General History of Indian Key
- Hester M. S. Perrine 1840 Massacre Account -
By Jerry Wilkinson
"The Indian Key Massacre
       "The attack that was made on Indian Key, in the month of August last, by a band of Seminole Indians, and which resulted in the massacre of a portion of its inhabitants, and in the total destruction of the island, is yet fresh in the recollection of most of our readers.
        "Among those who fell victims to the Indian rapacity and ferocity was Doctor Henry Perrine, a gentleman of distinguished talents and education, who had temporarily settled himself at Indian Key for the purpose of introducing the culture of tropical plants, including the Tea Plant, into the Territory of Florida. Dr. Perrine had intended to locate himself on a township of land situated near Cape Florida; but in consequence of the Seminole war, which was then raging, (and still rages) he was not allowed to carry out his designs into execution. The township of land in which we speak, was granted to him in the year 1838, by Congress, with a view to the encouragement of his favorite enterprise. Whilst waiting patiently for the close of the war, at Indian Key, a place of supposed perfect security, a band of savages landed on the island, desolated it, and assassinated a portion of its inhabitants: among those who fell was Dr. Perrine.
       "A concise account of the affair drawn up by a Daughter of Doctor Perrine, who was a witness of the bloody transaction, has been placed in our hands by a friend, and will be read, we doubt not, with deep and melancholy interest. It unfolds, indeed, a tale of terror.
       "On the morning of the 7th of August, between two and three o'clock, we were awaken from a sound sleep by the Indian war-whoop and the discharge of guns. Father was lying at this time in the hammock, to watch Sarah who had been dangerously ill for some weeks. Father, Mother, Sarah and myself sprang from our beds at the same time, while the Indians were firing at the chamber windows, and the glass falling. We had reached the head of the stairs to descend, when I thought of Henry, who had not awoke, and I ran back to his bed for him; we then ran down to a small room at the foot of the stairs, in which there was a trap-door that led to the cellar which we used for bathing, (as the tides filled it twice a day.) Father accompanied us to the door, and then said 'I will go back and see what I can do.' Soon after he went upstairs, mother called out as loud as she dared to him, and told him 'he had no caps to his rifle,' he replied 'I know it, but I will see what I can do.' I constantly entreated mother to go down into the water, but she refused, thinking that father would soon be down to go with us, until we heard the Indians breaking into the house of Mr. Howe, which was opposite ours. I then told my mother 'they would soon break into our house, and we all should be murdered.' We then went into the cellar, passed through the bathing-room into a small place, say three feet high, four wide, and ten long, walled with rocks and thick plank over the top, covered with marl and rocks, and then plank again, to make it even with the wharf, which extended beyond it, and was separated from it by palmetto posts driven deep into the marl; under this wharf was a large turtle crawl, (or pen.) Soon after we had secreted ourselves in this place, I heard my father on the upper piazza calling to the Indians in perfect Spanish, tell them 'he was a physician,' upon which they gave a shout and left the house. While they were gone, it was evident to us, from the noise we heard, that my father came down and closed the trap-door through which we had passed, and drew a heavy chest of seeds that was in the room over it, thinking, no doubt, he would be saved, and, by thus doing, he might save us. And this kind act was the last my dear father ever did for his family. During this time, we heard the Indians breaking into the different houses, while ours remained untouched. But about daybreak they returned, jumped upon the piazza, and commenced battering away at the doors and windows, and we heard one of them say 'stop that;' they then rushed up the stairs; the same voice said 'they are all hid;' 'the old man up stairs' - for my father had evidently retreated to the cupola, which was entered by a heavy trap-door. Soon we heard them pounding at that door with most horrid yells, but, their yells were like demons; and it was then that their most cruel and heart-rendering work was accomplished - the massacre of my dear, lamented father. We soon heard them breaking crockery, glass, doors, windows, and, indeed, every thing they could lay their hands upon, while our trunks, chests of clothing, boxes of dry goods, groceries, &c, were being carried over our heads, and loaded into boats; and most of the time we were in our place of secretion, there were three or four Indians sitting over our heads talking and giving their commands. At one time they lifted a board from the wharf and looked down, and seeing nothing but the turtle, they did not look towards the end where we secreted; had they done so, we should most inevitably have been discovered and massacred. Soon after sun-rise, the smoke began to fill the cellar, but did not affect us much until about an hour before we left, when the whole house fell into the cellar; it then became intolerable. It was so thick that although we were clasped in each other's arms, we could not see ourselves. At this time, the planks which supported the rocks over our heads took fire. During this time, we kept our faces close to the water, plastered our heads with marl, and threw the water over us to keep the air in motion, and to cool it, so that we could breathe. When the planks took fire, we commenced throwing the marl upon them to extinguish the flames. Henry soon began to scream, when mother held his mouth with her hands, fearing the Indians would hear him, and I held his arms, until he burst from us, declaring 'that he rather be killed by the Indians than be burnt to death.'  He forced aside a palmetto post, and passed through the turtle crawl, and got out, while we waited in horrible suspense, thinking that he would be killed, and our discovery be inevitable; but hearing no noise, and knowing that we could not live but a short time there, mother dug down in the marl with her hands, until she could draw out the posts from the bottom; we then passed under the wharf, on which there were three cords of wood burning, and the floor so much burned that the coals fell on our necks as we passed under. As we jumped out, we saw Henry standing a few steps in front of the store, looking about; we then discovered a large launch at Houseman's [sic], not far from the store, to which we waded, and beckoned Henry to come to us. When about halfway, Sarah said 'she was dying, and could not go farther,' but mother supported her to the boat, and, after having assisted her in, mother, Henry and I, dragged the launch into deep water, sprang in, and commenced poling and rowing with all our strength, until we were out of rifle shot of the island. Henry then took off his shirt, tied it to a pole, and raised it as a signal of distress. We had one paddle, one oar, and two poles with which to work the boat. We went nearly a mile in this manner; twice our boat was grounded, but, as Henry knew how to manage the boat, we soon succeeded in getting her off. We were taken up by a boat from the Medium. The launch in which we escaped was one which the Indians were loading with plunder from the store. It had in it a barrel of flour, a box of tobacco, soap, brandy, molasses, corn, a hat, and part of a mosquito net. When we had reached the vessel, we found it was one o'clock in the afternoon. Mr. Howe, wife, and five children, Captain Houseman and wife, and Capt. Otis, we found, had reached the boat before us. We were immediately taken down into the small cabin, and told to take any thing we could find to put on; mother took a shirt and sheet, Sarah and myself a couple of sheets, which we fastened with tarred rope, as we could get no pins. Thus we were clothed for twenty-four hours, when Mr. Howe found some dresses which the Indians had scattered, and we were furnished with a dress. Friday and Saturday we were, with part of the inhabitants, on board the transport, where every service and attention that was in their power was rendered by the captain of the transport, and officers McCleary and Murray, of the Naval Depot.  But on Saturday night we were very much alarmed by hearing the report of two rifles, (a signal which had been agreed upon in case the Indians attacked Tea-table Key,) but it afterwards proved a false alarm, and although there was a violent storm and heavy seas, we begged to be permitted to get into an open boat and leave the vessel, thinking every moment the Indians would be upon us; but our captain kindly refused to permit us to leave the vessel in such a storm, and thus a watery grave. On Saturday, the United States schooner Flirt arrived, and Captain McLaughlin immediately upon learning of our distressed situation, and how ill Sarah was, very kindly offered us the use of his state-room, which my mother accepted. Sarah was carried on board in a cot, for she was so ill that she was not able to stand. On Monday we proceeded to Cape Florida, where she was detained until Saturday, awaiting the arrival of the steamer Santee, in which we took passage to St. Augustine, under the protection of Dr. Edward Worrell, of the army.
       "Gratefully will ever be remembered the manifold kindnesses and attentions received under the hands of Dr. Worrell, Capt. McLaughlin and his officers, in our destitute and distressed situation."
       "August 20, 1840            HESTER M. S. PERRINE"
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