General History of Indian Key
The Massacre Story
By Jerry Wilkinson
Later, the heavy report of a gun quickly
followed by another indicated that help was at hand. Listening intently,
they heard the discharge of a few muskets and rifles - then all was quiet
again. The Perrines, who were still in the darkened passageway (A-1), were
unaware that Jacob Housman (10) had reached the shores of Tea Table Key
about a mile away. On this Key was a Naval Hospital and Depot for the Florida
17D. Housman joined Midshipman
Francis Key Murray, who with his available force of five men (17-D)
launched their barge in an attempt to prevent the escape of the Indians
from Indian Key. Being outnumbered almost 20 to 1, it was a foolish act.
Soon after embarking, one of the men was wounded in the thigh by a musket
ball - for the Indians were firing from almost every house along the beach
and from the water, striking the barge. Murray and his men were able to
position themselves in the channel between Indian Key and Lower Matecumbe,
but ran aground on the edge of the channel. They fired their two "four-pounders"
cannons athwartships [across the barge] instead of from the bow and on
the third firing the guns recoiled overboard - having been overcharged
with powder. The guns, though frequently searched for, were not recovered
until some 35 years later.
17C. Meanwhile on Indian Key, the Indians
began firing Jacob Housman's "six-pounder" charged with musket balls. (This
is one of the few instances of Indians ever firing a cannon.) Charles Howe
(17C) who had spotted a canoe adrift and started after it, saw their dangerous
plight and went to their assistance. He guided them back to Tea Table Key
- much to the delight of the Indians.
As the hours passed, the Perrines,
who were still in the passageway noticed the cellar behind them was gradually
filling with smoke, which was drifting in dense clouds towards their hiding
place. The crackling sound of flames told them their house was on fire.
The Indians, after killing Dr. Perrine, used the family books from the
library (A-11) on the attic floor to start a fire in the cupola (A-10)
burning the house downwards. By now the tide had fallen so low that
there were only a few inches of water remaining in the passageway. So as
to suffocate they held their faces close to the
surface of the water, occasionally dashing some into the air around them.
Wet night clothes placed over their mouths and nostrils helped to a degree,
but it was the foundation wall (A-6) under the house that prevented all
from being roasted alive by the heat from the burning mass which had fallen
into the cellar beyond. They soon realized that the pile of wood (A-7)
on the turtle crawl was now ablaze and small tongues of flame were darting
out near their heads. This meant that the planks over the passageway (A-1)
were also on fire. The only avenue of escape was through the turtle crawl
(A-2). The roar of the flames and the certainty of their destruction was
too much for 13 year old Henry, who began to scream in terror. Mrs. Perrine
and Hester tried to restrain him, fearing the Indians would hear him. Breaking
their grasp he shouted "I would rather be killed by the Indians than be
burned to death." Seeing one palmetto column a little loose in the left
hand corner of the palmetto post barrier, Henry, with strength born of
desperation was able to move it just enough to enable him to squeeze past.
With no means at his command to assist his sisters and mother, he departed
expecting never to see them again.
17. As Henry cautiously moved through the
crawl (A-2), he hesitated for a moment looking between the posts towards
the blacksmith shop (D), carpenter shop (C), and the store (E). Except
for the roaring, crackling fire which was once his home, calm seemingly
prevailed under the light of the noon-day sun.
Looking through the opposite side of the crawl,
he could see the northeastern end of Lower Matecumbe Key where a large
number of boats and canoes had gathered after the attack (X-2). They were
loaded high with plunder from Indian Key. Their large canoes were used
to tow a number of smacks (small fishing schooners or sloops) and 6 small
craft stolen from the island. These were also loaded with plunder. Feeling
that the island had been deserted by the Indians, he cautiously raised
the trap door (A-3) at the end of the crawl and climbed out. He dropped
down into the water (17) on the side towards the store and waded ashore.
Once there, he wandered
aimlessly towards Housman's house and then past the open doors of the store.
The noise of rustling paper falling to the floor attracted his attention.
He wondered what it was and a gentle breeze
his question. He reached Jacob Housman's home and yard and the door was
also open, but he gave up any thoughts of entering for fear of finding
dead bodies. In the yard he saw several large broken glass lamp shades
and other items below the windows which had been tossed there by the ransacking
Indians. He walked towards Housman's warehouse, unaware that he was being
watched by Henry Goodyear (13) and Housman's negress slave (12) who were
hiding in the garden. They were afraid to warn him of the danger and fully
expected to see him killed at any moment. Before reaching the warehouse
(H) where Beiglet, the sailor and Joseph Sturdy were concealed in the cistern
(7), Henry wandered down onto Housman's second dock (G1-Right) in the direction
of the bath house (G-5). He turned to take a last look at his still burning
home (A), and much to his astonishment and there emerging from the trap
door (A-3) at the end of the turtle crawl were his mother and sisters.
After Henry had left his mother
and sisters, Hester and Sarah, they listened for the sound of firearms
and yells which would have been his death knell. Hearing nothing, they
decided to make one supreme effort to save themselves. Already their heads
had been plastered with marl to prevent their hair from being burned. They
dug down into the marl until they reached the bottom of one of the Palmetto
posts (A-12) at the end of the passageway. Dragging it aside even though
it was spiked at the top , they succeeded in making an opening large enough
to pass through. Live coals from the fire above were dropping as they moved
along through the crawl. For the rest of her life, Sarah, carried a scar
on her shoulder caused by one of these coals. Had they left ten minutes
earlier or five minutes later, the Indians in the store would certainly
have killed them.
his family, Henry passed the store again and noticed for the first time
that on the beach between Housman's dock (G1-left) and the blacksmith shop
(D) there was a boat (F) with its bow upon the beach not more than 75 feet
from the store. He couldn't have known that the six Indians remaining on
the island were still ransacking the store. Wading out to meet his mother
and sisters, he told them of his discovery and suggested that the best
way to reach the boat was by rounding the point on which the blacksmith
shop stood. Sarah, who had been quite ill prior to this ordeal, sank down
into the water and moaned, "I cannot go farther - I am dying - leave me
here, for I may as well die here as elsewhere." Lifting her and supporting
her faltering steps was the best Henry and his mother could do for the
weakened girl until they reached the launch (F). When they arrived there
it was necessary to literally tumble her over the side as she had insufficient
strength to do it alone.
17A. (Family combined) Finally
the remaining three were able to pull the boat off the beach and climbed
aboard pulling it along with the help of the piles on the dock until the
end was reached. The only means of propulsion was one oar, one paddle and
two poles. After they reached deeper water in the false channel, where
the poles were no longer of any use, they headed for the Schooner Medium
which lay at anchor off Tea Table Key. Henry rowed and Hester paddled.
Henry removed his only garment and tied it to one of the poles as a distress
signal and placed it on the mast pole.
17B. When they were a quarter
of a mile from Indian Key, they saw two Indians in a canoe (17B) start
from Lower Matecumbe (X2) towards Indian Key. Henry and Hester increased
the tempo of their rowing and paddling. Knowing it would be impossible
to overtake them, the Indians landed on Indian Key (G-1 Left) to remove
their companions whose boat the Perrines had taken and return to Upper
As the Perrines crossed the
wide main channel, a whaleboat (V1) came toward them from the Schooner
(V). As it drew nearer they saw two negroes and a dark face in the stern.
Believing the ship had also been captured by the Indians they steered towards
the Gulf Stream in hopes that some passing ship would pick them up. The
time was now 2 P.M., August 7, 1840.
Because of the low tide, their launch
ran aground when they tried to cross a coral bank. As the whaleboat and
their rescuers neared, Henry lowered his distress signal garment, dressed
and waited. Upon their arrival aboard the Medium (V), they were
happy to find the Howe family, Jacob and Elizabeth Housman, Otis - who
had been wounded, two seamen and other escapees from the island. After
receiving congratulations from their friends, the Perrines were furnished
with bed sheets and temporary wrappings to cover themselves.
Their attention was soon again turned
toward Indian Key where the two Indians had landed (17B). Because of the
loss of their launch with its loot (F), the eight enraged savages went
from house to house setting each on fire with the exception of the one
belonging to Charles Howe (B) and two or three small one-room negro houses.
Jacob Housman, owner of it all, standing upon the deck of the Medium,
his arms folded and calmly smoking a "Segar", watched the flames devour
his empire, and commented, "There goes $200,000 dollars." Why Howe's house
(B), shop (B12) and the negro quarters (B13) were spared is not known with
certainty. Some people believe that Howe treated the Indians courteously
and kindly at some previous time, thereby winning their confidence and
respect. Others think that the ransacking Indians found his Masonic emblems
and other regalia connected with that Order displayed on a small table,
and because of their own superstitions were afraid to destroy his property.
After the buildings had been set ablaze, the Indians left the island taking
as hostages a negro woman belonging to Charles Howe and her two children.
They proceeded toward Lower Matecumbe (X-2) to assemble with the others
for their journey to the mainland. Chief Chekika was eventually tracked
down by troops under Col. Harney and shot and scalped by a corporal in
17 E. Charles Howe retrieved clothes
for the Perrine family from Indian Key.
17F. A boat was sent from the Medium
to Indian Key in search of survivors. About two hours later they returned
with Henry Goodyear, Housman's negress slave and her baby, Mrs. Sturdy,
Mrs. Smith and her child, Beiglet and the sailor whose shoulders and arms
were covered with terrible burns and blisters while in the cistern 7.
18. Approaching in the distance were
the wreckers from Tavernier Key and three Naval schooners which arrived
during the evening of August 7th. One schooner, the "Flirt" was
commanded by Lt. John T. McLaughlin.
19. On August 8, 1840, young
Henry Perrine and Charles Howe returned to Indian Key to view the still
smoking ruins. Howe gathered a few of Dr. Perrine's charred bones (a thigh
bone, several ribs and a portion of the skull), placed them in a box and
buried them on Lower Matecumbe Key at the side of a sisal hemp plant, one
which Dr. Perrine had prized highly. The remains of a child, thought to
have been a slave of Jacob Housman, was also found in the ruins of the
20. On the morning of August
8. Hester wrote "three naval vessels and many of the wreckers' vessels
at anchor near us. . . ." Aboard one of these was Lt. Rodgers, who had
departed for Cape Romano (4) earlier, received a dispatch from Lt. John
T. McLaughlin on August 9, 1840 at 10 P.M. advising him of the attack on
Indian Key. Rodgers advises the following in his report: "Immediately
on its receipt, I sent for the canoes and the Marines who were on shore
guarding them; owing however to the wind, the high sea and the distance,
it was eight o'clock in the morning before they got on board, having been
pulling [rowing] all night. At 9 o'clock I got underway for Indian Key,
but did not arrive at Cape Sable (Fort Poinsett) until the morning of the
11th having had light airs and calms. Thence, I started immediately in
the canoe with sixty officers and men for Indian Key, where I arrived the
next morning at 9 O'clock, having pulled nearly 24 hours without stopping,
except half an hour for meals." Some soldiers were placed on Indian Key
as guards. Survivors aboard the Medium went to various vessels.
21. While young Henry Perrine,
and Charles Howe were wandering idly along Indian Key their attention was
called to a figure moving in the water over towards Lower Matecumbe. As
they gazed, it drew nearer, and they saw it was a colored man wading towards
them. In a few minutes they were able to distinguish the features of Mr.
Howe's old native African slave, March (21). While on Lower Matecumbe he
had discovered the presence of the Indians and had climbed a tree. Concealed
in the branches he had watched a number of the savages execute one of their
wild dances near his hiding place.
22. This is not on the maps, but provides
a conclusion for the Perrine family after the massacre. The following is
taken from Hester Perrine Walker's handwritten diary:
"(a) Long Years after
General T. W. Sherman, met me at West Point, & said to me, "Mrs. Walker,
I was stationed at Indian Key for three years after you left there, and
the first thing I did every morning after breakfast, was to walk around
upon that stone wall and look down into your living grave. And now whenever
you tell your story, I want you to say from me to you, that no matter how
exaggerated your story may seem, no one, but one who has stood as I have
& looked into that living grave could begin to realize its horrors.
You know that I have been in every war, both Indian & Civil since I
entered the Service, and I say, there never has been, there never will
be, and there never can be, such a marvelous escape from death as yours.
It was an escape from death at the hands of the Indians, from fire and
"(b) Lt., afterwards Gen'l.
T. W. Sherman, was in command at Cape Florida & hearing that we were
coming had quarters provided for us at the Barracks, but Capt. McLaughlin
would not permit us to land, urging that "in our excited state every noise
would alarm us, and we could be much more quiet with him." He anchored
in Biscayne Bay & we were there a week. From the Ships Stores, we were
supplied with flannel & linen to make underclothing, only having time
to baste them together & make them wearable, as that we might return
to the people of Indian Key, those we had worn away.
"(c) After a week, we embarked
upon her, with many expressions of good will from the Officers and thanks
from us to them. Our Steamer towed the U.S. Schooner FLIRT out of
the Bay into the open ocean & before the rope was cast off, Commodore
McLaughlin signaled to "have us come upon the Stern of the Steamer." He
had manned the shrouds with his sailors, the officers were all upon the
Bowsprit & as we came in view, they gave us three cheers & waved
us their last adieu.
"(d) Not supposing it possible that
they had heard of the destruction of Indian Key, we were surprised, but
found that a Schooner, short of water, had landed at Key West and there
learned our story.
"(e) Gen'1. John A. Perrine
met us & we were with our own friends once more: During all our journey
Dr. Worral had been like a brother. No where on our journey, would any
one receive a penny for any service rendered, and twice when we had laid
our fare from some point, when they found who we were, it was returned
with many apologies!"
For a published thank you card
from the Perrine family Click
Should you wish to read another
account written by Hester Perrine's daughter, Sarah Perrine Walker Palmer,
and published in 1925 please Click
Another short account written
by Charles Howe Jr. Click
tour to the Biography of Jacob Housman
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