Florida is rich in history and is home to many historic towns. The oldest towns in Florida weren’t incorporated until the 19th century yet many of them were actually settled in the 16th century by Spanish and French explorers.
The following is a list of the oldest towns in Florida:
St. Augustine: 1822
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied city in Florida and in the United States.
The city was settled in 1565 by Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés during a Spanish expedition to Florida where he was ordered by King Philip II to remove the French Huguenot settlers who had established a fort there in 1564.
The expedition landed on September 8, which was the Catholic feast day of St. Augustine, prompting Menendez to name the new settlement St. Augustine. Menendez succeeded in removing the French garrison and strengthen Spain’s authority on the northeast coast of Florida.
In 1822, St. Augustine became an incorporated city in Florida.
Pensacola was temporarily settled in 1559 by Spanish explorer Tristan de Luna in August of that year, according to recent discoveries by researchers at the University of West Florida.
The settlement was short lived though because a powerful hurricane struck a few weeks later and sank all but three of the Luna’s ships. The surviving settlers struggled to keep the settlement going and by 1561, most of the settlers had left and all that remained was a military outpost, which was also abandoned shortly after.
In 1698, Spain finally established another garrison in Pensacola and a new settlement finally began to take shape there.
In 1719, Spain surrendered the city to France during the War of the Quadruple Alliance and over the course of the next century Spain, France and Britain battled over Pensacola until Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821.
In 1822, Pensacola became an incorporated city in Florida.
Fernandina Beach: 1825
Fernandina Beach is a historic city on Amelia Island and was first occupied by Timucua Indians before being settled by the Spanish around 1685-86 when they built a Spanish fort and mission on the island and named the island Isla de Santa Maria.
The fort was later destroyed by Governor James Moore of Carolina in 1702 when the British occupied the island and renamed it Amelia Island, after King George II’s daughter.
The British took over the island in 1763, with the Treaty of Paris, and a large population of loyalists settled there during the American Revolution.
In 1783, the second Treaty of Paris seceded the island back to Spain.
The town became a Free Port in 1807 which attracted a number of privateers, smugglers, slave traders and pirates to the island.
In 1811, the town of Fernandina was founded and named after King Ferdinand VII of Spain.
In 1817, a Scottish military adventurer Sir Gregor McGregor briefly captured the island and a pirate named Luis Aury claimed the island for Mexico that same year but it was soon taken over by the United States and held “in trust” for Spain before the United States formally took possession of it in 1821.
In 1825, Fernandina Beach became an incorporated city in Florida.
Marianna was settled in 1674 when the Spanish mission of San Nicolas de Tolentino was established in the area.
In 1827, the city was officially founded by Robert Beveridge, a Scottish land speculator, and his wife Anna Maria. Beveridge came up with the name Marianna by combining his wife’s middle name with her first name.
On November 5, 1828, Marianna became an incorporated city in Florida.
In 1863, the city became the site of a battle during the Civil War, known as the Battle of Marianna, during which fighting took place in the downtown area and many Confederate troops were killed.
Tallahassee was first inhabited by Apalachee Indians before being abandoned sometime in the 17th century due to disease and tribal warfare.
Sometime after 1633, a Spanish deputy governor and his crew settled in an abandoned Apalachee village in west Tallahassee and named it San Luis. Three more Spanish missions were built in Tallahassee during the 17th century.
In 1702, the British and their Indian allies began attacking the Spanish missions in the area during Queen Anne’s War.
In 1704, the Spanish and Apalachee evacuated Mission San Luis and the burned the buildings to the ground themselves to prevent them from falling into the hands of the British.
In 1821, Florida became a territory of the United States and the government sent two scouts to look for a suitable location for a capital city.
The scouts discovered the area that is now Tallahassee and found that it was inhabited by about 500 Native-Americans who welcomed them. They soon worked out a deal for the land and Tallahassee was established as a capital city in 1824.
In 1825, Tallahassee became an incorporated city in Florida.
Key West: 1828
Key West is a historic island that was originally inhabited by Native Americans before being settled by the Spanish in 1815.
In 1815, the Spanish crown granted the island to a Spanish army officer named Juan Pablo Salas.
On January 19, 1822, Salas sold the island to American businessman John W. Simonton. At the time, the island was occupied by American military forces under the command of Matthew C. Perry.
Key West became an incorporated city in Florida on January 8, 1828.
Quincy is a historic town that was settled sometime after the United States acquired Florida from Spain in the early 19th century. It was primarily an agricultural community that grew tobacco, cotton. Tomatoes and other crops.
The town was named after John Quincy Adams and became an incorporated town in Florida in 1828.
Apalachicola was first inhabited by Native-Americans before being settled by Spain when a Spanish military fort was built at the mouth of the Apalachicola River in 1705.
In 1763, the area was ceded to England and a British trading post called Cottonton was established at the mouth of the Apalachicola River. In 1783, England ceded Florida back to Spain.
In 1811, the trading company John Forbes and Company acquired 1.5 million acres of land between the Apalachicola and St. Marks Rivers from Spain and the Indians due to large debts owed to the trading company by trader Indians. This land transfer became known as the Forbes Purchase.
In 1821, Spain ceded Florida to the United States.
In 1828, the town was incorporated as West Point and later renamed Apalachicola in 1831.
Jacksonville was first inhabited by Timucuan Indians before being settled in 1562 by a small group of French Huguenots when they built Fort Caroline on the south bank of the St. Johns river.
The French settlement was destroyed by the Spanish just a few years later in 1565. The Spanish established a new fort on the site of the old French fort and called it Fort San Mateo.
In 1763, the British gained control of Florida and began issuing land grants, harvesting lumber and building plantations along the St. Johns River to grow cotton, indigo, rice and vegetables.
In 1783, the Spanish regained control of Florida but eventually ceded it to the United States in 1821.
In 1822, two settlers donated land on the north bank of the Crawford river to establish a “proper” town and it was renamed Jacksonville in honor of the territory’s first provisional governor, Andrew Jackson.
In 1832, Jacksonville became an incorporated town in Florida.
Milton was first settled in the early 1800s as a small logging village.
The town had numerous nicknames, such as Black Water, Scratch Ankle, Lumberton and Hard Scrabble, before eventually being called Milltown around 1839 which eventually evolved into Milton.
In 1844, Milton became an incorporated town in Florida under the Florida Territorial Acts of 1844. The following year, in 1845, Florida officially became a state.
For more information on historical places in Florida, check out this article on historical attractions in Florida.
“History.” City of Milton Florida, miltonfl.org/244/History
“Jacksonville Area History.” Visit Jacksonville, visitjacksonville.com/things-to-do/culture/history/
“Apalachicola History.” City of Apalachicola, cityofapalachicola.com/history.cfm
A Walking Tour of Quincy Florida Historic District. Quincy Main Street, quincymainstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/QuincyWalkingTourBooklet.pdf
“Florida’s Historic Places: Tallahassee.” Exploring Florida, Florida Institute for Instructional Technology, fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/tallahassee/tallahassee.htm
“Marianna.” Viva Florida 500, vivafl500.org/cities/marianna/
“Welcome to Marianna.” City of Marianna, cityofmarianna.com/239/Welcome-to-Marianna
“Fernandina Beach History.” Visit Florida, visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/fernandina-beach/old-florida-getaway-for-the-centuries.html
“Fernandina Beach.” Britannica, britannica.com/place/Fernandina-Beach
Webster, Donovan. “Harboring History in Pensacola.” Smithsonian Magazine, May 2009, smithsonianmag.com/travel/harboring-history-in-pensacola-125617869/
Hatter, Lynn. “Pensacola Discovery Complicates Title of ‘Oldest City.’” WFSU, 17 Dec. 2015, news.wfsu.org/wfsu-local-news/2015-12-17/pensacola-discovery-complicates-title-of-oldest-city
“Our History.” St. Augustine, Florida, citystaug.com/693/Our-History