Jacksonville has a Rich & Vibrant History
The first human inhabitants reached the area of Jacksonville
between 12,000 and 16,000 years ago. At that time, the
coastline was approximately one mile further east than it is
today because the Ice Age in progress at the time locked up
more of the earth's water in glaciers.
known Native Americans to inhabit this area were the Timucua,
who probably numbered about 150,000 at their peak.
Following the appearance of Europeans in the 1500s, the
Timucua numbers declined quickly as they succumbed to
diseased introduced by European explorers and settlers and
died in conflicts. By 1763, the Timucua were probably
gone from the area completely.
European Discovery and Settlement
Northeast Florida was "discovered" by Ponce de Leon in 1513.
He and his Spanish crew landed about 25 miles from today's
Jacksonville, and named it Pascua Florida as a
reminder that his landing occurred during the Feast of
Flowers. He claimed the territory for the Spanish crown,
then sailed off in search of a magic potion of eternal youth
rumored to be a hidden treasure of this new land.
The French arrived on Florida's east coast in 1562. Jean
Ribault met the native Timuqua, exchanged gifts, and claimed
possession in the name of the king of France by implanting a
stone monument visible to subsequent ships.
A colony was established in 1564, only to be eliminated by
Spanish forces from nearby St. Augustine in 1565. Florida's
northeast coast was under Spanish control. The French did
not attempt another colonization. Nothing remains of the
original Fort de la Caroline. And St. Augustine, not
Jacksonville, is now known as the nation's oldest city.
In 1702, James Moore, the interim governor of
Carolina colony led a force of 500 English colonists and
Yamasee Indians in an attack on Spanish Florida.
When the colony of Georgia was established in 1733, its
governor, James Oglethorpe, built a small fort on St. George
Island to enforce his belief that the new English colony
extended all the way to the St. Johns River. He later
moved through the area on the way to attack St. Augustine
during the 1740 conflict between the English and the Spanish
known as the "War of Jenkins Ear."
The first Africans in the area may have been escaped slaves
from the Carolinas in the 1680s that sought refuge with the
Spanish. The Spanish practice of slavery, influenced
in part by the Catholic church, was less onerous than the
slavery practiced by English settlers who considered slaves
chattel property. As the area was settled, much of the
back-breaking work building the area was done by slaves
whose labor made prosperity possible for some.
Growth of permanent settlements
Cattle were once driven across the river at a
narrow place where a marker now stands at the foot of
Liberty Street. From the south bank, an Indian trail led to
St. Augustine. The Native Americans named the area Wacca
Pilatka, which was translated to Cowford by English
settlers. Before 1820, the larger settlement was on the
south bank, where the guns of Spanish Fort St. Nicholas,
erected in 1740, guarded the passing ships. A stone marker
beside Atlantic Boulevard points to the fort's location.
Between 1763 and 1783, the area was a British colony known
as British East Florida, but it was returned to Spain as
part of the Treaty of Paris which ended the revolutionary
disagreement between England and 13 of its North American
In 1819, what became Jacksonville became part of the United
States when Spain ceded the area to the United States in
return for $5 million as part of the Adams-Onis treaty.
Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821 and was granted
statehood in 1845.
The earliest use of the name "Jacksonville" was in an 1822
petition to the U.S. Secretary of State asking that the town
be officially recognized as a port of entry. While
Andrew Jackson never visited Northeast Florida, he was the
first military-governor of Florida following Spain's
secession of Florida in 1819.
Jacksonville's first charter, creating a town government,
was approved by the Florida Legislative Council on Feb. 9,
1832. Jacksonville's first mayor was William Mills. At that
time, the office was called Intendant, which was a holdover
from Spanish times.
The Civil War
While Jacksonville did not witness the bloody
battles which ravaged the country during the effort to
prevent its division and, ultimately, to end slavery, it was
important to both sides as a southern port. During the
war, union forces occupied and then left the city on four
separate occasions. No land battles were fought in Duval
County, but one thunderous engagement occured between Union
ships on the river and Confederate forces on St. Johns
The Great Fire of May 3, 1901, scoured more than
146 city blocks and turned 2,368 buildings to cinders.
The fire left nearly 9,000 people homeless. A glow
could be seen from Savannah, Georgia, and smoke was reported
in North Carolina. (The most thorough account of the
fire is found in The Great Fire of 1901 by Bill Foley and
Wayne Wood, published by the Jacksonville Historical
Jacksonville's Military Connections
French garrison at Ft. Caroline, 1563
Spanish garrison at Ft. Nicholas, ca 1740 near today's
Bishop Kenny High School
One Revolutionary War battle. The Battle of Thomas
Creek, May 17, 1777 (fought in the vicinity of the Nassau
River Bridge over U.S. Highway 17)
No Civil War land battles in Duval County, but there was an
engagement between Union ships on the river and Confederate
forces on St. Johns Bluff.
Camp Cuba Libre was established as the Commisary Depot for
the 7th Army Corp during the Spanish American War (1898) and
housed nearly 30,000 volunteers from across the country.
In addition, 8 inch breach loading rifles were laboriously
hauled up St. John's Bluff in 1898, only to be removed in
What later became NAS Jacksonville was known as Camp
Johnston during World War I. The complex had more than 600
buildings and the second largest rifle range in the country.
After WWI, the Florida National Guard took over and renamed
it Camp Foster. When abandoned by the National Guard, Camp
Foster served as a residence for homeless men during the
In 1940, what had been Camp Foster became Naval Air Station
Jacksonville, which boasted an assembly and repair shop
covering 1,500,000 square feet with doors 160 feet wide and
45 feet tall.
Naval Station Mayport was commissioned in 1942 and has since
grown to be the third largest fleet concentration area in
the United States.
The history of Cecil Field dates to the early years of World
War II when new military bases were built across the United
States to fight a two-front war. The base was named for
Commander Henry Barton Cecil who died in 1933. The Defense
Department decommissioned Cecil Field in September 1999.
The United States Coast Guard's Helicopter Interdiction
Tactical Squadron (HITRON) Jacksonville, Florida is
America's first and only airborne law enforcement unit
trained and authorized to employ Airborne Use of Force
(AUF). HITRON is charged with conducting two missions;
interdicting and stopping suspected drug-laden, high-speed
vessels known as 'go-fasts,' and Maritime Homeland Security.