“In this riveting account, Frank moves beyond stories of recent development to uncover the deep history of a place profoundly shaped by mound-builders, slaves, raiders, and traders. This book will change the way you think about Florida history.”—Christina Snyder, author of Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America
“A marvelous read that offers new perspectives on old history.”—Jerald T. Milanich, author of Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe
“Reveals that Old Miami seems a lot like New Miami: a place bursting with energy and desperation, fresh faces, and ancient dreams.”—Gary R. Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida
“A deep, intelligent look at the parade of peoples who dotted the north bank of the Miami River for thousands of years before Miami’s modern era.”—Paul S. George, author of Along the Miami River
“A masterful history. A must-read for anyone who wants to learn about Miami.”—Arva Moore Parks, author of George Merrick, Son of the South Wind
Formed seemingly out of steel, glass, and concrete, with millions of residents from around the globe, Miami has ancient roots that can be hard to imagine today. Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves, and the Founding of Miami takes readers back through forgotten eras to the stories of the people who shaped the land along the Miami River long before most modern histories of the city begin.
Andrew Frank begins the chronicle of the Magic City’s long history 4,000 years ago when Tequesta Indians settled at the mouth of the river, erecting burial mounds, ceremonial centers, and villages. They created a network of constructed and natural waterways through the Everglades and trade routes to the distant Calusa on the west coast. Centuries later, the area became a stopover for Spanish colonists on their way to Havana, a haven where they could shelter from storms and obtain freshwater, lumber, and other supplies. Frank brings to life the vibrant colonies of fugitives and seafarers that formed on the shores of Biscayne Bay in the eighteenth century. He tells of the emergence of the tropical fruit plantations and the accompanying enslaved communities, as well as the military occupation during the Seminole Wars. Eventually, the small seaport town flourished with the coming of “pioneers” like Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler who promoted the city as a place of luxury and brought new waves of residents from the North.
Frank pieces together the material culture and the historical record of the Miami River to re-create the fascinating past of one of the world’s most influential cities.
Andrew K. Frank is the Allen Morris Associate Professor of History at Florida State University. He is the author of several books, including Creeks and Southerners: Biculturalism on the Early American Frontier.
In this interview Andrew Frank answers our questions about his new book and Miami’s early history.
What sparked your fascination with Florida’s early history?
Being raised in South Florida, I truly thought my family was the first to live in my “neighborhood.” When I started studying history, I became fascinated with why South Floridians imagine their history as being so recent. How could I have grown up surrounded by Tequesta mounds, Seminole Indians, and slave plantations without knowing anything about them?
What inspired you to write about Miami’s ancient roots in particular?
Connecting the ancient and modern worlds has been a holy grail for scholars for many years, so this particular site was too amazing to ignore. I was fascinated by ancient Tequesta homes sitting alongside a nineteenth-century well and the steps of the modern Royal Palm Hotel. It was an extra bonus that my wife’s grandfather shared his memories of the hotel and the Miami River for years.
What were you surprised to discover that many people may not know?
There were so many big and small surprises in my research. I am still surprised by the number of famous people (Ponce de Léon, William Augustus Bowles, Abner Doubleday, and John Breckinridge) who were at the site before Henry Flagler or Julia Tuttle. I was even more surprised by the continuous stretch of occupants who creatively imagined that they were the first ones to occupy it. A lot of energy went into their acts of forgetting, and their decisions have made it very hard to imagine Miami as Florida’s oldest city.
What do you think about the preservation plans for the north bank site?
I am thrilled with the decision to let HistoryMiami create a permanent historic exhibit at the site. Rather than bury the past like earlier generations have done, the current occupants of the north bank will acknowledge that they are neither the first nor the last ones to do so. Preservationists, developers, and city officials should be commended for finding a way for the ancient and modern world to coexist.
Remnants of a prehistoric Tequesta Indian village were discovered by archaeologists in downtown Miami during the development of a high rise building. As someone who has dedicated his career to studying the history of Florida, what was this discovery of this site like for you?
The discovery was awesome on many levels. We have known about the Tequesta presence in Miami for many years, but the archaeological discovery challenges our sense of space and scale. With dozens of buildings spread across the area, the physical evidence makes it very hard to overlook our Tequesta founders. The controversy about what to do with the site sparked conversations about history, preservation, and development that were desperately needed. Intellectually, it was great to see South Florida get attention from scholars who normally locate early American history elsewhere.
How might one look for and find the influences of Miami’s ancient roots while in the Magic City today?
As much as the city has grown, the geography of Miami still retains the influences of the ancient Tequesta. The largest Tequesta village still sits at the center of the city, and the area is filled with their mounds and middens. We cannot know what would have occurred if the Tequesta did not establish a foothold at the mouth of the river, but it is clear that we are living with the effects of that choice.
Why do you think people living in or visiting Miami today could benefit from knowing its early history?
So much of what we associate with modern Miami is older than we imagine. Its cosmopolitanism, connections to the Caribbean and water, and multiculturalism all have roots in its early history. These deep roots are equally evident in some of Miami’s modern struggles—the modern city inherited a history of racial inequality, environmental destruction, as well as tensions between development and preservation.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I hope that readers embrace the idea that Miami is an ancient place and that other cities and towns across America may have similarly ancient roots. History is as much about our collective memory as it is about collective forgetting. Americans, Floridians in particular, have tended to forget or ignore our ancient past. I hope this book will lead them to change that tendency.