A maximum likelihood method for independently estimating the relative rate of substitution at different nucleotide sites is presented. With this method, the evolution of DNA sequences can be analyzed without assuming a specific distribution of rates among sites. To investigate the pattern of correlation of rates among sites, the method was applied to a data set consisting of the protein-coding regions of the mitochondrial genome from 10 vertebrate species. Rates appear to be strongly correlated at distances up to 40 codons apart. Furthermore, there appears to be some higher order correlation of sites approximately 75 codons apart. The method of site-by-site estimation of the rate of substitution may also be applied to examine other aspects of rate variation along a DNA sequence and to assess the difference in the support of a tree along the sequence.