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Not much is known about the cultures who called the Tampa Bay area home before European contact. When Spanish explorers arrived in the 1520s, they found a ring of Tocobaga villages around the northern half of Tampa Bay from modern-day Pinellas County to Tampa and Calusa villages along the southern portion of the bay in modern-day Manatee County. Expeditions led by Pánfilo de Narváez and Hernando de Soto landed near Tampa to look for gold and possibly start a colony. Neither conquistador stayed in the region for long once it became clear that the local riches were only abundant fish and shellfish. The native inhabitants, who derived most of their resources from the sea, repulsed any Spanish attempt to establish a permanent settlement or convert them to Catholicism. Archeological evidence reveals a total collapse of the native cultures of Florida in the years after European contact. The Tampa area was depopulated and ignored for more than 200 years. In the mid-18th century, events in American colonies drove the Seminole Indians into the wilds of northern Florida. During this period, the Tampa area had only a handful of residents: Cuban and Native American fishermen. They lived in a small village at the mouth of Spanishtown Creek on Tampa Bay, in today’s Hyde Park neighborhood along Bayshore Boulevard. In 1821, the United States purchased Florida from Spain, partly to reduce Indian raids, and partly to eliminate a refuge for escaped slaves from neighboring Southern states. One of the first U.S. actions in its new territory was a raid which destroyed Angola, a settlement built by escaped slaves and free blacks on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay. The Treaty of Moultrie Creek (1823) created a large Indian reservation in the interior of the peninsula of Florida. As part of efforts to establish control over the vast wilderness, the U.S. government built a series of forts and trading posts in the new territory. "Cantonment Brooke" was established on January 10, 1824, by Colonels George Mercer Brooke and James Gadsden at the mouth of the Hillsborough River on Tampa Bay, at the site of the Tampa Convention Center in Downtown Tampa. On January 22, 1824, the post was officially named Fort Brooke. During its first decades of existence, Tampa was very much an isolated frontier outpost. The sparse civilian population practically abandoned the area when the Second Seminole War flared up in late 1835. After almost seven years of vicious fighting, the Seminoles were forced away from the Tampa region and many settlers returned. The Territory of Florida had grown enough by 1845 to become the 27th state. Four years after statehood, on January 18, 1849, Tampa had also grown enough to officially incorporate as the "Village of Tampa". Tampa was home to 185 inhabitants, not including military personnel stationed at Fort Brooke. The city's first census count in 1850, however, listed Tampa-Fort Brooke as having 974 residents, inclusive of the military personnel. Tampa was reincorporated as a town on December 15, 1855, and Judge Joseph B. Lancaster became the first mayor in 1856. During the American Civil War, Florida seceded along with most of the southern states to form the Confederate States of America. Fort Brooke was manned by Confederate troops, and martial law was declared in Tampa in January 1862. Tampa's city government ceased to operate for the duration of the war. In late 1861, the Union Navy set up a blockade around many southern ports to cut off the Confederacy from outside help, and several ships were stationed near the mouth of Tampa Bay. Blockade runners based in Tampa were able to repeatedly slip through the blockade to trade cattle and citrus for needed supplies, mainly with Spanish Cuba. Union gunboats sailed up Tampa Bay to bombard Fort Brooke and the surrounding city of Tampa. The Battle of Tampa on June 30 and July 1, 1862, was inconclusive, as the shells fell ineffectually, and there were no human casualties on either side. More damaging to the Confederate cause was the Battle of Fort Brooke on October 17 and October 18, 1863. Two Union gunboats shelled the fort and surrounding town and landed troops, who found blockade runners hidden up the Hillsborough River near present-day Lowry Park Zoo and destroyed them. The local militia mustered to intercept the Union troops, but they were able to return to their ships after a short skirmish and headed back out to sea. The war ended in April 1865 with a Confederate defeat. In May 1865, federal troops of the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment arrived in Tampa to occupy the fort and the town as part of Reconstruction. They remained until August 1869. The Reconstruction period was hard on Tampa. With little industry, and land transportation links limited to bumpy wagon roads from the east coast of Florida, Tampa was a fishing village with very few people, and poor prospects for development. Throughout its history, Tampa had been affected by yellow fever epidemics borne by mosquitoes from the surrounding swampland, but the sickness was particularly widespread during the late 1860s and 1870s. The disease was little understood at the time, and many residents simply packed up and left rather than face the mysterious and deadly peril. In 1869, residents voted to abolish the city of Tampa government. The population of "Tampa Town" was below 800 in the official 1870 census count and had fallen further by 1880. Fort Brooke, the seed from which Tampa had germinated, had served its purpose and was decommissioned in 1883. Except for two cannons displayed on the nearby University of Tampa campus, all traces of the fort are gone. In the mid-1880s, Tampa's fortunes took several sudden turns for the better. First, phosphate was discovered in the Bone Valley region southeast of Tampa in 1883. The mineral, vital for the production of fertilizers and other products, was soon being shipped out from the Port of Tampa in great volume. Tampa is still a major phosphate exporter. Henry B. Plant's railroad line reached Tampa and its port shortly thereafter, finally connecting the small town to the nation's railroad system after years of efforts by local leaders. Previously, Tampa's overland transportation links had consisted of rutted sandy roads stretching across the Florida countryside. Plant's railroad made it much easier to get goods in and out of the Tampa Bay area. Phosphate and commercial fishing exports could be sent north and many new products were brought into the Tampa market, along with the first tourists. The new railroad link enabled another important industry to come to Tampa. In 1885, the Tampa Board of Trade enticed Vicente Martinez Ybor to move his cigar manufacturing operations to Tampa from Key West. Proximity to Cuba made importation of "clear Havana tobacco" easy by sea, and Plant's railroad made shipment of finished cigars to the rest of the US market easy by land. Since Tampa was still a small town at the time (population less than 5000), Ybor built hundreds of small houses around his factory to accommodate the immediate influx of mainly Cuban and Spanish cigar workers. Ybor City's factories rolled their first cigars in 1886, and many different cigar manufacturers moved their operations to town in ensuing years. Many Italian and a few eastern European Jewish immigrants arrived starting in the late 1880s, opening businesses and shops that catered to cigar workers. By 1900, over 10,000 immigrants had moved to the neighborhood. Several thousand more Cuban immigrants built West Tampa, another cigar-centric suburb founded a few years later by Hugh MacFarlane. Between them, two "Latin" communities combined to exponentially expand Tampa's population, economic base, and tax revenues, as Tampa became the "Cigar Capital of the World".
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Last Modified: Fri Jul 29 2016 09:10:20.