Florida and Slavery

SlaverySocial IssuesJohn Tyler

The year was 1845 and Florida was about to become the nation's 27th state - home to some 35,500 whites, 33,950 slaves and 560 "free Negroes."

Most of the population lived in the northern part of the state, strung out along a thin line from St. Augustine to Pensacola.

South Florida was a savage wilderness of swamp and jungle. Broward and Palm Beach counties did not exist. Dade County ran from the middle Keys to Lake Okeechobee - with its county seat in isolated Indian Key. Miami was then known as Fort Dalles.

The rich and powerful plantation owners of North Florida controlled the territory - their wealth earned on the backs of slaves who worked vast fields of cotton, rice, sugar cane and tobacco.

Most of the population lived in the northern part of the state, strung out along a thin line from St. Augustine to Pensacola.

On the threshold of statehood 150 years ago, slavery dominated Florida's politics and economy. Newspapers of the day carried ads seeking runaway slaves.

Fearful of slave uprisings, Floridians passed laws prohibiting freed slaves from entering the territory. Mail was censored to keep out abolitionist writings.

The issue of slavery even affected how and when Florida became a state.

As a pro-slavery territory, Florida had to wait until federal officials could find an anti-slavery territory that could enter the union at the same time as Florida - thus maintaining a political balance between the two factions in Washington.

When the "free" territory of Iowa became eligible for statehood, President John Tyler signed the law granting statehood to pro-slavery Florida on March 3, 1845.

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