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Pensacola is the capital of West Florida. Initially investigated by Francisco Maldonado in 1540, Pensacola Bay played a very important role in the history of the Gulf Coast. Tristán de Luna attempted to found a permanent settlement there in 1559, but failed for many reasons. In 1686, during the search for Sieur R. R. C. de La Salle's colony, Ensign Juan Jordán de Reina visited the bay and called it "the best bay I have ever seen in my life." The local Indians he met called the bay Panzacola, Choctaw for "long-haired people." In 1693, Don Carlos de Sigüenza carefully examined the bay and drew an excellent map of it. Finally, in 1698, Spaniards under Andrés de Arriola established a presidio there called San Carlos de Austina. Captured by Mobile-based French in 1719, it was finally regained by Spaniards in 1722. But they moved the presidio to Santa Rosa Island, where it remained until a hurricane devastated the site on 3 November 1752. In 1754, the presidio was relocated to present-day Pensacola and in 1756 the Marqués de las Amarillas, viceroy of New Spain, ordered it moved to the site of Fort San Miguel on the mainland. In 1757 a royal order named it the Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola. In 1763 Spain ceded Florida to the British, and Pensacola became the capital of British West Florida. It remained British until captured by Bernardo de Gálvez's forces in 1781. The British officially returned Pensacola to Spain in 1783. Pensacola remained Spanish until ceded to the United States in 1819 and accepted by Andrew Jackson on 17 July 1821.

When the U.S. Civil War reached the area, Confederate forces invaded the city and remained there until 1862. However, they were never able to capture Fort Pickens, which is located offshore on Santa Rosa Island. In 1914 a naval yard first established in 1821 became a naval air station.

See alsoFlorida, Spanish West; Maldonado, Francisco Severo.


Stanley Faye, "Spanish Fortifications of Pensacola, 1698–1821," in Pensacola Historical Society Quarterly 6 (1972): 151-292.

William S. Coker, "The Financial History of Pensacola's Spanish Presidios, 1698–1763," in Pensacola Historical Society Quarterly 9 (1979): 1-20 and "Pensacola, 1686–1763," in Sesquicentennial History of Florida, edited by Michael V. Gannon (1995).

William S. Coker and G. Douglas Inglis, The Spanish Censuses of Pensacola, 1784–1820. Pensacola, FL: Perdido Bay Press, 1980, pp. 1-19.

Additional Bibliography

Bense, Judith Ann. Archaeology of Colonial Pensacola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Bense, Judith Ann. Presidio Santa Maria de Galve: A Struggle for Survival in Colonial Spanish Pensacola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.

Pearce, George F. Pensacola during the Civil War: A Thorn in the Side of the Confederacy. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

Petinal, Manuel. La campaña de Pensacola, 1781. Madrid, Spain: Almena Ediciones, 2002.

                                     William S. Coker

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