Cooley's Massacre Historical Marker
Backstory and Context
William Cooley grew up in northern Florida where he was exposed to Seminole culture and language. He first arrived in the New River Settlement in 1824 and started a farm along the river. He grew arrowroot plants to produce an edible starch called coontie, which was used to make gum, candy, and bread. He also raised hogs and grew sugarcane, citrus trees, potatoes, pumpkins, and coconut palms. He built a dock where schooners could load the coontie and sail to a factory he owned in Key West. The farm grew to 29 acres and it included a comfortable house for his family. He became justice of the peace in 1831.
During the early 1830s, however, tensions in the area grew between settlers and Indians. By this point, there were several southeastern tribes in Florida at this time in addition to the Seminoles. These other tribes, including Creek Indians, were forced to move south into Florida as a result of increasing numbers of settlers moving onto their lands. The Seminoles were living in a reservation located in the central part of the state established in 1823 by the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. However, settlers began to call for the Seminoles and other Indians to be relocated west of the Mississippi River.
At the New River Settlement, tensions boiled over in 1835 when, as noted above, a group of settlers shot and killed a Creek Indian chief named. Cooley arrested the men and sent them to Key West to stand trial (Key West was the county seat was at the time). The charges were dropped and the Creeks blamed Cooley, whom they accused of withholding evidence. In retaliation, the group of Creeks attacked Cooley's farm. Cooley, who was also a property appraiser, was not there because he was working to salvage goods from a Spanish ship that washed ashore in modern-day Hillsboro. The Creek men did not harm anyone else in the settlement. Upon returning, Cooley buried his family and moved away, along with the other settlers who were too frightened to remain. Cooley moved to Tampa where he worked as a courier and later postmaster. He also became a city council member, serving three terms. He died in 1863.
"Cooley's Massacre." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed May 5, 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=127510.
Dolen, John. "Before the Bloodshed." Fort Lauderdale Magazine. January 2, 2017. https://fortlauderdalemagazine.com/before-the-bloodshed.
Girardi, Steven. "Legend Clouds Truth About 1836 Indian Attack." South Florida Sun Sentinel. January 6, 1986. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1986-01-06-8601010716-story.html.
Nolin, Robert. "The massacre that quashed a settlement." South Florida Sun Sentinel. December 31, 2014. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-massacre-brow100-20141231-story.html.