When I was younger, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the past. I was so busy educating myself, raising children and working that I probably just didn’t have the intellectual energy to dwell on it much. But that’s changed now.
I like to learn about my family’s ancestors, particularly those that made the Atlantic crossing to come to North America. So many questions drive the time I spend researching them on Ancestry.com.
What drove them here? What was life like when they arrived? Why did they end up where they did? What were they like? Would I have liked them?
Recently, my dad and I had an opportunity to visit the St. Lucie County Regional History Center. He wanted to see if there was anything there about his high school years and people he knows from his childhood in Fort Pierce. I wanted to get a deeper understanding of the history of my new hometown.
My dad was pleased. He was a football hero and his days at Dan McCarty High are well-memorialized.
He’s # 34. Look at the determination in that face
While he reminisced with one of the museum docents, I wandered the museum.
They lived on the Atlantic coast between Cape Canaveral and St. Lucie. They were prolific fishermen and gatherers who were suspicious of the Spanish, who initially claimed the area for Spain. They established a treaty with the Spanish in the 1600’s, but by 1700, most had been killed or enslaved in raids by settlers from the Carolinas. Such a sad legacy.
Spain initially claimed Florida when Ponce de Leon landed near St. Augustine in 1513. There was a short period from 1763 to 1783 that Britain ruled the area, which it received from Spain and France after the French and Indian War. British rulers felt they could better govern the large area by dividing it into 2 colonies–East and West Florida. West Florida was comprised of the current panhandle extending north into Alabama and Mississippi. East Florida was made up of the territory extending east and south from the Apalachicola River. Britain ceded the area back to Spain in 1783 after it lost the Revolutionary War.
Florida entered the United States as the result of a 1821 treaty with Spain.
A Seminole woman sewing a skirt
The 1700’s were a time of change in Florida. Native peoples from the Creek and other tribes were driven into Florida from Georgia and Alabama to form the Seminoles. The Seminoles established a quiet life in Florida, gathering, hunting and fishing for food. Over time, the land became valuable to the United States and three Indian Wars in 1816-19, 1835-42 and 1855-58 were fought to drive the Seminoles to reservations in Oklahoma.
Fort Pierce is named after Benjamin Pierce, a brother of President Franklin Pierce. He was a career soldier and led troops in the second Seminole War.
Fish in the area were known to be large and plentiful and soon the area became known for sport fishing. With land, water and grass available, large cattle ranches were developed. Others found that citrus and pineapple grow well here and soon there were large plantations.
The area currently is well known for its sport fishing and many of the citrus farms are being replaced with large cattle ranches. There has been a blight that is gradually killing off the citrus trees in the past few years and entire orange groves are being turned into new pastureland. The area was popular with developers between 2000 and 2007 and its population grew a whopping 44.2% between 2000 and 2010 to approximately 600,000 people. Like many places in Florida, growth has slowed considerably since the economic slowdown, but it remains a vibrant place to live.
My visit provided a better sense of my new home. I came away with an appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices made by people who came before me–the Indians in particular, but also the soldiers, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, businessmen and others, whose spirits remain in the area.