5 Historic Floridians | Florida Historical Figures
We've enjoyed writing about the many sights, sounds, flavors, and experiences modern Boca Raton has to offer. Lately, we've had the itch to delve into our past and remind ourselves why we live in such a special place - and how we got here. We live in a young country in an even younger state, but we're proud of how far we've come and the outsize impact America has had on global events near and far. These 5 Floridians might not all be war heroes or pro athletes. You may not even know all of their names, but their impact on our state's history, and the world abroad in some cases cannot be understated. Today we honor 5 significant and historical Floridians, their lives, contributions, and the impact we still feel today.
Mary Macleod Bethune (1875 - 1955)
You may have heard of Bethune-Cookman College, one of 4 HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) in Florida. This important institution is partly named for the legacy of Mary MacLeod Bethune, a key contributor to education reform, civil rights, and philanthropy in the United States. Born during the Post-Civil War Reconstruction and raised in the Jim Crow South, Bethune never knew the rights and freedoms that her descendants came to realize, but played a pivotal role in setting a new standard for African-Americans, namely through her contributions to education. She served as a national advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, held the role of sole African-American woman representing the US delegation that created the United Nations Charter, and started a private school for African-American students that would evolve into Bethune-Cookman University of Daytona, FL.
Ponce de Leon (1474 - 1521)
Juan Ponce de Leon was a Spanish military official and statesman known as the first governor of Puerto Rico and the leader of Europe's first expedition to Florida. He laid the groundwork that would lead to the founding of St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States by Don Pedro Menendez in 1565. Little is known about his youth other than his noble birth and early entry into Spanish military affairs. In 1493, he arrived with Christopher Columbus's second expedition as a "gentleman volunteer." In the years that followed Ponce de Leon would help crush a Native Taino rebellion on Hispanola in 1502, before leading a conquest of Puerto Rico and becoming its first governor. By 1521, he embarked on his final voyage to Florida, which is named as such thanks to Ponce De Leon. After attempting to settle in a permanent colony between present-day Charlotte Harbor and the Caloosahatchee River, Ponce De Leon met his match, in the fierce warrior culture of the Calusa people, who mortally wounded him. Ponce De Leon would succumb to his wounds after escaping to Havana, Cuba. Though not an objectively positive influence, as such is to be expected from colonial affairs in centuries past, Ponce De Leon is without question one of the most important people in Florida's history.
Osceola (1804-05 - 1838)
Osceola is the most famous Native American in Florida's history. Born to a Muscogee mother with Scottish paternal lineage, Osceola migrated to Florida following defeat in the 1814 Creek Wars, with family and Red Stick refugees establishing what would later become the Seminole people. The Red Sticks were known as such due to red-painted war clubs, and traditionalist resistance to American encroachment. The Capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, is French for Red Club, or Red Baton. While initially a Civil War amongst the Creeks, with the issue surrounding the willingness to cooperate or resist American colonialism, the U.S. became involved and drove the Red Sticks to the southeast. Living during the 1832 Trail of Tears, one of the great atrocities in American history, Osceola led the Seminole resistance to their forced removal to Native lands west of the Mississippi River. Following his treacherous capture, being lured under the guise of a peacemaking agreement, Ponce De Leon most notably spent time in the Castillo de San Marcos, the prominent St. Augustine Landmark, before his death at Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina from an internal infection, most likely malaria.
Addison Mizner (1872 - 1933)
Addison Mizner may not have had the impact on human life that the three aforementioned Floridians had, but perhaps no presence can be felt more strongly than Mizner's. We all know his name, of course, from Mizner Park, the high-end shopping, restaurant, and luxury condo district that comprises a majority of downtown Boca Raton. Mizner's outside-the-box thinking led him to create a style all of its own, that would later become the aesthetic template for much of South Florida's construction. Mizner is primarily known for the Tuscan/Mediterranean Revivalist style that much of the city and South Florida as a whole has been designed around. To this day, some of the most distinct landmarks in Boca Raton are creations from John F. Kennedy's "Winter White House" to The Everglades Club, The Warden House, and mansions such as La Bellucia, Costa Bella, and El Mirasol. To this day, we have Mizner to thank for our distinct, uniquely foreign-influenced amalgamation of style that now serves as South Florida's cultural antecedent.
Henry Flagler (1830 - 1913)
Much like Ponce De Leon and Osceola, Henry Flagler had an indelible impact on the City of St. Augustine but may be more complimentary to Addison Mizner as an industrialist, rather than a warrior, conqueror, or activist. Flagler was the founder of Standard Oil in Ohio, later founding the Florida East Coast Railway. Today the company is known as the FEC, which is most notable for paving the way to Key West through a completed railroad project in 1912. Flagler, a close companion of John D. Rockefeller, noted a lack of available services and seemingly limitless potential held by the state, and later embarked on what would amount to a second career that he would become much more famous for. His railway development was essential in Florida becoming what it is today. Flagler is often credited with being a key founder of both Palm Beach and Miami.
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