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Florida cracker refers to original colonial-era English and American pioneer settlers of what is now the U.S. state of Florida, and their descendants. The first Florida crackers arrived in 1763 when Spain traded Florida to Great Britain. The British divided the territory into East Florida and West Florida, and began to aggressively recruit settlers to the area, offering free land and financial backing for export-oriented businesses. The territory passed back to the Spanish crown in 1783, and then to the US government in 1819. Spanish rule in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was only nominal and the territory was wild and lawless. The etymology of the word "cracker" in this usage is disputed.
The term "cracker" was in use during the Elizabethan era to describe braggarts. The original root of this is the Middle English word crack meaning "entertaining conversation" (One may be said to "crack" a joke); this term and the Gaelicized spelling "craic" are still in use in Northern England, Ireland and Scotland. It is documented in William Shakespeare's King John (1595): "What cracker is this ... that deafes our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath?"
By the 1760s the English, both at home and in the American colonies, applied the term “cracker” to Scots-Irish and English American settlers of the remote southern back country, as noted in a passage from a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth: "I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode." The word was later associated with the cowboys of Georgia and Florida, many of them descendants of those early frontiersmen.
The term "cracker" in Florida usage relates to the whip that cowboys used to "crack" cattle out of the swamps and scrub.
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The Spaniards in Florida called the Anglo-settlers "cuáqueros," a corruption of the English word “Quaker,” which the Spanish used to contemptuously refer to any Protestant. When Florida was annexed by the US in 1819, an estimated 20,000 Anglo-Floridians (mainly English Americans and Scotch-Irish Americans) lived alongside 40,000 more Spanish Floridians and about 10,000 African slaves, brought by the Anglo-Floridian farm owners in the northern part of Florida, but most of the slaves escaped and later joined the Seminole Indians, who used southern Florida as a safe haven away from approaching Anglo-American settlers in the 1820s.
The Florida peninsula was a battleground of Indian wars, slave rebellions and border skirmishes between the last days of New Spain and its subjugation by the United States army in the 1820s and 1830s, when the Seminoles were defeated and forcibly expelled. Florida officially became a US state in 1845, but remained a mostly rural backwater for nearly a century until the real estate boom of the 1920s. In the course of the 20th century, much of the formerly rural wetland and ranching lands of the Anglo-Floridian "crackers" and cowboys was sold to real estate developers.
The Florida "cowhunter" or "cracker cowboy" of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Spanish vaquero and the Western cowboy. Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were cow whips and dogs. Florida cattle and horses were small. The "cracker cow", also known as the "native" or "scrub" cow averaged about 600 pounds (270 kg) and had large horns and large feet.
The term is used as a proud or jocular self-description. Since the huge influx of new residents into Florida from the northern parts of the United States and from Mexico and Latin America in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the term "Florida Cracker" is used informally by some Floridians to indicate that their families have lived in the state for many generations. It is considered a source of pride to be descended from "frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens."
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