We are proud to be able to announce the discovery of an exceptionally important 1849, hand drawn, bird’s-eye-view of Miami, Florida. In fact, it is the first known view of a settlement on the spot where the City of Miami would eventually flourish!! This drawing, depicted above, was made by a member of Company F of the United States Army’s 2nd Artillery Regiment, which occupied the land at the mouth of the Miami River (then known as Fort Dallas) from October 1849 to December 1850. This was the third and longest occupation of the site of Miami, Florida by U.S. Army troops, and was the first occupation since the site was abandoned in January, 1841.
We cannot stress enough the historical importance of this amazing view. It is the first known depiction of the settlement at the mouth of the Miami River, and as such is the first known view of what would become the City of Miami, Florida. The drawing was made by an artillery soldier and sent in a letter to a member of his family that lived in Southern New Hampshire. The artillery soldier not only drew a highly detailed view of all of the buildings that made up the settlement, but he also included a legend that identifies each structure as well as various topographical details. The soldier has even drawn representations of the “recreational” sailboats belonging to various officers of the Regiment.
First, a physical description of the Drawing:
The bird’s-eye-view is drawn in pencil on an unlined sheet that measures approximately 12 ½” by 7 ½”. The view itself occupies the lower half of the sheet, and depicts both the north and south banks of the Miami River at the point where the River empties into Biscayne Bay.
Fort Dallas, located on the north bank, is in actuality a cluster of small, unfortified structures. Each building is numbered and each is identified in the legend which appears in the upper half of the sheet. Included are structures identified as the residences of “Major Woodbridge,” “Dr Adkins,” “Lieut. Robinson,” and “Lieut. De Sagnol” (these are the officers of the 51-man garrison that occupied the site of Miami, Florida in 1849-50). Other structures include those identified as “Hospital Tent,” “Company F Kitchen,” “Stone Building unfinished Company F 2nd Artillery,” “Log houses. Bakehouse, Hospital, Kitchen, etc,” as well as a few other miscellaneous structures. Topographical details include those identified as “Pine Woods,” “Hammock,” Coconut Trees,” “Lime grove.” “Mound supposed to have been made by Indians,” and “Coast survey signal.”
There is a single structure on the south bank of the river, which is identified as “Mr. Duke’s Officer Boarding House,” The artist has drawn 5 boats in the river which are identified as “Kate – Lieut. Robinson’s sail boat,” “Mary – Mr Dukes government sail boat,” “Lieut. Robinson’s small skiff,” “Dallas government Lighter,” and “Canoe.” A pencil notation is written in the Miami River that reads, “Miami River five miles long / connecting everglades and bay.” Another pencil notation is written in the bay that reads “Biscayne Bay / 3 to 8 miles wide / 40 miles long.”
Besides the structures and identified details, the view includes a wonderful assortment of trees and vegetation that gives a real sense of the “look” of the area at the time the drawing was made. In the distance at the right, the profile of the opposite shoreline of Biscayne Bay can be seen. This wonderful drawing has a charming, “folk art” appearance, even though it is very detailed and was meant to be a true illustration of the site and not a work of art.
The View has vertical and horizontal folds as well as areas of light staining that confirm that it was included in a letter sent through the mail. Unfortunately, we do not have the letter sent with it nor the cover it was sent in.
Now the History of the View:
This important drawing came directly from the descendents of the soldier that made the drawing. About 2 years ago, a Southern New Hampshire auction house sold the contents of a local estate. There was an archive of letters written by an ancestor who served as a member of the 2nd Artillery and was stationed at Fort Dallas from October 1849 to December 1850. Shortly before the archive of letters were offered for sale, the family decided to keep the letters and withdrew them from the sale. This map, however, was somehow overlooked, and was purchased as part of a small group of unrelated documents and ephemera.
We have spent the past two years trying to contact the family through the auctioneer in the hopes of identifying the soldier and/or obtaining the letter of transmittal that surely accompanied the drawing. All of our efforts have been thwarted, and we have finally decided to unveil and offer the drawing “as found” with as much historical information as we have been able to find regarding its origins.
We contacted the HistoryMiami Museum – the premier repository of information and artifacts related to the history of Miami, Florida. The curators there were extremely excited about this amazing find. While not willing to state outright that this was most certainly the earliest known view of Miami (the Museum collection includes a map of the area dated 1852 that they are proud to state is the “earliest known depiction of Miami”), they agreed that this drawing was certainly “one of the earliest depictions of a settlement on the site of the City of Miami.”
In our effort to uncover the date and circumstances of the creation of this drawing we did uncover some significant information about the occupation of the site at the mouth of the Miami river in the first half of the 19th century which are summarized here:
The first two occupations of Fort Dallas (at the mouth of the Miami River) were by the Navy, Lieutenant Levin M. Powell having been sent there in 1836 and again in 1838. Operations for these short periods were those of deposit, repairs and rests after duty. Powell prepared the post for the Army in 1838 and US Navy Captain Isaac Mayo opened it again for the military in 1839.
After General Jesup defeated the Seminoles on the Loxahatchee on January 24, 1838, Fort Dallas was occupied in order to assist in rounding up the Indians and preparing them for emigration. Fort Dallas was planned to be used for a barrier to the Seminole advance into south Florida and also as an avenue of entrance by the Army into the Everglades. The first military occupation of the post lasted only from February into April of 1838. The first long occupation of Fort Dallas began in October, 1839 and lasted until January, 1842. Fort Dallas had no permanent structures during this period and was merely a tented camp.
In October, 1849, Fort Dallas was occupied again; this time by a single company (except for the first month) – Company F of the 2nd Artillery. The occupation lasted fifteen months and it was during this period that our soldier drew the view seen here. While we have been unable to identify the artilleryman who drew this wonderful view, we have found an extract of the 1850 census that details the occupants of Fort Dallas. In all, the site was occupied by 52 “persons” – 3 officers and 49 members of Company F. Of the 49 soldiers listed in the census documents 33 of the men were foreign born (25 were Irish, 5 were German, 2 were Scots, and 1 was English). Half of the 14 native-born soldiers were from New York and two were from Southern states (one each from Georgia and North Carolina). This leaves only 5 soldiers who could possibly have been the “artist” who drew the view offered here, and we believe that an examination of the complete census record will likely make it possible to determine who drew the view given that we know the soldier came from the New England states (likely New Hampshire).
While we have already done some significant research into the history and origins of this important piece of Miami / Florida History, the door remains open for further research and we trust the next owner will continue this quest!!!
If you are interested in learning more about this HISTORIC map, please visit our eBay listing.Follow