The Space Race (May 5, 1961)

On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard Jr. made the first manned spaceflight in U.S. history. He piloted the spacecraft Freedom 7 during a 15-minute and 28-second suborbital flight that reached an altitude of 116 miles (186 kilometers) above the earth.

Shepard entering Freedom 7

Shepard entering Freedom 7

Shepard was the second person to travel into space. Twenty-three days prior to Shepard’s flight, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first-ever human in space. The space race was on…

Launch of Freedom 7 from Cape Canaveral

Launch of Freedom 7 from Cape Canaveral

Great Jacksonville Fire (May 3, 1901)

On May 3, 1901, a devastating fire swept through downtown Jacksonville and destroyed much of the city. Jacksonville persevered, despite suffering from the largest urban fire in the 20th century United States, and its resilient citizens rebuilt downtown.

Church Street after the Great Fire: Jacksonville (1901)

Church Street after the Great Fire: Jacksonville (1901)

Visit Florida Memory to view more photographs of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901, including a photographic exhibit showing scenes from before, during, and after the blaze.

Jean Ribault Explores the St. Johns River (April 30, 1562)

On April 30, 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault led an expedition ashore near the mouth of the St. Johns River. They continued north to what is now South Carolina before returning to Europe. Ribault returned to the Americas in 1564 and was among those killed during the Spanish – French struggle for control over La Florida.

"The French Sail to the River of May," from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

“The French Sail to the River of May,” from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

Between the time he returned to Europe and before the second French expedition sailed in 1564, Ribault published an account of his journey titled The Whole & True Discouerye of Terra Florida. His brief account provides insight into his perception of the land and people he encountered. The below spellings retain those that appear in an early English-language printing of Ribault’s account.
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Allen H. Andrews, Trailblazer

The cross-peninsular stretch of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami officially opened on April 25, 1928. Area residents welcomed the road and predicted a boost to the local economy from the increased traffic. Perfectly positioned to profit from the road were the Koreshans, whose property ran adjacent to the Tamiami Trail as it passed through the small, rural community of Estero, Florida.

Koreshan service station on the Tamiami Trail, late 1920s

Koreshan service station on the Tamiami Trail, late 1920s

Allen H. Andrews, a member of the Koreshan Unity, wrote about his experience during the “blazing” stage of the Tamiami Trail. Andrews was among the group known as the “Trailblazers” who completed the first successful motorcade crossing of the route that later became the Tamiami Trail.

Tamiami Trailblazers, April 1923

On April 4, 1923, the Trailblazers set out from Fort Myers towards Miami across the vastness of South Florida. The motorcade consisted of ten vehicles and 28 men, including two Seminole guides. Andrews described this place as a land where “[l]aw and order are practically unknown,” home only to the Seminoles and assorted moonshiners, bootleggers, and other outlaws. Read more »

Moore’s Letter on the Destruction of Apalachee (April 16, 1704)

Between 1702 and 1709, English colonists from Carolina and their Creek Indian allies destroyed numerous Spanish and Native American settlements in La Florida.

Excerpt from “Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie,” by P.F. Tardieu (ca. 1785)

Excerpt from “Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie,” by P.F. Tardieu (ca. 1785)

In early 1704, Colonel James Moore led raids deep into the heart of the Apalachee province. A letter from Moore to the Lord Proprietors, dated April 16, 1704, described the outcome:

“…I raised 50 whites, all the Government thought fit to spare out of the settlement at that time; with them 1000 Indians, which by my own interest I raised to follow me, I went to Apalatchee. The first place I came to was the strongest Fort in Apalatchee, which after nine hours I took…In this expedition I brought away 300 men, and 1000 women and children, have killed, and taken as slaves 325 men, and have taken slaves 4000 women and children…All which I have done with the loss of 4 whites and 15 Indians, and without one penny charge to the publick.”

Transcription of the original by Dr. Mark F. Boyd; a copy of Dr. Boyd’s transcription and associated documents are available at the State Archives of Florida in M86-40, Papers of Mark Frederick Boyd, 1912-1968, box 3, folder “San Luis.”

Ethnohistorian John Hann analyzed several inconsistencies in the remaining versions of Moore’s account and concluded that we cannot be certain about which settlements were razed, the number captives taken, or the causalities suffered by the Apalachee. Regardless of the exact facts and figures, historians agree that Moore’s raids had disastrous consequences for the Apalachee. As a result of the English and Creek expeditions, the vast majority of the Apalachee were expelled from their homeland. Many were sold into slavery, or absorbed by the Creeks. Some refugees fled to Louisiana, where their descendants remain today. A small number reached St. Augustine and accompanied the Spanish to Cuba in 1763, never to return to Florida again.

For further reading, see Mark F. Boyd and Hale G. Smith, Here They Once Stood: The Tragic End of the Apalachee Missions (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1951); Allan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); John H. Hann, Apalachee: The Land between the Rivers (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1988).

Pánfilo de Narváez

On April 14 or 15, 1528, Spanish explorer Pánfilo de Narváez landed near Tampa Bay.

Occidentalis Americ Partis, published by Theodor de Bry, ca. 1591

Occidentalis Americ Partis, published by Theodor de Bry, ca. 1591

His expedition split into two groups. One stayed with the ships and hugged the coast, the other traveled inland towards modern-day Tallahassee. The men at sea failed to reestablish contact with those inland and were presumed lost.

Pánfilo de Narváez

Pánfilo de Narváez

Battered by hurricanes and attacked by local Timucua and Apalachee Indians, Narváez’s men built boats, possibly near the St. Marks River, and attempted to flee Florida. After eight years, only four survivors made in back to Mexico. One of the survivors, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, wrote an account of his experience titled Naufragios y Comentarios.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Florida and the Civil War (March 1863)

“Vindictive, Unrelenting War”: The Burning of Jacksonville

One of the most enduring scenes from a movie depicting the Civil War remains the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind (1939). Chaos, terror, and destruction surround Rhett and Scarlett as they flee the inferno. The scene’s fire portrays the actual fire set by retreating Confederates on September 1, 1864, as they pulled out of the city. On November 14, 1864, Union forces marching out of Atlanta set fire to hundreds of buildings. Atlanta remains the most famous example of the burning of a city during the Civil War; however, it was only one of many towns set to the torch during the struggle. Jacksonville, Florida, has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first.

Excerpt from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865: General Topographical Map, Sheet XII” (ca. 1865), showing northeast Florida

Excerpt from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865: General Topographical Map, Sheet XII” (ca. 1865), showing northeast Florida

The initial war-related fire in Jacksonville occurred on March 11, 1862. That day, Federal gunboats approached the city in preparation for what would be the first of four Union occupations. The imminent arrival of Federal troops created panic. Loyal Confederates rushed to evacuate the city, and Confederate soldiers prepared to set fire to supplies they could not take away. Local mobs, angered by the presence of the city’s sizable pro-Union population, torched Northern-owned businesses and homes. Otis and Abby Keane watched as the mobs ransacked their hotel, the Judson House, before setting the building aflame. That night, those who had fled Jacksonville watched from across the St. Johns River as large sections of their city burned.

Advertisement for the Judson House, Jacksonville

Advertisement for the Judson House, Jacksonville

A year after the first fire, Jacksonville endured another inferno. This time the Federals were responsible for the destruction. On March 10, 1863, Union troops, spearheaded by two black regiments, the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, arrived for what became the third Union occupation of Jacksonville. Facing little resistance, the regiments quickly gained control of the city. Signs of growing Confederate strength to the west, however, encouraged the Union to reinforce their position in Jacksonville with two additional infantry regiments, the 6th Connecticut and the 8th Maine, both all-white units.

Although the Federals were able to raid along the St. Johns River as far south as Palatka and maintain control of Jacksonville, Union preparations for renewed operations in South Carolina led to the decision to end the Jacksonville operation. On March 28, 1863, as Union troops prepared to leave the city by sea, fires broke out in the wake of the columns of the 6th Connecticut, whose soldiers had taken the opportunity to set fire to the city. As the Yankees left, rain and the quick arrival of Confederate troops combined to contain the fires; however, much of the city lay in ruins. One witness detailed the smoldering structures:

“The Episcopal and Catholic churches, the jail, Parkhurst Store, Miller’s Bar Room, Bisbee’s Store, and dwelling house, Dr. Baldwin’s house and that whole block. Mrs Foster’s house, Washington Hotel, one of Hoeg’s stores—nearest Millers—and every house from the Judson House above the Railroad to Mrs. Collins old house, (Lydia Foster’s House, Sadlers, etc. are among them).”

Unidentified Union Soldier

Unidentified Union Soldier

While the Union’s responsibility for the fire was clear enough, Confederate newspapers as well as Northern newspapers critical of the use of black troops denounced the black regiments as the agents of destruction. The majority of Northern papers placed the entire blame on the white soldiers of the 6th Connecticut and 8th Maine. As with most controversial historical incidents, however, the answer is not black or white. There seems little doubt that the two white regiments started the fires, but when it became clear that they were free to join in the torching, some black soldiers, according to witnesses, set fires as well. One Northern reporter who saw the burning city despaired that the war had taken a new and uglier turn from which there was no turning back, “Is this not war, vindictive, unrelenting war?”

The best history of the Union occupations of Jacksonville is Daniel L. Schafer, Thunder on the River: the Civil War in Northeast Florida (University Press of Florida, 2010). All quotations come from pages 159 and 161-162 of Schafer’s book.