Southward expansion: The myth of the West in the promotion of Florida, 1876–1900


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Abstract

This article examines the ways in which promoters and developers of Florida, in the decades after Reconstruction, engaged with a popular myth of the West as a means of recasting and selling their state to prospective settlers in the North and Midwest. The myth envisaged a cherished region to the west where worthy Americans could migrate and achieve social and economic independence away from the crowded confines of the East, or Europe. According to state immigration agents, land-promoters and other booster writers, Florida, although a Southern ex-Confederate state, offered precisely these ‘western’ opportunities for those hard-working Northerners seeking land and an opening for agrarian prosperity. However, the myth, which posited that, in the west, an individual's labour and thrift were rewarded with social and economic improvement, meshed awkwardly with the contemporary emergence of Florida as a popular winter destination for wealthy tourists and invalids seeking leisure and healthfulness away from the North. Yet it also reflected and reinforced promotional notions of racial improvement which would occur with an influx of enterprising Anglo-Americans, who would effectively displace the state's large African American population. In Florida, the myth of the West supported the linked post-Reconstruction processes of state development and racial subjugation.

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