General History of Indian Key
Indian Key - Its Rise, Progress and Destruction
By Jerry Wilkinson
     In the author's opinion the following article was the origin of the often repeated legend of Jacob Housman. It is from the Pensacola Gazette, dated March 29, 1845 with a by-line of E.Z.C.J.  The Pensacola Gazette credited the article from the Western Literary Journal and Monthly Review, edited by E. Z. C. Judson and L.A. Hine. Not much is known about Judson except he was formerly attached to the U.S. Navy. It is generally believed that E.Z.C.J. was the pen name of Ned Buntline who was a Florida Squadron officer on the Ostego stationed at Teatable Key. Buntline became a popular and prolific writer. He wrote at least 400 dime novels and created at least one American legend - Buffalo Bill Cody. This copy was acquired from the Library of Congress.
"Sketches of the Florida War
"Indian Key - Its Rise, Progress and Destruction.
       "The island, containing an area of only eleven acres, is situated on the Florida reef, about halfway between Cape Florida and Key West. It lies only one mile from the verge of the Gulf Stream, being partially sheltered from the sea by coral reefs which surround it.
        Formerly it was a barren rock, but, from its peculiar situation, having a fine 'wrecker's' harbor, it was chosen for a residence by one Jacob Housman, who spent such care upon its improvements, that it soon became a miniature Eden. From its low moonlike surface, the lofty cocoa-nut tree arose, a green crowned monarch of tropical forestry - the date and fig trees blossomed and paid tribute, as did the orange and lemon; while, as man's rough footsteps crushed o'er grass and flowers, their perfume rose and mingled with the sweet sea breeze. The little island once but a coral rock, now lies in its acquired beauty, a variegated jewel in the pale green ocean, * looking like a butterfly in a mud pond, a pretty portrait in a moldy frame, a lovely face in a dirty night cap, or, as a poet would say, an oasis in a desert, or a peerless gem in a leaden setting.
     The island was settled about fifteen years ago by Capt. Housman, who commenced business on his own account in the following manner. He was entrusted with the command of a small schooner at an early age, by his father, who owned the vessel. She was employed in the coasting and packet business along the shores of Staten and Long Islands, also up North River. The young Captain, however, was too much a sailor to keep fresh water, and one day took it into his head to make a 'West Indie' trip without asking his father's permission, making his experiment in his father's vessel. The young Captain never reached his destination, for running off his course he struck the Florida reef. This injured his little craft so much that he was obliged to put into Key West for repairs, during which time he got such an insight into the 'wrecking' business, that he concluded to become a wrecker himself. His father having insisted upon considering Jacob's elopement in the light of a theft, the Captain could not return to New Work with safety, therefore this was the very business for him to take up. From thenceforth until shortly before his death Housman was known as a bold wrecker, a successful speculator and fortune-favored man. He made Indian Key his harbor, and as he rose in property, built a large and elegant mansion thereon, laid the place off in streets and squares, and erected a large number of smaller houses for families of the vessel's crews, who had in a short time become numerous, for as his property increased, he bought vessels, thereby endeavoring to monopolize, so far as he could, the profitable business in which he engaged. Wrecks came rapidly and his purse swelled, his importance likewise extending. He took good care to let none except those who were subservient  to his will, reside upon the island, thus literally making himself a monarch of all he surveyed. After building and setting up his island, he made a voyage to Charleston, and returned with a beautiful bride, (the law after his death, repudiated her, in consequence of neither license, record, or matrimonial proof of any kind being get-at-able) who married to a man named Thompson, still survives him, residing in Key West.
        Housman, after his return from Charleston, was doubly successful in his calling, and his property rapidly increased on the one hundred thousand principle three or four times multiplied. I have heard loud whispers of 'false lights' and 'bribed captains' from those best acquainted with the man and his actions, yet I will not endorse things which I do now know not to be true.- With the increased prosperity of Housman, Indian Key improved. He brought soil from other more fertile spots, transplanted trees and shubbery, and added fish-ponds and bathing houses to its comforts.
        Before the war commenced, the Indians used to come from the main land (twenty-five miles distant) in their canoes, to trade at Housman's store. He had often cheated them in his bargains with them - therefore, when the war broke out, he felt great anxiety lest they should repay him for his base conduct. He fortified his place, and armed all the citizens, some sixty in number, at his own expense.- For the first three years of the war none of the enemy made their appearance near the island, and the people of the Key gradually relaxed their care and vigilance, as their fears of invasion calmed away.- Housman kept his store well filled, his wrecking vessels were fortunate, the 'Musquito Fleet' patronized him largely and his fortune seemed to be beyond bettering. On one bright moonlight night in the winter of '40, he retired from his couch, worth probably four or five thousand dollars. Just before dawn of the next day his sleep was broken by the screams of his people, the horrid Indian yell and the crack of rifles. The next instant, the outer door of his home was driven in, and as a crowd of painted and yelling savages entered his door, he and Mrs. H., leaped from the window.- Fortunately, the Indians did not perceive them, and they reached the water's edge in safety, whence by a row boat they escaped  to a vessel which was anchored about a mile distant. Their servant girl, who slept at their bedroom door, was taken and slain. A family named Pierce (I believe) were killed, as was Dr. Perrine, and the son of a poor widow residing on the island. Many were wounded; and it was always seemed unaccountable how so many escaped as were fortunately saved. The vessels were all away from the island, with their crews, or the havoc must have been greater.
        The Indians plundered the stores and buildings, and then set them on fire, burning all to the ground. They carried off several negroes belonging to Capt. Housman, and also some belonging to Charles Howe, Esq., the Postmaster of the place, and a worthy man. The attacking party was led by Chico and Chikika, two celebrated and bloody chiefs. They were supposed to consist of from two hundred to two hundred and fifty or three hundred in number.
        I cannot pass by the gallant conduct of Francis Key Murray, a midshipman of the U. S. Navy, who was left on Tea Table Key, one mile from Indian Key, in charge of the sick men, belonging to the Flirt. He had only eleven men with him, and all these were on the sick list, yet, as soon as he heard the alarm, he manned a barge on which was mounted a small four pounder, and taking a position near the island, opened fire upon the Indians, which killing one and wounded several others, caused the enemy to take their departure, immediately after having set fire to the houses. Mr. M. would have undoubtedly have damaged the enemy much more, but on the third discharge of his gun it recoiled overboard, and he was compelled to retire. He aided in rescuing all that were saved of the inhabitants, and acted in the most humane and generous manner towards the destitute sufferers. His action, that of running a boat manned by only eleven men with the fire of two or three hundred Indians, impelled as he was by noble impulse and a wish to save all that he could from savage violence, should give him a lofty place in the consideration of his countrymen. In his boat, one man was mortally wounded and several others badly injured.
        Indian Key was afterwards chosen as a government depot by Lieut. Com. J. T. McLaughlin, and occupied during the duration of the war.
        Capt. Housman was killed about two months after the destruction of the island, while attempting to go on board a wrecked vessel in a heavy sea-way; being crushed between his boat and the side of the vessel.
       Thus he lost his ill gotten property and his own life, leaving behind nothing of any great value, not even a good name.
                                         E. Z. C. J."
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