General History of Indian Key
- Indian Key and the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse -
By Jerry Wilkinson
Recent writings concerning the history of Indian Key have put forth the notion that nothing actually happened on the island after the massacre of Dr. Perrine. This, as readers of the History News of the Upper Keys know, is purely fiction. Indian Key continued to play a major role in the conclusion of the Seminole War and was continually occupied until late in the nineteenth century. Lieutenant John McLaughlin, the commander of the "Mosquito Fleet", used the island as a staging area and safe haven, and, as will be seen in the documents transcribed below, actually constructed some substantial buildings on the key, replacing many that were destroyed during the Perrine Massacre. Additionally, Indian Key was the storage area and "safe place" for those sent to work on the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse, being the only island where fresh water could be easily procured.
The letters offered below were written by the man who first commanded the force constructing the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse, Brevet Major Thomas B. Linnard. Linnard was an old Florida hand when he was assigned this new duty in early 1849. After his appointment to West Point from his native Pennsylvania, Linnard graduated ninth in the Class of 1830. After three years of service in the Artillery, on ordnance duty, he moved with the 2nd Artillery in 1834 to its new assignment in Pensacola.
At the outbreak of the Second Seminole War, he was on assigned duty with the Topographical Corps. He saw action in the battles along the Withlacoochee River, at Paltlikaha and at the Battle of the Loxahatchee, where he was serving as Aide-de-Camp to General Thomas Jesup, then commanding in Florida. It was no coincidence that Linnard was chosen for this last position; he was the son of Colonel William Linnard, one of Jesup's predecessors in the job as Quarter Master General of the Army. For his actions he was breveted Captain on September 30, 1836. Linnard was recognized by Jesup as a superior topographical officer and assisted him in obtaining a lateral transfer into the Topographical Corps in 1838. During the next few years he worked on projects in New York Harbor, the Delaware Breakwater, Mobile Bay and the Red River.
At the onset of the Mexican War, Linnard was transferred to the frontier in Texas. He soon was on the march with the American Army through Chihuahua and was heavily engaged during the Battle of Buena Vista, for which he received his rank as Brevet Major. At the termination of that war, he was assigned to duty constructing the new lighthouses to be placed along the Florida coast, specifically at Carysfort Reef and Sand Key. Linnard was immediately troubled by the funding of these projects and the fact that the construction called for a new technology. Although the project had been scheduled to begin in 1849, and some materials had been purchased, it was not until September of 1850 that the full authorization to go ahead was received. A sad ending to Brevet Major Linnard came on April 24, 1851, when he died in Philadelphia while making additional arrangements for the lighthouse.
Linnard's letters, transcribed below, are located on Roll No. 40, "Letters Received by the Topographical Bureau of the War Department, 1824-1865. L, February 1846 - December 1850." Washington: National Archives and Records Service, Micro copy No. 506, 1963.
- Letter 1 -
Sept. 13th 1850
"Your letter of yesterday, authorizing the prosecution of the Carysfort Lighthouse upon the plan last suggested, has been received.
"Estimates will be furnished without delay. Permit me to call your attention to the second contract from my report of July 16th. I have stored all the materials for the Lighthouse on Indian Key, and will be under the necessity of building a wharf when operations are renewed. It is desirable that I should know what my rights are there, as agent for the United States.
"I am Sir, very respectfully
Yr. obt. svt.
T. B. Linnard
- Letter 2 -"Col. J. J. Abert Bvt Maj.
Corps Topl. Engn.
“The elevation of the Carysfort Lighthouse forwarded on the 12th of last October, in the midst of preparations for the embarkation of men & materials, was not copied. Be pleased to send it to me for that purpose -
"Indian Key, which has been made the depot for materials of the Carysfort lighthouse, is claimed by individuals, who are represented by an agent residing on the island; but I believe the U. States have never surrendered the title. It is important to determine this fact, and if it appears that the claims are unfounded, I would suggest that application be made to the proper authority regulating that a temporary military reservation be made of the island, and the command assigned to the officer in charge of the creation of works on the reef. This course will enable the officer to protect himself against some serious annoyances, and impediments to his operations which were experienced last winter. There are buildings on the island erected by the U. States, now in possession of the agent above mentioned, which it will be necessary to occupy when operations are resumed.
"Indian Key is required not only in connection with the operations for Carysfort, but if the Government should determine to erect lighthouses on the Alligator Reef & Sombrero Key it will be equally necessary as a depot for those works."
"In reference to this matter see my letters of last October 31st December 26th & March 6th.
T. B. Linnard
- Letter 3 -"Office of the Carysfort Lighthouse
Philadelphia Nov. 22, 1850
"I have the honor to submit the following brief report upon Indian Key, on the coast of Florida.
"This island which it is suggested to reserve for public uses, in connection with the erection of lighthouses on the Florida Reef, is nearly circular, and its greatest dimension is less than 700 feet. It is situated about ninety miles east of Key West, and thirty South west of Carysfort Reef, in the interval between the islands of Old and New Matecumbe. Its situation is rock, thinly covered with calcareous debris mixed with a small quantity of vegetable substance, which supports a few cocoa palms and shrubs. The soil was brought from an adjacent island previous to the Florida War, and at one time produced quantities of fruits and vegetables.
"An individual named Houseman [sic] had made many improvements on the Key. An extensive quadrangle of houses, a good wharf, a large store, Stone cisterns, and handsome gardens were the results of this person's energy and enterprise. He had cleaned a part of the adjacent island, called "Lignum Vitae Key" which he intended to convert into a plantation for tropical fruits, and to connect with Indian Key by a bridge, two miles long, over the intervening flats. A brisk trade was carried on with the Indians and the wreckers cruising on the eastern part of the Reef. Houseman [sic] himself was largely engaged in wrecking.
"An inspector of the customs was stationed on the Key.
"Early in the Florida War the island suffered an attack by the Indians, made memorable by the murder of Doctor Perrine, the distinguished naturalist. From a place of concealment in the water Houseman witnessed the destruction of his property. It was complete, nothing was spared that the savages could destroy, except the house of the office of the customs, who was well known and much liked by them. Houseman did not long survive, having been crushed between his own vessel and a wreck which he was engaged in discharging.
"A short time after the Indian attack the island was occupied by the naval forces under the command of Lieutenant McLaughlin which was cooperating with the army. A number of good buildings were erected, consisting of a hospital and several houses for officers quarters. These buildings are still in a fair state of preservation, having been repaired from time to time by the present occupant of the island. He is the agent of a house in Charleston, who claim the Key under a mortgage from Houseman. He carries on a small traffic with the wreckers in provisions, water and whiskey.
"Indian Key although 30 miles from Carysfort Reef is the nearest available place for a depot of materials. The buildings afford good storage, it is the only place nearer than Key West, where good water can be procured, a channel deep enough for our vessels passes close to it and it is easily approached from sea, having in front of it an opening in the Reef, clear of dangers, eight miles wide. All the materials for the Carysfort Lighthouse are at present stored there.
"If it should be determined to erect a lighthouse on "Alligator Reef", which is about four miles from Indian Key, the latter will be indispensably necessary in connection with its construction, and as the interest of commerce will probably demand it, I would respectfully suggest a military reservation of the island as the measure required by the public interest. The office charged with the erection of public works on the Reef being assigned to the command, would have the power to prevent the sale of ardent spirits to his party, a traffic which is productive of the most serious annoyance.
"I am Sir, very respectfully
Yr. obdt. svt.
Bvt. Maj. E. C.
"Col. J. J. Abert
Corps Topl Engr.
______________________________George W. Cullum. Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy. Volume 1. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1891. 452.