Beginning Saturday, July 29, the exhibition “Florida Before Statehood” will be on display at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science, 2201 Michigan Avenue, Cocoa. The opening event begins at 2pm with a presentation by historian Ben DiBiase, director of educational resources for the Florida Historical Society.
“It covers Florida history from the Ice Age to the modern day,” says Madeline Calise, museum manager at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science. “We take a look at Spanish exploration, early settlers and their challenges, the mission period of Florida, the British period, and a little bit about all the flags that Florida has flown under and the impacts that those different nations had on Florida.”
The foundation of the exhibit, including a series of informational panels and a timeline display, was created in Tallahassee.
“It is a traveling exhibit from the Museum of Florida History, so we’re really excited to have it,” says Calise. “It was created as part of the Viva Florida program in 2013, which was celebrating 500 years of Florida history, starting with 1513.”
While Ponce de Léon gave our state its name in 1513, people have been living here for more than 14,000 years. The “Florida Before Statehood” exhibit explores that history as well as European contact and occupation.
“Europeans had been living in Florida over 330 years before Florida became a state in 1845, and prior to European contact, indigenous groups had lived in the state for thousands of years,” says Ben DiBiase. “In 1565, we had the establishment of St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America, so there was generation of people living in St. Augustine before Jamestown was ever established.”
St. Augustine was established to secure Spain’s claim on Florida. In 1564, the French built Fort Caroline near Jacksonville, but the colony was wiped out by the founders of St. Augustine. The Spanish then constructed a series of missions in Florida and the American southeast.
“Moving into the eighteenth century, after the French and Indian War, the Spanish actually lost control of Florida,” says DiBiase. “Beginning in 1763, the British took control. They partitioned the territory into East and West Florida, with the Apalachicola River being the dividing line. St. Augustine was the capital of East Florida, Pensacola the capital of West Florida. In 1783, after the end of the American Revolution, the Spanish again gained control of Florida. That’s what we call the Second Spanish Period.”
By 1821, Florida was a United States Territory, gaining statehood in 1845. All of this rich and colorful history is detailed in the “Florida Before Statehood” exhibit.
In addition to the informational panels and timeline provided by the Museum of Florida History, the version of the exhibit at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science will be augmented with displays of fascinating original documents and artifacts from the Florida Historical Society archives and the Brevard Museum collections.
One of the additional objects to be displayed is a chronological history of Spanish colonization originally published in Spain in 1723.
“It’s a very Spanish perspective,” says DiBiase. “This is the original book. It’s the original binding, a leather bound book. It has the original vellum pages, some beautiful script work. This is really more a work of art now, than a historical narrative. A lot of the facts can be argued today, but what’s important is that it informed generations of Europeans who were coming over to the New World about the history of Florida.”
Other documents and artifacts that will augment the exhibit include a British map from the 1760s, Seminole Indian clothing, original papers from Territorial governor Richard Keith Call, and a set of rifles used in a duel to settle a political dispute in the 1830s.
The temporary “Florida Before Statehood” exhibit fits in well with the permanent displays at the Brevard Museum which include skeletons of Ice Age mega-fauna, artifacts of prehistoric people, displays of pioneer life, and images of outer space. There is also a Butterfly Garden and 22 acres of nature trails to explore.
The “Florida Before Statehood” exhibit is included in the regular museum admission of $9 for adults and $5 for children 4-12.