During the antebellum era and War Between the States, north Florida was fully integrated into the Deep South. The Florida Cracker came pouring into La Florida after 1842.
At that time, 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. Travel to Gadsden County, FL, which is the only county in Florida which is over 50% black, and it will strike you as an extension of southwest Georgia.
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. As in Louisiana, 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 War Between the States 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. Florida was one of the last states to be redeemed. 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 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 between the west coast of the Florida Peninsula and 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. The east coast of Florida became a playground for wealthy Northerners and has remained so down to the present down in the age of President Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago.
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 so radically 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. The history of South Florida has more in common with the colonization of the American West than the rest of the South.