Miami: Timeline

Miami has a unique and troubled past. The following is a selection of events integral to understanding Miami’s history.

?: Cutler fossil site

1513: Ponce De Leon claims the territory of Florida for Spain 

1819: Spain and Florida sign the Florida Purchase Treaty, effectively ceding Florida to the United States in exchange for about $5 million in debt claims. The treaty would be ratified in 1821 and Florida would be formally admitted as a US territory in 1822 and as a slave state in 1845.

1836: Dade County is formed. At the time it included today’s Broward, Martin, and Palm Beach counties.

1895: Julia Tuttle persuades Henry Flagler to extend the Florida East Coast Railway farther south to Miami in exchange for land. The first train would reach Miami in 1896 and Key West in 1912.

1896: The City of Miami is incorporated through a vote (344 votes were tallied and 368 voters were present—206 were white and 162 were black). A portion of the city was designated as a  a district for Miami’s black residents in what was then known as “Colored Town” and is present-day Overtown. 

1934: The US Congress authorizes the creation Everglades National Park. In 1979, the United Nations would designate it a World Heritage Site.

1939: Miami is among those ports to deny entry to the M.S. St. Louis, a ship which carried 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi Germany and who were sent back, many to their deaths.

1945: Dade County established Virginia Key Beach as a black-only beach.

1959: Fidel Castro comes to power in Cuba leading to an initial wave of Cuban refugees into the the United States including 14,000 children who came as part of operation “Pedro Pan” between 1960 and 1962.

1965: Hatian refugees began arriving in South Florida and were given asylum in the US. Thousands more would follow. The treatment of Haitian refugees versus Cuban refugees would be the source of great controversy.

1979: Dade County police officers beat and killed Arthur McDuffie. The acquittal of the officers by an all-white jury led to the Miami Riot of 1980.

1980: Mariel Boatlift brings about 140,000 Cubans to South Florida between April and September. 

1992: Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida


100,000 BCE
Florida Keys form. “During the last ice age sea level dropped, exposing the ancient coral reefs and sand bars which became fossilized over time to form the rock that makes up the island chain today. The two dominate rock formations in the Keys are Key Largo Limestone and Miami Oolite.” NOAA

10,000 BCE
Archeologists have found evidence of human habitation of the Cutler Fossil Site at the Deering Estate dating back to 10,000 BCE.
Cutler Fossil Site Lecture

4700 BCE
Human made mounds and postholes show evidence of a permanent settlement on the west of the Everglades at Horr’s Island.

2000 BCE
The barrier islands Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, and Virginia Key form.

2000 BCE
The Tequesta were the people that lived on the land and sea we now call Miami before the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s. Evidence suggest they lived in the area from the upper Keys to present day Broward County.

100 BCE
Historical records indicate the main town of the Tequesta was at the mouth of the Miami River, where the Miami Circle is now preserved. The establishment of this town is estimated to have occured in 100 BCE. The site has seen continuous human habitation since the Tequesta settled it. The population is estimated to have risen to 1,000.

Ponce de Leon sails into Chequescha (Miami & Biscayne Bay). He names the land Florida and claims it for Spain.
Ponce de Leon in Miami Lecture

Christianity is introduced to Miami. In 1567, Governor Pedro Menendez de Aviles establishes a Jesuit Mission in Tequesta.
Miami Missions Lecture

Chief Cosmographer-Chronicler of the Indies, Juan López de Velasco (c. 1530–1598) described Tequesta, present day Miami, in the following manner in 1571.

“At the very point of Tequesta there enters into the sea a freshwater river, which comes from the interior, and to all appearances runs from west to east. There are many fish and eels in it. Alongside it on the north side is the Indian settlement that is called Tequesta. A settlement of Spaniards was established here in the year of 15[67], which was abandoned later, in the year of [15]70. They say it would be advantageous to build a fort there for the security of the ships that might have to come out of the [Bahama] Channel and because the land is good for settlement.”
Juan López de Velasco Text

Florida becomes part of Britain. The remaining Tequesta at the mouth of the Miami River depart Miami with the Spanish. It is hypothesized a few may have resettled in the Everglades. The Tequesta, as a culture and people, become extinct.

03 September 1783
The Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution, and Britain relinquished rule over the thirteen colonies. Florida returned to Spanish rule.

Florida becomes part of the USA. Escaped slaves and Black Seminoles leave from Cape Florida for the Bahamas.

Cape Florida lighthouse built. This essentially ends the Saltwater Underground Railroad from Key Biscayne to the Bahamas.

The Indian Removal Act was signed into law on 28 May 1830.
Indian Removal Act text

Second Seminole War begins.

28 December 1835
Seminoles defeat US forces at Ocala at what became known as the Dade Massacre. Miami-Dade County is named after the Brevet Major Francis L. Dade.
Historical account of the battle

18 January 1836
Dade County was created, under the Territorial Act of the United States.

23 July 1836
Seminole attack and destroy Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne.

Fort Dallas established

Second Seminole War ends and Fort  Dallas is sold to English. He builds in ollitic limerock slave quarters that are now in Lummus Park.

Army reposses slave quarters and turns them into barracks.

Third Seminole War. Sees Wagner move to Miami.

28 July 1896
City of Miami is incorporated.

08 February 1913
City of Homestead is incorporated.

26 March 1915
City of Miami Beach is incorporated.

Villa Vizcaya of James Deering is completed and Charles Deering purchases the Richmond Inn.

The Stone House at the Deering Estate is completed.

01 April 1925
City of Coral Gables is incorporated.

The Biltmore Hotel is built and the University of Miami is founded.

13 November 1997
Voters change the name of Dade County to Miami-Dade County.

John William Bailly 16 February 2021

120,000 BCE
Florida Keys form.

10,000 BCE
Archeologists have found evidence of human habitation of the Cutler Fossil Site at the Deering Estate dating back to 10,000 BCE.
Cutler Fossil Site Lecture

1000 BCE
The oldest archeological evidence of the Calusa dates from this time.

1750 -1840 (estimate)
The Seminole and Miccosukee, tribes affiliated with the Creek federation, begin settling the region as they flee the ethnic cleansing of Alabama, Georgia, and northern Florida and the impact of the Indian Removal Act.

The US ends all military operations against the Seminoles. The Seminoles never signed a peace treaty and remained in the Everglades, in defiance of the Indian Removal Act.

Congress passed legislation to establish Everglades National Park.

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