Explore More about Coontie Plants and the Naming of Fort Lauderdale

Explore More About Coontie Plants and the Naming of Fort Lauderdale

The coontie was a very import food plant for early Florida peoples. The thick roots were used by the Seminoles to make flour. The coontie plant is the only host plant for the caterpillars of the Atala Butterfly. Overharvesting of coontie plants for starch in the late 1800s nearly resulted in its extinction and with it the extinction of the beautiful Atala. In recent years more and more coonties have been planted and the Atala has made a comeback. 

One of the early settlers in the area, William Cooley, learned how to manufacture flour from the coontie. He was a friend of the Seminoles and had even named one of his sons after two of their chiefs. On January 6, 1836 when Cooley was on a trip salvaging the remains of a shipwreck, a Seminole war party descended on the Cooley homestead and killed Mrs. Cooley, the three children and tutor Joseph Flinton.  Cooley had become the first lawman and judge in the settlement and the local Seminole held him responsible for what they saw as a mis-judgement involving the murder of one of their chiefs. This incident was the start of the Seminole wars.

Major William Lauderdale and the Tennessee Volunteers were dispatched to Florida arriving in the area on March 5, 1838. The Volunteers would eventually build three forts. The custom was to name an outpost after its commanding officer, and so General Jessup, head of military forces in Florida, decreed that the fort should be called Fort Lauderdale. Further settlement of the area was slow to occur and the City of Fort Lauderdale would not be incorporated until 1911.