- Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves, and the Founding of Miami by Andrew K. Frank
Miami, Florida, Tequestas, Seminoles, Seminole Wars, Spain, Henry Flagler, Julia Tuttle
Andrew K. Frank’s Before the Pioneers is a deep history that explores 4,000 years of human settlement on the north bank of the Miami River, the location of present-day downtown Miami, Florida. Frank’s volume examines a site that is only a few square acres, but the book ranges through thousands of years of history. He begins with Florida’s geologic formation and the migration of people to the Florida peninsula some 12,000–14,000 years ago. The book ends where, as he notes, many histories of Miami open—with booster Julia Tuttle, industrialist Henry Flagler, and the incorporation of the city in 1896. In between, Frank explores the many people who shaped the north bank site to suit their own purposes—Tequestas and Seminoles, Bahamian mariners and shipwrecked sailors, fugitive slaves, deserters, Spanish missionaries, and American plantation owners.
Throughout the book, Frank traces the physical tools, structures, and landscape modifications the inhabitants of the north bank left behind. The Tequestas were the first to form a sedentary community at the site, which they occupied as early as 3,500–4,000 years ago. Frank calls the Tequestas the north bank’s first urban planners. They built a complex of round buildings and burial mounds that was home to up to 1,000 people, as well as a ceremonial site across the river. In the sixteenth century, the Tequestas allowed Spanish missionaries to build a palisaded fort and a mission at the site. The Spanish and the Tequestas abandoned the [End Page 327] north bank only in the early eighteenth century when slave raiders threatened the region. After they left, a series of deserters, runaway slaves, and shipwrecked sailors created autonomous communities in the abandoned structures, where they remained despite the changing imperial winds that passed the Florida peninsula from Spanish to British and back to Spanish rule. When enslaved people and two slaveholders bearing Spanish and then United States land grants arrived at the north bank in the early nineteenth century, they found fruit trees that had been planted by Bahamian sailors decades before. The north bank plantation was short-lived, however. During the Second and Third Seminole Wars, the plantation buildings were abandoned, and the United States army repurposed them to create Fort Dallas, a launching point for raids against the Seminoles. By linking these physical remainders of human habitation over thousands of years, Frank argues that “the Tequesta Indians and other earlier inhabitants of the Miami River built the foundations for the city of Miami long before Julia Tuttle, Henry Flagler, or any of the other city ‘founders’ or so-called pioneers were born” (3).
Frank’s concern for physical remnants stems from a contemporary debate over archaeology and the future of downtown Miami. In 2013, archaeologists discovered the remains of the Tequesta north bank town during a historical analysis of the site for a major residential and retail complex. Frank suggests that Miami has long destroyed the old to make way for the new. “Through little or no fault of their own, Miamians lack a sense of the deep historical terrain that they occupy,” he writes (5). This was by design. In the 1890s, developers demolished much of the evidence of earlier north bank settlements to lay out the new city. African American workers leveled Tequesta mounds to build Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel and the city grid, and the remains of Fort Dallas were eventually destroyed or removed beyond the city center. Flagler’s hotel was anointed “the birthplace of Miami,” a moniker that rooted the founding of the city in a venture that boosters believed symbolized “progress and modernity” rather than the past (106–107). Frank shows how communities create the past they need, highlighting narratives that will best serve the interests of tourism or...