General History of Indian Key - Page 2
These pages by Jerry Wilkinson
History of Indian Key continued from page 1
       Housman took almost immediate action to protect his investment. In early 1836, he established Company B, 10th Regiment, Florida Militia with himself as commander and a cadre of 38 men including 6 slaves. The pay was 30 cents a day plus 50 cents a day for rations. The militia was disbanded in 1838 when relieved by Captain Rudolph of the Revenue Cutter Dexter. Housman later made a government claim for the expenses incurred for the militia. Indian Key may had not been considered an easy prey by the Indians had the Militia been in effect in 1840.  For more details of the militia Click here and then BACK to return to this spot .
       Cannons were employed as part of the defense during the militia era. Later in the Indian raid there were reports of the Indians firing Housman's cannons. This is a rare documentation of Indians firing cannons; however, how did he obtain cannons? From the Key West Admiralty Court records of Roberts versus the English Barque Dorothea Foster, James Gilly, master in August 1836, which was wrecked on Pickles Reef (Upper Keys), the salvaged items were sold at Key West on August 19 and September 1, 1836. Of the 10 salvaged items sold, the item numbered as "37" was labeled "two cannons" and were sold to Jacob Housman. T. Jefferson Smith later deposed  in 1846 ". . . that a cannon was fired daily to keep the Indians remindful that the militia company was on the look out for them and ready to give them a warm reception if necessary. . . ."
      There is a second story of where the cannons came from, or they could have been additional cannons. In September of 1835, a hurricane drove a Spanish Brig, Gil Blas, ashore north of Hillsboro Inlet, Florida with about 200 tons of cargo. Salvage operations were under the direction of the aforementioned William Cooley of Fort Dallas. After the Indian attack on the Cooley family and the settlers were moved away to points south, Cooley sailed back to the wreck of the Gil Blas and brought two cannons and a quantity of ammunition to Indian Key to aid in the islands defense. 
      As a side issue, stories abound about the water depth for the Indian Key Harbor. An example is the 1839 memorial of William Whitehead to the 25th Congress stating Captain N. L. Coste of the U. S. Revenue Cutter Campbell, claimed that you could "…come over the reef, which is about four miles distant from Indian Key, with 18 feet of water, but you cannot approach the island with more than 15 feet of water nearer than one mile, after which the water becomes more shoal as you approach the island and harbor. There is not more than seven feet water at low tide to enter the harbor of Indian Key." If you remember on the previous  page Gauld was quoted in his "Watering Places on the Florida Keys" the water  was "only 9 to 10 feet deep." Supposedly, Housman's ship, the Key West, was at the wharf the night of the massacre had a draft of 6 foot, 10 inches. Another quote is from Senate Ex. Doc. #30, 1849, Lt. Roger's letter: ". . . At the settlement on Indian Key is a very good roadstead, but the harbor has not more than 7 feet on its bar at the highest tide. . . ." The present tidal swing is from two and a half to three and one half feet at full and new moons.
       Research of public records from 1836 to 1866 must be derived from Dade County records. By most written accounts Housman owned all of Indian Key except for the Charles Howe property. From a record of the then new Dade County Clerk's office the author found this document:
 "I, Walter C. Maloney, deputy clerk of Dade county, do hereby certify that the following is a list of persons, their residence, and occupation, owning land, in fee simple on Indian Key, as by the records of this office. Had this record used "or" instead of "and" for the conjunction, I would have a different interpretation. Housman could have given 'shares' of some kind to certain ones to promote the interest that they were a team.
"Person owning          -Residence         - Occupation
Jacob Housman        - Indian Key         -Merchant
Charles Howe           -Do                       -Postmaster &  Inspector of Customs
Lemuel Otis               -Do                      -Mechanic
Gustavus  Bigloss     -Do                       - Do
James Glass              -Do                       -Do
Peter McLean           -Charleston S.C.  -Do
W. C. Maloney          -Key West           -Accountant
Hon. T. J. Smith        -Indian Key          -Counselor  at Law
Chas. Walker. Esq.   -Do                       -Do
Peter Stout                -Connecticut         -Master  Mariner
Saml. Sanderson       -New Jersey         -Do
Wm. Veve [Neve]    -Charleston, S.C.  -Keeper of lightship
T. J. Smith, Jr.         -New York City     - unknown
"Witness my hand, and seal of the county court of Dade County, this 25th day of October, 1838.
              "Signed W. Cathcart Maloney
              "Deputy Clerk, Dade County."

       Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Perrine, while U.S. Consul in Mexico, had been sending experimental plants to the Keys area and incorporated the Tropical Plant Company on February 8, 1838 - 10 months before going there. Upon returning from Mexico, the doctor had been warned of the Indian unrest in Florida; however, he moved to Indian Key with his family in December 25 of 1838 anyway. He used a two-story ocean front house of Charles Howe for his family and base of operations  - more later.
     Like the water depths that were previously discussed, the various specific maps of the island of Indian Key needs some discussion. Should the casual reader care to skip this please do so; however, for the author's discussion please  Click HERE.
     Dade County was about to flex its muscles. Florida's Governor Richard Call appointed Housman's attorney, Thomas Jefferson Smith, as the Dade County Judge on February 6, 1838. Smith formerly of New York, recently of Key West and generally known for his worthlessness, was now Judge Smith. Smith  himself was wrecked aboard the ship America while enroute to Key West. Politically, Indian Key was in position for its official Port of Entry designation. Monroe County kicked and screamed to no avail.
       The quest began anew in 1836 by a petition signed by 314 persons, citizens of Dade County…" Housman also had the support of some commercial underwriters in Charleston in hope to create competition for Key West which essentially had a monopoly.  The merchants of Charleston, SC then petitioned the 26th Congress, 6th session, 1838 for the establishment of a Port of Entry and Custom House at Indian Key.   Click HERE to read their petition. Their argument in Senate Document No. 54 was “That the creation of additional Ports of Entry will also offer competition in the sale of wrecked goods and be the means of increasing the commerce between Charleston and the Southern Florida, and will greatly increase the public revenue.”
       Newly appointed Dade County Judge T. Jefferson Smith appointed Charles Howe to take a census of the area and certified the action in March, 1838. The census recap showed Indian Key: White = 98,  Slaves = 29 , Free Colored = 14,  Total = 141. 
        William A. Whitehead, formerly of Key West, but now in Washington, challenged Housman’s census to the 25th Congress as of December 25, 1839:
Number of families                           4
Number of families, white males    15 
Number of families, white females   6
Number of families, black males    15
Number of families, black females 11
                              Grand Total       47
Whitehead, as the Key West collector of customs, had consistently protested a port of entry at Indian Key since its first conception in 1833. However, he did state in an 1834 letter to Representative J. M. White that there were ". . . about 150 people residing . . ." on Indian Key. 
        Housman's representative and county judge,  T. Jefferson Smith responded on January 10, 1839, "The island at high water mark, is 12 acres; at low water mark the whole space between it and the adjoining island, 5 miles long and two broad, with which this island is to be connected by a bridge, is entirely dry, so that Indian Key if necessary could be made an island three miles square."
       With all the conflicting information Congress eventually dismissed the issue and the Port of Entry was never approved.
       Stories exist that the wrecking license of Housman was canceled; however if canceled, it is not documented. With this said, it could have been done summarily or temporarily by Judge James E. Webb as he had the authority to do so. Also, for the wrecking industry there were two wrecking licenses, one for the ship's master and one for the ship, and Judge Webb could have temporarily revoked one of these, or both. However, at no time while at Indian Key did Housman own less than two wrecking ships. Also, Housman evidently was wrecking in Key West after the Indian raid with his schooner the Key West.
       The author believes that Housman gave Judge Webb ample opportunities to revoke his license. Housman’s loss of license could have been for the embezzling of goods off the wrecked ship Ajax in 1836. However, all the court records indicate was that only his salvage claim was forfeited and Housman appealed the forfeiture of which the outcome is not known.
       Another occurrence was in 1838 when Housman arbitrated the wreck of the North Carolina at Indian Key. The owners sued in Key West and Judge Webb ruled against Housman. Housman took this case to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost.
       As previously mentioned, Dr. Perrine was warned of the Indian unrest in Florida; however, he boarded the brig Lucienda to Indian Key from New York in December of 1838 anyway. With the two-story house of Charles Howe for his family and base of operations, he proceeded with his agricultural plans almost as if no hostilities with the Native Americans existed. For a short biography of Dr. Perrine Click HERE.
       On March 16, 1840, a Mr. Downing presented to the governor and legislative council of Florida Jacob Housman's proposition to catch, or kill, all the Indians of South Florida for $200 each. (See the Journal of the House of Representatives, Monday, March 16, 1840, page 612.) Action on the proposal was referred to the committee of military affairs. Whether the above had any adverse effect or not is conjecture.
        Three days later on March 19, 1840, two mortgages were filed in the Monroe County deed book C, page 370, mortgaging all of Housman's Indian Key holdings to Smith Mowry, Jr. of Charleston for $8,583.  A second mortgage for $5,726.62 was also recorded to Joseph Lawton of Charleston.  Both were at ten percent interest. 
       This was five and a half months before the Indian attack. After the attack and Housman's return to Key West,
on January 15, 1844 the two mortgage holders foreclosed and bought Housman's holdings at Indian Key at public auction for $355 .
       From this one can assume that Housman's fortune could have been in trouble, or Housman had other ideas. History does not reveal nor does it confirm this; however it was an unusual financial move for someone supposedly raking in the money. Two months later he petitioned the U. S. Senate on May 25, 1840 praying permission to form a settlement on the south coast of Florida, another unusual move unless it was simply for expansion. Perhaps he and Mr. Fitzpatrick had something in mind. The petition was sent to Committee of Public Lands and as far as I know it died in committee. 
      Father time took over early in the morning of August 7, 1840, when Indian Key was attacked by a party of Indians. In summary, Indian Key was being watched by the Indians and protected by the Navy on Tea Table Key.  Should you wish to see a sketch of how Indian Key could have appeared that morning then CLICK HERE, then the Back Arrow to return here.  On August 6, 1840, Lt. Rodgers departed Tea Table Key for the west coast of Florida with all military personnel capable of service. At about 2 A.M. on August 7, presumably Chief Chekika and his party of Indians landed on the west coast of Indian Key and were shortly discovered. Taken by surprise, the residents either fled or were killed. In this account are rarely mentioned  accounts of Indians firing a cannon and attacking at night.
        A few notes on Tea Table Key. Originally known as Boys Key, Navy Lt. Napoleon Coste of the revenue cutter Campbell and while under the command of Lt. McLaughlin established the first recorded mention of a military base in the Upper Keys in 1838. Lt. Coste chose Tea Table Key for a land base and built a thatched palmetto boat house and storehouse in October 1838. In an October 1838 letter afterwards, he referred to these two thatched building as "Fort Paulding", no likely named for the then Secretary of the Navy, J. K. Paulding. Passed Midshipman John Rogers while commanding the Wave occasionally used the name Fort Paulding, generally used Tea Table Key. To date, no other subsequent records used this name. Today, Tea Table Key is a private residence with a private causeway eastward of highway U.S. 1 at about Mile Marker 79.5. 
       In April 1839, Lt. Coste experienced discontent among his crew and two jumped ship, swam ashore, stole a boat and escaped. Another went hunting on Matecumbe Key, disappeared and was never seen again. Later, four crewmen wrote a complaint charging Coste with using government funds to construct himself a private house on Tea Table Key. Coste produced affidavits from Key West merchant men that he purchased the materials from them as well as hiring tow carpenters build the structure.
       Later, during a serious yellow fever outbreak, patients were housed on Tea Table Key, hence the reference to a hospital there during the Indian raid on Indian Key. The second but fully documented base will be  yellow fever hospital documented in 1875 as Camp Bell.
       According to the August 29, 1840 issue of the Niles National Register, ". . . The following persons were on the key at the attack: Mr. Houseman [sic] and wife, Mr. Chas. Howe, wife and 5 children, Dr. Perrine, wife and 3 children Mrs. Elliott Smith, child brother and mother, Mr. Goodhue [Henry Bateman Goodyear, brother of Charles Goodyear], clerk of Mr. Housman's [sic], 8 men, crew of the wrecking sloop Key West, and some 10 or 12 Negroes, the latter all saved. Out of this number Mr. Motte, wife and two children, are destroyed, and Dr. Perrine and the brother of Mrs. Smith, with all the houses except one of Mr. How's [sic]. . . ." Three accounts of the massacre are offered:
       - One.  For the complete Niles National Register article  Click HERE.
       - Two.  For the August 20, 1840 Hester Perrine account later published in the Washington Daily National Intelligencer  Click HERE.
       - Three. For the author's detailed account with maps of the "massacre" which will be covered in detail later if you take the tour. It is quite lengthy, but if you wish to go there now  CLICK HERE, and use Back Arrow to return.
       From all accounts, it appears that seven residents, including Dr. Perrine, and no Indians were killed.
       As a note, recent evidence that this Henry Goodyear was the brother of Charles Goodyear the inventor of vulcanization of rubber. Letters from the Goodyear family shows the father, Amasa Sr., his brother Amasa Munson with his wife, Malinda, and daughter Harriet were also on Indian Key. To read the Goodyear letters: CLICK HERE, and use Back Arrow to return
       This ended the Housman era for Indian Key as he leased his holdings to Lt. McLaughlin as a Navy Post who promptly moved the Navy and Marines from Tea Table to Indian Key. Allow me to continue with Housman and return later to the U.S. Navy operations on Indian Key.

       Housman and wife, Elizabeth Ann, escaped to Key West, but his Indian Key empire was in ashes. Housman still owned two operable ships, the Sylph which was sold to two New Yorkers on October 14, 1841 and the Key West which was sold on June 4, 1842. Housman made a government claim for $114,630 contending that he had operated a naval depot at Indian Key which the government failed to protect and had personally paid for a company of Florida militia for which he was not reimbursed; therefore, the government was liable for $114,630. His father, Abraham, pursued this claim continued until  after Jacob's death.
       As to his death I will quote the only printed documentation of the period that I have ever found. From the Charleston Courier dated May 25, 1841: "Extracts of letters received in this city by the U.S. Mail packet Wayne. 'Indian Key, May 15 – . . . Capt. J. Housman of this place died on the 8th inst.; from injury received by the up setting of his boat.'” As it stated “upsetting his boat”, the only ships the registry showed his ownership were the Sylph and the Key West. Another version comes from the Indian River Advocate published in the Florida Times-Union May 22, 1892, “He was mortally injured by being struck by a heavy piece of timber from a wrecked vessel, while engaged in his favorite pursuit, that of wrecking.”
       Records of the Key West Superior Court sitting as Admiralty Court reveal that on May 7, 1841 a Jacob G. Pierce of the brig Leander sued Elizabeth Ann Housman, Executrix of Jacob Housman, for damages against the sloop Key West in a cause of collision, civil and maritime, and was awarded damages on May 20.
       It appears to me that most likely Housman died sometime before May 7, 1841 as a result of a collision between his sloop Key West and the brig Lender.
      Additional inquiry reveals that on April 13, 1841 L. W. Smith, U.S. Attorney, filed assault on the high seas charges against two men near Key Rodriguez for assaulting Jacob Housman with a knife and depriving him of command. The legal brief was filed on May 10, 1841 listing Eliza Housman as a witness and not Jacob as he was already deceased. I do not know the outcome and it may have never gone to trial.
      Even though Elizabeth Ann was acknowledged as executrix in the above case, at the probate hearing she could not prove her marriage and was refused her claim as executrix of the estate. She produced a signed will made on Indian Key dated March 20, 1840, but the preponderance of testimony was that it was not Jacob Housman's signature; therefore, Judge L. W. Smith ruled that Housman had died without a will. Elizabeth Ann married Crawford Thompson, her attorney, on December 14, 1841. Part of the estate's disbursements was a trip paid "Mrs. Housman & Mr. Thompson expenses to Washington and New York on business of the estate." Many disbursements are listed but there is none for tomb slab of Housman later found on Indian Key. And, of all the claims, counterclaims, briefs etc., there is only the mentioning of Jacob's death with no specific date. The engraved tomb slab joins the litany of undocumented elements of Indian Key as later newspaper articles scoff at the validity of its intended purpose. However, it was a reality.
      Housman's father, Abraham, became the administrator of the estate. He entered a plausible lawsuit with 19 affidavits from people who allegedly witnessed the incidents. The case went to the U.S. Senate Committee on Claims who agreed that Housman's warehouse had indeed been used by the Navy for storage and the Navy had left the island unprotected. The collection of affidavits may be obtained from the National Archives and is some ways help in understanding Indian Key while in other ways confuse the issues.
      Be that as it may, in 1848, the Committee on Claims once and forever denied all the Housman claims stating that he was ". . . a mere tenant at sufferance of the United States." In other words, all this time "they were all squatters on public domain," and ". . . had no real rights there whatsoever as it was government land." It further stated that if he had chosen to contract and "store goods which attracted the cupidity and other passions of the Indians . . . it was at  his risk and not that of the United States." Now back in time to just after the Indian raid.

 - U.S. Navy Period (1840 - 1842) -
      Indian Key still had important physical features after the massacre: its accessible location to Hawk Channel, the fresh water cisterns, location of about half way between Key West and the mainland, wharves, ocean breeze, etc. Even most of the houses except Mr. Howe's were said to have been burned, apparently they were not. Lt. McLaughlin in the following paragraph stated that three other structures were not burned. To read the letter  Click HERE.  We do not know exactly what degree of damage was done to any of the structures. For example, on August 27, 1857, Gustavuse Wurdeman while collecting specimens of flamingoes and headquartered at Indian Key after an expedition stated; "Arriving home, the live birds were confined in a ten-pin alley, and the dead birds distributed among the soldiers, wreckers, and others." Of course, the ten-pin alley could have been one of the three buildings that Lt. McLaughlin mentioned.
      It is quite lengthy, but should you wish to read a biography of Lt. McLaughlin now  Click here and then the Back Arrow to return here . If not, please skip and read on.
      Housman and Navy Lt. John Thomas McLaughlin wasted little time moving the Florida Squadron from Tea Table Key to Indian Key. The Indian raid was on the August 7 and on August 9 McLaughlin signed an official instrument with Housman ". . .  yields all right and claim to his property and the possession on Indian Key to John T. McLaughlin for the United States, to be used as a military outpost during the continuance to the war . . . ." McLaughlin rebuilt structures quickly which begs the question of just how damaged the buildings were. He also constructed a hospital and other appurtenances.  In total he had 17 buildings plus a personal house for himself and a hospital. He defended south Florida to Key West from Indian Key and the Florida Squadron was disbanded on July 8, 1842. That would have been a lot of buildings to have constructed in less than one year and conduct a full military offensive as he did. Documentation of operations under McLaughlin are as fraught with contradictions as Housman and Fitzpatrick. McLaughlin bought 129 canoes for $226 apiece where the Army paid $20 each. McLaughlin never gave Indian Key a separate base name. 
       In passing the author notes that in the settlement of Jacob's estate in December 1841 there is under Receipts "By cash received from Captain McLaughlin a/c - $240."
       In March of 1842 the Charleston mortgagees appear to claim the lease payments be paid to them. To read three letters concerning the mortgages,  Click HERE.
 Continued on page 3
E-Mail to editor

Return to Keys Historeum