Gary DeSantis


The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 (AOA) remains important to Florida's environmental history because it brought a stalwart band of white pioneers to take advantage of 200,000 acres of relatively untouched wilderness south of Gainesville. The basic tenants of the Act called for heads of households to bear arms against Seminoles, bestowed 160 acres of land to those who farmed at least five acres as well as constructed a domicile, and so succeeded in attracting new migrants that Florida achieved statehood three years later in 1845. The Act was effective in boosting the population-at least in giving Florida the 60,000 residents required to attain statehood-yet at the same time, altered both landscapes and ecosystems profoundly. Before a large influx of Americans moved south to territorial Florida, previous occupations by the Spanish, French, and English chiefly focused on establishing fortified garrisons to defend the strategic peninsula and quell resistance from Native Americans. As with any human incursion with nature, alteration of the environment is unavoidable. However, long-term impacts to Florida's ecosystems and wildlife by Europeans and Indigenous peoples paled in comparison to actions taken under American settlement. Following the passing of the AOA in 1842, the subsequent conversion of natural ecosystems to landscapes under human control, along with the eradication of certain species (both plant and animal), drastically affected the composition of the state's ecosystems. The intent of this article is not to pinpoint the AOA as the precise moment of ecological declension in Florida; rather it argues processes of environmental change stemmed from the direct impacts ofsettler colonialism and contributed to cultural patterns ofabuse and destruction of the environment.

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