What’s in a Name? 

The first question of visitors is always “ Why is it called ‘Fort Dallas’ ?". Why indeed.

The William English Slave Plantation Longhouse has been commonly refered to as 'Fort Dallas’ for over one hundred years. It seems this building already had this false origin story when the City of Miami was founded in 1896.   

The Fort Dallas designation seems to have been already started when Julia Tuttle had acquired the 640 acres of the Plantation and was settled into English’s original stone homestead. When she lived in Miami none of the real Fort Dallas structures existed. They were long gone, most likely plundered for their timbers after the US troops departed for the last time in 1858. 

Julia Tuttle’s stone plantation home was now said to be 'A former miltary officers quarters' and her stone longhouse became the 'Old Fort Dallas’, a military barracks from the Seminole Wars.


The Slave Plantation Longhouse now called 'Old Fort Dallas' - Julia Tuttle Era. Note the Royal Palm Hotel in the background.

English’s Plantation Homestead in Julia Tuttle’s home. During her residence the Plantation home saw substantial improvement but she neglected the longhouse.

The Plantation origin of these buildings is hard to dispute. The US survey Map below was made in February 1849 by US Surveyor F.W. Gerdes and it clearly shows the original location of the English Plantation Homestead and the stone Longhouse. The map is a snapshot of the Miami River mouth taken shortly before Wm. English evacuated his plantation fearing Seminole attack and before US troops returned again to the Miami river.   



So today we must wonder if this misnaming was 

1. A deliberate revisionist plot

2.  A simple error

3. Or was it, as this writer suspects, a more nuanced and complex story involving preferred histories. 

The writer grew up playing a childrens game called Chinese Whispers about the transmission of mistakes. The US name for the game is ‘Telephone’. It's Wikipedia entry describes the game as 'a metaphor for cumulative error, especially the inaccuracies as rumours or gossip spread,or, more generally, for the unreliability of human recollection or even oral traditions

When Julia Tuttle died in 1898 there were still old timers such as William Wagner still alive who would have well known of the plantation origin of the stone plantation buildings, so the truth was there for the asking. 

This begs the question of whether the Fort Dallas designation was a preferred history. One thought more likely to attract tourists and settlers to the new 'Magic City' that Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler were selling. It would not be the first time nor the last time that real estate boosters have distorted histories. 

Soon after Julia Tuttle's death in 1898, her son and principal heir Harry Tuttle, began marketing the first Miami residential subdivision west of the Plantation buildings as "Fort Dallas Park” which expands the primacy of a military era identification. 

                                        Entrance to Harry Tuttle’s residencial 'Fort Dallas Park' 

In 1923, just before it was moved, the structure was briefly a teahouse frequented by many of Miami’s white ladies. It had a sign which read 'The Fort Dallas Teahouse’.  

Therefore, when the Women’s Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) banded together in 1925 to save and move this building to it’s current location in Lummus Park they were not saving a plantation remnant but  'Old Fort Dallas - A Barracks from the Seminole Wars'. Most likely they did not know of its true origin. 

Thankfully however, for whatever reason, we must be gratefull to the Daughters of the American Revolution, for here it stands preserved in Lummus Park - the first structure in Miami saved for its historical significance. One wonders if the Daughters of the American Revolution would have saved it with the same fervor had they understood it as a slave plantation relic.

Since 2002, the writer has been actively involved in providing public programs and displays for Lummus Park's historic buildings. In the beginning he come up against some very strong reactions from people very insistent on the veracity of the Fort Dallas origin story. 

The two chunky wooden Fort Dallas signs now heavily nailed to the building, appeared one day in 2003 after a very tense encounter with a Civil War Reenactor. To him the Plantation genesis was a heresy. To the writer his reaction was vandalism. 

Since then there have followed numerous other less dramatic encounters. Mostly people are grateful to learn the truth. In all these encounters the Ft.Dallas designation has complicated the telling of its true story. First of all, any guide has to explain the misleading nomenclature. The first question is always “ Why is it called ‘Fort Dallas’ ?". 

So now, more than one hundred years later, it is time to undo this nomenclature which has hidden Miami's more complex histories and to acknowledge that the Plantation economy, with its enslavement of Africans, was for two decades a Miami reality. 

The William English Slave Plantation Longhouse is an exceptional and valuable historical asset in Miami not only because it is so old, dating from the 1840s, but for its many subsequent functions and roles. All can be acknowledged, not excluding the busy chapters of military occupation and of its being the first post office and the first courthouse in Miami etc etc etc ..