IN 1896 Henry Flagler destroys the Mound to make way for his giant Royal Palm Hotel hotel. The Mound did not stand in the hotel’s footprint but supposedly it blocked the views of Biscayne Bay for his hotel’s guests. Sadly, as we will see, this imperious act of destruction was just the opening salvo of Miami’s developer driven era.
If the Mound still stood it would be visible poking up through the tiles of the SE Financial Center’s Plaza at the corner of Biscayne Blvd and SE 2nd St. Currently the Plaza is being re-landscaped but it should have reopened to the public by Easter.
Documenting and the Destroying the Mound
The earliest known image of the Mound is from the US survey map made in February 1849 when it was planted in limes by plantation owner Colonel William English whose home was nearby along with the longhouse which housed his enslaved Africans.
Later in the same year we see an image of the Mound when US Troops resided in Miami to remove the Seminoles from Florida. Below is a detail of a drawing by one of the troops where we we see they had erected a flagpole atop. Plantation owner William English, fearing a Seminole attack, had meanwhile evacuated with all of his enslaved Africans.
1869 A CURSARY EXAMINATION
In 1869, the eminent Harvard Professor Jeffries Wyman spent several days in Miami examining indigenous sites of interest and he examined this mound and two others nearby. While here he slept in the boat he had arrived on.
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 Wyman examined but he was the among the first to realize that Miami had been a populous indigenous settlement. He notes that he found little of interest in a single day’s digging at one end of the mound and he returned to his schooner and continued his journey south to Key West and to see other Mounds.
Destruction of the Mound in 1896
Below is an 1896 Photo of Henry Flagler’s white supervisors and their black laborers leveling the ancient Indigenous Burial Mound that had likely stood for millenia at the north side of the mouth of the Miami River.
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.
” The things the owners don’t know will never know hurt them.”
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 which indicated that many remains were used as just so much fill in building the Hotel’s 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 he 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 .