Miami: Timeline

130,000 BCE
“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. During this time of lower sea levels, the Florida land mass was much larger than it is today and the area now referred to as Florida Bay was forested.” It is also at this time that the Miami Coastal Ridge forms. NOAA

15,000 BCE
“As glaciers and polar ice caps started melting 15,000 years ago, flooding of land combined with tidal influence changed the geography ” of South Florida 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.

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.

500 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.

11-13 May 1513
Ponce de Leon sails into Chequescha (Miami & Biscayne Bay). He names the land Florida and claims it for Spain. Antonio de Herrera’s 1601 text is the oldest record describing Ponce de Leon’s entry in Biscayne Bay. Below is a passage, translated by Florence P. Spofford. Bailly has inserted the likely contemporary names of places.

“On Sunday, the 8th of May, they doubled the cape of La Florida, which they named Cabo de Corrientes (Lake Worth Inlet), because the water ran so swift there that it had more force than the wind, and would not allow the ships to go for- ward, although they put out all sails. They anchored behind a cape close to a village called Abaioa. All this coast from Punta de Arracifes as far as this Cabo de Corrientes runs north and south a quarter by southeast, and it is quite clear with a depth of six fathoms; and the cape is in twenty- eight degrees and fifteen minutes. They sailed on until they found two islands (Virginia Key and Key Biscayne) to the south in twenty- seven degrees. The one having an extent of one league they named Santa Marta (Key Biscayne, and there they found water. On Friday, the 13th of May, they hoisted sail, running along the coast of a sandbank and reef of islands as far as the vicinity of an island that they named Pola (Key Largo), which is in twenty-six’ and one-half degrees, and between the shoal, the reef of islands, and the mainland, the open sea extends in the form of a bay. On Sunday, the day of the Feast of the Holy Spirit, the 15th of May, they ran along the coast of rocky islets ten leagues, as far as two white rocky islets. To all this line of islands and rocky islets they gave the name of Los Martires (The Florida Keys) because, seen from a distance, the rocks as they rose to view appeared like men who were suffering; and the name has remained fitting, because of the many that have been lost there since.”

Christianity is introduced to Miami. In 1567, Governor Pedro Menendez de Aviles establishes a Jesuit Mission in Tequesta. Jesuit Francisco de Villarreal is in charge of the Tequesta Mission.

29 January 1568
Villarreal writes a letter to fellow Jesuit Brother Rogel.
Villarreal letter of 29 January 1568

“Spanish/Indian friendships were renewed when the brother of Tequesta, one of those that had been baptized in Spain (and given the name “Don Diego”) arrived back at his village on the Miami River, accompanied by Father Juan Bautista de Segura.” Swanson

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 1567, which was abandoned later, in the year of 1570. 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.”

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.
Treaty of Versailles 1783

22 February 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.

Florida becomes part of the USA. Escaped slaves and Black Seminoles leave from Cape Florida for the Bahamas. Cape Florida becomes part of what is known as the Saltwater Underground Railroad.

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

09 May 1832
“The Seminole Indians relinquish to the United States, all claim to the lands they at present occupy in the Territory of Florida, and agree to emigrate to the country assigned to the Creeks, west of the Mississippi river.”
Treaty with the Seminole 1832

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 accounts of the battle

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

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

23 July 1836
Seminoles 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.

03 March 1845
Florida is admitted to the Union as a state.

Army reposses slave quarters and turns them into barracks.

Third Seminole War. The Wagner family moves to Miami.

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.

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.

28 July 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. 

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.

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

17 May 1937
“Next, it is visioned and proposed that during the next twenty years, a complete slum clearance be made, effectively removing every negro family from the present city limits.” George Merrick
George Merrick Speech to the Miami Realty Board, 17 May 1937

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.

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

The US Congress recognizes the Seminole tribe of Florida.

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.

07 December 1964
Supreme Court rules that a Florida law banning interracial cohabitation was unconstitutional.
Supreme Court Ruling: Florida Statute 798.05, 07 December 1964

Haitian 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.

FIU opens.

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.

The United Nations designate the Everglades as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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

Hurricane Andrew strikes South Florida.

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


Edited by Robin Bachin, Travel, Tourism, and Urban Growth in Greater Miami Home,

Swanson, Gail. Documentation of the Indians of the Florida Keys and Miami: 1513-1765. Infinity, 2013.

John William Bailly 24 November 2022

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