The Mound

Sewells's 1896 clearing the mound

      Flagler’s team of blacks laborers leveling the ancient Tequesta Burial Mound

Because of Flagler’s appalling descration of the prominent Mound at the north side of the mouth of the Miami River we will never know how old it was. We know that for centuries it was the beacon navigational guide marking the entrance to the river. 

Flagler leveled the mound, not because it stood on the site of his Royal Palm Hotel, but because it would obscure the bay view for his hotel guests. 

gertes mound 1849 limes

      The Mound with Limes when Miami cheief business was a  Slave Plantation 

Most of Florida’s numerous indigenous mounds date back to about 1000BC so it is likely this Mound was just as ancient. The earliest known image is the US survey map made in early 1849 when it had been planted in limes by slave plantation owner Colonel William English.

                                                   Detail of  a Soldier’s Drawing 

Late i n the same year we see an image of the Mound when US Troops resided in Miami to remove the Seminoles from Florida. In this detail of a drawing by one of the troops we see they had erected a flagpole atop. Planation owner William English,  fearing a Seminole attack, had meanwhile evacuated taking with him all of his enslaved Africans. 

                       Professor Jeffries Wyman. The Miami Mound as drawn in his notes. 

In 1869 eminent Harvard Professor Jeffries Wyman spent several days in Miam examining indigenous sites of interest and he examined  this mound and two others nearby. Jeffries Wyman was an distinguished anatomist and naturalist who openly supported Darwin’s theory of evolution. He was also the first curator of the Peabody Museum.  Darwin wrote of him  "I know hardly anyone whose opinions I should be more inclined to defer to.”

Today we have no knowledge about the other two mounds he examined but he was the among the first to surmise that Miami had likely been a populous indigenous settlement.  He notes that he found little of interest in a single day’s excavation of this mound.

                                                       The Leveling of the Mound. 

John Sewell was William Flagler’s foreman in preparing the grounds for the Royal Palm Hotel and it was he who supervised the destruction of  the ancient Tequesta Mound. He arrived by boat in 1896 in advance of the arrival of the railroad with twelve black laborers to assist him.

John Sewell 1920

                                                              John Sewell in 1920

Shortly before his death in 1938 he privately published  "Memoirs and the History of Miami, FL”

Below is his description of levelling the Mound.                        

 Among the landmarks of Miami that I found here was an Indian Mound near the bay south of 14th street and near the northeast corner of the proposed site of the Royal Palm Hotel. This stood up like a small mountain from the bay, looking west, and many writers have estimated it to have been eighty to one hundred feet high. Probably the top of the trees on this mound were sixty feet above the water, but the earth and rock were only about twenty feet high or not over twenty five feet above the water level. There were large trees growing on top of the mound and it was about one hundred feet long by seventy-five feet wide.  To make room for the hotel veranda this mound had to be moved and I had to take it down. There were two or three graves on top of the mound, where they had been buried, but we could not find out whose bones they were nor anything connected with them. I put these bones in barrels and stored them away. Then I proceeded to haul the soil out and screen it help to make lawn later. The rock I filled in near the bay to help make the boulevard around the hotel and near the center of the mound, on the natural level of the ground, I began to find Indian skeletons and altogether I took out between fifty and sixty skulls. I preserved all the bones and stored them all away in barrels and gave a great many of them away to anyone who wanted them. Then I stored them in my tool house for future reference, where they remained until the hotel was completed at the end of the year. As my tool house had to be torn down, I took about four of my trusted negroes and hauled all of these skeletons out nearby there was a big hole in the ground about twelve feet deep, and dumped the bones in it, then filled the hole up with sand and instructed the negroes to forget this burial and the whereabouts the same – and I suppose they did. I have never heard anything outside about this burial ground. There is a fine residence now standing over the bones - and the things the owners don’t know will never hurt them. And the Indian bones are now resting in peace. I found nothing else of importance in the mound except a few beads and Indian trinkets.

However Sewells accounts may not be the entire truth. When archeologist Robert Carr led the excavation of what is called the Met 3 site they found that many human remains where scattered haphazardly evidenced that they were just so much fill in building the seawall. 

John Sewell had arrived in Miami  with his  brother and in partnership they set set up a hardware store downtown. Between 1903 and 1905 he was elected the 3rd Mayor of Miami. He was obviously prosperous because later built a grand home which he called Hallisee Hall. It still stands today and is part of the University of Miami’s Mailman Center at NW 12th Avenue .

Hallisee Hall copy

                                                             Hallisee Hall built for John Sewell


                                                The Location of the Mound 

The Mound was located in what is now the Plaza of SE Eastern Financial Center at the Corner of Biscayne Blvd and SE 2nd Street. There is no historic marker at  this location. 

                                                         Original Mound Site