Monday, January 6, 2014

A Short History of Hillsborough County: Part One of a Series

The county of Hillsborough was created by an act of the Florida Legislature on January 25, 1834.  The original, or historic, Hillsborough County covered approximately 14,600 square miles -- all or part of 24 present-day counties (an area larger than 8 states at the time).  By comparison, today's Hillsborough County is 1,072 square miles.  Its history is as varied and fascinating as any other place in this country.  People have lived in this area of West Central Florida for over 11,000 years, and their story is, in effect, our story.

Florida's indigenous people flourished here thousands of years before the first explorers arrived from Europe.  The Timucua and the Calusa were two of the largest and most highly-developed groups who controlled much of the peninsula and its population.  Different Timucuan people spoke dialects of the same language and held possession of the northern third of Florida, while the Calusa ruled over southwest Florida.  The area now known as Hillsborough County was occupied by smaller groups, notably the Tocobaga, Mocoso and Ucita.

Though probably known to Europeans before, Florida was "officially" located by Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon in March of 1513.  He was followed by a long line of adventurers, including Panfilo de Narvaez (April 1528) and Hernando de Soto (May 1539).  Archaeological evidence shows that Narvaez began his explorations from Tampa Bay, while debate continues as to de Soto's actual landing place.  The first priest to celebrate mass in Florida -- Fray Luis Cancer de Barbastro on June 20, 1549 -- celebrated it on the shores of Tampa Bay.  This exploration and settlement of Florida by Europeans dealt a catastrophic blow to the First Floridians. - RKP

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