Selling Vero Beach

Settler Myths in the Land of the Ais and Seminole 

by Kristalyn Marie Shefveland

Separating “Old Florida” myths from realities in a tourist haven with a deep Indigenous past  
“A lively exploration of how dreamers and schemers constructed a mythical Florida past. Shefveland offers a compelling story of how Indigenous peoples were written out of Florida’s history by developers who created today’s Sunshine State.”—Nathaniel Osborn, author of Indian River Lagoon: An Environmental History  
“A master class in how historical memory abets settler colonialism in the remaking of place. Shefveland’s deeply researched exploration of settler memory is both personal and revelatory. A must-read for anyone interested in the economic underpinnings of settler memory in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.”—Boyd Cothran, author of Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence  
“This is essential reading for students of Florida’s past, and it reinjects Florida into our ongoing national conversations about memory, race, and history in a most forceful and timely fashion.”—Matthew Jennings, coauthor of Ocmulgee National Monument: A Brief History with Field Notes  
Themes of unspoiled paradise tamed by progress can be seen in stories about pioneer history across the United States, especially in Florida. Selling Vero Beach explores how settlers from northern states created myths about the Indian River area on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, importing ideas about the region’s Indigenous peoples and marketing the land as an idyllic, fertile place of possibilities.
In this book, Kristalyn Shefveland describes how in the Gilded Age, Indian River Farms Company and other boosters painted the region as a wild frontier, conveniently accessible by train via Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway. Shefveland provides an overview of local Aís and Seminole histories that were rewritten by salespeople, illustrates how agricultural companies used Native peoples as motifs on their fruit products, and includes never-before-published letters between Vero Beach entrepreneur Waldo Sexton and writer Zora Neale Hurston that highlight Sexton’s interest in story-spinning and sales.
Selling Vero Beach unpacks real and fabricated pasts, showing how the settler memory of Florida distorted or erased the fascinating actual history of the region. With a wide variety of stories invented to lure investors and tourists, many of which circulate to this day in a place that remains a top vacation destination, Vero Beach is an intriguing example of why and how certain pasts were concocted to sell Florida land and products.  
Kristalyn Marie Shefveland is associate professor of American history at the University of Southern Indiana. She is the author of Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1646–1722.  
A volume in the series Florida in Focus, edited by Andrew K. Frank