Florida was the first part of what is now the continental United States to be visited by Europeans. The earliest known European explorers came with the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. According to the "500TH Florida Discovery Council Round Table", on March 3, 1513, Ponce de Leon, organized and equipped three ships which began an expedition (with a crew of 200, including women and free blacks), departing from Punta Aguada Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was the historic first gateway to the discovery of Florida, which opened the doors to the advanced settlement of the U.S. They introduced Christianity, cattle, horses, sheep, the Spanish language and more to Florida.[broken citation]
It was abandoned by 1561 due to hurricanes, famine, and warring tribes, and the area was not re-inhabited until the 1690s.
French Protestant Huguenots founded Fort Caroline in modern-day Jacksonville in 1564. The following year, the Spanish colony of St. Augustine (San Agustín) was established, and forces from there conquered Fort Caroline that same year. The Spanish maintained tenuous control over the region by converting the local tribes, briefly with Jesuits and later with Franciscan friars.
The area of Spanish Florida diminished with the establishment of English colonies to the north and French colonies to the west. The English weakened Spanish power in the area by supplying their Creek and Yamasee allies with firearms and urging them to raid the Timucuan and Apalachee client-tribes of the Spanish. The English attacked St. Augustine, burning the city and its cathedral to the ground several times, while the citizens hid behind the walls of the Castillo de San Marcos.
Florida attracted numerous Africans and African Americans from the southern British colonies in North America who sought freedom from slavery. Once in Florida, the Spanish Crown converted them to Roman Catholicism and gave them freedom. Those freedmen settled in a community north of St. Augustine, called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, the first free black settlement of its kind in what...