Florida cracker refers to colonial-era English and American pioneer settlers and their descendants in what is now the U.S. state of Florida. The first of these arrived in 1763 after Spain traded Florida to Great Britain following the latter's victory over France in the Seven Years' War.
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 Act II. Scene I. (1595): "What cracker is this same that deafs our ears/ With this abundance of superfluous breath?"
By the 1760s, the ruling classes, both in Britain 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 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 who had migrated South. Also used by Florida cowboys, as with picture of Florida cracker Bone Mizell.
In Florida, those who own or work cattle traditionally have been called cowmen. In the late 1800s, they were often called cow hunters, a reference to hunting for cattle scattered over the wooded rangelands during roundups. At times the terms cowman and Cracker have been used interchangeably because of similarities in their folk culture. Today the western term "cowboy" is often used for those who work cattle.
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 smaller than the western breeds. The "cracker cow", also known as the "native" or "scrub" cow, averaged about 600 pounds (270 kg) and had large horns and large feet.
Among some Floridians, the term is used as a proud or jocular self-description. Since the huge influx of new residents into Florida in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, from the northern parts of the United States and from Mexico and Latin America, 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."
Since the late 20th century, the Cracker Storytelling Festival has been held annually in the fall at Homeland Heritage Park in Homeland, Florida. The year 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the festival. The Cracker Storytelling Festival includes many storytellers from around Florida who come to share their stories with visitors. The majority of visitors who attend this event are students, because storytelling is part of the Florida curriculum. The festival also incorporates local crafts and artwork, food vendors and a cracker whip-cracking contest. During the cracker whip-cracking contest, participants compete to see who can crack the most buttery flaky crackers. The winner receives the title of "Head Cracker"