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Jacksonville has a Rich & Vibrant History

Native Americans
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.

The best 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.

European Conflicts
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 colonies.
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 Bluff.

1901 Fire
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 Society.)

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 1899.

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 Great Depression.

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.

Business & Industry
Lumber was a major business in Jacksonville prior to the Civil War, though Jacksonville consisted of only about 350 residents in 1850. Tourism was big business in the 1880s as wealthy northerns sought to escape winter in warmer climes. After the building of the jetties in the late 1890s, port business grew. Jacksonville was the first film center during the silent movie era. The development of military bases after World War II had a dramatic effect on the economy, as did the attraction of insurance and banking headquarters.

In 1986, the Mayo Clinic opened its Jacksonville facility, the first extension of the famed Mayo Clinic outside of Rochester, Minn.

In 1994, the National Football League awarded its 30th franchise to Jacksonville. The Jaguars began play in 1995 in Alltel Stadium, which was selected by the NFL as the site of Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.