Historical Sketch of Dade County

Historical Sketch of Dade County


Dade County was created on February 4, 1836, by an Act of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida. The county was named in honor of Major Francis L. Dade, who was massacred by the Seminole Indians near Bushnell, in Sumter County, when on a march to the relief of Fort King. Miami was named as the county seat, but because of lack of population and inadequate facilities for keeping records in Miami, Dade County records, from 1836 to 1880, were kept in the county courthouse, Key West, county seat of Monroe County. In 1888 the county seat of Dade County was moved to Juno, but moved back to Miami in 1895. Since this date Miami has served as county seat of Dade County.
The history of the early settlement of Dade County begins with Esalante de Fontendada, probably the first white man to traverse the territory within the present limits of Dade County. This Spanish nobleman, the sole survivor of a galleon wrecked on the Florida Keys about 1545, was rescued by the Tekesta Indians and held in virtual slavery for 17 years. The territory was first inhabited by pirates and renegades. In the days of the early settlers of Florida pirate ships roamed the seas searching for loot. From 1809 to 1825 United States Revenue Cutters captured or forced on the rocks all pirate ships sailing along the southeastern coast of Florida; their officers and crews took to small boats or to the water for safety. Many of them landed on the present coast of Dade County, built shelters and lived on the land long enough to obtain squatters rights to the property. They lived by fishing, the manufacture of coontie starch from coontie root, and by "wrecking". Wrecking is the salvaging or collecting of cargo from a ship which has been wrecked. In time wrecking developed into a legitimate business of salvage.
The land was productive of many tropical foods and receptive of planting; however, the natives prepared to make their living from the sea. They became fishermen, spongers, and of necessity master navigators. There were practically no roads, the only means of transportation, even from neighbor to neighbor, was by water. Even their first land grant boundaries were determined by degrees and minutes and do not correspond with present section lines although the early land grants did contain the requisite 640 acres according to nautical measurements. Early settlers led a happy, carefree existence, unfettered by any laws except of their own making.
These early settlers of Florida, had a desperate struggle with the Indians and had many difficulties due to change of rule from one nationality to another. By right of conquest, Spain was in possession of Florida until Feb. 10, 1763, when the province was ceded to Great Britain in return for Cuba. After one hundered and ninety-eight years the territory passed from Spanish rule.


State Library of Florida, WPA - Historical Records Survey, County Histories


Brief history of Dade County, Florida, now Miami-Dade County, collected by the Works Progress Administration's Historical Records Survey.

Note to Researchers: Though the WPA field workers included extensive citations for the factual information contained in these county histories, it should be noted that these historical narratives were produced in the 1930s by federal government employees, and might reflect the inherent social biases of the era.