History of Indian Key
Letters Pertaining to Leasing Indian Key - 1840
By Jerry Wilkinson
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      (Charlestonians Smith Mowry and Joseph Lawton defended their mortgages during the estate probate with legal briefs filed by Key West attorney A. Gordon in December 1841. The copies of the mortgages provided the court does not state exactly what was mortgaged i.e., the structures or the structures and the property. That may have been prescribed elsewhere. The following are excerpts of March 1842 letters made and transcribed by Rudy Atmas in the 1960s.  One may assume Letter one is to have the previous $240 lease money paid to Housman to be paid to the mortgagees. Mr. Oliver O'Hara was not an attorney but a successful businessman who often acted as an agent for others not living in Key West. In letters two and three Lt. McLaughlin realizes that Indian Key was not individually owned. 
       Letter 4 is a Lt. McLaughlin letter referencing leasing Indian Key from Jacob Housman which was at the time mortaged to Lawton and Mowry. J. W.)
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- Letter 1 -
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       Letter from 0'Hara, Key West dated Mar. 19, 1842 to U.S. Navy Lt. McLaughlin at Indian Key:
       "I am the agent of Joseph Lawton and S. Mowry of Charleston, S.C. These gentlemen  are mortgagees of Indian Key and the mortgage expired during the last month (Feb.).
       "The object of this communication is to appraise you that I, as agent of these  mortgagees, have this day taken possession of the mortgaged premises, in their
name and behalf. The object is not to disturb you or the U.S. in the use and  occupation of the island; but to enable the mortgagees to claim rents and profits,
if the same shall become necessary to liquidate their claims".
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- Letter 2 -
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       Letter from Lt. McLaughlin to Sec. of the Navy Upshur dated March 25, 1842 from aboard the FLIRT at Key
Biscayno:
        "Herewith I have the honor to enclose you a letter addressed to me by 0.0'Hara agent for Mr. Joseph Lawton and others [S. Mowry] of Charleston [South Carolina] mortgagees of Indian Key. The arrangement I entered into with [Jacob] Housman, the late proprietor for the possession of the Island, I had the honor to transmit to the Dept. on Aug. 10, 1840. This was made under the impression that the island was included in one of the many Spanish grants which covered the territory and had become Housman's by right of purchase. I have since ascertained that this is not the case and that Housman purchased the right of a squatter upon the Key, which remains to this day an unsurveyed portion of the public domain. I have denied the rights of all parties concerned and shall retain the Key as a reservation for military purposes until otherwise instructed by you".
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- Letter 3 -
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       Letter from Lt. McLaughlin from aboard the FLIRT at Key Biscayno dated March 25, 1842, to 0. O'Hara, Esq. at Key West:
        "I beg you distinctly to understand that I do not recognize you as having taken possession; that I deny the validity of Mr. Lawton's mortgage - on the right of the late proprietor to any fixed or permanent interest in the island, upon which he could grant a mortgage. His property upon the island was destroyed by fire - and the island itself, among the unsurveyed lands of the territory is reserved for the present at least, for the military uses of the government." 
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- Letter 4 -
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JOHN T. MCLAUGHLIN TO THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
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[NA:ND, SN Offs. Lets.: LS]
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"U.S. Schr Flirt KEY BISCAYANO, August 11, 1840
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       "SIR; Capt Housman the Proprietor of Indian Key, having called upon me for a Garrison for the Island, I entered into arrangements with him for the cession of the whole Key to the United States, except a small portion of it, for his Store and dwelling. This arrangement cedes the Key to the United States, for a Military Post, during the continuance of the Florida War, or for so long as the United States may think proper to hold it for that purpose, during the continuance of the war.
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       "The Key being thus placed under Military control exclusively, I have ordered the removal of my Hospital and depot from Tea Table Key thereto. Abundance of water, with good wharves and storage in three outhouses, which escaped the flames, have been the inducement to make this transfer, whilst at the same time it saves me the necessity of further dividing my small force to furnish another garrison for this place.
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      "I have the honor to enclose you a copy of the arrangement entered into, with Capt Housman.
Respectfully, Sir, I have the honor to be,
       John T. McLaughlin; Comdt:
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"The Hon. J. K. Paulding
 Secretary of the Navy Washington D.C. "
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