
The world's largest dinosaur attraction features more than 100 scientifically-accurate replicas of dinosaurs in a jungle-like environment.

Circus Sarasota - Sarasota
Dedicated to the preservation of the "circus arts," Circus Sarasota includes a School of Performing Arts, a professional circus school, various educational outreach programs, and regular performances. Sarasota was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey circus for many years.