Dr. Henry Perrine, Page 2
By Jerry Wilkinson
- Perrine of Indian Key -
Dr. Perrine landed at New Orleans
in the spring of 1837 to pursue his plans to make south Florida the productive
tropical plant center of the U.S. The state of Louisiana offered
him LaFitte's Island for his tropical plant center. The offer was
refused apparently preferring South Florida where he had been testing his
plants for years through the efforts of those like Captain DuBose of Cape
Florida and Charles Howe of Indian Key. From New Orleans he sailed
to Havana, Cuba, Key West, Indian Key, Charleston, Washington, Baltimore
and New York.
The details of these stops
are not known, however Hester Perrine related: "My father having resigned
his position and been for some months engaged in his surveys in South Florida,
and his efforts to awaken an interest in the people of Florida to the culture
of Tropical Fruits, and also in presenting his reports to Congress, and
they, for his services granting him a Township of Land to be located in
South Florida, we prepared to move there.
"There were but few vessels
running to southern ports, and for three long months we waited in New York
for a sailing vessel that would land us at 'Indian Key.' Believing
the 'Seminole War' closed, we had expected to go upon the land at once,
and Joel R. Poinsett, the then 'Secretary of War', had promised to make
it a military Post, so there need be no fear of Indians. While in
New York my father received a letter from the Sec. saying the war had again
broken out and it would not be prudent to go to the land.' Then my father
decided to go to 'Indian Key' and remain there until we could go to his
land, as there was already established there one of his depots of plants
sent from 'Yucatan' and under the care of Mr. Charles Howe.
We sailed from New York the first week in December 1838, and landed at
Indian Key on Christmas morning!"
Before continuing with Hester's
comments, the 1838 U.S. Congress approved an Act granting Dr. Perrine a
township. This Act is found in volume 9, Laws U.S., page 869,
titled "An Act to encourage the introduction and promote the cultivation
of tropical plants in the United States. Approved July 7th, 1838."
5 Therefore, a land grant Act was approved before his arrival
on Indian Key which prescribed the conditions for the grant in four sections.
Section 1 stated generally
that, "to be located in one body of six miles square, upon any portion
of the public lands below twenty six degrees north latitude." Note
that no specific location, other than below 26 degees latitude, was stated
and the word "township" was not stated. Of course a township contains
36 sections or six miles square.
Section 2 basically stated,
“That the said tract of land shall be located within two years from this
date by said Henry Perrine.” It would be up to Dr. Perrine to choose
the specific location, however, he never had the opportunity.
Section 3 in general, "that
when any section of land shall be really occupied by a bona fide settler,
actually engaged in the propagation or cultivation of valuable tropical
plants, and upon proof. . . " a patent shall be issued. This would
be debated for years after his death alleging that some sections were proved.
Section 4 was the reverter
clause reverting any section not complied with back to the United States.
Now back to Hester as she relates
how she and Sarah were on Indian Key, "Shut out from all social life, with
the exception of the family of Mr. Howe." The reason
was that her father had learned that the officers of the Army and Navy
had previously bragged that "they would make the Dr.'s daughters the Belles
of the Reef." She further explains how "We had an abundance
of books and papers, but only a monthly mail." Continuing, "For amusement
we sometimes used to fish, learned to use the rifle & pistol, &
often go over to 'Lower Matecumba' with Father when he spent the day there
attending to his plants."
Hester describes the visit
of Judge Marvin and Stephen Mallory of Key West, "to pay their respects
to the Dr. & his family, but alas for human expectations, the daughters
were not to be seen."
She also tells of, "a very
rare sight. Three great waterspouts coming from the southeast directly
towards Indian Key & moving with great velocity. A big gun was
loaded to fire into and break them before they could reach us, when their
course diverted and they broke near the lower end of Lower Matecumba.
Had they broken upon Indian Key, we should all have been destroyed."
Hester’s writings have been criticized as exaggerated since cannon fire
of that period will not divert a waterspout.
As we approach the night of
the Indian attack, which is not the subject of this booklet, Hester recalls,
"One memorable day, only three days before the Indians came to Indian Key!
Father and I went over, and he did but little work and then telling me
that 'he had found a place where it would be pleasant for us to take our
lunch' took me about a mile down the Beach & then turning into the
forest soon brought me to a spot where he parted the branches & there
was a 'Fairy Grotto.' In the center was a small sparkling spring
perhaps ten or fifteen feet across; various cacti in bloom & fruit,
with other flowers upon the bank.”
- THAT FATAL NIGHT -
The story of the Indian raid on Indian
Key has been told and retold. Portions of the the raid are re-enacted
annually at the Indian Key Festival. Exactly why Dr.
Perrine was killed will probably never be known. Conjecture abounds
as to why the Indians attacked. Were they simply revengeful
because Captain Jacob Housman had formerly offered, “. . . to the Governor
and Legislative Council of Florida and to the President and national Congress
of the United States, to catch or kill all the Indians of South Florida
for $200 each.” The attack was three days after a Mr. Downing
presented the offer to the Legislature. Or, were they simply desperately
in need of food and supplies? Did they mistake Dr. Perrine for Capt.
Housman? When they did attack it was at night, which was very unusual
for their mode of operation.
The number of attacking Indians varies
from writer to writer. The writer of the first written communication
of the attack added a postscript to his military communication of August
7, 1840, “The Indians force at the lowest estimate judging from the
numbers of canoes is fifty or sixty, I am obliged to write in great haste.
The Indians used the long guns (cannons) on the Key firing them at us repeatedly
with good aim.” This was one of the few written reports of the Native
Americans firing a cannon.
As I stated earlier, this is not
a treatise of the attack on Indian Key. Hester and Henry both write
of the night their father was killed. In summary, the Perrine family
was awakened in the early morning hours of August 7, 1840. Dr. Perrine
hid the family in the cellar and said “he would see what he could do.”
He tried to reason with the attackers. Being unsuccessful, he went
to the cupola and barricaded the door. In Hester’s words, “For a
few moments after they swarmed up the stairs after him, there was a horrid
silence, only broken by the blows of their Tomahawks upon the door, then
a crash, one wild shriek, a Rifle Shot, & all was still.” The
family eventually escaped from the cellar through the attached turtle kraal
and made their way to the ship Medium anchored off shore of Tea
Of the seven reported killed by the
St. Augustine THE NEWS, August 21, 1840, exactly why were the four members
of the Motte family chosen to be killed while others appeared to be ignored
will also likewise remain speculation forever.
In summary, as Hester stated, "His life was ended." Dr. Perrine
was 43 years old.
- EPILOGUE -
Both Hester and Henry Jr. relate
in their writings that only "a few charred human bones, which were doubtless
those of my father" were found and those were taken and buried on Lower
Matecumbe at the side of a sisal hemp plant. Henry Jr. wrote, "In
after years when we wanted to reclaim them for burial in my lot in the
beautiful Palmyra Cemetery, all traces of the grave were lost."
The family of Dr. Perrine
was well taken care of by military, government, civilian friends and sympathizers.
The family moved to Palmyra, New York and Mrs. Perrine was successful in
persuading Congress of 1841 to transfer the land rights to the Perrine
family. The final location of the grant was south of
Miami in the area of the present day community of Perrine and Cutler, Florida.
While in New York, Sarah married a Carlton Rogers and Hester married a
James Walker. Henry Jr. studied law and was accepted as a lawyer
in 1848, the same year he met a Miss. Cordelia Hall. During this
same period, his uncle Edwin on his mother's side, was building a ship
to move to California. His purpose there was to construct saw mills,
a venture in which Henry Jr. joined him. Four years later, Henrymarried
Charles Howe also sent his
children to Palmyra for schooling and Charles remained in contact with
Mrs. Perrine concerning the Land Grant. Evidently in cooperation
with the Perrine family, Charles Howe proceeded to attempt to "prove" the
Perrine Grant. Congress had not simply given the 36 square
miles of land to the Perrines. As summarized in the aforementioned
1838 Act, like a homestead claim, there were attached certain stipulations
to "prove the claim" and obtain a patented title. Each of the
36 square miles had to be settled, land cleared and specified crops planted.
The Howe family never lost
faith in the value of Dr. Perrine’s sisal hemp as a product, or the allegation
that Dr. Perrine had promised Charles Howe a fifth of the grant.
Henry A. Howe, presumedly of the Howe family, on his way from New York
to Key West for a hemp machine filed an 1887 lawsuit in Juno, Florida for
the 10,000 acres promised by the Perrine heirs. The lawsuit went
to the Supreme Court where it was dismissed in 1898.
Anyway, in 1850 after only
five years of statehood for Florida and Miami still 46 years in the future,
it is said that Charles Howe obtained 36 Bahamian families to come over
and work the land. Evidently, not much success could be claimed as
when settlers arrived in the area after the War Between the States, there
were no Bahamians in that area. In any fashion, Congress held fast
to its commitment to the Perrine family and continued to allow them to
prove the claim.
In 1875, Henry Perrine Jr.
gave up on California and seriously pursued proving the claim himself.
In an 1876 manual by the Weed, Parson and Company of Albany, New York,
Henry E. Perrine and James E. Walker 11 presented a Biscayne Bay offer
in an 18 page document. For the era it was fairly represented with
a punch line offer, "As an inducement to settlers, we will, to each of
the first thirty-five families (who will in October or November of this
year, locate themselves upon our land with a view to permanent settlement)
donate twenty acres of land free of charge, save the condition of erecting
a dwelling place thereon, and agreeing to cultivate at least one useful
tropical plant. For others who desire to engage largely in the cultivation
of the staples named, and who wish to purchase larger tracts of land for
that purpose, we will give information as terms, etc., on application to
us. We will also dispose of a limited number of lots, of one and
two acres each, at 'Perrine' the most eligible location on the bay for
a town, called at present Addison's Landing."
Henry Jr., himself with his
two children Carlton and Harry, moved onto the property in 1876 bringing
considerable supplies with them. It was apparently on this trip that
he re-visited Indian Key and Lignum Vitae Key. The Perrines set up
a tent near the Addison family - who had been in the Cutler, Florida area
for many years. As a northern attorney, Henry Jr. was beset
almost immediately by the problems of living in a relative wilderness.
He had only a handful of prospectors from his advertisement, ants attacked
his food supply, the land was very rocky, funds ran out before a wharf
could be completed and a hurricane came along and destroyed what had been
He was determined to established
his “Perrineville” and some of his crops were reasonably successful, but
his only practical market was Key West. His prospectors branched
out on their own, since they could get 160 acres by homesteading, and Henry
Jr. threw in the towel after about eight months.
Homesteaders were flocking
to South Dade County for their near free 160 acre tracts of land, however
Congress remained steadfast that the Perrine Grant was not to be homesteaded.
By 1886, many families had squatted on land within the Perrine Grant and
had built farms. To protect their investment they formed a “Squatter’s
Union” with Dr. Cutler as their representative.
The Perrine heirs were joined
by Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad and the Florida East Coast Railroad
(Henry Flagler) to settle the claim, naturally for a price. A Senate
investigation ensued and on January 28, 1897, the settlers received a total
of 2,000 acres, the Perrine heirs 10,000 acres and the two railroad companies
5,000 acres each.
Case closed? Wrong.
The Howe heirs sued everybody involved, challenging that half of the Perrine
Grant was theirs from the very beginning. In addition, the F.E.C.
railroad planned to “cut down trees, destroy vegetation, dig up the soil
and construct ditches and embankments . . . to the permanent and irreparable
injury of said land.” The F.E.C. was planning to do exactly that as it
needed the land to build the railroad from Miami to Homestead and eventually
to Key West. An Orlando court ruled that the railroads and the settlers
could not be sued and the Supreme Court dismissed the case on November
Henry Flagler built the railroad
through his portion in 1902 and 1903 and today’s Perrine came into existence
in 1903. The town of Perrine had its first school in 1909.
Perrine’s prized Agave Sisalana now only grows wild.
- BIBLIOGRAPHY -
1. House of Representatives, 22d Congress, lst Session, Document Number
198, April 6, 1832.
2. House of Representatives, 22d Congress, lst Session, Report
454, April 26, 1832.
3. U.S. Senate Document 300, 25th Congress. 2d Session, March
4. U.S. House of Representatives, Report 564, 25th Congress,
2d Session, February 17, 1838.
5. U.S. Senate, Report 94, January 29, 1946, 29th Congress,
6. U.S. Senate Report 111, February 3, 1846, 29th Congress,
7. Editorial Notes, Hovey's magazine of Horticulture, Vol 6,
pps 358-360, 1840 and Vol 7, p 34, 1841.
8. Army and Navy Chronicle, Vol. 11, pps 154 -155, 1840.
9. Henry E. Perrine, Some Eventful Years in Grandpa's
Life, Hutchinson Press, Buffalo, New York.
10 . John.T. Sprague, The Florida War, 1848, Univ. of Florida
11. Henry E. Perrine, "Biscayne Bay Manual", 1876.
12. Harriet P. House, "An Untold Story of the Florida War", in
Harper's Magazine, Vol. 83, pps 591-594, 1891.
13. J.K. Small, in Journal of the N.Y. Botanical Garden, Vol.
22, pps 216-17.
14. Jefferson Bell, in Miami Herald, March 2, 1924.
15. Frances F. Cleveland Preston, "A Hero of Horticulture", in bulletin
of the Garden Club of America, no. 18, pps 2-8, 1931.
16. T.R. Robinson, Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural
Society for 1931, pps 110 -116.
17. T. Ralph Robinson, Perrine and Florida Tree Cotton, Tequesta
Number 7, 1947.
18. Hester Perrine Walker, "Reminiscences of Dr. Perrine", in Florida.
19. Farmer and Fruit Grower, March, 1888.
20. Daniel Drake, "Death of Dr. Perrine", Western Journal of Medicine
and Surgery, pps 321-323, lst Series, Vol. 2, Surgeon
21. Howard A. Kelly, "Dictionary of American Medical Biography,
pp 961, 1928.
22. Sara W. Palmer, "Henry Perrine, Pioneer Botanist and Horticulture",
Florida Historical, Society Quarterly, pps 112-115, Vol. 5, October 1926.
23. Henry Perrine, "Fever Treated With Large Doses of Sulfate of
Quinine, in Adams County, Natchez, Miss.”, The Philadelphia Journal of
Medical and Physical Sciences, pps 36-41, Vol 4, 1826.
24. S.A. Richmond, "The Perrine Grant", Tropic Magazine, April-September,
25. Hester Perrine Walker, "Massacre at Indian Key, August 7, 1840
and the Death of Dr. Perrine", Florida Historical Society Quarterly,
pp 18-42, Vol 5, July, 1926.
26. Miami Metropolis, "Written in 1840", Miami, Florida, May 4,
27. Charleston Daily Chronicle, Charleston, S.C., January 19, 1858.
28. The News, St. Augustine, August 21, 1840.
29. Florida Times Union, "Along the Florida Keys", May 22, 1892.
30. Washington Daily National Intelligence, "The Indian Key Massacre",
December 19, 1840.
31. Niles National Register, pp 406, August 29, 1840.
32. Wyatt Blassingame and Richard Glendinning, "The Frontier
33. The Journal of the Florida Medical Association, Dr. Henry Perrine
- Versatile Florida Pioneer', July, 1952.
34. An Act to Incorporate the Tropical Plant Company of Florida,
P.K. Yonge Library, Gainesville, Florida.
35. Edward Jelks, M.D., Dr. Henry Perrine, Jacksonville Historical
Society Annual, 1933-34.
36. Letters by Dr. Henry Perrine (To Dr. Ralph Glover, June
12 and July 17, 1840), Tequesta, 1979, page 29.
37. C.F. Millspaugh, 1904, Library of New York Botanical Garden.
38. Dr. Perrine to the Editor of the Farmers’ Register, January
39. Massacre at Indian Key, August 7, 1840 and the Death of
Doctor Henry Perrine, an unpublished manuscript of Mrs. Hester
Perrine Walker, Florida Historical Quarterly, July 1926 - Volume 5.
40. Jean Taylor, Villages of South Dade, Byron Kennedy and
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