Pensacola History – Part I
Pensacola is located in the Florida Panhandle and is just 13 miles from the border with Alabama. The city is named “The City of Five Flags” because it had five governments that ruled over the course of its history: Spain, France, Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America. Some other nicknames for Pensacola include: “Cradle of Naval Aviation,” America’s First Settlement,” “World’s Whitest Beaches,” “Emerald Coast,” “P-Cola,” and “Red Snapper Capital of the World.”
History of Pensacola
The first inhabitants of the Pensacola Bay area were the Native Americans. When the Europeans showed up, a Muskogean-speaking tribe known as the Pensacola lived in the region. While the name was not recorded until 1677, the tribe does seem to be the source of the name “Pensacola” for both the bay and the city.
The Creek people from Alabama, who were also Muskogean-speaking, regularly visited to trade, so the peoples were part of a broader continental network of relations.
Bottle Creek site is probably the best-known Pensacola culture site as far as archaeology is concerned. This large site is located 59 miles west of Pensacola, north of Mobile, Alabama, and has at least 18 large earthwork mounds. Five of these mounds are arranged around a central plaza that was used as a ceremonial center for the Pensacola people between 1250 and 1550 AD.
A written record of the area’s history didn’t begin until the 16th century when Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to reach the area. During the age of sailing ships, Pensacola was the busiest port on the Gulf of Mexico due to having the deepest harbor.
Tristán de Luna y Arellano landed in the area in 1559, with 1,500 people on 11 ships from Veracruz, Mexico. The expedition established an outpost called Santa Maria de Ochuse, which became a base for Spanish efforts to colonize Santa Elena (Parris Island, SC in present-day). However, the colony was wiped out by a hurricane on September 19, 1559. The storm sank six of the ships, grounded the seventh ship, ruined most of the supplies, and killed an unknown number of sailors and colonists.
The survivors were struggling to survive, and most of them ended up moving inland (present-day central Alabama) for a few months in 1560 before ultimately returning to the coast. However, the effort was abandoned in 1561. Some of the survivors made their way to Santa Elena, only to be struck by another storm. Other survivors made their way to Cuba before finally returning to Pensacola, where the remaining 50 of them were taken back to Veracruz.
The Viceroy’s advisers concluded that Northwest Florida was too dangerous to settle and ignored it for 137 years.
To be continued…
Pensacola, Florida has a lot of interesting history. Not only does Pensacola have amazing national parks, but it also has tons of history packed into its forts and surrounding areas. If you’re in Pensacola and are looking to take a break from its history and step back into some present-day fun, come fish with us at Rock Bottom Charters!
Check out our next blog on the rest of Pensacola’s history!