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Toucan Beach is adjacent to Toucan’s, a seafood restaurant in Mexico Beach, Florida. Mexico Beach is at one end of the “Forgotten Coast” (a registered trademark coined in the early 1990s by the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce), a relatively undeveloped section of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico; St. Marks, on Apalachee Bay, is at the other end. The area was once claimed by Spain as part of La Florida, which encompassed most of the southeastern US.
In 1526 Carlos I (emperor Charles V) granted a license to Pánfilo de Narváez, a relative of the first governor of Cuba, to claim the Gulf Coast for Spain; he had one year to muster an army, found at least two towns of 100 people each, and garrison two additional forts; he gathered 450 soldiers in Spain and Portugal, including some of mixed African descent, and 22 from Italy and some Greeks, as well as an Aztec prince named “Don Pedro.” He also had 150 sailors plus wives and servants; Juan Suárez led a contingent of Franciscan and diocesan priests. They left Spain in June and reached Santo Domingo in August, where almost 100 deserted. Then they sailed to Santaigo, Cuba, and sent two ships to Trinidad to pick up horses and other supplies; both ships were destroyed in a hurricane, with the loss of 60 men. By the time the expedition regrouped in February, it had about 400 people and five ships. Two days after leaving Cienfuegos for Havana, they ran aground on the Canarreos shoals, where they were grounded for two or three weeks until lifted off by storm seas. They almost reached Havana, getting close enough to see the masts of ships in port, they were blown into the Gulf of Mexico without being able to land. In April they spotted land north of Tampa Bay, but lost another ship duringtheir two-day voyage south to the Rio de las Palmas (modern St. Petersburg), where de Narváez read the Requerimiento to the natives: their land belonged to Charles V by order of the Pope; if they chose to convert to Christianity they would be loved but otherwise war would be waged against them. After exploring the coast, de Narváez decided on 1 May to split the expedition; 100 members of his party men would take the ships up the coast while he led 300 overland to search for gold. The men marched in near starvation for two weeks before finding a village north of the Withlacoochee river; they enslaved the natives and took their corn. On 25 June they entered Apalachee territory (named after Apalachen, a village probably near Lake Miccosukee in the Tallahassee area) and occupied one of their villages, but 200 natives attacked on two successive days, then harassed them for two weeks when they resumed their march. In August, near the deserted and burned village of Aute on Apalachee Bay, they decided to reforge their weapons and armor into tools to build rafts. They slaughtered one horse every three days for food and used the skins for water bags and the hair to braid rope; they sewed shirts together to make sails, and used pine pitch for caulking and palmetto leaves for oakum. The 242 survivors sailed their five new vessels for Mexico on 22 September; they moved slowly to the west, with some men on land and the others on the rafts. As they crossed a river, the wind pulled de Narvaez’ raft put to sea, and he was never seen again. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca the official treasurer sent to ensure that Carlos received 5% of the projected wealth, took command. Two more of the rafts were also lost in a storm, and 80 survivors managed to reach Galveston Island in Texas, where they were captured by natives. The ships that de Narvaez had sent away when he divided the party searched for their companions for almost a year, then sailed to Mexico. In 1532, the only four survivors resumed their march in search of Mexico; they probably crossed Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico almost to the Pacific Ocean, then turned inland again. In July 1536, they came upon a Spanish slaving party near Culiacán, Sinaloa, and traveled on with them to Ciudad de Mexico. When Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain, he wrote “La Relación” (The Relation) in 1542, the first written account of North America; in later, expanded editions, he published it as “Naufragios” (Shipwreck).
In 1539, Hernando de Soto returned to Florida with a large contingent of men and horses and returned to Apalachee territory in pursuit of gold. They seized Anhaica, the Apalachee capital (now Tallahassee, the Florida capital) and wintered there, but the natives constantly harassed them; their arrows could penetrate two layers of chain mail, and they targeted the horses. In the spring of 1540, de Soto left the Apalachee domain for Georgia. In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano, a cousin of the first viceroy of Nueva España (the Spanish possessions north of the isthmus of Panama) and of the wife of Hernán Cortés, was sent with 11 ships and an expedition of 1,500 to settle the Ochuse Bay (modern Pensacola Bay) and clear an overland trade route to Santa Elana in South Carolina. In August he established Santa Maria de Ochuse, However, on September 19 a hurricane destroyed five of his ships and damaged the rest; most of the party then traveled inland to the deserted village of Nanipacana on the Alabama river, which they renamed Santa Cruz de Nanipacana. Short of supplies, 200 men went upriver to the Coça (Coosa) tribal area on the Coosawattee river in northwestern Georgia, who dominated other tribes across northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and central Alabama. Viceroy Luís de Velasco sent Ángel de Villafañe to replace him in April 1561. Most of the expedition went to Cuba, but 50 men remained behind until August, when de Villafañe returned on took them to Veracruz. Though the settlement was a failure, it was the earliest multi-year European settlement in what became the continental United States.
Around 1600, Spanish Franciscans began missionary work among the Apalachee, adding several settlements over the next century. But in 1647, the Apachalee near San Antonio de Bacuqua in Leon County revolted; as a result, the Spanish began forcing Apalachee men to work on public projects in St. Augustine or on Spanish-owned ranches. Starting in the 1670s, Chiscas, Apalachicolas, Yamasees and other groups that became known as Creeks began raiding the Apalachee missions, taking captives that could be traded as slaves to the English Province of Carolina. In 1698, to check French expansion into the area, the Spanish founded Presidio Santa Maria de Galve (the modern Naval Air Station Pensacola). In 1702, in reprisal against raids against Apalachee and Timucuan missions, a few Spanish soldiers and almost 800 Apalachee, Chatot, and Timucuan warriors advanced against their enemies, but only 300 of them survived an Apalachicola ambush. During the War of Spanish Succession, in 1704 Colonel James Moore of Carolina led 50 Englishmen and 1,000 Apalachicolas against the Apalachee missions; missionaries and Christian Indians were tortured and murdered, sometimes by being skinned alive. Moore returned home with 1,300 Apalachee captives, who had surrendered, and 1,000 taken as slaves, who had not. A second Creek raid later in the year captured many more Apalachees. As a result, the Spanish government in San Luis de Talimali decided to abandon West Florida, causing some 800 Apalachees, Chatots, and Yemasee to flee westward to French-controlled Mobile, where many died from yellow fever.
After the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763, France and Spain ceded all the land between the Mississippi and Apalachicola rivers to England, who called the new colony West Florida, which included parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. In 1774 the First Continental Congress invited West Florida to send delegates, but most of the inhabitants were Loyalists, and during the war the territory was a haven for fleeing Tories. In 1778 the Willing Expedition attacked the territory but was repulsed by local militia. Following an agreement signed at Aranjuez, Spain entered the war as a French ally, and Bernardo de Galvez seized Baton Rouge and Natchez in 1779, Mobile in 1780, and Pensacola in 1781. As part of the 1783 Peace of Paris, Great Britain ceded the territories of West Florida and East Florida back to Spain; the eastern British boundary had been the Apalachicola river, but in 1785 Spain moved it eastward to the Suwannee River.
However, the lack of defined boundaries led to a series of disputes with the US, and American and English settlers declared an independent Republic of West Florida between the Mississippi and Pearl rivers in September 1810; they also attempted to annex the Spanish outposts at Mobile and Pensacola, further east. (Despite its name, the republic was entirely within the modern state of Louisiana.) President James Madison, who had been secretary of state when the US bought all French territory in North America in 1803, believed that West Florida was included, even though the chief negotiator had reported to him nine times that France did not possess West Florida, and when France formally delivered Louisiana to the US, president Thomas Jefferson did not demand its possession. In 1805, when the French and Spanish ambassadors jointly informed Madison that the American claim to West Florida was untenable, Madison pointed to pre-1763 maps that showed West Florida as part of the former French Louisiana territory; the French ambassador pointed out that the same applied to the American states of Tennessee and Kentucky, Nevertheless, in October Madison annexed the new republic. In December governor David Holmes of the Mississippi Territory delivered an ultimatum to the new West Florida president, a former American diplomat who had been involved in the Louisiana Purchase negotiations, while William C. C. Claiborne, the military governor of Orleans Territory, led his troops to occupy the area. The Republic’s troops at Baton Rouge acquiesced on 10 December, and on 15 January the US Congress passed a joint resolution to provide for the temporary occupation of the disputed territory while declaring that the territory should remain subject to future negotiation. In March, Claiborne sent troops to quell a new revolt. In February 1812, Congress secretly authorized Madison to take possession of the rest of West Florida (west of the Perdido River) and authorized the use of military and naval force; in April, the territory west of the Pearl River was incorporated in the Territory of Orleans and in May the Mobile District in the Mississippi Territory. In 1819, Spain and the United States finally reslived the dispute with the Adams-Onís Treaty: Spain ceded all of Florida to the US in exchange for compensation and the renunciation of American claims to Texas. After the treaty’s ratification, president James Monroe took possession and named Andrew Jackson as governor, then organized a unified Florida Territory in 1822; West Florida petitioned to be transferred to Alabama. Pensacola, with a population of 3,000, was the only “city” in West Florida, and the area remained sparsely populated throughout the 19th century. In 1844 the territorial legislature asked Congress to transfer West Florida to Alabama, but the whole of Florida became a state in 1845. In 1868, the Alabama legislature authorized the governor to negotiate with the governor of Florida about the annexation of West Florida in exchange for a million dollars in bonds that paid 8% interest for 30 years; the next year a West Florida referendum overwhelmingly supported the change, but Alabama took no further action; in 1873 the Alabama senate approved a plan to finance the annexation by selling Mobile and the rest of the state’s land west of the Tombigbee river to Mississippi in order to finance it. But the completion of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad in 1883 finally linked the Panhandle with the rest of the state and ended the region's isolation; until then, Pensacola had been linked by rail only to Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama.
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