At first glance flags look like nothing more than a brightly colored object with varying images or symbols on them. But have you ever thought about just what they really mean? The truth is, flags mean far more than they appear to on the surface – in many cases they can be a beacon of hope, a sign of power, or a tribute to a tragic past. The flag of Florida is no different and the images on it reflect the state’s past. Join us as we explore the history of the flag – including previous designs and what it symbolizes to the state.
History of Florida
Florida is undoubtedly one of the most popular states in the US, famed for its sunny climate and stunning islands. However, it also has a long and divided history. The state was inhabited by various Native American tribes for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was the first to arrive in 1513. He called the area La Florida for its rich and fertile lands. Florida was then the first region in the continental US to be settled in by Europeans. However, the area was then frequently attacked by the English as they laid their claim to the land.
Spain eventually came to an agreement with Britain in 1763. This resulted in Spain conceding Florida in exchange for Havana, Cuba which had been captured by Britain during the Seven Years War. However, the British period didn’t last long as Spain regained control of Florida in 1783 after Britain was defeated in the Revolutionary War.
The Spanish continued to rule Florida until 1821 when it was conceded to the US. The Territory of Florida existed until 1845 when Florida became the 27th US state. However, Florida withdrew from the Union in 1861 and was one of the Confederate states throughout the Civil War. It formally rejoined the US in 1868.
History of the Flag of Florida
The current design of the flag of Florida was adopted in 1900. However, this was a modification of the flag that was first introduced in 1868. The current design consists of a red saltire on a white background with the state seal in the center.
Between 1868 and 1900 the flag consisted of simply the state seal in the center of the flag on a plain white background. However, in the late 1890’s it was thought that when the flag was hoisted and hanging limply it could easily be mistake for a white flag of surrender or truce. Therefore, Francis P. Fleming – Governor of the state – suggested that the red cross be added so that it could be more easily distinguished. Florida voters ratified a constitutional amendment in 1900 allowing the change to take place. One further change then took place in 1985 to standardize the design of the seal and create the flag that is in use today.
Symbolism and Meaning
The main colors of the flag are red and white and, aside from the aforementioned reason for adding the red cross, what it means has long been disputed. In some cases it is believed that the red cross depicts the cross on which St. Andrew was crucified, while others believe that it is based upon the saltire on the Confederate Battle Flag.
However, the images on the state seal in the center of the flag are much easier to understand. The seal shows a Native American woman scattering flowers while looking out across the water. On the water is a steamboat while in the distance is a sabal palm tree with sunbeams on the horizon. The entire scene is encircled by the words, “Great Seal of the State of Florida. In God We Trust” with the second half being the state motto.
The woman was formerly an American Indian but when the seal was standardized it was changed to a Seminole. The Seminoles are Native Americans who developed in Florida. Today they live in both Florida and Oklahoma across three tribes – two of which are in Florida.
The trees in the image were initially cocoa trees. However, they were changed to sabal palms in the 1985 revision as the Sabal palmetto palm was recognized as the official state tree in 1953. Furthermore, the water and the sunbeams reflect Florida’s location and nickname of “The Sunshine State”.
Previous Flags of Florida
Although the two designs that we’ve mentioned are the most widely known Floridian flags, the state actually had several other flags prior to them. The first flag of Florida, albeit not official, was introduced in 1845 when Florida became the twenty seventh state to join the Union. This flag was largely a red, white, and green tricolor flag with the Stars and Stripes flag in the upper left corner. In the upper right corner were blue and orange bands with the motto, “Let us alone.” However, this motto was considered to be controversial so the flag was rarely used.
In 1861 Florida withdrew from the Union and as a result there were several unofficial flags flown across the state. Therefore, it was decided by state officials that a distinctive flag should be designed which would be the first official flag of Florida. This flag consisted of two halves. On the left was a much earlier white seal on a blue background, while on the right were two horizontal bands of red with a white band between them. This flag remained the official flag until the new design was adopted in 1868.
In 1861 there were several unofficial flags flown in Florida. Just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War state forces took control of the federal Navy yard at Pensacola where Colonel William Chase raised the Lone Star Flag. This flag used the same design as the first Texas Lone Star flag which was the flag of Texas’ Navy between 1836 and 1845.
Finally, another unofficial flag from 1861 was the Secession Flag. This flag was presented to Governor Madison Starke Perry by a community in Duval County as a potential emblem of Florida. It was then displayed when the Ordinance of Secession was signed at the Capitol.
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- Florida Department of State, Available here: https://dos.myflorida.com/florida-facts/florida-state-symbols/state-flag
- Florida Department of State, Available here: https://dos.myflorida.com/florida-facts/florida-state-symbols/state-flag/floridas-historic-flags/state-flags
- Florida Department of State, Available here: https://dos.myflorida.com/florida-facts/florida-state-symbols/state-seal