History Happened Here

A campaign commemorating Florida's diverse cities.
Brought to you by the Florida League of Cities.


Escambia County

Year Founded: 1559Founded by: Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano


For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans moved in and out of the area around Pensacola Bay, hunting deer in the inland forests and harvesting the abundant marine life that thrived in the bay’s warm waters. Early Spanish explorers mapped the bay’s environs, sounded its depths, charted its anchorages, and recorded their interactions with the people who lived on its shores. These early accounts encouraged the Spanish to mount the most substantial settlement attempt undertaken by Spain in North America in the 16th century; the first settlement attempt at Pensacola occurred in 1559. Although the first settlement failed to survive, the operation opened the door to extensive European competition for La Florida. Permanent settlement in Pensacola was established in 1698. Spaniards arriving in the seventeenth century found a group of people known as “Panzacola” (long-haired people) living in the area; these early inhabitants lent their name to both the bay and the modern city of Pensacola.

Pensacola reflects over 450 years of history that builds on thousands of years of occupation prior to European settlement- from the Native People who were Florida’s first settlers, to those who came to their shores. The historical and archaeological records of Pensacola document Native People, 16th century Spanish shipwrecks and later presidios and missions. The initial settlement evolved into a bustling British trade center and the city took on a prominent role as our nation was struggling toward independence: Pensacola was the site of one of the most significant engagements of the American Revolution – the 1781 Battle of Pensacola.

Moving into the American period, Pensacola continued to evolve into a diverse community with strong economic ties to the timber, fishing, and shipping industries. Our past shaped this city, which reflects one of the richest cultural heritages of any city in North America. Museums, archaeological sites, historic cemeteries, historic villages and fortifications, all bring to life the people and events that made Pensacola the city it is today. Experience Pensacola, where a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant modern cultural community link past and present.

Text taken from Historic Pensacola by John J. Clune and Margo S. Stringfield. University Press of Florida 2009.

Story of City's Founding

In June of 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano, the newly appointed Spanish Governor of La Florida, sailed from Veracruz, Mexico toward Pensacola Bay. He was at the head of one of the most formidable settlement expeditions in American history: an eleven-ship fleet carrying in excess of 1,500 people, more than double the number on any previous Spanish expedition to Florida and many times the combined number that the English sent to Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth. This expedition predated the founding of Jamestown by a half century and St. Augustine by a half dozen years. Arriving in Pensacola Bay in mid-August, expedition leaders set about to select a site for the settlement that overlooked the bay. Luna’s men also quickly set out to find food sources, as the expedition had consumed most of their provisions on the voyage. Fate was not in the settler’s favor: on September 19, a powerful hurricane destroyed most of the fleet and the remaining supplies on board. The settlement was not able to survive this devastating blow and Pensacola was abandoned after about two years leaving behind the only physical evidence of expedition discovered to date: shipwrecks. In 1992 nautical archaeologists with the State of Florida were conducting a survey of shipwrecks in Pensacola Bay when their magnetometer signaled an anomaly on the bay floor. The source of the anomaly proved to be a ship’s anchor from one of the galleons of Luna’s expedition. University of West Florida archaeologists found a second ship in 2006. Historical research and archaeological investigations are ongoing and providing insights on the rich cultural heritage of these early settlers. Exhibits in the T.T. Wentworth State Museum and the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute tell the story of this poignant chapter of La Florida’s past. The Spanish returned to Pensacola Bay in 1698, building a small fort and settlement at the mouth of the bay, marking the date of permanent settlement. After moving the community to several sites around the bay the Spanish built on a site that is today the modern city of Pensacola. Sitting atop the archaeological remains of a small Spanish fort, the city overlooks the resting place of two of the 16th century galleons of Luna’s doomed fleet. Looking out across the sparkling water, one can almost see the galleon sails rounding the entrance to this historic bay and call to mind the struggle and courage of these early Floridians. Text taken from Historic Pensacola by John J. Clune and Margo S. Stringfield. University Press of Florida 2009.

Little Known Facts

Historical Sites

Name: Fort Pickens
Location: Gulf Islands National Seashore
Historical Significance: Located across the Bay from Ft. Barrancas, the fort is one of four that was never occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil Warr

Name: Fort Barrancas
Location: Gulf Islands National Seashore
Historical Significance: Constructed between 1839-1844, it was one of four forts built to protect the Pensacola Navy Yard

Name: Fort George
Location: Intersection of Palafox and La Rua Streets
Historical Significance: Interpretative park on the site of the 1781 Battle of Pensacola, a Revolutionary War Battleground

Name: Historic Pensacola Village
Location: 205 E. Zaragoza Street
Historical Significance: A complex of unique museums, furnished houses, the Colonial Archaeological Trail complimented with living history demonstrations

Name: Historic St. Michael's Cemetery
Location: 6 N. Alcaniz Street
Historical Significance: Outdoor museum chronicling Pensacola's rich, diverse heritage dating back to the 18th century

Key Historical Events

Event Description:

One of the best examples of the dynamic cultural evolution that occurred when Old World met New World is reflected in the innovative and cross-cultural foodways of the modern era.LINK TO http://www.pensacolacelebritychefs.com/pdf/pcc-timeline-final-sm.pdf for a plated history of Pensacola – food for thought!

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