Florida’s Peninsula In The ‘New South’

Northern railroad barons build the 'New South' in postbellum Central and South Florida
Northern railroad barons build the ‘New South’ in postbellum Central and South Florida


During the Antebellum era and War Between the States, North Florida was fully integrated into the Deep South.

Florida’s population was concentrated in “Middle Florida,” the area between the Apalachicola River and Suwanee River, which was part of the Cotton Kingdom like the Mississippi Delta or the Alabama Black Belt.

On January 10, 1861, Florida seceded from the Union by a vote of 62 to 7. In Alabama, the vote was 61 to 39. In Mississippi, the vote was 84 to 15. In Georgia, the vote was 208 to 89. There was less opposition to secession in Florida due to the absence of an Appalachian population.

During the war, 14,000 to 15,000 Florida men served in the Confederate Army and Navy. This was the highest percentage of fighting men in any of the Confederate states. At least 80 of the 15,000 men who fought for the Confederacy in Florida were of Hispanic descent, mostly Minorcans, Cubans, and White Spaniards who were a legacy of the Spanish and British colonial era.

The aftermath of the “Civil War” in Florida was similar to other Southern states: Middle Florida, the plantation belt, was devastated by emancipation; carpetbaggers, scalawags, and blacks briefly ruled Florida during Reconstruction; Klan groups and the ‘Regulators’ struggled to redeem the state from Republican rule. There was one major difference in that Florida, like Texas, suffered comparatively less wartime damage.

Florida and Texas were both admitted to the Union in 1845 and were barely removed from the frontier when the two states seceded in 1861. At that time, Florida’s peninsula was still a sparsely inhabited frontier zone, which had only recently been seized from the Seminole Indians. During the War Between the States, the peninsula had been a vast cattle range that supplied beef for the Confederate Army.

After the war, carpetbaggers descended on Florida, but unlike in other Southern states, there was no long established Southern population inhabiting the peninsula in Central and South Florida. In Alabama, Birmingham was founded in 1871, and the steel industry was built by black labor from the Black Belt and Appalachian Whites from North Alabama, so while Birmingham was a new industrial city without any antebellum roots, it was always unmistakably a Southern city.

In Florida, Tampa developed as a port that exported phosphate mined in the peninsula, and Vicente Ybor, a Cuban cigar manufacturer whose industry was Tampa’s early equivalent of Birmingham’s steel industry, employed Cuban, Italian, and Spanish immigrants there in his cigar factories. Henry Bradley Plant, a Connecticut Yankee, built the railroads that connected Tampa to the rest of the American railroad network. Plant built the lavish luxury resort Tampa Bay Hotel which established the tourism industry there and the deepwater port on Tampa Bay which opened up a profitable steamship trade with Cuba and the Caribbean.

Henry Flagler, a New York Yankee, built the Florida East Coast Railroad which connected Jacksonville and St. Augustine in North Florida with Palm Beach, which became the premier winter resort for America’s millionaires, and it was Julia Tuttle, an Ohio Yankee, who founded Miami and persuaded Flagler to extend his railroads into Southeast Florida. Henry Sanford, a former US diplomat from Connecticut, founded Sanford – the city where Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman – and helped establish the citrus and winter vegetable industries there.

In such a way, Florida’s “New South” economy began to emerge through Northern investment in the peninsula: Yankee railroad barons in the 1880s and 1890s opened up Central and South Florida to settlement just like the railroads carried settlers into the American West; the tourism industry began to take shape in rapidly growing new cities like Tampa, Orlando, and Miami; the citrus industry shifted further south after hard freezes devastated the old citrus belt in North Florida in 1894-1895; and Central and South Florida began to grow winter vegetables for the Northern market after the railroads penetrated the region.

After the Spanish-American War, Major Walter Reed discovered in Cuba that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. In response, Florida launched a war against mosquito breeding groups which drastically reduced mortality from yellow fever and further opened up Central and South Florida to White settlement. Yellow fever had been one of primary reasons why Europeans had failed to colonize sub-Saharan Africa and build settler societies in the tropical Caribbean.

The history and culture of North Florida differs from Central and South Florida because the former was settled by Southerners in the Antebellum era while Yankees played a leading role in colonizing the latter during the Gilded Age.

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  1. Very interesting.

    Mighty, if you’re reading, we now know where Flagler street got its name, or I do now anyway.

  2. Flagler to extend his railroads into Southeast Florida.

    As a kid, me, my brothers and my cousins used to pelt the train with rocks as it roared passed. It was easy pickings because we all lived right behind the railroad. Now, though, the railroad’s been replaced by a ‘busway’ for public transit that caters almost exclusively to Negros and brown Hispanics.

    The railroad was an unofficial segregation marker where the Whites, who were east of the tracks, were segregated from the blacks, who were west of the tracks. That same segregation persists today though the coloreds have been moving west for a while now.

    There’s also a Julia Tuttle Causeway in honor of the eponymous Yankee Mother of Miami; and, Lew, I’m familiar with the Flagler legacy.

    Lew, I know about Flagler.

  3. “That is totally not the case. I live in Tampa and the whites I know are all Southern.”

    I suppose you are right. I spent two weeks in the ‘Glades fishing, crabbing, and camping on the “chickees” and when I pulled in at Flamingo and Smallwood everyone was a good ol’ boy. That’s certainly not the case on the Atlantic Coast though especially Miami, Jacksonville, Ft.Lauderdale etc. I’ve never been to Tampa/St. Pete. I went to Orlando once for a business conference. Everyone there was an animatron. LOL!

  4. Yellow Fever was not only a barrier to the settlement of southern Florida but also a general threat to settled lowland areas in every southern state. ‘The Yellow Death’, which was imported from Africa along with the slaves, killed one third of the population of Memphis in one epidemic. There is no reason why it could not return to devastate the south again. http://blogs.plos.org/speakingofmedicine/2013/12/05/could-yellow-fever-return-to-the-united-states/

    Not only the Gulf Coast, but now also the ‘Left Coast’ have all the right conditions in place (the right climate, the right mosquito vectors, and African immigrant carriers) for its return: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/oct/20/local/la-me-mosquitoes-20131019

  5. Interesting stuff. Wasn’t aware who or how South Florida was originally settled, but I always wondered why it was so fall of yankees. So this all makes a lot of sense.
    Interestingly enough though, Naples, where my family and I vacation every year, was founded by two ex-Confederates from Kentucky. While it certainly is a vacation spot for retired yankees, every once and a while I still some Southern flags (mostly battle flags or Bonnie Blues) here and there. Not all is lost in South Florida!

  6. “but now also the ‘Left Coast’ have all the right conditions in place (the right climate, the right mosquito vectors, and African immigrant carriers) for its return”

    That’s just in Southern California and its Central Valley not the entire West Coast.

  7. I don’t see why the focus on Northeasterners or ”yankees” in the development of Florida. I don’t think that WASP New Englanders have at any time dominated Florida, demographically or culturally. Most of the early White settlers (including some branches of my family were Anglo-Saxon Southrons from Southeastern states.

    If by ‘yankee’ we are designating WASP ‘puritan’ descendants I don’t think they played a featured role at all. As far as the yankees who are so numerous there now, they seem mostly to be New Yorker ethnics, like Jews, Italians, etc., fleeing NYC when they retired or just looking for warmer climes. I notice that Jews seem to be conspicuously absent in this story although they had already settled there before the turn of the 20th century. I believe the post-WWI land boom may have had a lot of Jewish involvement.

  8. We’re trying to understand the complicated process of “Southern Demographic Displacement” in Florida. A key part of the story is the emergence and development of the peninsula from roughly 1870 to 1960.

    For anyone who has ever wondered why North Florida and the Panhandle in particular are so much more “Southern” than the rest of the state, the answer is that the Panhandle was part of the antebellum plantation belt, but the Peninsula was colonized and developed by Yankees after the “Civil War.”

    Jews, of course, have settled in large numbers in South Florida. We’re going to get to that eventually, but it is such a huge subject like the arrival of Cubans after the Cuban Revolution or how Puerto Ricans are taking over Central Florida that it is going to be dealt with separately in a series of posts.

    Miami lost its White majority between 1960 and 1990. We’re far along enough in the story yet to address that.

  9. Mighty, I did not mean to give offense or impugn your knowledge of Miami’s history. I forgot that you grew up there. I only lived in Miami for many years. I didn’t grow up there, so many of these details are new to me.

    Regarding the panhandle versus the rest of Florida, over 50% of children under the age of 1 are non-white everywhere but the panhandle.

  10. I’ve lived in Florida for most of my life. My g-g-grandparents, on both sides, were there before Lincoln’s war. In Lakeland and across the state in Eau Gallie. So here:

    You’re marginally correct but abysmally wrong. Crackas inhabit the vast majority of FL to this day. Miami and PB? No. Wallyworld? No. The Rest? The rest is infested by browns and northern DWLs but still majority occupied by crackas.

    Suffering under alien rule as we must, Florida is STILL the most racially aware state in the so-called USA.

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