Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, indigenous peoples inhabited this area for thousands of years. The Mississippian Culture had erected earthen mounds around Lake Jackson circa 1200 AD, and most still survive today. Hernando de Soto, the Spanish explorer, occupied part of this area between 1538 and 1539. Later, Spain established its first colonial settlement in St. Augustine and by the 17th century had set up a number of missions in the Apolachee Territory (today’s Florida Panhandle). Their largest mission was Mission San Luis de Apolachee in today’s Tallahassee (now a partially reconstructed tourist attraction).
The name Talllahassee derives from the Muskogean language (most likely from the Creek sub-sector), meaning Old Fields or Old Town . This group of Native Americans eventually evolved into the Seminoles.
Florida became part of the American Territory during September of 1821. The first session of the Florida Territorial Legislative Council met on July 22, 1822 in Pensacola - the former capital of Western Florida. It then alternated its meetings with the capital of Eastern Florida (St. Augustine). Deciding that the long journey required to hold meetings in both capitals required too much travel time, they sought a better alternative. The Council settled on a halfway point between the West and East Florida capitals, i.e. Tallahasseee. This frontier settlement gradually grew as a town. By 1845, a Greek Revival masonry structure was erected as the territorial capital building. This would eventually become known as the Old Capital following the construction of a new high-rise State Capital building in the 1970’s.
Tallahassee had been the heart of Florida’s Cotton Belt and center of the slave trade in the state. During the Civil War , it was the only Confederate State Capital not captured by Union forces and the only one not burned.
In the course of the 19th century, the institutions that would eventually become Florida State University were established in Tallahassee, thus turning it into a University town. Following the Civil War, many former plantations were purchased by wealthy Northerners to use as winter hunting preserves. In the 1960’s, a movement developed to transfer the State Capital to Orlando in order to be closer to the state’s growing population. This effort was defeated.