HISTORY OF BROWARD COUNTY
by Frances H. Miner
The Everglades, stretching inland from the sea; vast, mysterious,
impenetrable, hammock and glade matted with tough trailing vines and
tropical undergrowth; swamp and forest; mangroves on their slow,
implacable march to the ocean; the home of wild turkey, of families
of chattering parakeets; panther, bear, the predatory wolf; the
This was Broward county in embryo. It was a country that long
blocked the efforts of exploration; the coming of the white man was
delayed. The regions around St. Augustine to the north and Biscayne
Bay to the south apparently were more hospitable; their welcome
warmer. The middle country offered greater resistance to the hardy
adventurers who passed along the coast.
There was however, a definite culture long before the white man
came. Shell mounds found in the vicinity of New River indicate that
some eight or ten thousand years ago this region was inhabited by a
primitive race of people who lived upon shell fish procured from the
waters of the nearby bay, and upon the flesh of small animals that
were killed with crudely fashioned weapons. Archeologists say that
these mounds, some of which were eight feet high and thirty feet
across, are as old as the Neolithic age, and were probably built by
people earlier than the American Indians, probably of Aztec origin.
The Seminoles, the runaway tribe of the Creek nation
of Georgia, migrated to Florida in 1750 and in 1809. But it was the
Calusa and the Ais tribes that Governor Pedro Mendez de Aviles found
when he set out from St. Augustine in his vessels, in 1565, with
carpenters, soldiers and priests, for a voyage of exploration down
the east coast of Florida. These Indians seem to have disintegrated
as a nation and vanished before the coming of the Seminoles. The
aboriginal inhabitants of Florida, declares Nevin Winter in his Florida,
The Land of Enchantment, were the Missosukee and Timuqua Indians
of Mayan stock. Alex Hrdlicka states that of the native Indians not
one living trace remains. Other authorities say that certain Indians
in Florida at the present time speak a Miccosukee dialect.
During the exploration of the early Spanish adventurers in
Florida, it is quite possible that what is now Broward county was
visited by them on some of the overland marches or on some of the
sea voyages. Certainly Gomez in 1525 and Ponce de Leon in 1513
passed along this coast, but definite records are lacking.
Jonathan Dickinson, who with his party was shipwrecked on the
lower Florida coast in 1699, was, after a variety of adventures,
finally passed along the coast from one tribe to another to safety
in Virginia. Escalanta de Fontenada, the first white man to traverse
south Florida, was the sole survivor of a Spanish Galleon wrecked on
the Florida Keys about 1545. He was held in virtual slavery by the
Indians for 17 years until his rescue, although he was permitted to
roam at will throughout the territory controlled by the Calusa
Federation. Whether these early Florida visitors found their way to
or through what is now Broward County is a matter of conjecture.
The early maps of this region show no settlements between
Canaveral and San Jose (New Smyrna) south to Tegesta (Miami) except
for the mission at Santa Lucia, which was north of what is now Palm
Beach. Hollingsworth in his History of Dade County shows a
map giving the routes of early Spanish explorers and location of
Spanish Missions and Spanish settlements, according to La
Dueda de Los Estados de America del Norte para con España per
la Exploracion, la Colonizacion y la Cultura Española de 1492
Father Michael Kenny in his Romance of the Floridas in a
map showing the location of early Jesuit Missions in Florida,
indicates the location of Tegesta Mission (Miami) in 1567 and San
Ignacio (Coconut Grove) in 1743. Neither of these maps shows
settlement between Tegesta (sic) and Santa Lucia.
The history of Broward County centers particularly around the city
of Fort Lauderdale, which was a military fort and trading post 100
years ago. Broward was Dade County then. It was not until 1915 that
the new county was carved out from the lower half of Palm Beach
County and the upper half of Dade County. This operation gave
Broward 990,227 acres of which 33,632 acres are farm lands. There
are approximately 17,444 acres under actual cultivation.
It was in 1909 that Governor Broward, for whom the county is
named, started the first work of Everglades drainage. New River was
selected as natural channel to connect two of the largest drainage
canals from Lake Okeechobee with the Atlantic Coast at Fort
Lauderdale. This point is now the center of a great drainage
district of more than 500,000 acres. The drainage of the Everglades
has brought large acres to productiveness.
The intracoastal canal which is a navigable waterway that links
New York to Miami is considered a safe inside route for vessels with
a 7-foot draft from Jacksonville south through Broward County. It is
ten feet deep and plainly marked all the way.
Port Everglades, Floridas deepest harbor, is developing
rapidly and is already recognized as one of Floridas major
harbors. Since 1926 over four million dollars has been spent on this
harbor. The channel, 35 feet deep, gives Broward County the deepest
harbor on the Atlantic Coast south of Norfolk, Virginia. The tonnage
has increased every year. The Port is used extensively by the United
States Navy and Coast Guard vessels and major commercial steamship
lines, both American and foreign. A regular weekly coastwise service
is operated by the Baltimore and Caroline Line, Inc. The Standard
Oil Company of Kentucky and Belcher Oil Company have storage plants
at Port Everglades.
There are seven incorporated towns in Broward County. All of these
have electric service and most of them waterworks and sewage. The
largest of these is Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale, the county seat and the largest city in
Broward County was in 1896 a sleepy town, struggling along the banks
of the New River. Before 1800 the only resident was the red man.
Concerning the New River itself, which flows through the center of
the town, there is an old Indian legend. Sara Matthews Crim of Fort
Lauderdale gives an interesting account of it:
In the long, long ago, there was a mysterious river that
danced its way down to the big water. Where the river now traces its
course there was once a wild tropical jungle and dense pine forests,
filled with frightful beasts of the wilderness.
Tribes of Seminoles* (*Editors note: Probably
misnamed. The Seminoles came at a much more recent date). then
living in peaceful solitude in palm-thatched huts, who had gone to
rest after a days hunt in the dark jungles, were rudely awakened one
night by thundering noises, and the ground beneath them trembling
like the leaves of the graceful palm when the angry winds from the
southeast blew in upon them.
Even the most courageous of the tribes feared to venture
forth until the Great Spirit again smiled upon them, and the
southern skies were bathed in the sparkling sunlight of a new day.
Next morning a mighty, magnificent river flowed
serenely through the forests before their small huts. The
Seminoles,* awed into reverential silence by the miracle, bowed
their heads in prayer to the Great Spirit, and called the river
Himmarshee which the white man has since changed to New River.
Geologists who have studies the peculiar formation of the rocks of
the coral ridge, and those who have investigated the old legends as
well as the later history of New River, believe the story is
probably true in every particular. The rock ridges show that there
was once an underground river through the coral ridge, the
subterranean outlet for the waters of the Everglades, and at the
time of some ancient earthquake, the surface rock collapsed and the
river came into being.
It is probably that the first white inhabitation of the county was
at Fort Lauderdale. Hollingsworth makes mention of one Gregor
McGregor who entered what is now Fort Lauderdale in 1808 during the
Cartagenian Rebellion, seeking fresh water, and who found settlers
there. A later date for the first white settlement is indicated by a
monument recently erected in the park at Tarpon Bend in New River by
the City of Fort Lauderdale and the Daughters of the American
Revolution, which bears this inscription: This marks the spot
of the historical Colee massacre which effectually destroyed the
earliest known white settlement on New River in a surprise attack by
Indians following Seminole Indian War, - 1842.
The Colee family, braving the dangers of the wilderness, settled
in Colee Hammock, now a residential section of Fort Lauderdale
sometime after 1836. The Seminoles resented the fact they were
deprived of some of their fertile fields, and though they moved
farther back in the Everglades, they planned to murder the white
people who had robbed them of their territory. They chose a night
when the older Colee and his son had gone down to Key West for
supplies leaving Mrs. Colee and other members of the family
unprotected at Colee Hammock. Although the family were warned of the
impending attach by a member of the tribe with whom they were on
friendly terms, the warning come too late. The band gathered in the
woods surrounding the settlement, and murdered every person in it.
The Indian who gave the warning and who lost his ears in
consequence, died in 1922 at the age of 100.
It was in 1837, during the Seminole war, that Major Maitland
brought a garrison south from Fort Pierce to fortify new River, and
to prevent the landing of supplies for the Indians from the Bahamas
and the West Indies. A two-story log building was constructed
opposite the mouth of New River, and was surrounded by a stockade of
palmetto logs set in the ground. This was the scene of the Battle of
Fort Lauderdale, which began on the night of August 27th, 1837, when
a party of Seminole warriors collected at Colahatchee floated
silently in their war canoes down the stream into Middle River and
made their way to the Sound to within a short distance from the
fort. Leaving their canoes, they crept stealthily toward the
stockade, their intent being to kill the solitary sentry and
massacre the garrison. One Indian, missing his footing, was heard by
the sentry, who immediately fired, awakening the sleeping soldiers.
The Indians were quickly routed with no casualties to the defenders.
For three days the red man made repeated attacks on the garrison,
but were successfully repulsed.
This was the last battle of the Seminole war. Peace overtures were
begun then which have never been violated.
It is said that Major Maitland named the tiny settlement Fort
Lauderdale to perpetuate the memory of his ancestral home in
Scotland. In an effort to verify this belief, the War Department at
Washington replied to an inquiry thus:
Nothing has been found of record to show for whom it is
named. However, it is thought possible that is was named for William
Lauderdale, captain of Maitlands company of spies in the
second Tennessee of Mounted Militia, who commanded that company from
June 14, 1836 to January 19, 1837 and who was subsequently, from
October 26, 1837 to May 10, 1838, major of Maitlands Battalion
of Tennessee Infantry in the Cherokee War. Captain Lauderdale was
enrolled June 11, 1836, at Hartville, Tenn.
A letter received in February 1920 by Mrs. F.F. Brown in
Fort Lauderdale from Viscountess Maitland, sealed under the Maitland
Coat of Arms, Thirlestone Castle-Lauder-N.C. Scotland, reads: ?Fort
Lauderdale was named by an ancestor of my husband after his death
Earl of Lauderdale. Colonel Maitland built a fort there and did much
for that part of America, also naming another town in Florida Maitland
after the family name. Our home Thirlestone Castle was called Fort
Lauderdale until 1590. (Signed) Gwendoline
Maitland, (Viscountess Maitland).
When military operations ceased, the locality lapsed into a
settlement of 25 whites and 100 Indians and the little outpost
slumbered along until