General History of Indian Key
The Massacre Story
Page 3
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 Squadron. 
       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 not 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 answered 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.
      Running towards 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 (V) 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 Matecumbe Key. 
       As the Perrines crossed the wide main channel, a whaleboat (V1) came toward them from the Schooner Medium (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 the Everglades.
      17 E. Charles Howe retrieved clothes for the Perrine family from Indian Key.
      17F. A boat was sent from the Medium (V) 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 Perrine home.
       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. 
-Epilogue -
      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 from drowning."
       "(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 HERE.
       Should you wish to read another account written by Hester Perrine's daughter, Sarah Perrine Walker Palmer, and published in 1925 please  Click HERE.
       Another short account written by Charles Howe Jr.  Click HERE. 
The End
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