Today, let’s dig into the history of ownership of Florida. Welcome to Florida Time, a weekly column about Florida history.

Q: Who’s owned Florida longer: Spain or the United States?

Our new column, Florida Time, often will mark big anniversaries. This is a big one. Two hundred years ago this week, Florida became part of the United States.

First, we need to go back about a half century before 1819. Most people, when asked what side Florida fought on in the American Revolution, would likely say, “They didn’t. They were part of Spain.” Those people would be wrong. As we discovered in last week's column, Spain claimed Florida going back to 1513.

In 1763, while England and Spain were in one of their many conflicts, England seized Cuba. It offered Spain a deal: You get Cuba back if you give us the Floridas. (You’ll recall from last week’s column that at one point there were territories of East and West Florida).

It’s a deal, Spain said.

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Nowadays, it would seem to be madness to trade little Cuba for a pair of territories that stretched from the Keys nearly to New Orleans. But keep in mind that most of Florida was both uninhabited and pretty much uninhabitable.

So, from 1763 to 1783, Florida wasn’t part of Spain. It was part of England. Anything interesting happen in those 20 years in North America that you might have heard about? Exactly. And guess what? The British empire’s 14th and 15th North American colonies were more than happy to stay loyal.

When Britain did lose what would become the United States, it returned the Floridas, and Spain regained its old colonies. But not for long.

Remember Manifest Destiny? It was the idea that God had decreed this new nation would possess North America from sea to shining sea. That didn’t just go left to right. America wanted Florida. More specifically, it wanted Spain out of Florida. And, for that matter, out of Texas and California and, ultimately all of the “New World.”

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The next three decades weren’t fun for Spain. Its problems included encroachments by indigenous peoples, offshoots of the Creeks, from Alabama and Georgia. They would become the Seminoles. And American settlers in West Florida actually began a revolt.

Finally, Spain threw up its hands and gave Florida to the United States. The deal was signed Feb. 22, 1819.

It’s long been reported that America paid $5 million, an amount that’s worth about $111 million now, but it was not in cash; instead, America agreed to spend up to $5 million to settle claims by American citizens against the crown of Spain.

In 2007, University of South Florida professor Charles Arnade wrote that really the transfer was part of the Adams-Onis Treaty, which established the borders between the now-American Louisiana Purchase territory and Spain’s remaining holdings in the far west, and simply had a rider of sorts calling for up to $5 million in compensation. About $1.2 million was eventually paid out.

And who became the first governor of the new America territory of Florida? None other than the polarizing man whose face is on the $20 bill.

Andrew Jackson already had chased Seminoles and runaway slaves from Alabama and Georgia into Spanish Florida, and when the official handover to the United States took place in Pensacola in July 1821, Jackson, “Old Hickory,” was there. But he’d accepted the post only on the condition that he could resign as soon as a territorial government was in place. Which he did, just four months later. In all, he was in Florida just three times. And he never set foot in the large northeast Florida city that now bears his name.

Next week: the Seminole Wars
Last week: Did Saint Augustine or Plymouth Rock come first?
From a reader: "How about stories re: struggles over colonizing Florida including slavery? I am 65 and originally from Albany, N.Y. I agree, most people don't know much about the state's history, including where palms or citrus originates. Thank you." — Joseph


Eliot Kleinberg is a staff writer for the past three decades at The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, and the author of 10 books about Florida (www.ekfla.com). Florida Time is a product of GateHouse Media and publishes online in their 22 Florida markets. Submit your questions, comments or memories to FloridaTime@Gatehousemedia.com. Include your full name and hometown. Sorry; no personal replies.