The Plantation Slave Quarters 


                                            The Longhouse in downtown Miami’s Lummus Park - 2016

The Longhouse, was built in the 1840s by some of the one hundred enslaved Africans belonging to a South Carolina planter, Colonel and Senator William F. English.

In 1842 English had obtained title of the 640 acre estate from his uncle Colonel Richard Fitzpatrick who had already been running a substantial slave plantation at this location during the 1830’s. 

Col. William F. English’s Plantation houses stood, on the north bank of the Miami River very close to today’s Hyatt Regency and they were the central buildings of a large plantation cultivating a 100 acres of sugar. 

In this US Survey Map from early in 1849 we see that near the homestead they had establshed a pineapple grove and were growing limes on the large former Tequesta Burial Mound which stood beside the-then-unoccupied, Fort Dallas wooden structures which faced the Biscayne Bay. 

Facing the river we see that the longhouse stood next to the plantation owner Col.William English’s large stone homestead. Below is the oldest photograph of the structure taken forty years later by Commodore Ralph Monroe. 

Oldest known photo of English Plantation home and Slave House. 1880's photo by Commodore Ralph Monroe from H.A.S.F.

In this location alongside the slave owner’s home it stood for more than 75 years until 1925 when it was taken apart stone-by-stone, and shipped less-than-a-mile up the river and to be reassembled at its current location in downtown’s Lummus Park.  This was the first time in Miami’s history that a building was saved for its historic significance. 

It’s preservation was carried out by The Miami Women's Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) who raised the moneys needed solely by private donation. Until the 1980’s the D.A.R. used this slave plantation longhouse as a their meeting place.   


Spain sold Florida to the US in 1821. Within four years, a grant of title to the north bank of the Miami River mouth was awarded to a James Egan, who had been a surveyor to the Spanish.  When the land was sold in 1830, plantation slaves were introduced to Miami. 

Richard Fitzpatrick, a South Carolinian, bought Egan's land and quickly established a plantation. A visitor to the region reported that Fitzpatrick's enterprise included 50 to 60 slaves who lived in wooden huts.

It was an uncertain time, in which the settlers were at war against the Seminole Indians. In 1835 Fitzpatrick became a Colonel and went to Cuba for bloodhounds, to be used to hunt down the Seminole Indians who were now being compressed into the Everglades. The following year Fitzpatrick was elected to the state legislature was a prime mover in creating Dade County.

The plantation was left under the control of his overseer, James Wright.  When Seminoles killed a family of settlers near what is now Ft. Lauderdale, Wright got news of the attack in time to evacuate himself and the slaves. The removal of so many slaves was seen as a remarkable achievement, for the Seminoles would likely given them sanctuary. A search party sent to the river reported that Fitzpatrick's settlement had been completely destroyed.



US troops first came to the Miami River in 1838, building several log houses, which they called Fort Dallas. By 1842 the hostilities between the settlers and the Seminoles had abated, and the troops departed. Fitzpatrick could have moved back, but instead he sold his land to his nephew, Colonel William F. English.

English arrived with ambitious plans. Not only did he re-establish a plantation, but also he planned to develop a town. He called the area Miami and he advertised the site as ideal for settlement with glowing inducements, such as a description of its extraordinary fertility of soil. 

It appears that by 1844 he had constructed two solid stone buildings:  a house for himself and family, and the longhouse which was most likely a slave quarters . 


                           THE ENSLAVED AFRICANS

It seems that we know almost nothing about English’s one hundred enslaved Africans? We know only that English had been lent these slaves by his mother Harriet English of South Carolina. We also know that English’s uncle Richard Fitzpatrick had previously had somewhere between 38 and 60 slaves in Miami and that they also belonged to English’s mother (Fitzpatrick’s sister). It is therefore possible that some may have already been in Miami.

Of their lives here we can only speculate from the records and recollections of other plantations.  However, we know the names of two of them. In 1847, two negros, named simply as Jack and George who were listed as possessions of William English, were reported as being with 5 others captured. They had escaped at night from the army at Fort.Jefferson by stealing a schooner.

Had English leased them out, for money to the army to build the fort; or had he loaned them in exchange for the right to demand protection? 

We dont know. We do know, however, that had they made it to the Bahamas, only a short distance away, they would have been free. In all the English colonies, including the Bahamas, the enslavement of Africans had already been abolished by the English in 1833.

So, at this period of time, Miami was probably not an ideal location for exploiting plantation slaves. Along much of Floridas east coast a secret underground railway was operating that aided the escape of dozens of African Seminoles to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, west of the plantation was all Everglades and here the Seminoles held sway. They would likely have aided any escaped Africans and protected them from capture.

                             GROWTH AND RETREAT

 In 1844, Col. William English was elected to the state legislature like his uncle before him, serving as senator.  A Navy Master visiting the settlement for two days in May 1844 wrote:

'A senator of Florida, Mr. Wm.F. English is the chief cook and bottle washer of the establishment. He is lame of leg and intends flooding the United States and Key west with Coonti and sugar or whatever else his plantation will produce. Mr. English is a Colonel of course as are all the natives of this region. The settlers are "armed occupants,"so called, receiving from the Government acertain quantity of land as a grant. They are very sanguine of establishing eventually a flourishing settlement & have laid out a town & city yet to be built…..'

Compared to the past, Miami was booming. A trading post and other mills were being established on the river.

English's plantation was well established and thriving by 1849, when word reached the settlement that Seminoles had attacked U.S. Inspector William Russell at Indian River. English fired off a letter to Key West asking for protection for the people of Miami, while evacuating everybody to the Cape Florida (Key Biscayne) Lighthouse.

In response the Navy sent a contingent of twenty men to check for signs of Indians on the river. They found none and convinced the settlers to return, but when the contingent departed the settlers soon also departed.



US troops returned to Miami in 1849. They found the original log buildings of Fort Dallas in need of repair, so they occupied English's stone buildings while improvements were made.

With troops in his buildings, English decided to go to California in search of gold. He hoped to find his fortune and return with enough capital to build his dream city.

The soldiers continued to build up the fort, and by 1855 it had become a substantial compound. The most significant achievement of this period was the  construction by the troops of a road connecting Fort Dallas to Fort Lauderdale in 1856.

ft dallas 1858

                                                                       Fort Dallas sometime in the 1850’s

Fort Dallas greatly impressed six-year-old Rose Wagner when she arrived in Miami in 1858. She recalled that the fort consisted of nine wooden buildings which faced the bay, in addition to English's stone buildings which faced the river.

Most of the other settlers had returned during English's pursuit of gold, but Colonel English never made it back to Miami. In 1855 he accidentally shot and killed himself while dismounting from his horse near Sacramento California.   What happened to his slaves is not known, but it is presumed that they were returned to his mother in South Carolina.

The troops left by 1858. Now and for the years of the Civil War English's buildings were lived in by caretakers.

                                                     NOAH'S ARK

In 1866, with the Civil War over, William H. Gleason visited the Miami River briefly as a scout for group of Virginians to assess a plan to move thousands of recently freed slaves to Florida. The plan never materialized because the land was considered too valuable. Six months later the inhabitants of the River were in for a surprise when they saw Gleason reappear on a substantial schooner. In the days that followed, they watched in awe as he unloaded such an abundant quantity of family, goods, chattels, horses, and livestock that they dubbed his boat "Noah's Ark.”

William Henry Gleason

                                                         William Henry Gleason- The King of Dade

Audaciously, Gleason occupied the English estate claiming that he had a state grant of title. In a very short time this carpetbagger had established an impressive settlement, which included a post office and a printing press in the plantation longhouse. Designated the King of Dade, he was soon very much the boss of the region.

Gleason had even loftier ambitions, and in 1868 he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Florida. Later that year, in a strange turn of events, he was declared Governor during a radical Republican impeachment attempt launched against the sitting Governor. Gleason spent one month as the disputed Governor-elect, in a hotel across the street from the Capitol building, where he held on to the State seals.

The attempt didn't last long. It was revealed that Gleason had not lived in Florida the requisite three years to hold state office.


Returning to Miami, Gleason extended his regime but not his popularity. As Dade County tax assessor he levied taxes on unoccupied lands.  When the taxes were not paid he bought the tax certificates, and so acquired an enormous amount of real estate.

All this changed the next year, in 1869, when preacher Dr. Jeptha V. Harris legally purchased the 640 acres of the English estate. At first Gleason refused to leave the property but, much to the delight of locals, Harris drove him off the land with a shotgun.

By 1871 Gleason had cooked up a devious scheme to regain possession of Harris' property. Gleason discovered that a man named James Hagan had been living in Key West at the same time that James Egan received the original title to the Miami River property. Gleason wrote the land office in Washington, DC, claiming to be Hagan's attorney, convincing them that Egan was actually a mistaken spelling of Hagan. 

With the amended title papers, Gleason bought the falsified title from  the Hagan heirs in Key West and with this document he confronted Harris. Once again the settlers derived vicarious satisfaction in seeing Gleason driven off. This time Harris beat him with a cane.


During Harris's tenure, peace was established with the Seminoles and they were frequent visitors to the settlement. In fact, Harris was a favorite of the Seminoles, having successfully treated several for typhoid fever.

However by 1873, Harris was fed up with Miami. His farming ventures had not been successful and he sold the property to the Biscayne Bay Company, a corporation from Augusta, Georgia.

The new owners were absentee landlords and they hired caretakers for the property. In 1877 the management of the property was given to J.W. Ewen, nephew to the president of the company. 



                       English’s Plantation Home at same time as above- Photo Cdr. Ralph Monroe

Ewen was a popular character on the bay and he was elected to the State Legislature to replace Gleason, who still lived in Dade County. Ewen was locally refered to as the Duke of Dade, in contrast to Gleason being the King. Ewen was no farmer. His land quickly became so overgrown that it was described as a jungle, but meanwhile the plantation longhouse became the center of much activity. 

                     Writer Kirk Monroe can be seen stroking the cat. Photo 1880’s Cmr. Ralph Monroe

At this time the Plantation longhouse had three functions that we know of. 

 1.The Eastern end was filled with bunk beds, which served as a flophouse. 

 2. The middle section was Ewen's trading post. 

 3. Meanwhile the Western End became the first 'Miami Dade Courthouse”.

                        DADE COUNTY COURTHOUSE

Although Dade County had been incorporated in 1836, no County court had ever met in Miami. However in 1886, the Western end of the longhouse was all set on May Ist to serve as Dade County Courthouse, but at the appointed day the Judge and his clerk were nowhere to be seen.

Late in the afternoon of the following day a schooner was seen sailing into Biscayne Bay. On board was Judge Eleazer K. Foster of the 7th Judicial Circuit and his clerk, plus an acting state attorney. That evening the party dined on shore and slept on board and the following morning at 10.00 AM the first court convened.

There was only one case on the docket- a dispute of the Brickells against an Etta Gilbert which was dismissed ìat cost of plaintiff ì

The court then appointed an acting sheriff -a local called William Mettair. Then began a process of establishing a pool of grand jurors. The process was made livelier by the eviction of an unruly spectator. This was, perhaps, the first duty of Miami’s new sheriff. 

Miami had clearly needed a sheriff twenty-five years earlier. In 1861 the Wagner family’s 12-year old son was shot dead by a drunken neighbor - an old englishman named George Marshall. Because the nearest sheriff was in far away in Key West, George Marshall sold his land to a neighbor, escaped and was never heard of again.

Judge Foster’s Miami court was supposed to meet every six months, but the court was to sit only once more in the Slave Quarters. A year later Judge Foster’s court confirmed that acting Sheriff Mettair was now the official sheriff. The following session was postponed because a yellow fever outbreak in Key West forced travel restrictions and then sessions were postponed because the Judge was busy elsewhere.

In 1890 the Judge moved the court to Juno (then part of Dade County). He noted that Dade had no real crime and he wrote THAT Dade County could boast of as good and intelligent citizens as any county in the State.


In 1889, Julia Tuttle began acquiring the properties of the Biscayne Bay Company. In 1891, she and her children moved into English's stone plantation house and were to greatly improve the home. Meanwhile she used the longhouse for storage, with a few bunks kept for visitors.

 The story of Tuttle luring Flagler to build his railroad to Miami is well known. She gave him her prime land on the mouth of the river, where the Fort Dallas buildings stood, but she kept possession of English's buildings as her own.

The railroad reached Miami in April 1896, and within three months Miami was incorporated and had its first newspaper. By January 1897 Flagler's massive Royal Palm Hotel opened on the site of Fort Dallas.

Workers level mound

           March 3,  1896-Flagler’s black workers level an ancient burial mound.

When the land for the hotel was cleared, the workers leveled a huge Tequesta Indian mound in which numerous Indian artifacts and skeletons were discovered.  Flagler's foreman, John Sewell, reported that he had the Indian remains removed to an undisclosed site. 

Recent 21st Century discoveries by County archeologist Robert Carr in while examining the site reveal that the Tequesta human remains where not removed to an undisclosed site as reported at the time but instead were just shoveled in with dirt as so much fill to build a seawall at Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel. Skulls and bones strewn indiscriminately. By any standards an appaling act of vandalism. )



                                 Julia Tuttle - the so-called 'Mother of Miami’.

Tuttle, who died in 1898, became known as the Mother of Miami. During her short tenure of English's buildings, Miami had been totally transformed.                                                                                  

Although she gave Flagler Prime waterfront land to make the Royal Palm Hotel she kept prime property for herself. In this image above from 1900 we see her home and the plantation longhouse with spacious her lawns leading to the river.

1909 Mouth of Miami River



To build the railway, the hotel, and the new Miami streets, Sewell employed gangs of black laborers whom he called his black artillery. However, despite their vital role in creating the new city, African Americans were confined to an area to the north of the city which today is called Overtown. Slavery may have been abolished but segregation was rigidly enforced. The Royal Palm Hotel and the downtown area, including the site of the original slave quarters, were now firmly off limits to African Americans.

In 1898 war broke out between the U.S. and Spain. Flagler's railroad brought 7,000 troops to Miami, where they were stationed near Overtown during the blistering summer months of that year. The city, with a population of only 2,500, was overwhelmed. The terrible heat and the ever-present mosquitoes made camp life torturous. Agitated and bored, the troops ran amok. Murders occurred almost every night and the white townspeople carried guns for their own safety.

The African Americans of Overtown received the worst of the occupation's excesses. Soldiers raped many of their women, and there were so many violent clashes that, at one point, the entire black population fled to Coconut Grove. 

Fortunately, the "Splendid Little War" did not last long, and after only two months the troops were gone. The city breathed a collective sigh of relief.


Shortly after Julia Tuttle's death in 1898, her son Harry leased English's stone two floor house to a group who ran it as "The Seminole Club" - a gambling establishment that was raided by the police on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, Harry Tuttle developed the surrounding riverside properties into a fashionable area of single-family homes called Fort Dallas Park.

1898 becomes semoinole club

                             The Seminole Gambling Club and the Longhouse                    

              1905- Entrance to Harry Tuttle's Ft.Dallas fashioanable subdivision.

The plantation longhouse now became a well-appointed residence.  The undated and anonymous photograph abaove shows a columned porch added to the front. There was a kitchen and additional rooms to the rear. To the front a prime river view.                             


                                             Mouth Miami River c.1920

In 1923, the building was leased to two sisters who opened it as the "Ft. Dallas Tea House." Here patrons enjoyed tea and light sandwiches, and with the spacious lawns in front they also enjoyed a splendid view of the river. The Tea House quickly became a popular and fashionable ladies' meeting place.


                                                                Teahouse 1925


In 1925, the Plantation Longhouse were sold to a developer who announced his intention to destroy the building to make way for a high-rise hotel. Shortly afterwards English's Plantation home was also slated for demolition.

There appears to have been little outcry concerning the demolition of the English’s historic home, perhaps because the police raids on the building, as the Seminole Club, were frequently profiled in the local newspapers. Just before its demolition the house was a library run by the Women’s Club named in honor of Henry Flagler. 

Last pic home before demolition

                 The Plantation Home just before its demolition 1925. At the time the building is a Library.

The fate of the Longhouse, however, was a different matter. 

For the first time in Miami’s history a building was saved for its historic significance. The Miami Women's Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), many of who had been patrons of the Tea House, crusaded for its preservation. 

The developer agreed give the building to the city and the city accepted it, provided the women would find the cost of moving it to Lummus Park. Their fund raising drive galvanized the city. The City Commissioners would not use city funds but many gave personally and generously . The famed orator and a former presidential candidate William Jennings Byron spoke in it favor during the intermission of a band concert held at Royal Palm Park. 

He was quoted as saying, 

"We should devote ourselves to this project with the zeal that will cause our children and our children's children to look upon these old treasures and be inspired.

Despite Jennings Byron’s fine oratory the building was, first and foremeost, being saved as Fort Dallas - a military barracks structure. It was not being preserved for it’s now hidden slave-plantation origins. 

So, all $7,000 dollars needed were raised and the building was taken apart, moved and resurrected in its current site. 

The Slave Plantation Longhouse now in Lummus Park served for many years as the headquarters for the Miami chapter of the D.A.R.

In this 1948 newspaper article we see pictured members of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the building. 

Ironically, both Lummus Park and the historical buildings remained off-limits for African Americans. Segregation was still enforced. Two blocks north of the park was the border between Overtown and Lummus Park's "Whites-Only" neighborhood.

However, the biggest blow to this neighborhood occured in the seventies with the construction of the I-95. Now the park and neighborhood were essentailly cut off from downtown. 

 For a time, the area was considered dangerous and it was. In the nineteen eighties the DAR abandoned the building.The park had been taken over by homeless people and some of them broke into and vandalized the building.  

For the early part of the nineties the city built a fence around the park and when homeless people were found lighting a fire on the porch of the Wagner Home it was individually fenced in by a very dedicated (now retired) Miami City police officer- Carlos Saavedra.