History of Tea Table Key
By Jerry Wilkinson
        The author has very little documented information of Tea Table Key and solicits additional input from readers. To provide assistance, please click the prepared e-mail tab at the bottom of this page. First to assist readers not certain of the location of Tea Table Key, the above is excerpted from a 1968 navigation chart. Much of the island's documented history was its role in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842); therefore, a review of this war.
       The war began in December 1835 with an attack of troops being led from Tampa to Ocala by Major Francis Dade, the namesake of Dade County. The first recorded action for South Florida was in January 1816 was the slaughter of the William Cooley family in the Fort Lauderdale area. The reaction was an estimated 200 people fled the area to Indian Key and Key West. The next incident was the attack on the Cape Florida Lighthouse in July 1836 resulting in the killing of the assistant light keeper and the burning of inside of the lighthouse. Captain Jacob Housman then organized an unit of the volunteer Florida Militia on Indian Key. The following year, the third major incident was the killing of Captain John Whalton, the lightship keeper at Carysfort Reef, and one crewman on Key Largo in June 1937. One could conclude that the war was now in the Keys. 
        General Zachary Taylor, the commanding General of the Florida War, assigned two navy ships, the Madison and the Campbell to cruise the Keys in June 1838. In December 1838, Lt. Napoleum L. Coste, the commander of the Campbell, wrote the Secretary of the Navy, James Paulding, that he had established his headquarters at Tea Table Key and had named it Fort Paulding. No one knows how pleased the Secretary would have been had he known that the fort bearing his name was a 3.55 acre mangrove island with two post coconut thatch-roof structures; however, that's the way it was. By far the majority, if not all, of existing log book entries referred to it as Tea Table Key and not as Fort Paulding.
        As a note, James Kirke Paulding served both the government and a civilian career. He was talented and prolific American literary figure. He was the 11th Secretary of Navy under President Martin Van Buren and served during the President's term of office. He had extensive naval technical and managerial knowledge.
  Before I continue, new information has shown up that Tea Table Key was already owned by Indian Key personnel and being farmed by Lemuel Otis. Copies of the legal confrontation that ensued has been requested and will be posted as revisions to this page as soon as received.
       The "fort" evidently expanded to more than two structures. Not much is known of these; however, Lt. Coste was accused of using military personnel to build himself a personal home. The following is a transcription of a letter from the Office of the Revenue Cutters: "Key West, November 10, 1839 - I certify that Lt. Coste while in command of the USRC [United States Revenue Cutter] Campbell, I being acting 1st Lt. under his command and at all times present whenever any men were employed on Tea Table Key and no men were ordered by me or Lt. Coste to work on his house, or the contrary he frequently instructed me not to permit any of the crew to assist at his individual property but that at several times part of the crew belong to the vessels were employed constructing a palmetto house, the frame of which was brought from Cape Florida to Tea Table Key (the fact of which the Department was advised) which houses was intended for boat and store houses where provisions were stored when brought up and boats stored for repairs - Nor were the carpenter of the crew of the USRC Campbell employed.
                        "John Faunce"
       Others letters exist from Key West civilians attesting to the purchasing of materials, hiring and payment from a private account of Lt. Coste of civilian personnel to work on Lt. Coste's house.
       When Lt. McLaughlin was made commander of the military forces in the Keys he made Tea Table Key his headquarters. After the Indian Key raid of August 7, 1840, McLaughlin leased the remains of Indian Key for his headquarters. Many believe that Tea Table Key was vacated and everyone moved to Indian Key. Documentation reveals that this is not totally true. From the log of the Flirt commanded by Lt. McLaughlin: "November 17 [1841] - Drilled men at small arms at Tea Table Key." Perhaps, just the drill field and flagstaff remained.
     During the attack of Indian Key in August 1840, Midshipman Murray attempted to attack the maundering Indians using some ill servicemen and a cannon that failed. Below is a letter he sent to his superior officer, Lt. McLaughlin.
    "Lieut. Comd. 

      J.T. McLaughlin 
      Key Biscayno 
;      Tea Table Key 
;      August 7th 1840 
              I have the honor to report that Indian Key was last night taken by the Indians, - of which fact I was appraised from the Medium at daylight this morning, our force here consisted of five  men, with whom joined to seven or eight of the sick, who volunteered readily, but were too  weak to be of much service, I started for the key; - at first, with the intention of landing, which however was opposed by the enemy who had taken refuge in every house, and opened a heavy fire which fell thick around us, striking our boats, & wounding one man severely and dangerously in the thigh. They appeared also in great numbers on the beach, yelling and firing,  which firing we returned with three discharges of our four pounders, in the Barges. At the third discharge, being obliged to fire them athwart ships, our guns rebounded overboard; being deprived of the means of cutting off their retreat, I returned to Tea Table Key, to make preparations for the attack which I think more than probable it is their intention to make upon us; being assured, that our amount of force, and means, rendered us of no assistance to the  inhabitants of Indian Key, if any survived, which is not to be supposed.  The families of Messrs Housman and Howe & two Seamen have alone escaped.
         I have the honor to be  - 
         Sir, Very Respectfully, 
            (Signed) Francis Key Murray  
             Mid, U.S.N. 
            " P. S. The Indian force at the lowest estimate judging from the number of Canoes is fifty or  sixty, I am obliged to write in great haste. The Indians used the long guns on the Key firing them at us repeatedly with good aim. "
         As previously stated, I  see no additional use of the name Fort Paulding.
      To read more military letters of the time period,  CLICK HERE, and use the back arrow to return. 
      This page is still under construction and will be updated as additional information is found. At the present, 2003, the island is a private residence (two buildings) connected by a causeway from highway US-1 at about MM 79.3 in the mid 1950s..
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