Beneath today’s South East Financial Center’s Plaza once stood a colossal Native American (Tequesta) Burial Mound. Positioned prominently on the north side of the Miami River Mouth, the mound presided over a bustling Native American settlement for two millennia or more. Serving as a navigational beacon leading to the Miami River, it held immense cultural and historical significance.

Unfortunately, the true age of the mound remains a mystery, as it was leveled in 1896 to accommodate Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel. The hotel, a symbol of progress and development at the time, marked the end of an era for the ancient mound and the community it once overlooked.

Fast forward to 1985, when the Southeast Financial Center emerged as the tallest building south of New York City. While representing modernity and economic prowess, the center’s construction also serves as a poignant reminder of the layers of history buried beneath the bustling cityscape.

There has never been any sort of signage acknowledging the Mound’s existence. The Mound Project is endeavoring to change that.  Below is a rough draft for a Florida State Heritage sign.

BEFORE  1896

There is no known image of the Mound until January of 1849 when it had been planted in limes.  At this time,  Col. William English’s sugar plantation exploiting enslaved Africans was the chief business of Miami.

Later in 1849 we see it again in an excellent drawing made by one of the Fort Dallas soldiers.

At this time it had a flagpole atop.

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 that Professor 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 to see other Native American sites and Mounds.


The Opening Salvo of Developers

Below is an 1896 Photograph of Henry Flagler’s white supervisors and their black laborers leveling the the ancient Mound.

This picture is also a classic illustration of the era of Racial Segregation.

Because of Flagler’s descration of the prominent burial mound we will never know how old it was. 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.

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.

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

Below is his description of his levelling of 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 Sewell’s accounts may not be the whole truth. When archeologist Robert Carr led the excavation of what is called the Met 3 site they found many human remains scattered haphazardly which indicated that many of the remains were used as just so much fill in building the Hotel’s seawall.

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