One of the exciting projects recently undertaken by the THPO is the investigation of Brown’s Trading Post, which was an early 20th century store located on the Big Cypress Reservation. Brown’s Trading Post was established in 1901 by Bill Brown, his wife Jane, and their ten children. During this period, trading posts were found throughout South Florida and especially along the two coasts. Some of the more prominent posts included Stranahan’s store in Fort Lauderdale and Storter’s at Everglade. While these stores provided numerous trade opportunities for the Seminoles, they required at least three to four days of travel to reach. The establishment of Brown’s Trading Post lessened the amount of travel to one to two days.
Brown’s Trading Post was settled on a high area on the reservation, though additional soil may have been added for more elevation above the water. On his move to the area in 1901, Brown cleared about an acre of land and constructed a house, store, barn, and various outbuildings. In order for the Seminoles to be able to pole their canoes directly to the store, Brown excavated a ditch about one hundred yards from the store to the deeper water. For the most part, the Seminoles would supply Brown with alligator hides, otter skins, egret plumes, and raccoon hides and in return would receive grits, flour, sugar, pots, pans, and skillets. At times, men would trade or buy derby hats, watches, and vests while the women would attain beads for personal adornment.
In 1908, Brown decided to move his family back to Immokalee so that his wife’s health might improve. Upon Brown’s leaving, an Episcopal mission, under the guidance of a Dr. W.J. Godden, was set up at the location of the post. During this time, Dr. Godden also continued to trade and sell items to the Seminoles. In 1913, the area was abandoned and the buildings were moved to a new mission site. It is unknown what the area was used for between 1913 and 1970, at which time another store was built where Brown’s Trading Post once stood.
Archaeological excavations at Brown’s Trading Post have occurred numerous times in the past twenty years. The first investigation was conducted by the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, Inc. in 1990. During this examination, archaeologists found black glass bottle base fragments that date from 1900-1910 and an iron axe that also dates to 1900. A later survey in 2005 conducted by Janus research found numerous historic nails, as well as glass and porcelain fragments, a 19th century survey sight, and a porcelain doll’s head.
Although the THPO has just begun excavations on what is believed to be the location of Brown’s Trading Post, numerous exciting items have already been found. The majority of the artifacts recovered include glass fragments, faunal material (animal bones), and unidentifiable metal objects. One of the most interesting finds includes a bead that may be one of the items that was bought at Brown’s store.
For more information about the history of Brown’s Trading Posts and trade occurring in South Florida in the early 20th century please refer to Harry A. Kersey’s work entitled Pelts, Plumes, and Hides: White Traders among the Seminole Indians 1870-1930.