|General Florida Information|
Ranked 4th in the US
15,982,378 (18.25 million as of 2007)
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Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival of the Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. Sometime between April 2 and April 8, Ponce de Leon waded ashore on the northeast coast of Florida, possibly near present-day St. Augustine. He called the area la Florida, in honor of Pascua florida ("feast of the flowers"), Spain's Eastertime celebration. Other Europeans may have reached Florida earlier, but no firm evidence of such achievement has been found.
On another voyage in 1521, Ponce de Leon landed on the southwestern coast of the peninsula, accompanied by two-hundred people, fifty horses, and numerous beasts of burden. His colonization attempt quickly failed because of attacks by native people. However, Ponce de Leon's activities served to identify Florida as a desirable place for explorers, missionaries, and treasure seekers.
In 1539 Hernando de Soto began another expedition in search of gold and silver, which took him on a long trek through Florida and what is now the southeastern United States. For four years, de Soto's expedition wandered, in hopes of finding the fabled wealth of the Indian people. De Soto and his soldiers camped for five months in the area now known as Tallahassee. De Soto died near the Mississippi River in 1542. Survivors of his expedition eventually reached Mexico.
No great treasure troves awaited the Spanish conquistadores who explored Florida. However, their stories helped inform Europeans about Florida and its relationship to Cuba, Mexico, and Central and South America, from which Spain regularly shipped gold, silver, and other products. Groups of heavily-laden Spanish vessels, called plate fleets, usually sailed up the Gulf Stream through the straits that parallel Florida's Keys. Aware of this route, pirates preyed on the fleets. Hurricanes created additional hazards, sometimes wrecking the ships on the reefs and shoals along Florida's eastern coast.
In 1559 Tristan de Luna y Arellano led another attempt by Europeans to colonize Florida. He established a settlement at Pensacola Bay, but a series of misfortunes caused his efforts to be abandoned after two years. Spain was not the only European nation that found Florida attractive. In 1562 the French protestant Jean Ribault explored the area. Two years later, fellow Frenchman Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere established Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River, near present-day Jacksonville.