Friday, October 1, 2010

Florida History: Seminole Wars and the Founding of Fort Lauderdale

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Marylander and one time Key West resident William Colee (or Cooley) and his family were among the first settlers along the New River in 1824. Prosperous farmers of coontie, a fern-like plant with roots used for edible starch, the Colee family named their plantation, Colee Hammock. Some say the family may have been responsible for planting coconut trees along New River because an old map marks the site as “Cocoanut Grove.”

Life on the 29-acre farm along the New River changed dramatically in 1836.

Seminole Indians, new to the area, resented the U.S. government and its attempts to resettle them. They also bore particular animus for Colee. The Seminoles thought Colee, elected justice of the peace, had treated them unfairly in a criminal case. While he was away on a ship salvage mission off the Hillsboro Inlet in January 1836, a band of Seminoles killed Colee's wife, three children and their tutor. After returning to bury his family, he abandoned the plantation. A year later, the settler was tapped to be the first lighthouse keeper at Key Biscayne but he declined when the federal government cut back its offer on security expenses.

The Second Seminole War began in 1835 (and continued until 1842).  In one campaign of the conflict, Major William Lauderdale and his Tennessee Volunteers were sent south along what is now known as Military Trail to the New River. Aware of recent unrest among the Seminoles Lauderdale and his volunteers set up camp (in 1838) just north of Colee Hammock; they named it Fort Lauderdale.

Two other forts by the same name were built in the area (one on the beach) during the war; the Seminoles were never defeated. Today, Fort Lauderdale is a city of about 183,000 and Colee Hammock (1500 Brickell Drive), one of its most beautiful parks.

For the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, visit: www
For the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society,visit: 

Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale, Venice of America. Great Britain: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.  
Douglas, Marjory Stoneman. The Everglades, River of Grass. Miami: Banyan Books, 1978.
Snyder, John D. Light in the Wilderness. China: Pharos Books, 2006.
Miami News, May 16, 1965, p. 18.

Tags: Seminole Wars, Maj. William Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale history, New River, who was Lauderdale

1 comment:

Allan Smorra said...

Nice article, Jane. Deb and I spent some time in Colee Hammock last July when we were back for a visit. it is a nice place to sit, relax and appreciate the world.