Welcome to a general
history reading room of the Cultural Museum. When completed this page will
feature selected miscellaneous articles published in our quarterly journal
- History Talk From the Upper Florida Keys. A linked index will soon be
prepared for quick access. For now, please scroll to locate a specific
article, or read the entire page. The articles are generally not very long.
- Jerry Wilkinson
History Talk From the Florida Keys - Fall 2000 Edition
- History of Windley
Key by Jerry Wilkinson
1846 - Mystery Settlement on Key Largo by John Viele
1000 - Key Largo Rock Mound by Gail Swanson
- Invented History:
Antonio Gomez by Gail Swanson
- Forest Fires on
the Keys by Gail Swanson
- Eddies of the Current
by Gail Swanson
3000 - Keys, A Millennium from now by Gail Swanson
1682 - Pirates at the Upper Keys by Gail Swanson
1938 - U.S. One – Maine to Florida by Jerry Wilkinson
- A Piece of Keys
Christmas by Jerry Wilkinson
The History of Windley Key
By Jerry Wilkinson
Geologically, Windley Key, like the rest
of the Florida Keys, dates back to the formation of the southern end of
the Appalachian Mountains. More recently, coral reefs were formed during
the Sangamon interglacial period, about 100,000 years ago, when the sea
level was some 20 to 30 feet higher than it is today.
The Florida Keys were forests of rapid-growing
branching corals, massive shoals of shifting sand, plus many small corals
and sediment-producing algae. Windley Key was one of the tallest reefs,
along with Lignumvitae Key and a small knoll on Key West. During the Wisconsin
Ice Age the sea level dropped, exposing and killing the coral reefs making
the islands that we live on today. One can stand in the quarry's bottom
and view millenniums of time represented by the vertical walls, just as
one can by passing through the Marvin D. Adams Waterway in a boat. Different
corals grow at different rates and the growth depends on nutrients, sunlight
and other factors. The side view of the walls represents a forest of corals
filled in with other carbonate items.
The name Windley is elusive. The DeBrahm nautical
chart of 1772 shows Windley Key as “Wright’s Island.” Capt. Abner Doubleday
refers to it as “Vermont Key” in his military scouting report for Indians
of February 26, 1857. Vermont Key was used in other military reports. A.
D. Bache shows it as "Windley's Key" on his 1861 U.S. Geodetic Survey.
Windley Key may have once been considered two islands as it was shown in
the 1870 U.S. Census as the "Umbrella Keys." The census showed John and
Matilda Saunders and their two children, Hattie and Mary, as the only residents.
John was listed as a farmer.
Charles Smith surveyed “Windley Island” for
the state of Florida in 1872, showing it as one landmass of 225.04 acres.
Benjamin Russell homesteaded 127.45 acres in 1885 and the Jacksonville,
Tampa and Key West (JT&KW) Railroad received the remaining 97.59 acres
in 1895, both on Windley Island. The Location Map for the F.E.C. Railway
approved in 1905 by J. C. Meredith shows it as “Windlys Island.” It is
generally believed that Windley was an early settler; however, his name
has yet to surface in printed matter.
William Gregg in his book, Where, When, and
How to Catch Fish on the East Coast of Florida, (1902) writes of “Windy
Island Channel about five miles south of Tavernier Creek.”
Anyway, the Umbrella Keys definitely became
one island when Henry Flagler's railroad crews filled the “Rocky
Mud Flat” between the two islands around 1906-1907. If you look carefully,
you can see that the bay swings in very close to the highway just south
of the quarry.
Considerable quantities of rock fill were
needed by the railroad to fill crossings at Little Snake Creek, Snake Creek,
the Rocky Mud Flat, Wilson's Channel (Whale Harbor), Indian Key Fill and
other low areas.
The Windley Key community of Quarry, Florida
existed during the railroad construction days in the space where the old
highway separates from US 1. Flagler purchased this land from a number
of Russell families and one Thompson family. On the railroad timetables,
Quarry was shown as a designated stop until 1928.
At first, the rock was simply used for landfill
using a steam shovel for extraction. Later, it was discovered that the
coral rock could be sliced and polished for use as decorative stone. Slabs
were extracted by drilling holes close together in a line and breaking
them away from the walls. This was the method that John Rowe used for the
Orr Rock Company. Later, the Mizner and Keystone Companies used a chiseling
machine to make smoother cuts.
Three separate quarries subsequently operated
in the Windley quarry complex: The Windley Quarry, the Flagler Quarry and
the Russell Quarry. Flagler reportedly paid Mary Jane Russell, Administrator
of a group of owners, $852.80 for the quarry area. Flagler purchased
the southern end of the island from the Consolidated Land Company.
Flagler's railroad dominated Windley Key in
the early years, but when researching these early years, the only locally
written data I found was a Miami Metropolis Newspaper article on May 15,
1908 titled: "W. T. McDonald and Little Son Killed in a Frightful Dynamite
The Jacksonville Florida Times-Union newspaper
printed many articles about the community of Quarry and its steam shovels.
In its time, it was evidently a thriving railroad community. Later railroad
and highway maps indicate that the community living center was located
south of the actual quarry between the old State Road 4A and the
present US-1 highway.
Near the northern rim of the southernmost, or the
Windley quarry, stands the gaunt and rusted remains of the "channeling
machine," which is the apparatus used to chisel two narrow, criss-crossed
grooves into the fossilized coral. My firsthand knowledge of this mechanical
workhorse comes from Charlie Cale Jr., Cecil and Carl Keith, whose father
operated the Windley Quarry for Mizner Industries during and after railroad
times. (Mizner was the only business listed in a 1928 business brochure.)
Charles Cale, Sr. came to Miami from South Dakota in 1899 with his father
and grandfather and he eventually found work in the Windley Quarry. Time
marched on, and Charles Sr. married Alice Moore, whose brother Lewis also
accompanied the family to Windley Key to operate the quarry. In about 1934,
a black Bahamian known only as J. P. jumped ship, swam ashore and joined
the quarry work force.
Day after day Charles Sr., Lewis, and later
J. P. would control the gas-powered channeling machine as it gnawed channels
in the rock. The motor rapidly raised and lowered two sets of parallel hardened
chisels and propelled the entire rig along its tracks. Two vertical parallel
channels about six inches deep would be chiseled in each run down the tracks.
At the end of each run, the machine would be moved back to the beginning,
the chisels set about six inches deeper, and the machine placed in gear
for another pass. This was repeated many times until the channels were
from eight to ten feet deep. Salt water was pumped into the channels to
keep them clean of debris.
When sufficient channels were cut in one direction,
the entire machine and its tracks would be repositioned to cut at right
angles to the first pattern of channels. This would produce a crisscrossed,
or checkerboard pattern. Driving wedges into the grooves at the top and
bottom from the exposed sides then separated huge rectangular blocks of
fossilized coral. Sometimes dynamite had to be used along the bottom edge
if it could not be broken loose. Each slab would weight up to ten tons.
The coral blocks were then transported to the Quarry railroad siding for
shipment to Miami. A finishing plant located at 7th Street and 7th Avenue
would produce the end product.
Across the railroad track and old highway
from the quarry lived the Reggie Roberts’ family. With Reggie lived his
wife, mother, brother and three children in a large house facing the ocean.
Farther south lived the Lambert family.
On the east side of Snake Creek across the
railroad and highway was the Dillin family who operated the Snake Creek
Lodge. It was leased as a Federal Emergency Relief Administration hospital
for the WW I veterans who were building the newly proposed highway bridges
to Grassy Key in 1934-35. The veteran’s camp was a few hundred yards south.
Across the railroad from Snake Creek Lodge
was a fishing camp that consisted of a house and a few cottages. It was
operated by Lenoy and Laura Russell who also had the Russell Quarry. John
Rowe lived on the Russell Quarry site.
Most of the structures on the aforementioned
properties were destroyed by the 1935 Hurricane. The local residents survived
by either leaving or packed in Reggie Robert’s car which happened to be
across the railroad on a high piece of ground. The veterans were not as
fortunate and many died.
After surviving the 1935 hurricane aboard the relief
train at the Islamorada depot, Charles Cale Sr. rebuilt the family home
and rented space to Lewis and Ellen Moore until their wooden Red Cross
house could be built on Upper Matecumbe Key. The Cale house was about where
the present main entrance gate to the park is located.
The quarrying of fossil coral resumed after
a brief recovery period from the hurricane. The only change was with the
railroad destroyed, the quarried slabs were transported by truck to Miami
for final finishing.
WW II stopped what the hurricane could not.
The quarry was shut down. Charlie moved his family to Miami, doing a stint
as an explosives expert in the Bahamas constructing emergency landing fields
for the U.S. government.
Once the war was over, quarrying began again
at the Windley quarry. Bob Miller of Miami was the Superintendent of Sailing
(brother of elder statesman Bernard) Baruch's Keystone Art Company in Miami
and made routine visits to the quarry from 1945 to 1951. The specific design,
precision-cutting and polishing was done at the Miami plant. An example
of this product is the outside fascia covering the Burdines’ building in
downtown Miami. Closer to home, and a much earlier example, is the Hurricane
Monument in Islamorada. Architects refer to these thinly cut veneer pieces
of rock as "ashlar rock." With usage the word Keystone has become
the generic name for cut slabs of fossil coral rock.
Chester Flancher of Plantation Key managed
and operated the channeling irons for the Key Largo Stone Quarries, Inc.
from 1965 until it closed in 1968. During this period, the quarry also
had a finishing mill with giant rock saws and necessary polishing equipment
With the closing of the quarry, the University
of Miami (UM) began efforts to preserve the area because of its geologic
importance. Ed Ball of the F.E.C. Rwy. stated that the property was not
for sale, but he would advise if the situation changed.
UM was never advised and on November 10, 1979,
the F.E.C. sold the 32.8 acre quarry property to Windley Key Ltd. The following
year they submitted plans for six multi-story condominium buildings for
a total of 170 units. The three quarries were to be flooded for "water
Spearheaded by Alison Fahrer (the sponsor of this
edition), 1,200 Keys residents and 25 organizations, the State was petitioned
to acquire the land, which it purchased in 1986.
Another significant Windley Key landmark is the
Theater of the Sea. A & B grocery owners, Alonzo Cothron (see genealogy
page 207) and Berlin Felton, first purchased the quarry pits from the FEC
Railway, then the surrounding land. The pits and the land were leased to
Phelps McKenney who began construction of his theater in 1940.
World War II came along and stopped his work
just as it did in the rock quarry to his north. McKenney opened his marine
theater in 1946 and he and his family have continued daily dolphin shows
365 days a year thereafter.
Near today’s Theater of the Sea was "Wimpy's" whose real name
was Whibby. It was just a shack and a small pier. Wimpy would catch shrimp
at night in the channels and keep them alive in traps at the end of his
small pier. Later a longer pier and a channel were dredged for charter
boats. Fishing tackle and beer were added as items for sale at Wimpys Fish
Farther southwest the low land was gradually
filled in the mid 1950s for Ed Goebel and we have the beginning of today's
Land on the northeast island’s end began to
develop under owners Freddie and Raymond Ruckles. There was a fish camp,
trailer park, motel and restaurant operated by families with names like
Smith, Hamolin, Ambrose and Bell. Windley Key was on the move.
Following the pattern of the Upper Keys, it
took time and tourists to bring significant additional development on Windley
Key. The main quarry complex became a Florida State Park Service geological
site with the recently opened Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center.
On Key Largo
by John Viele
The three-masted, square-rigged ship Quebec,
on a voyage from New York to New Orleans, ran ashore on Carysfort Reef
in January 1848. Her crew carried out an anchor and threw overboard a large
quantity of her cargo of assorted merchandise. When the ship had been sufficiently
lightened, the crew heaved her afloat and the Quebec continued on her way.
The plight of the Quebec did not go unnoticed
by the wrecking vessels which customarily patrolled the upper Keys reefs
from their station at Key Tavernier. Shortly after the Quebec sailed away,
about a dozen wrecking vessels and boats, manned by upwards of one hundred
men, arrived on the scene. They picked up the goods that were floating
and dived down to retrieve those that had sunk.
One of the wrecking vessels was the 62-foot
sloop Empire with a crew of eight, captained by Thomas Bennett. Bennett
had been mate of the Empire for several years, but had only been her captain
for six months. The Empire’s crew recovered a number of coats, pantaloons,
hats, pieces of furniture, and other items that had been jettisoned by
the Quebec. Normally, a wrecker would bring salvaged cargo to Key West
and deliver it to the custody of the Superior Court for determination of
a salvage award. (Wrecking crewmen did not receive wages. Instead, they
shared in the salvage awards).
Because the goods were found floating on the
sea or sunk, Bennett decided they were derelict cargo and that he was not
obligated to bring them to the court. He divided the goods among the crew
and himself. There were twenty rocking chairs and two oil paintings which
Bennett decided would be safer on shore while he continued wrecking operations.
He directed one of his crewmen to take them ashore in the sloop’s boat.
According to Bennett’s later testimony in court, they were stored in a
“house on Key Largo which was then unoccupied.”
Several days later, Bennett decided to return
to his home port at Key West. Before departing, he sent a crewman ashore
on Key Largo to bring the chairs and paintings back aboard. The seaman
returned empty-handed saying that it appeared the chairs and paintings
had been stolen.
On arrival in Key West, Bennett found himself
charged with embezzlement by the agent for the company which had insured
the Quebec’s cargo. Bennett told the judge of the Superior Court that he
was not aware that goods picked up from the sea had to be delivered to
the court until he was so informed on arrival in Key West. He had then
turned over everything on board to the court and was endeavoring to recover
all the goods he had distributed to his crew.
During the court proceedings, it came out
that the Empire had stopped at Duck Key on her way back to Key West, and
that some of her crewmen had landed their shares of the recovered cargo
In the face of this evidence of an attempt
to conceal some of the goods, the judge ruled that the Empire’s salvage
award would be forfeited. He informed Bennett that ignorance of the law
was no excuse for not delivering the salvaged cargo to the court and revoked
his wrecking license.
The record of this court case has brought
to light one more piece of evidence that Key Largo was settled by one or
more persons in the 1840s. Another piece of evidence is the record of an
application by seven heads of families to establish a settlement on the
“western part of an island called Key Largo” under the provisions of the
Armed Occupation Act of 1842. The purpose of that act, passed at the end
of the Second Seminole War, was to encourage “the armed occupation and
settlement of the unsettled part of the peninsula of East Florida.” Possibly
it was one of those seven men who built the “unoccupied house” that Bennett
sent his rocking chairs and oil paintings to in 1848.
One year after the Quebec incident, Assistant
Superintendent F. H. Gerdes, leader of a Coast Survey team engaged in gathering
data to prepare accurate charts of the Keys, noted in his journal that
he saw an abandoned plantation on Key Largo opposite Rodriguez Key. He
wrote that the house was empty.
Six years later, in January 1855, a government
official taking passage from Key West to the Miami River on an inter-Keys
schooner wrote in his diary, “Learned [presumably from the captain of the
schooner] that the island [Key Largo] is about 30 miles long, has some
good land on it, and one settlement [underlining supplied].”
Indian attacks which marked the outbreak
of the Third Seminole War began in December 1855. A letter to the commander
of Army troops in Florida in January 1856 reported that when they heard
the news, three families on Upper Matecumbe Key, two on Indian Key, and
six on Key Vaccas [Key Vaca today] had abandoned their homes. When one
of the settlers on Matecumbe went back to check on his property he found
evidence that Indians had broken into his house. The next day, from Indian
Key, he saw that two of the houses had been set on fire. The letter made
no mention of settlers on Key Largo, but had there been any, it is probable
that they too abandoned their homes. One year later, an Army captain leading
a reconnaissance of Key Largo found no one living there.
There seems to be sufficient evidence to indicate
that there were one or more settlers on Key Largo in the 1840s and early
1850s, but there are no clues as to who they were or what they were doing
there. Perhaps some day, dedicated Keys historians like Jerry Wilkinson
and Gail Swanson will dig out their story.
Key Largo’s Rock Mound
By Gail Swanson
Key Largo’s rock mound, discovered c. 1932,
is part of the remains of an Indian village populated at least a thousand
years ago. By 1200, archaeologist Irving Eyster believes, the site was
abandoned. He bases this date on the style of pottery recovered.
This site in now partially occupied by the
Caloosa Campground , bayside of U.S. One.
By the 1940s residents had severely damaged
the site by hauling away rocks and dirt from the rock mound. Therefore,
there is no chance of knowing what the village looked like, but this is
what can be found from research of four reports of the village site dating
from 1944 to 1996.
There are three important elements that can
still be found. One. A habitation mound, mostly destroyed by activities
at the campground, where there have been found hundreds of pieces of pottery
by the campground owner, George Eager, and others. Two. A fresh water
sinkhole nearby, which no archaeologist has investigated, and three. The
rock mound itself. It was very likely a ceremonial center with an
attached building (that building’s foundation, 25’ x 14’ x 1’ high was
termed a causeway by one archaeologist). Speculations that the mound has
Mayan connections or is an effigy mound seem to be just that. But
that it was an important site was evident to Eyster, who termed it “a great
According to the most recent report,
by archaeologists Christine L. Newman and Louis D. Tesar (1996),
a test excavation revealed at least two separate construction/occupation
sequences of the mound, which is 100’ x 55’ x 8’ high. “The Key Largo
Rock Mound is unique,” said the archaeologists, “Perhaps the only example
left of this type of site in Florida”. And one wonders, what were
the ceremonies performed millenniums ago, by a people now extinct, at their
village at Key Largo.
Sources: Reports by John M. Goggin, Eyster, Carlos Martinez,
and Newman and Tesar, with maps of the site, can be found in the history
collection of the Islamorada library.
Antonio Gomez and his Spanish Trading Post
on Indian Key
By Gail Swanson
Since January 15, 1964, thousands of residents
and visitors have read, on a cast-metal plaque erected by the Florida Society
of Colonial Dames on Indian Key Fill, this nonsense:
“Indian Key – Spanish Trading Post – established
by Antonio Gomez, approximately 1695”
There has never been discovered by any historian
I know of any documentation of the [Colonial Dames’] trading post.
I certainly would have found it, having studied original Spanish documents
of Keys history of the 1600s and 1700s for the past 10 years. I have
to add the 1700s here, because several authors concocting stories around
the few words on the sign, have this Antonio Gomez here in the 1680s,
1690s, or early 1700s.
For a reality check on the events of
the Keys of that period I refer the reader to my articles “Expelled Priests
at Matecumbe” on 1697, History Talk Issue 1, and “The Florida Keys 300
Years Ago”, on 1690-1699, in History Talk Issue 9.
In war records from 1856 we do indeed find
one Antonio Gomez trading with the Indians: he was not Spanish, but
Portuguese, he didn’t have a post, he had a boat. He was indeed at
Indian Key; for a few minutes.
First, from the 1860 census of Dade
County, before we head back to 1856:
“Fort Dallas [Miami], August 25, 1860…[12 Houses Recorded]….House
#564, Family #543, Antonio Gomez, age 34, male, Mariner, birthplace, Portugal.
Merced Gomez, age 17, female, House Keeper, birthplace, Portugal.
Manuel Gomez, male, age 5 months, birthplace, Florida. Antonio Montes
Terca, age 12 months, birthplace, Florida.”
Now, from “Memoirs of Reconnaissance,
Compiled by Major Francis N. Page, Dept. of Florida, War Department, Record
Group 393, National Archives – Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands,
1821-1920” the following:
In August, 1856, discovery of an Indian trail leading from
a house 2 miles from Ft. Dallas on the south side of the Miami River lead
to an area search for the enemy Seminoles (Third Seminole War). Quoting
now from the “Reconnaissance”,
“At the time those Indians were about Ft.
Dallas a man called Antonio Gomez – a Portuguese who resided for years
in the vicinity came up from Key West on a sloop boat – movements very
suspicious – supposed he intended to introduce liquor on the Miami [River]
or to carry off deserters [for a fee from them] - was closely watched –
He left for Key West on the 13th, same day the commands left the post.
Capt. Hill believed that his object was to trade with the Indians, and
that he met them at a bluff some two miles south of the post. Lt.
Smead, 1st Artillery reported to Capt. Hill that Sgt. O’Brian informed
him that he saw a small boat belonging to one Antonio cruising along the
coast near where some Indians were seen a short time since, at intervals
of a mile the boat would stop and a man go ashore and remain a short time
and about dark the boat anchored 9 miles from Ft. Dallas – When the sergeant
reached Indian Key he was told by some of the soldiers stationed there
that the boat stopped at Indian Key for a few minutes going up – had whiskey
and other stores on board – inquired particularly the strength of
this detachment and if any officers were with it – Rumored that there are
men in Key West who trade with Indians and supply them with such things
as they want.”
How is it possible that our history got so
distorted? And in my lifetime will that sorry metal plaque ever be
Forest Fires on the Keys
By Gail Swanson
One day while working in the landscape business
in Marathon, on Key Vaca, I spied a strange-looking white native
rock. It had a smooth black speck in it the size of a penny.
What is this black, I wondered. I kept the rock and eventually it
was shown to geologist Eugene A. Shinn, who was doing some
work at the Keys. He exclaimed, “Oh, I wrote the paper on that!”.
Shinn, with Barbara H. Lidz, wrote a lengthy study entitled “Blackened
Limestone Pebbles: Fire at Subaerial Unconformities,” published in
Paleokarst journal in 1988. Shinn too, had wondered. In the paper
are pictures of white rocks with black specks in them from Big Pine Key
and Ramrod Key and Key Largo limestone. The geologists, in the technical
paper, writing of their examination of the black in the rocks, outline
evidence of forest fires on the Keys 5,000 years ago.
According to geologist John Edward Hoffmeister
in his book Land from the Sea (1974) 5,000 years ago what is
now Florida Bay was very much a part of the Everglades, a fresh-water environment
with many lakes, their remains of which can still be found today.
This environment extended to the Keys which were then, as now, an eroded
coral reef above water since an ice age had lowered the sea level.
It was not until about 4,000 years ago that the sea level raised,
by the melting of the ice, and ocean water began to flow into Florida
The black pieces that Shinn and Lidz
examined were in a “soilstone crust” of the Keys formed some 5,000 to 10,000
years ago, according to other geologists, D. M. Robbin and J. J. Stipp.
Through experiments Shinn & Lidz found that pieces of limestone, coral,
and mollusks can blacken almost instantaneously in fires, and became
in time part of the soilstone crust. They even discovered one of
the black specks to be a burnt twig!
Thus an ancient event of the Florida
Keys is now known, discovered by curious geologists.
Sources: The Paleokarst journal article referred
to and Hoffmeister’s book can be found at the Islamorada and Key West libraries.
Eddies of the Current:
The Loo, Fowey, and Alligator
By Gail Swanson
Since photography of the Florida Current
and Gulf Stream has been available through satellites we can now see that
the ferocious current off our coast often spins “eddies” - a current moving
contrary to the direction of the main current, especially in a circular
motion. Three shipwrecks in our history can be attributed to just such
a phenomena. Four years before the Fowey was shoved ashore (see History
Talk issue 12) another British warship during the same war was also
caught up in an eddy and run ashore, and her remains too are still in Keys
waters. The Sailing Master of the Fowey, very fortunately for him, was
sick when the Fowey hit, for he had also been Sailing Master on H.M.S.
Loo in 1744. He testified in that loss that “He observed it [the current]
to set variously, but in general it set to the North East. That he
had once before experienced the current to set to the North West, and imputed
the loss of the ship to the current’s setting so the night the misfortune
happened.” Some two decades later former Sailing Master Robert Bishop would
advise surveyor Bernard Romans where the Loo and Fowey were lost; Romans
recorded it for us. Looe Key and Fowey Rocks are named for these ships.
In 1821 U.S.S. Alligator, returning from a
fighting pirates in Cuban waters was shoved ashore off Upper Matecumbe
Key, where she still lies. From the Court of Inquiry into the loss
these testimonies are found:
“It was a cloudy dark night and a strong current
setting in toward the reef, which it was impossible to account for, and
which, I think deceived our Navigator in this reckoning.” - John K. Clack
“I believe there was a current of about two
knots setting to the Westward. At 9:00, hove the deep sea lead with
50 fathoms of line, but got no bottom. We could see no land or breakers
– at 9:30 she struck.” - John Oliver
“[I attribute the loss of the Alligator] to
counter and unknown currents.” - Croken Harding
Suddenly an eddy. Then doom. As Capt. Ashby
Utting put it in his letter to the British Admiralty describing the wrecking
of the Loo, “a very extraordinary and very uncommon new current.”
Sources: The log of H.M.S. Fowey, Captain
Utting’s letter to the Admiralty, and his Court Martial is at the Islamorada
and Key West libraries. The Court of Inquiry on loss of the Alligator
was printed in two parts beginning with the July 18, 1990 issue of the
The Florida Keys a Millennium
from now: Submerged
By Gail Swanson
A thousand years ago the Florida Keys were
populated, and had been so for several thousand years, by a people who
no longer exist due to the arrival, and subsequent settlement, in 1492
of European man in this hemisphere. Who, a thousand years ago, could have
imagined such a change?
Who, now, can imagine the predicted great
change a thousand years from now: No Florida Keys?
Another event, the Industrial Revolution of
the 1800s and 1900s, will be the principal cause 1,000 years from now of
the submergence of our island chain. This return to the water that formed
the islands in the first place has already begun, due to rising sea
level. In the past century the Earth’s average air temperature has climbed
one degree; in the past 30 years water along Florida’s coast has
risen 6”, and beaches have moved back 25-30 feet.
We have changed the composition of Earth’s
atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels in the last 200 years.
Analyzing air bubbles trapped in glacial ice, scientists have found that
over the past 10,000 years, carbon dioxide levels have averaged about 280
parts per million; the level now is about 345 parts per million, and climbing.
Other gases from other sources have increased in the atmosphere, all creating
“the greenhouse effect”.
“That there is something to worry about –
a concurrence of the oracles – is very clear”, the late Carl Sagan said,
on the agreement of scientists that the seas will, indeed, rise substantially,
and soon. In April of this year it was announced by NOAA that the United
States has just experienced the warmest January to March period in 106
years, and the warmest June (1999) – March (2000) on record.
In March of this year NOAA reported that,
since the 1940s, ocean temperatures have increased 1/2 degree near the
surface, and 1/10 of a degree at depths of 10,000 feet. The seas
are absorbing the atmospheric heat, and, as they do, will naturally expand.
The meltdown of arctic ice is the second cause of rising sea level.
According to an article in Time of September 4, 2000 entitled “The Big
Meltdown” house foundations, roads, cemeteries, and polar bear and whale
migrations have already been affected by the melting of the permafrost
and by water where they was previously only ice in Canada and Alaska.
Item: There have already been islands
lost in the Keys. In the Upper Keys, Alligator Key is now Alligator
Reef. There is an account of tourists going ashore at Alligator Key in
the 1800s. Looe Key, which once had a tree growing on it and was
the frightening home for 2 1/2 days of some 280 shipwrecked men of
H.M.S. Looe and her prize, no long exists. Nor does Sambo Key, now called
Item: In the 1990s complaints of coastal homeowners
on Florida‘s west coast that their trees were dying resulted in a 7-year
study by University of Florida researchers. Their conclusion, published
in 1999 in the Journal Ecology, was that the trees were falling victim
to saltwater exposure tied to global sea level rise. Back in 1974
University of Miami biologist Taylor R. Alexander wrote a paper on the
evidence of pine trees (stumps of Pinus elliottii var. densa) that
had grown where there is now a mangrove swamp on Key Largo. The pine
forest may have been alive as late as the 1930s, but had been eliminated
by the rising sea.
There are so many, many evidences of sea level
changes of the past that cannot be detailed in this short article.
But we do live on a reef that has been exposed from falling sea level.
It has fossilized. On rising sea level, do you wonder why the Lower Keys
are different in shape and vegetation? They were once one large island,
now cut through by channels of rising sea water, creating many
islands. This fact of geology we cannot
ignore here: the sea giveth and the sea taketh away.
Source: Alexander’s paper on the Key Largo trees, “Evidence
of Recent Sea Level Rise Derived from Ecological Studies on Key Largo,
Florida” was printed in Memoir 2: Miami Geological Society, November,
Pirates at the Keys
By Gail Swanson
In January, 1682, a ship named Nuestra
Senora de Candelaria left St. Augustine for Vera Cruz, Mexico, to get the
yearly subsidy given to the town. St. Augustine, always poor, was
financially supported by Spain’s government at Mexico, because of St. Augustine’s
supposed protection of the treasure galleons that left Vera Cruz and sailed
home via the Florida coast. Around February 10th the Candelaria was
captured by 5 French pirate vessels after running aground at the Upper
In June Governor of Florida Juan Marquis Cabrera
wrote to the King of Spain that he has been expecting the enemy (pirates)
all spring. That from Havana he is warned that the pirates design
to assemble at Cayo de Guesas (the Key of Bones – Key West) to invade and
sack St. Augustine.
Five French pirate ships take the St. Augustine
subsidy ship, the Candelaria, which was under the command of Salvador de
Cigarroa, at the Upper Keys (February).
Research of the documents of around that time
has revealed more pirate activities, and the meeting at the Keys of some
of the most feared pirate leaders ever. We can now substitute pirate
lore (there are NO documents to support the Black Caesar-at-the-Keys story)
for historical documents on pirates such as Lorencillo .
For an overview of these activities, the following
is a chronology of pirate attacks at Florida and Mexico during a 4-year
French pirates (2 ships, 100 men) repeatedly attack the Apalachee
fort 9 miles up the St. Marks River, Apalachee Bay, Florida Panhandle (March
– June). Fighting in defense there was Sgt. Major Salvador de Cigarroa,
who had been released by the pirates after his capture at the Keys.
Later, captives from the Apalachee fort, Pedro de Arcos and Francisco Hernandez,
were released on the coast of Cuba and gave testimony in St. Augustine
in August of what they had learned as captives of the pirates. That
5 English and French pirate captains, including Lorencillo (Laurens de
Graff) had met in the Keys and planned to join forces under Monsier Agramon
(the Sieur de Grammont) and attack St. Augustine.
French and English (Bahamian) pirates were on
the Cuban coast seeking a certain lost treasure ship. The French
were in the 3-gun long boat La Fortune (The Fortune), with 36 men commanded
by Capt. Abraham Briac. They had obviously been on the Florida coast
and probably at the Keys for aboard their ships were 18 Florida Indian
divers. Some of these pirates were captured by the Spanish
and gave intelligence of their planned attack on St. Augustine (January).
French and English pirates (lead by Frenchman
Grammont) threaten St. Augustine, but were repelled, but took nearby Matanzas
and other posts of San Juan and Santa Maria (March-April).
Pirates 800 strong under 8 Dutch and French
captains including Lorencillo, Grammont, and Van Horn, attacked Vera
Cruz. It was a brutal raid, with the pirates locking 5,000 people
in the church; many died, especially children.
Another subsidy ship from St. Augustine for Vera
Cruz, the Plantanera, was captured by English pirates under Thomas Jingle
and Andrew Ranson, at the Keys.
Sent to reconnoiter the Keys looking for pirate
ships seen off Havana, Miguel Ramon and men sighted them near Key Biscayne,
and engaged in battle. Ramon and his crew were captured, tortured
by Andrew Ranson, then Ramon was set free on one of the Keys.
Captured sacking Tampico in April, a pilot
of the pirates named by the Spanish Juan Poule (possibly John Poole or
John Powell) was spared by the Spanish, apparently for his knowledge of
the coast. Three years later he was at Key West with a Spanish
force sent to probe the Gulf Coast looking for the settlement of Frenchmen
led by LaSalle. Poule/Poole had been at Key West before, long enough to
make turtle crawls, which he showed the Spanish. Could it be that
he was at the referred pirate meeting at Key West in the early 1680s?
We now, since the 1990s, have at Keys libraries
copies of two of the 1680s Spanish documents that record the pirates at
the Keys; the third, on Andrew Ranson & Miguel Ramon, has not yet been
copied from the archives.
In 1991 Jim Clupper of Islamorada copied the
letter of Governor Cabrera, dated 1681, from a collection of Spanish documents
in North Carolina. It is 27 pages long, and very difficult
to read. The summary of its contents, in English, contains the warning
of the pirates assembling at Key West. I found in 9 continuous pages
of the letter Cayo de Guesos (Key West) written 3 times. The facts
I could glean were few, but follow:
The ships involved were: 1. the Mercader,
with a half French and half English (from London) crew, 2. The frigate
La Paloma (in English, The Pigeon) and 3. A lesser bark (ship) named La
Fortuna (The Fortune – see 1683!!!)…“todos en otro Caiyo de Guesos” - “all
in the other Key of Bones”. On the next page of the document is the
phrase “tundar en Cayo de Guesos” - “aground at Key of Bones”. Four
pages after this is again “Caio de Guesos” and names of more ships,
4. the frigate Jesus Maria y _______ (unreadable) and 5. Nuestra Senora
de la ______ (unreadable).
The second document, also a letter by
Governor Cabrera, is dated the next year, 1682. It is part of the
Stetson Collection of Spanish documents. I copied 15 pages of it
at University of Florida in Gainesville. This is the account of the
attack upon the Candelaria. I do not have the language skills to
translate all of this account, but from phrases that I could transcribe
from the ancient handwriting and could translate the following story emerged.
Of course, a better, thorough translation would reveal more details.
The Candelaria encountered bad weather
after leaving St. Augustine and was sailing down the Keys inside of the
reef when it ran aground at Las Playuelos (in English, “Little Beaches”
- an Upper Keys location noted on the Lanzas 1743 and the Jeffreys 1763
maps). The Candelaria may have been in company with another Spanish
ship or else met one coming northward, for there is a second grounding
noted at Bocas de Guerrero (Mouths of the Warrior), now named Tavernier
Creek. Two pirate ships found them, burned at least one of the Spanish
ships, and then were joined by 3 more pirate ships. There was a battle,
perhaps between the pirates themselves. The pirates took all the
people except for 5 men who hid, one of them a slave and two of them English.
From one of the declarations included in Cabrera’s letter.
“The other enemy burned the ship and
in this time slipped away two Englishmen that we carried to this presidio
[of St. Augustine] and having arrived three ships of the other enemy...they
[the people] determined to surrender themselves and this deponent and the
other four determined to stay hidden as it were...until the other ships
went away, 3 to the north and 2 to the south, taking away all the people
and that [the enemy] having sacked the other frigate this deponent and
the other four companions from a log that they found they made a canoe
and came to this presidio.” The log that they found was on
one of the keys called Matecumbe, according to another deposition.
Two other place names occur in the document, Cayo Largo (Key Largo), and
Cayo Buscain (Key Biscayne).
If indeed the rumored pirate meeting at Key
West took place to plan an attack on St. Augustine it seems the other attacks
would have been planned at that time as well. It could have been
one of the most important pirate meetings in the heyday of Caribbean pirates.
Sources: Copies of the two Cabrera letters are at the
Islamorada library; a copy of the 1682 letter filed in Archivo General
de Indies in Spain as (54-5-12/5) and notes only on the 1681 letter
(AGI 58-1-26) are at the Key West library, in the “Swanson Drawer”.
Important information has come from the following: Robert Weddle, LaSalle,
The Mississippi and The Gulf: Three Primary Documents (1987) - on
John Poole; Amy Turner Bushnell, “How to Fight a Pirate…” in Gulf Coast
Historical Review #5 (Spring, 1990) - on the attack on Apalachee and knowledge
of the Keys meeting of Lorencillo; J. Leitch Wright Jr., “Andrew Ranson:
Seventeenth Century Pirate?“ in Florida Historical Quarterly Vol 39 (1960-1961).
For the attack on St. Augustine see Luis R. and Eugenia B. Arana, “Pirates
March on St. Augustine, 1683”, El Escribano, Vol 2, 1972, (My
thanks to Tom Hambright for copying this article for me in Jacksonville.)
For the attack on Vera Cruz a translation of the 1683 letter of Friar Juan
de Avila to Friar Agustin de Betancur by Leopold D. L. Zea of Mexico was
printed in No Quarter Given, May, 1998.
U.S. One – Maine to Florida
By Jerry Wilkinson
The above named book was compiled and written
by state writers of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress
Administration (WPA) and released in 1938 by Modern Age Books, Inc. The
actual names of the compilers and writers for the state of Florida are
It gives a reasonably accurate account of
traveling through the Keys. My comments are in [ italics ].The writing
took place after the 1935 Hurricane and before the railroad bridges were
converted for the highway. Miami to Key West is in section 25 with
the following comment: “Miami to Key West, 170.2 m. State Road 4A.”
[The distance was farther then as the highway route was via the Card
Sound Bridge and Pirates Cove in the Lower Keys. This added about 14 miles.]
“Ferries, between Lower Matecumbe and
Grassy Key and No Name Key; infrequent service. Inquire at Miami Motor
Club for schedules and to make reservations; $2 to $4 for car and its passengers.
Bridges under construction will be completed in spring of 1938. [Through
vehicle traffic began in March and the official opening was July 2, 1938.]
“Observe speed limit on bridges.”
I will skip the description from Miami to
Key Largo. Indicated miles in bold type are not mile markers, but are the
measured miles from Miami.
“At 56.8 m. are Mabel’s Place and Key
Inn (lodging and meals).” [These were on the Card Sound Road at Gulfstream
Shores. Mabel was Mabel Harris, Harry Harris’ sister. The Key Inn was operated
by Ed and Fern Butters.]
“KEY LARGO STATION, 59.1 m. (50 est.
pop.), was formerly a station on the Florida East Coast Ry., which connected
Key West with the mainland. [The station was at about MM 105.5.]
This once-celebrated overseas section was built in 1911 [1905 to 1912],
the first train running over the route January 22, 1912. At Key West passenger
cars were shunted on tracks of seagoing ferryboats, which carried them
to Havana, 90 miles away; thus travelers could step into a Pullman in New
York and step out in Cuba. [Not true, passengers went from Key West
to Havana via Flagler’s P&O Steamship Line. The steam car-ferry was
for freight, tanker and mail cars only.] Uninterrupted service was
maintained from 1912 until September 2, 1935, when the great hurricane
destroyed more than 40 miles of track. The F.E.C. Ry. decided against rebuilding
the damaged track and roadbed, and discontinued service below Homestead,
on the mainland. The dismantling of the line is now complete, the right-of-way
having been acquired by the Florida Road Dept. for this highway. The ferry
service to Cuba is now carried on through Fort Lauderdale.
“There is a large Lime Packing House (R) near
the old station. [Chapman’s packing house]
“At 61.1 m. (L) [MM 103.5] is
Largo Garden, a refreshment stand built in a beautiful grove having many
different kinds of plants. Coral Boulders mark the shoulders of the road
here [ in the Oceana Drive area just north of The Cut].
“NEWPORT, 63.8 m. [MM 101.3],
is a small settlement of Negroes employed in nearby groves. [Now known
as Hibiscus Park.]
“ROCK HARBOR, 66 m. [MM 99]
(12 alt., 131 est. pop.), is a tiny village with a 30-foot Observation
Tower (L) over its post office. The tower is a square stucco structure
anchored by cables to the bedrock; from its railed upper platform is a
view of the Atlantic, Florida Bay, and the Gulf [many older houses had
cables]. Eastward is the ocean shore, where are racks for fish nets.
All around the tiny settlement are extensive lime groves that bear most
of the year; to the W. is a mango grove.
“At 66.8 m. [MM 98.2] is Mac’s
Place, [MacPherson’s] where cabins, sea foods, gasoline and boats
are available. Sportsmen starting out to catch bonefish often buy supplies
“TAVERNIER, 73.1 m. [MM 91.8]
(10 alt., 91 est. pop.), takes its name from the stream that winds past
the lower end of Key Largo. The French pronunciation of the word is lost,
the natives pronouncing it as though it rhymed with beer.
“This waterway is supposed to have been a
favorite hiding place for Tavernier, lieutenant of Jean La Fitte, the pirate
who was, in 1814, promised 30,000 pounds sterling and a commission in the
Royal Navy if he would assist the British operations against New Orleans.
Instead La Fitte offered his information and aid to the Americans, whom
he and his men served in the Battle of New Orleans. After he was pardoned
by President Madison, La Fitte resumed his piracy near the present site
of Galveston. When a naval expedition was sent against him for attacking
American property, he sailed away. Neither his destination nor fate is
known. [Tavernier was named by 1770 before La Fitte was even born.]
“Brought into existence as the southernmost
railway stop on Key Largo, Tavernier was just a railroad station
until O. M. Woods acquired holdings during the boom days, built a lumber
shed, a moving picture theater and other facilities. [Woods had the
Standard Oil Agency when “Mac” McKenzie arrived. Woods and Mac became partners
to built the lumber shed, theater, etc.]
“At Tavernier are some [ two ] of the
storm-proofed houses built along the [Upper] keys by the American Red Cross
and the F.E.R.A. Constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, these homes
are anchored to bedrock; the massive effect is emphasized by heavy wooden
storm shutters and the huge slabs of masonry that form the roofs.
“At 73.7 m. [MM 91] is a Camp
on Tavernier Creek, where boats are available for fishing in the ocean
or the bay. [Bea and Mac’s]
“At 73.8 m. is the northern end of
PLANTATION KEY, named for the pineapple and banana plantations that flourished
in the past. This island was first settled by Bahamians who migrated from
Key Vaca and Indian Key in search of farmland; from the 1870’s until shortly
after the beginning of the present century, it was a very prosperous area.
From the road it looks almost uninhabited, but in reality there are many
homes, hidden behind the hammocks.
“Palms on the lower part of the key show many
evidences of the 1935 hurricane, the center of which cut a devastated path
at this point.
“At 78.6 m. [MM 85.8] is Snake
Creek, scene of one of the major washouts of the ‘35 hurricane. The Railroad
Trestle (R) was temporarily rebuilt after the storm for the removal of
stranded railroad cars.
“WINDLEY ISLAND, 78.9 M., was named
after an old settler. At the foot of the bridge (L) is the Crooked Door,
a camp with boats for hire and bait for sale. Much fine-grained Windley
Island coral rock has been used for interior [mostly exterior] trim in
“A broad expanse of low prairie (L) was the
Site of the World War Veterans Camp Number One, one of the three camps
destroyed by the 1935 Hurricane with many fatalities. A few hundred yards
down the road (R) are rock quarries from which derricks lift huge blocks
of coral limestone. The rock has a texture suitable for limited use in
sculpture; when treated, it can be used for tiles.
“At 80.1 m. [MM 83.5] is WHALE
HARBOR. Across Whale Harbor extended another railway fill similar to that
at Snake Creek, where today bent, twisted rails, swept 50 yards from their
bed, are testimony to the hurricane’s violence.”
This will be continued in the next issue when Islamorada will
A Piece of Keys Christmas
By Jerry Wilkinson
Christmas is not what it used to be, but what
is? The majority of the Middle and Upper Keys early settlers were of Bahamian
origin. These early settlers relied on random sailing vessels to supply
their needs that could not be hand-made, grown, salvaged, or obtained from
Christmas was an important event for these
pioneers. They were religious families coming from ancestors who fled England
enduring all kinds of hardships, primarily for religious freedom. Celebration
was focused on the Church and centered around the family group. The holiday
spirit was shared by several generations and those without family were
There were few pine trees in the Upper Keys
suitable for the customary Christmas tree, so the Spanish or red stopper
tree was used. As in their daily life, they decorated the tree with whatever
was available using the creativity that pioneers possessed. Ornaments of
shells, tin cans, paper, cloth, wood, etc. were colored with available
Presents were few at first, mainly clothes
and other items of necessity. Rail service began in the Upper Keys in 1908
and shopping facilities could be easier accessed. The highway made it even
Worship was of course first and foremost;
however the Christmas meal had its significance. In the beginning the meal
was probably fish until improved transportation services brought in chickens
and/or turkeys, of which many families began raising for this special day.
Potatoes, collard greens, sweet potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes and onions
rounded out the meal. Local fruit trees provided coconuts, limes, calamondines,
dates, guavas, and sapodillas. However, the Christmas meal seems to always
need a final touch, or taste I should say, of a special dessert.
A dessert almost unique to the Florida Keys,
at least in name, is the Queen of All Pudding. Its ingredients did not
require refrigeration or rare items. The following is the recipe for this
special artifact of Keys history. It is like a meringue custard with crackers.
As an alternative, often hard bread or Cuban bread was used.
Queen of All Pudding
Keep 4 egg whites for the meringue
2 cups of evaporated milk
One 5-ounce can of condensed milk
12 “Uneeda” biscuits (Cuban crackers, unsalted)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup of sugar, plus 8 tablespoons for meringue
One inch chunk of guava paste bar
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat well 5 egg
yolks and one white. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and butter and mix well.
Add evaporated and condensed milk and the biscuits which have been crumbled.
Stir in vanilla. Pour into greased pan and bake custard until set (about
35 minutes). While baking, cut the guava paste into small pieces and put
into a pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Melt over a low heat making
a syrup. Beat 4 egg whites until stiff and add two tablespoons of sugar
at a time beating after each addition until all sugar is used. Remove custard
when done and lower heat to 300 degrees. Pour syrup over custard, spread
meringue on top. Bake again at 300 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until
golden brown. Remove and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
- Happy Holidays to all -
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