My name is Saniya Pradhan, and I am a junior in the Honors college at FIU. I am studying International Relations and French, and my interests include: reading, writing, social sciences, yoga, learning languages, and hanging out with my cat.
On top of our day of volunteering at Chicken Key, I volunteered with Miami historian Cesar Becerra, a local academic and historian currently working on a book about the history of Miami, specifically the forgotten contributions of Mary Brickell.
I chose this research opportunity after meeting Mr. Becerra on a class outing. He taught us a lot about the history of the Everglades, and even showed us around to some hidden gems in the national park. When he told us about his research it was instantly interesting to me. As an international relations major, I spend a lot of time reading about and analyzing historical events. This story in particular is interesting because it relates to the city in which I live, and it forces us to consider what we’ve been told of our own history with a more critical eye.
During our first class outing for Finding Miami, we went to Downtown and heard the story of Julia Tuttle convincing Henry Flagler to extend his railroad down to Miami, thereby earning her the title of the “mother of Miami”, and the only woman to have founded a major US City. Mr. Becerra, along with a number of Miami historians and academics, have recently uncovered a story which may challenge Tuttle’s hold on the “founding mother” title. Although she was the catalyst which caused Flagler to come down south, he never could have been convinced to come to Miami if it hadn’t been for the Brickells. In fact, they had begun to homestead the Miami river 20 years before Tuttle even arrived on the scene. In order for Flagler to extend his railroad, he needed the land of both women and had to make deals with both of them. Mr. Becerra’s work uncovers this story and hopes to bring it to the public, so that we may finally give credit where credit is due.
I was lucky to have found this opportunity through Professor Bailly. When he told us Mr. Becerra was looking for student volunteers to help with his research, I went ahead and reached out to him.
WHERE & WHAT
Mr. Becerra explained to me the concept of his book and a general outline of the research he had already done. Then he asked me to help him with a specific topic: to find 2 or 3 cities in the United States that also have an instance of a forgotten founding person. After a basic google search, I decided to focus on 3 cities: Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Houston.
The next phase of the project was to contact historians, academics, and historical societies in these three cities to try to uncover some kind of controversy over its founding. For Salt Lake City and Nashville, this hunt ended relatively soon as there was not much new information ready to be discovered. Houston, on the other hand, proved to have a story very similar to Miami’s.
Once I narrowed in on Houston, I reached out to additional historians, and began compiling my own research as well. This is my synopsis of the founding history of Houston:
From historian James L Haley firstname.lastname@example.org
From historian/author Mike Vance email@example.com
On April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston wins the Battle of San Jacinto, winning Texas from Mexico. In August of the same month, brothers Augustus C and John K Allen, as well as AC’s wife Charlotte enter the scene with a large sum of money and a readiness to invest land in the newest state. Apparently, General Houston offered to call the city Charlottesville after Mrs. Allen, who refused because she believed the well-known name Houston would be better for the city’s prestige. In 1837 Houston is incorporated as the capital of Texas until 1839.
American and Texan historians have largely forgotten about Charlotte Baldwin Allen since this time. A woman known for her brash temper and fierce independence was overshadowed by her husband and brother-in-law since she was not technically a legal landowner. Most sources will show that the founders of Houston are the two brothers AC and JK, and they fail to acknowledge two very important facts. The first is that Mrs. Allen’s is the one who financially backed the entire venture. Her father had made a fortune developing land in New York, which is probably where she and her husband got the inspiration to do the same in Houston. The money the Allen’s invested into Houston comes from Charlotte Allen’s family inheritance.
The second point is that she is the one that stayed. Two years into their venture in Houston, JK Allen died of illness, and in 1850, Charlotte and Augustus split up and he returned to New York, while she remained in Houston. Charlotte stayed, remained deeply involved in the Houston real estate scene, and even donated pieces of land (technically not under her name), including the site of the first city hall, which today is Market Square Park.
There is definitely a growing awareness toward this issue. Many women’s organizations and feminist groups in Texas are writing about Charlotte and her many contributions to the city of Houston. A high-profile instance of this is the reopening of the Doubletree by Hilton in Houston under the name C. Baldwin Hotel.
This project, as it was research based, was very spread out, and offered me with the flexibility to contribute small amounts on my own time. I would make a phone call one day, respond to an e-mail the next, and I was doing research in between completing classwork or on a more laid-back day. Overall, I probably spent around 6 hours contacting people, conducting research and writing on the topic.
I truly enjoyed the opportunity to conduct research and work with a local historian. I feel I have truly learned a lot about Miami’s history, and I’ve been able to contextualize it within the history of the United States as well.
“Charlotte B. Allen – Houston’s Forgotten Founder – GHWCC: Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce.” GHWCC, ghwcc.org/2019/03/charlotte-b-allen-houstons/.
Gerbode, Christine. “Houston’s Forgotten Founding Allen.” Swamplot, 10 Mar. 2017, swamplot.com/houstons-forgotten-founding-allen/2017-03-10/.
“Houston Historical Timeline.” Houston, http://www.houston.org/timeline.Person.
“Downtown Hotel Honors the Respected ‘Mother of Houston’.” ABC13 Houston, KTRK-TV, 14 July 2020, abc13.com/charlotte-baldwin-allen-houston-hotel-launch/5048836/.