Dave Barry

A Brief History of Florida, according to Dave Barry

Florida in the 1700s mainly consisted of English settlers fending off alligators with hoes.
Florida in the 1700s mainly consisted of English settlers fending off alligators with hoes. MIAMI HERALD FILE

The following is an excerpt from “BEST. STATE. EVER: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland” by Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Dave Barry. You can read more from Barry on his blog.

For millions of years, Florida was uninhabited, because it was geographically remote, not to mention several hundred feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic, which meant insurance rates were very high. Gradually, however, Global Rising caused Florida to emerge from the ocean, and today the state is above sea level except during certain months.

The first humans arrived in Florida 20,000 years ago, having crossed the land bridge from Asia, and made the arduous trek across North America in search of Spring Break. These early inhabitants left primitive archaeological artifacts that can still be seen today, including the world’s oldest-known stone bong.

In time, the population of Florida started to grow — probably, scientists now believe, as a result of people having sex with each other. Eventually, these indigenous peoples spread out across Florida and formed Native American tribes, which established thriving, sophisticated societies based on hitting things with rocks until they became edible. Sometimes the tribes would fight wars, but after maybe 15 minutes they would stop because of the humidity.

Thus Florida was a prosperous and peaceful place until the early sixteenth century, when the first Europeans arrived in the form of Spanish explorers who had been lured by the legend of the Pájaro Temprano, which told of a mythical place where, if you were seated before 4:30 p.m., you got a steeply discounted entrée. The Spaniards named the new land La Pascua de la Florida (literally, “The Sunshine State”) and claimed it for Spain, seeing as how there was nobody there except for several hundred thousand natives.

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In 1763, Spain and England decided to end the Seven Years’ War because it started in 1756 and they couldn’t agree on a new name for it. In the peace settlement, Spain gave Florida to England as part of a package that also included 167 trillion mosquitoes.

For the next two decades, English settlers attempted to engage in agriculture, which mainly consisted of fending off alligators with hoes. Finally in 1783, England said the hell with it and gave Florida back to Spain, reserving the right for English citizens to return on holiday and lie on the beach until their skin was the color of Hawaiian Punch.

Meanwhile, to the north, the United States was forming. The Spanish authorities tried to keep the Americans out of Florida, but settlers from Georgia kept coming across the border and erecting primitive log Waffle Houses. Finally, in 1821, Florida became an American territory, which it remains to this day in many areas.

In 1865, the Civil War broke out, although Florida did not find out about it until 1883, when it was too late to really get involved. Meanwhile, the state’s farmers had given up on cotton and were growing oranges, which were popular in the northern states. One fateful day, a Florida farmer decided, as a prank, to ship up some grapefruit. At the time, nobody in Florida considered grapefruit to be edible; it was used exclusively as a weapon. But, incredibly, Northerners actually ate it, apparently believing that anything tasting that bad must be healthy.

Jan. 1, 1900, marked the dawn of the twentieth century, although because of a broken telegraph wire Florida did not find out about this until July 18, 1903. For the next decade or so, the state remained fairly isolated, although it played a pivotal role in World War I on Nov. 10, 1918, when American biplanes — in an action that was widely condemned by international human-rights organizations — dropped several dozen grapefruit on Germany, which surrendered immediately.

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World War I was followed by the Roaring Twenties, a time when Americans went to speakeasies, where they drank bathtub gin until they were so impaired that they believed it would be a sound financial strategy to invest, sight unseen, in real estate located at or below sea level in a tropical cyclone zone. This resulted in the first Florida Land Boom, during which Miami went from being a sleepy village to a thriving metropolis, until the Hurricane of 1926 turned it back into a sleepy village, but with a lot more kindling.

This was followed by the Great Depression, which was very bad in Florida.

Q: How bad was it?

A: Some families resorted to eating grapefruit.

The next major event was World War II, during which Florida, once it found out what was going on, was totally on the American side.

In the sixties, Florida’s population grew rapidly as large numbers of retirees moved down from the north, seeking an affordable place to grow lengthy nose hairs and drive 14 miles an hour in the left lane. At the same time waves of Cuban refugees, fleeing the Castro regime, settled in the Miami area and, like so many immigrants before them, set about creating their own foreign policy.

Today, Florida — once a quiet backwater — is a modern and dynamic state that has totally entered the twenty-first century, except during presidential elections, when it reverts to 437 B.C.

Adapted from BEST. STATE. EVER.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry, to be published on September 6, 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Dave Barry.

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