Welcome to a general history reading room of the Cultural Museum. When completed this page will feature selected miscellaneous articles published in our quarterly journal - History Talk From the Upper Florida Keys. A linked index will soon be prepared for quick access. For now, please scroll to locate a specific article, or read the entire page. The articles are generally not very long. - Jerry Wilkinson

History Talk From the Florida Keys - Fall 2000 Edition

         - History of Windley Key by Jerry Wilkinson
1846 -  Mystery Settlement on Key Largo by John Viele
1000 -  Key Largo Rock Mound by Gail Swanson
         - Invented History: Antonio Gomez by Gail Swanson
         - Forest Fires on the Keys by Gail Swanson
         - Eddies of the Current by Gail Swanson
3000 - Keys, A Millennium from now by Gail Swanson
1682 - Pirates at the Upper Keys  by Gail Swanson
1938 - U.S. One – Maine to Florida by Jerry Wilkinson
         - A Piece of Keys Christmas by Jerry Wilkinson

The History of Windley Key
By Jerry Wilkinson

      Geologically, Windley Key, like the rest of the Florida Keys, dates back to the formation of the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. More recently, coral reefs were formed during the Sangamon interglacial period, about 100,000 years ago, when the sea level was some 20 to 30 feet higher than it is today. 
     The Florida Keys were forests of rapid-growing branching corals, massive shoals of shifting sand, plus many small corals and sediment-producing algae. Windley Key was one of the tallest reefs, along with Lignumvitae Key and a small knoll on Key West. During the Wisconsin Ice Age the sea level dropped, exposing and killing the coral reefs making the islands that we live on today. One can stand in the quarry's bottom and view millenniums of time represented by the vertical walls, just as one can by passing through the Marvin D. Adams Waterway in a boat. Different corals grow at different rates and the growth depends on nutrients, sunlight and other factors. The side view of the walls represents a forest of corals filled in with other carbonate items.
     The name Windley is elusive. The DeBrahm nautical chart of 1772 shows Windley Key as “Wright’s Island.” Capt. Abner Doubleday refers to it as “Vermont Key” in his military scouting report for Indians of February 26, 1857. Vermont Key was used in other military reports. A. D. Bache shows it as "Windley's Key" on his 1861 U.S. Geodetic Survey. Windley Key may have once been considered two islands as it was shown in the 1870 U.S. Census as the "Umbrella Keys." The census showed John and Matilda Saunders and their two children, Hattie and Mary, as the only residents. John was listed as a farmer. 
     Charles Smith surveyed “Windley Island” for the state of Florida in 1872, showing it as one landmass of 225.04 acres. Benjamin Russell homesteaded 127.45 acres in 1885 and the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West (JT&KW) Railroad received the remaining 97.59 acres in 1895, both on Windley Island. The Location Map for the F.E.C. Railway approved in 1905 by J. C. Meredith shows it as “Windlys Island.” It is generally believed that Windley was an early settler; however, his name has yet to surface in printed matter.
     William Gregg in his book, Where, When, and How to Catch Fish on the East Coast of Florida, (1902) writes of “Windy Island Channel about five miles south of Tavernier Creek.”
     Anyway, the Umbrella Keys definitely became one island when Henry Flagler's railroad  crews filled the “Rocky Mud Flat” between the two islands around 1906-1907. If you look carefully, you can see that the bay swings in very close to the highway just south of the quarry. 
     Considerable quantities of rock fill were needed by the railroad to fill crossings at Little Snake Creek, Snake Creek, the Rocky Mud Flat, Wilson's Channel (Whale Harbor), Indian Key Fill and other low areas.
     The Windley Key community of Quarry, Florida existed during the railroad construction days in the space where the old highway separates from US 1. Flagler purchased this land from a number of Russell families and one Thompson family. On the railroad timetables, Quarry was shown as a designated stop until 1928.
     At first, the rock was simply used for landfill using a steam shovel for extraction. Later, it was discovered that the coral rock could be sliced and polished for use as decorative stone. Slabs were extracted by drilling holes close together in a line and breaking them away from the walls. This was the method that John Rowe used for the Orr Rock Company. Later, the Mizner and Keystone Companies used a chiseling machine to make smoother cuts. 
     Three separate quarries subsequently operated in the Windley quarry complex: The Windley Quarry, the Flagler Quarry and the Russell Quarry. Flagler reportedly paid Mary Jane Russell, Administrator of  a group of owners, $852.80 for the quarry area. Flagler purchased the southern end of the island from the Consolidated Land Company.
     Flagler's railroad dominated Windley Key in the early years, but when researching these early years, the only locally written data I found was a Miami Metropolis Newspaper article on May 15, 1908 titled: "W. T. McDonald and Little Son Killed in a Frightful Dynamite Explosion."
     The Jacksonville Florida Times-Union newspaper printed many articles about the community of Quarry and its steam shovels. In its time, it was evidently a thriving railroad community. Later railroad and highway maps indicate that the community living center was located south of the actual quarry  between the old State Road 4A and the present US-1 highway. 
    Near the northern rim of the southernmost, or the Windley quarry, stands the gaunt and rusted remains of the "channeling machine," which is the apparatus used to chisel two narrow, criss-crossed grooves into the fossilized coral. My firsthand knowledge of this mechanical workhorse comes from Charlie Cale Jr., Cecil and Carl Keith, whose father operated the Windley Quarry for Mizner Industries during and after railroad times. (Mizner was the only business listed in a 1928 business brochure.) Charles Cale, Sr. came to Miami from South Dakota in 1899 with his father and grandfather and he eventually found work in the Windley Quarry. Time marched on, and Charles Sr. married Alice Moore, whose brother Lewis also accompanied the family to Windley Key to operate the quarry. In about 1934, a black Bahamian known only as J. P. jumped ship, swam ashore and joined the quarry work force. 
     Day after day Charles Sr., Lewis, and later J. P. would control the gas-powered channeling machine as it gnawed channels in the rock. The motor rapidly raised and lowered two sets of parallel hardened chisels and propelled the entire rig along its tracks. Two vertical parallel channels about six inches deep would be chiseled in each run down the tracks. At the end of each run, the machine would be moved back to the beginning, the chisels set about six inches deeper, and the machine placed in gear for another pass. This was repeated many times until the channels were from eight to ten feet deep. Salt water was pumped into the channels to keep them clean of debris. 
     When sufficient channels were cut in one direction, the entire machine and its tracks would be repositioned to cut at right angles to the first pattern of channels. This would produce a crisscrossed, or checkerboard pattern. Driving wedges into the grooves at the top and bottom from the exposed sides then separated huge rectangular blocks of fossilized coral. Sometimes dynamite had to be used along the bottom edge if it could not be broken loose. Each slab would weight up to ten tons. The coral blocks were then transported to the Quarry railroad siding for shipment to Miami. A finishing plant located at 7th Street and 7th Avenue would produce the end product. 
     Across the railroad track and old highway from the quarry lived the Reggie Roberts’ family. With Reggie lived his wife, mother, brother and three children in a large house facing the ocean. Farther south lived the Lambert family.
     On the east side of Snake Creek across the railroad and highway was the Dillin family who operated the Snake Creek Lodge. It was leased as a Federal Emergency Relief Administration hospital for the WW I veterans who were building the newly proposed highway bridges to Grassy Key in 1934-35. The veteran’s camp was a few hundred yards south.
     Across the railroad from Snake Creek Lodge was a fishing camp that consisted of a house and a few cottages. It was operated by Lenoy and Laura Russell who also had the Russell Quarry. John Rowe lived on the Russell Quarry site.
      Most of the structures on the aforementioned properties were destroyed by the 1935 Hurricane. The local residents survived by either leaving or packed in Reggie Robert’s car which happened to be across the railroad on a high piece of ground. The veterans were not as fortunate and many died.
    After surviving the 1935 hurricane aboard the relief train at the Islamorada depot, Charles Cale Sr. rebuilt the family home and rented space to Lewis and Ellen Moore until their wooden Red Cross house could be built on Upper Matecumbe Key. The Cale house was about where the present main entrance gate to the park is located. 
     The quarrying of fossil coral resumed after a brief recovery period from the hurricane. The only change was with the railroad destroyed, the quarried slabs were transported by truck to Miami for final finishing. 
     WW II stopped what the hurricane could not. The quarry was shut down. Charlie moved his family to Miami, doing a stint as an explosives expert in the Bahamas constructing emergency landing fields for the U.S. government. 
     Once the war was over, quarrying began again at the Windley quarry. Bob Miller of Miami was the Superintendent of Sailing (brother of elder statesman Bernard) Baruch's Keystone Art Company in Miami and made routine visits to the quarry from 1945 to 1951. The specific design, precision-cutting and polishing was done at the Miami plant. An example of this product is the outside fascia covering the Burdines’ building in downtown Miami. Closer to home, and a much earlier example, is the Hurricane Monument in Islamorada. Architects refer to these thinly cut veneer pieces of rock as "ashlar rock."  With usage the word Keystone has become the generic name for cut slabs of fossil coral rock.
     Chester Flancher of Plantation Key managed and operated the channeling irons for the Key Largo Stone Quarries, Inc. from 1965 until it closed in 1968. During this period, the quarry also had a finishing mill with giant rock saws and necessary polishing equipment on site. 
     With the closing of the quarry, the University of Miami (UM) began efforts to preserve the area because of its geologic importance. Ed Ball of the F.E.C. Rwy. stated that the property was not for sale, but he would advise if the situation changed.
     UM was never advised and on November 10, 1979, the F.E.C. sold the 32.8 acre quarry property to Windley Key Ltd. The following year they submitted plans for six multi-story condominium buildings for a total of 170 units. The three quarries were to be flooded for "water features."
    Spearheaded by Alison Fahrer (the sponsor of this edition), 1,200 Keys residents and 25 organizations, the State was petitioned to acquire the land, which it purchased in 1986. 
    Another significant Windley Key landmark is the Theater of the Sea. A & B grocery owners, Alonzo Cothron (see genealogy page 207) and Berlin Felton, first purchased the quarry pits from the FEC Railway, then the surrounding land. The pits and the land were leased to Phelps McKenney who began construction of his theater in 1940.
     World War II came along and stopped his work just as it did in the rock quarry to his north. McKenney opened his marine theater in 1946 and he and his family have continued daily dolphin shows 365 days a year thereafter. 
 Near today’s Theater of the Sea was "Wimpy's" whose real name was Whibby. It was just a shack and a small pier. Wimpy would catch shrimp at night in the channels and keep them alive in traps at the end of his small pier. Later a longer pier and a channel were dredged for charter boats. Fishing tackle and beer were added as items for sale at Wimpys Fish House.
      Farther southwest the low land was gradually filled in the mid 1950s for Ed Goebel and we have the beginning of today's Holiday Isle. 
     Land on the northeast island’s end began to develop under owners Freddie and Raymond Ruckles. There was a fish camp, trailer park, motel and restaurant operated by families with names like Smith, Hamolin, Ambrose and Bell. Windley Key was on the move.
     Following the pattern of the Upper Keys, it took time and tourists to bring significant additional development on Windley Key. The main quarry complex became a Florida State Park Service geological site with the recently opened Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center. 

Mystery Settlement 
On Key Largo
by John Viele


     The three-masted, square-rigged ship Quebec, on a voyage from New York to New Orleans, ran ashore on Carysfort Reef in January 1848. Her crew carried out an anchor and threw overboard a large quantity of her cargo of assorted merchandise. When the ship had been sufficiently lightened, the crew heaved her afloat and the Quebec continued on her way.
     The plight of the Quebec did not go unnoticed by the wrecking vessels which customarily patrolled the upper Keys reefs from their station at Key Tavernier. Shortly after the Quebec sailed away, about a dozen wrecking vessels and boats, manned by upwards of one hundred men, arrived on the scene. They picked up the goods that were floating and dived down to retrieve those that had sunk.
     One of the wrecking vessels was the 62-foot sloop Empire with a crew of eight, captained by Thomas Bennett. Bennett had been mate of the Empire for several years, but had only been her captain for six months. The Empire’s crew recovered a number of coats, pantaloons, hats, pieces of furniture, and other items that had been jettisoned by the Quebec. Normally, a wrecker would bring salvaged cargo to Key West and deliver it to the custody of the Superior Court for determination of a salvage award. (Wrecking crewmen did not receive wages. Instead, they shared in the salvage awards).
     Because the goods were found floating on the sea or sunk, Bennett decided they were derelict cargo and that he was not obligated to bring them to the court. He divided the goods among the crew and himself. There were twenty rocking chairs and two oil paintings which Bennett decided would be safer on shore while he continued wrecking operations. He directed one of his crewmen to take them ashore in the sloop’s boat. According to Bennett’s later testimony in court, they were stored in a “house on Key Largo which was then unoccupied.”
     Several days later, Bennett decided to return to his home port at Key West. Before departing, he sent a crewman ashore on Key Largo to bring the chairs and paintings back aboard. The seaman returned empty-handed saying that it appeared the chairs and paintings had been stolen.
     On arrival in Key West, Bennett found himself charged with embezzlement by the agent for the company which had insured the Quebec’s cargo. Bennett told the judge of the Superior Court that he was not aware that goods picked up from the sea had to be delivered to the court until he was so informed on arrival in Key West. He had then turned over everything on board to the court and was endeavoring to recover all the goods he had distributed to his crew.
     During the court proceedings, it came out that the Empire had stopped at Duck Key on her way back to Key West, and that some of her crewmen had landed their shares of the recovered cargo there.
     In the face of this evidence of an attempt to conceal some of the goods, the judge ruled that the Empire’s salvage award would be forfeited. He informed Bennett that ignorance of the law was no excuse for not delivering the salvaged cargo to the court and revoked his wrecking license.
     The record of this court case has brought to light one more piece of evidence that Key Largo was settled by one or more persons in the 1840s. Another piece of evidence is the record of an application by seven heads of families to establish a settlement on the “western part of an island called Key Largo” under the provisions of the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. The purpose of that act, passed at the end of the Second Seminole War, was to encourage “the armed occupation and settlement of the unsettled part of the peninsula of East Florida.” Possibly it was one of those seven men who built the “unoccupied house” that Bennett sent his rocking chairs and oil paintings to in 1848.
     One year after the Quebec incident, Assistant Superintendent F. H. Gerdes, leader of a Coast Survey team engaged in gathering data to prepare accurate charts of the Keys, noted in his journal that he saw an abandoned plantation on Key Largo opposite Rodriguez Key. He wrote that the house was empty.
     Six years later, in January 1855, a government official taking passage from Key West to the Miami River on an inter-Keys schooner wrote in his diary, “Learned [presumably from the captain of the schooner] that the island [Key Largo] is about 30 miles long, has some good land on it, and one settlement [underlining supplied].”
      Indian attacks which marked the outbreak of the Third Seminole War began in December 1855. A letter to the commander of Army troops in Florida in January 1856 reported that when they heard the news, three families on Upper Matecumbe Key, two on Indian Key, and six on Key Vaccas [Key Vaca today] had abandoned their homes. When one of the settlers on Matecumbe went back to check on his property he found evidence that Indians had broken into his house. The next day, from Indian Key, he saw that two of the houses had been set on fire. The letter made no mention of settlers on Key Largo, but had there been any, it is probable that they too abandoned their homes. One year later, an Army captain leading a reconnaissance of Key Largo found no one living there.
     There seems to be sufficient evidence to indicate that there were one or more settlers on Key Largo in the 1840s and early 1850s, but there are no clues as to who they were or what they were doing there. Perhaps some day, dedicated Keys historians like Jerry Wilkinson and Gail Swanson will dig out their story.

Key Largo’s Rock Mound
By Gail Swanson


     Key Largo’s rock mound, discovered c. 1932, is part of the remains of an Indian village populated at least a thousand years ago. By 1200, archaeologist Irving Eyster believes, the site was abandoned.  He bases this date on the style of pottery recovered.
     This site in now partially occupied by the Caloosa Campground , bayside of U.S. One.
     By the 1940s residents had severely damaged the site by hauling away rocks and dirt from the rock mound. Therefore, there is no chance of knowing what the village looked like, but this is what can be found from research of four reports of the village site dating from 1944 to 1996.
     There are three important elements that can still be found.  One. A habitation mound, mostly destroyed by activities at the campground, where there have been found hundreds of pieces of pottery by the campground owner, George Eager, and others.  Two. A fresh water sinkhole nearby, which no archaeologist has investigated, and three. The rock mound itself. It was very likely a  ceremonial center with an attached building (that building’s foundation, 25’ x 14’ x 1’ high was termed a causeway by one archaeologist). Speculations that the mound has Mayan connections or is an effigy mound seem to be just that.  But that it was an important site was evident to Eyster, who termed it “a great complex”.
      According to the most recent report, by archaeologists Christine L. Newman and Louis D. Tesar (1996),  a test excavation revealed at least two separate construction/occupation sequences of the mound, which is 100’ x 55’ x 8’ high.  “The Key Largo Rock Mound is unique,” said the archaeologists, “Perhaps the only example left of this type of site in Florida”.  And one wonders, what were the ceremonies performed millenniums ago, by a people now extinct, at their village at Key Largo.

Sources:  Reports by John M. Goggin, Eyster, Carlos Martinez, and Newman and Tesar, with maps of the site, can be found in the history collection of the Islamorada library.

Invented History: 
Antonio Gomez and his Spanish Trading Post
 on Indian Key
By Gail Swanson


     Since January 15, 1964, thousands of residents and visitors have read, on a cast-metal plaque erected by the Florida Society of Colonial Dames on Indian Key Fill, this nonsense:
     “Indian Key – Spanish Trading Post – established by Antonio Gomez, approximately 1695”
     There has never been discovered by any historian I know of any documentation of the [Colonial Dames’] trading post.  I certainly would have found it, having studied original Spanish documents of Keys history of the 1600s and 1700s for the past 10 years.  I have to add the 1700s here, because several authors concocting stories around the few words on the sign, have this Antonio Gomez  here in the 1680s, 1690s, or early 1700s.
      For a reality check on the events of the Keys of that period I refer the reader to my articles “Expelled Priests at Matecumbe” on 1697, History Talk Issue 1, and “The Florida Keys 300 Years Ago”, on 1690-1699, in  History Talk  Issue 9.
     In war records from 1856 we do indeed find one Antonio Gomez trading with the Indians:  he was not Spanish, but Portuguese, he didn’t have a post, he had a boat.  He was indeed at Indian Key;  for a few minutes. 
      First, from the 1860 census of Dade County, before we head back to 1856:
 “Fort Dallas [Miami], August 25, 1860…[12 Houses Recorded]….House #564, Family #543, Antonio Gomez, age 34, male, Mariner, birthplace, Portugal.  Merced Gomez, age 17, female, House Keeper, birthplace, Portugal.  Manuel Gomez, male, age 5 months, birthplace, Florida.  Antonio Montes Terca, age 12 months, birthplace, Florida.” 
      Now, from “Memoirs of Reconnaissance, Compiled by Major Francis N. Page, Dept. of Florida, War Department, Record Group 393, National Archives – Records of the U.S. Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920” the following:
 In August, 1856, discovery of an  Indian trail leading from a house 2 miles from Ft. Dallas on the south side of the Miami River lead to an area search for the enemy Seminoles (Third Seminole War).  Quoting now from the “Reconnaissance”,
     “At the time those Indians were about Ft. Dallas a man called Antonio Gomez – a Portuguese who resided for years in the vicinity came up from Key West on a sloop boat – movements very suspicious – supposed he intended to introduce liquor on the Miami [River] or to carry off deserters [for a fee from them] - was closely watched – He left for Key West on the 13th, same day the commands left the post.  Capt. Hill believed that his object was to trade with the Indians, and that he met them at a bluff some two miles south of the post.  Lt. Smead, 1st Artillery reported to Capt. Hill that Sgt. O’Brian informed him that he saw a small boat belonging to one Antonio cruising along the coast near where some Indians were seen a short time since, at intervals of a mile the boat would stop and a man go ashore and remain a short time and about dark the boat anchored 9 miles from Ft. Dallas – When the sergeant reached Indian Key he was told by some of the soldiers stationed there that the boat stopped at Indian Key for a few minutes going up – had whiskey and other stores on board –  inquired particularly the strength of this detachment and if any officers were with it – Rumored that there are men in Key West who trade with Indians and supply them with such things as they want.”
     How is it possible that our history got so distorted?  And in my lifetime will that sorry metal plaque ever be removed?

Millenniums Ago:
Forest Fires on the Keys
By Gail Swanson

     One day while working in the landscape business in Marathon, on Key Vaca, I spied a strange-looking  white native rock.  It had a smooth black speck in it the size of a penny.  What is this black, I wondered.  I kept the rock and eventually it was shown to geologist Eugene A. Shinn, who was  doing  some work at the Keys.  He exclaimed, “Oh, I wrote the paper on that!”.  Shinn, with Barbara H. Lidz, wrote a lengthy study entitled “Blackened Limestone Pebbles:  Fire at Subaerial Unconformities,” published in Paleokarst journal in 1988. Shinn too, had wondered.  In the paper are pictures of white rocks with black specks in them from Big Pine Key and Ramrod Key and Key Largo limestone.  The geologists, in the technical paper, writing of their examination of the black in the rocks, outline evidence of forest fires on the Keys 5,000 years ago. 
     According to geologist John Edward Hoffmeister in his  book Land from the Sea  (1974) 5,000 years ago what is now Florida Bay was very much a part of the Everglades, a fresh-water environment with many lakes, their remains of which can still be found today.  This environment extended to the Keys which were then, as now, an eroded coral reef above water since an ice age had lowered the sea level.
 It was not until about 4,000 years ago that the sea level raised, by the melting of the ice, and ocean  water began to flow into Florida Bay.
      The black pieces that Shinn and Lidz examined were in a “soilstone crust” of the Keys formed some 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, according to other geologists, D. M. Robbin and J. J. Stipp.  Through experiments Shinn & Lidz found that pieces of limestone, coral, and mollusks  can blacken almost instantaneously in fires, and became in time part of the soilstone crust.  They even discovered one of the black specks to be a burnt twig!
      Thus an ancient event of the Florida Keys is now known, discovered by curious geologists.

 Sources:  The Paleokarst  journal article referred to and Hoffmeister’s book can be found at the Islamorada and Key West libraries.

Eddies of the Current:
The Loo, Fowey, and Alligator
By Gail Swanson

      Since photography of the Florida Current  and Gulf Stream has been available through satellites we can now see that the ferocious current off our coast often spins “eddies” - a current moving contrary to the direction of the main current, especially in a circular motion. Three shipwrecks in our history can be attributed to just such a phenomena.  Four years before the Fowey was shoved ashore (see History Talk issue 12) another British warship during  the same war was also caught up in an eddy and run ashore, and her remains too are still in Keys waters. The Sailing Master of the Fowey, very fortunately for him, was sick when the Fowey hit, for he had also been Sailing Master on H.M.S. Loo in 1744. He testified in that loss that “He observed it [the current] to set variously, but in general it set to the North East.  That he had once before experienced the current to set to the North West, and imputed the loss of the ship to the current’s setting so the night the misfortune happened.” Some two decades later former Sailing Master Robert Bishop would advise surveyor Bernard Romans where the Loo and Fowey were lost; Romans recorded it for us. Looe Key and Fowey Rocks are named for these ships.
     In 1821 U.S.S. Alligator, returning from a fighting pirates in Cuban waters was shoved ashore off Upper Matecumbe Key, where she still lies.  From the Court of Inquiry into the loss these testimonies are found:
     “It was a cloudy dark night and a strong current setting in toward the reef, which it was impossible to account for, and which, I think deceived our Navigator in this reckoning.” - John K. Clack
     “I believe there was a current of about two knots setting to the Westward.  At 9:00, hove the deep sea lead with 50 fathoms of line, but got no bottom.  We could see no land or breakers – at 9:30 she struck.” - John Oliver
     “[I attribute the loss of the Alligator] to counter and unknown currents.” - Croken Harding
     Suddenly an eddy. Then doom. As Capt. Ashby Utting put it in his letter to the British Admiralty describing the wrecking of the Loo, “a very extraordinary and very uncommon new current.”

    Sources:  The log of H.M.S. Fowey, Captain Utting’s letter to the Admiralty, and his Court Martial is at the Islamorada and Key West libraries.  The Court of Inquiry on loss of the Alligator was printed in two parts beginning with the July 18, 1990 issue of the Free Press.

The Florida Keys a Millennium
from now:  Submerged
By Gail Swanson

     A thousand years ago the Florida Keys were populated, and had been so for several thousand years, by a people who no longer exist due to the arrival, and subsequent settlement, in 1492 of European man in this hemisphere. Who, a thousand years ago, could have imagined such a change?
     Who, now, can imagine the predicted great change a thousand years from now: No Florida Keys? 
     Another event, the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s and 1900s, will be the principal cause 1,000 years from now of  the submergence of our island chain. This return to the water that formed the islands in the first place  has already begun, due to rising sea level. In the past century the Earth’s average air temperature has climbed one degree;  in the past 30 years water along Florida’s coast has risen 6”, and beaches have moved back 25-30 feet. 
     We have changed the composition of Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels in the last 200 years.  Analyzing air bubbles trapped in glacial ice, scientists have found that over the past 10,000 years, carbon dioxide levels have averaged about 280 parts per million; the level now is about 345 parts per million, and climbing.  Other gases from other sources have increased in the atmosphere, all creating “the greenhouse effect”. 
     “That there is something to worry about – a concurrence of the oracles – is very clear”, the late Carl Sagan said, on the agreement of scientists that the seas will, indeed, rise substantially, and soon. In April of this year it was announced by NOAA that the United States has just experienced the warmest January to March period in 106 years, and the warmest June (1999) – March (2000) on record.
     In March of this year NOAA reported that, since the 1940s, ocean temperatures have increased 1/2 degree near the surface, and 1/10 of a degree at depths of 10,000 feet.  The seas are absorbing the atmospheric heat, and, as they do, will naturally expand.  The meltdown of arctic ice is the second cause of rising sea level.  According to an article in Time of September 4, 2000 entitled “The Big Meltdown” house foundations, roads, cemeteries, and polar bear and whale migrations have already been affected by the melting of the permafrost and by water where they was previously only ice in Canada and Alaska.
     Item:  There have already been islands lost in the Keys.  In the Upper Keys, Alligator Key is now Alligator Reef. There is an account of tourists going ashore at Alligator Key in the 1800s.  Looe Key, which once had a tree growing on it and was the frightening home for 2 1/2 days of some 280  shipwrecked men of H.M.S. Looe and her prize, no long exists. Nor does Sambo Key, now called Sambo Reef.
     Item: In the 1990s complaints of coastal homeowners on Florida‘s west coast that their trees were dying resulted in a 7-year study by University of Florida researchers.  Their conclusion, published in 1999 in the Journal Ecology, was that the trees were falling victim to saltwater exposure tied to global sea level rise.  Back in 1974 University of Miami biologist Taylor R. Alexander wrote a paper on the evidence of pine trees (stumps of Pinus elliottii var. densa) that had grown where there is now a mangrove swamp on Key Largo.  The pine forest may have been alive as late as the 1930s, but had been eliminated by the rising sea.
     There are so many, many evidences of sea level changes of the past that cannot be detailed in this short article.    But we do live on a reef that has been exposed from falling sea level.   It has fossilized. On rising sea level, do you wonder why the Lower Keys are different in shape and vegetation?  They were once one large island, now cut through by channels of rising sea water,  creating  many islands.       This fact of geology we cannot ignore here: the sea giveth and the sea taketh away.

Source:  Alexander’s paper on the Key Largo trees, “Evidence of Recent Sea Level Rise Derived from Ecological Studies on Key Largo, Florida” was printed in Memoir 2:  Miami Geological Society, November, 1974.

 Pirates at the Keys
By Gail Swanson

      In January, 1682, a ship named Nuestra Senora de Candelaria left St. Augustine for Vera Cruz, Mexico, to get the yearly subsidy given to the town.  St. Augustine, always poor, was financially supported by Spain’s government at Mexico, because of St. Augustine’s supposed protection of the treasure galleons that left Vera Cruz and sailed home via the Florida coast.  Around February 10th the Candelaria was captured by 5 French pirate vessels after running aground at the Upper Keys.
     Research of the documents of around that time has revealed more pirate activities, and the meeting at the Keys of some of the most feared pirate leaders ever.  We can now substitute pirate lore (there are NO documents to support the Black Caesar-at-the-Keys story) for historical documents  on pirates such as Lorencillo .
     For an overview of these activities, the following is a chronology of pirate attacks at Florida and Mexico during a 4-year period,  1681-1684:

     In June Governor of Florida Juan Marquis Cabrera wrote to the King of Spain that he has been expecting the enemy (pirates) all spring.  That from Havana he is warned that the pirates design to assemble at Cayo de Guesas (the Key of Bones – Key West) to invade and sack St. Augustine.
      Five French pirate ships take the St. Augustine subsidy ship, the Candelaria, which was under the command of Salvador de Cigarroa, at the Upper Keys (February).
 French pirates (2 ships, 100 men) repeatedly attack the Apalachee fort 9 miles up the St. Marks River, Apalachee Bay, Florida Panhandle (March – June).  Fighting in defense there was Sgt. Major Salvador de Cigarroa, who had been released by the pirates after his capture at the Keys.  Later, captives from the Apalachee fort, Pedro de Arcos and Francisco Hernandez, were released on the coast of Cuba and gave testimony in St. Augustine in August of what they had learned as captives of the pirates.  That 5 English and French pirate captains, including Lorencillo (Laurens de Graff) had met in the Keys and planned to join forces under Monsier Agramon (the Sieur de Grammont) and attack St. Augustine.
     French and English (Bahamian) pirates were on the Cuban coast seeking a certain lost treasure ship.  The French were in the 3-gun long boat La Fortune (The Fortune), with 36 men commanded by Capt. Abraham Briac.  They had obviously been on the Florida coast and probably at the Keys for aboard their ships were 18 Florida Indian divers.  Some  of these pirates were captured by the Spanish and gave intelligence of their planned attack on St. Augustine (January).
     French and English pirates (lead by Frenchman Grammont) threaten St. Augustine, but were repelled, but took nearby Matanzas and other posts of San Juan and Santa Maria (March-April).
     Pirates 800 strong under 8 Dutch and French captains including  Lorencillo, Grammont, and Van Horn, attacked Vera Cruz.  It was a brutal raid, with the pirates locking 5,000 people in the church; many died, especially children.
     Another subsidy ship from St. Augustine for Vera Cruz, the Plantanera, was captured by English pirates under Thomas Jingle and Andrew Ranson, at the Keys.
     Sent to reconnoiter the Keys looking for pirate ships seen off Havana, Miguel Ramon and men sighted them near Key Biscayne, and engaged in battle.  Ramon and his crew were captured, tortured by Andrew Ranson, then Ramon was set free on one of the Keys.
     Captured sacking Tampico in April, a pilot of the pirates named by the Spanish Juan Poule (possibly John Poole or John Powell) was spared by the Spanish, apparently for his knowledge of the coast.  Three years later he was at Key West with a Spanish  force sent to probe the Gulf Coast looking for the settlement of Frenchmen led by LaSalle. Poule/Poole had been at Key West before, long enough to make turtle crawls, which he showed the Spanish.  Could it be that he was at the referred pirate meeting at Key West in the early 1680s?

     We now, since the 1990s, have at Keys libraries copies of two of the 1680s Spanish documents that record the pirates at the Keys; the third, on Andrew Ranson & Miguel Ramon, has not yet been copied from the archives.
     In 1991 Jim Clupper of Islamorada copied the letter of Governor Cabrera, dated 1681, from a collection of Spanish documents in North Carolina.  It is 27 pages long, and  very difficult to read.  The summary of its contents, in English, contains the warning of the pirates assembling at Key West.  I found in 9 continuous pages of the letter Cayo de Guesos (Key West) written 3 times.  The facts I could glean were few, but follow:
     The ships involved were: 1. the Mercader, with a half French and half English (from London) crew, 2. The frigate La Paloma (in English, The Pigeon) and 3. A lesser bark (ship) named La Fortuna (The Fortune – see 1683!!!)…“todos en otro Caiyo de Guesos” - “all in the other Key of Bones”.  On the next page of the document is the phrase “tundar en Cayo de Guesos” - “aground at Key of Bones”.  Four pages after this is again “Caio de Guesos” and  names of more ships, 4. the frigate Jesus Maria y _______ (unreadable) and 5. Nuestra Senora de la ______ (unreadable). 
      The second document, also a letter by Governor Cabrera, is dated the next year, 1682.  It is part of the Stetson Collection of Spanish documents.  I copied 15 pages of it at University of Florida in Gainesville.  This is the account of the attack upon the Candelaria.  I do not have the language skills to translate all of this account, but from phrases that I could transcribe from the ancient handwriting and could translate the following story emerged.  Of course, a better, thorough translation would reveal more details.
      The Candelaria encountered bad weather after leaving St. Augustine and was sailing down the Keys inside of the reef when it ran aground at Las Playuelos (in English, “Little Beaches” - an Upper Keys location noted on the Lanzas 1743 and the Jeffreys 1763 maps).  The Candelaria may have been in company with another Spanish ship or else met one coming northward, for there is a second grounding noted at Bocas de Guerrero (Mouths of the Warrior), now named Tavernier Creek.  Two pirate ships found them, burned at least one of the Spanish ships, and then were joined by 3 more pirate ships.  There was a battle, perhaps between the pirates themselves.  The pirates took all the people except for 5 men who hid, one of them a slave and two of them English.  From one of the declarations included in Cabrera’s letter. 
      “The other enemy burned the ship and in this time slipped away two Englishmen that we carried to this presidio [of St. Augustine] and having arrived three ships of the other enemy...they [the people] determined to surrender themselves and this deponent and the other four determined to stay hidden as it were...until the other ships went away, 3 to the north and 2 to the south, taking away all the people and that [the enemy] having sacked the other frigate this deponent and the other four companions from a log that they found they made a canoe and came to this presidio.”   The log that they found was on one of the keys called Matecumbe, according to another deposition.  Two other place names occur in the document, Cayo Largo (Key Largo), and Cayo Buscain (Key Biscayne).
     If indeed the rumored pirate meeting at Key West took place to plan an attack on St. Augustine it seems the other attacks would have been planned at that time as well.  It could have been one of the most important pirate meetings in the heyday of Caribbean pirates.

 Sources:  Copies of the two Cabrera letters are at the Islamorada library; a copy of the 1682  letter filed in Archivo General de Indies in Spain as (54-5-12/5)  and notes only on the 1681 letter (AGI 58-1-26) are at the Key West library, in the “Swanson Drawer”.  Important information has come from the following: Robert Weddle, LaSalle, The Mississippi and The Gulf:  Three Primary Documents (1987) - on John Poole; Amy Turner Bushnell, “How to Fight a Pirate…” in Gulf Coast Historical Review #5 (Spring, 1990) - on the attack on Apalachee and knowledge of the Keys meeting of Lorencillo; J. Leitch Wright Jr., “Andrew Ranson:  Seventeenth Century Pirate?“ in Florida Historical Quarterly Vol 39 (1960-1961).   For the attack on St. Augustine see Luis R. and Eugenia B. Arana, “Pirates March on St. Augustine, 1683”, El  Escribano, Vol 2, 1972,  (My thanks to Tom Hambright for copying this article for me in Jacksonville.)  For the attack on Vera Cruz a translation of the 1683 letter of Friar Juan de Avila to Friar Agustin de Betancur by Leopold D. L. Zea of Mexico was printed in No Quarter Given, May, 1998.

U.S. One – Maine to Florida 
By Jerry Wilkinson

     The above named book was compiled and written by state writers of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and released in 1938 by Modern Age Books, Inc. The actual names of the compilers and writers for the state of Florida are given.
     It gives a reasonably accurate account of traveling through the Keys. My comments are in [ italics ].The writing took place after the 1935 Hurricane and before the railroad bridges were converted for the highway.  Miami to Key West is in section 25 with the following comment: “Miami to Key West, 170.2 m. State Road 4A.” [The distance was farther then as the highway route was via the Card Sound Bridge and Pirates Cove in the Lower Keys. This added about 14 miles.]
     “Ferries, between Lower Matecumbe and Grassy Key and No Name Key; infrequent service. Inquire at Miami Motor Club for schedules and to make reservations; $2 to $4 for car and its passengers. Bridges under construction will be completed in spring of 1938. [Through vehicle traffic began in March and the official opening was July 2, 1938.]
     “Observe speed limit on bridges.”
     I will skip the description from Miami to Key Largo. Indicated miles in bold type are not mile markers, but are the measured miles from Miami. 
     “At 56.8 m. are Mabel’s Place and Key Inn (lodging and meals).” [These were on the Card Sound Road at Gulfstream Shores. Mabel was Mabel Harris, Harry Harris’ sister. The Key Inn was operated by Ed and Fern Butters.]
     “KEY LARGO STATION, 59.1 m. (50 est. pop.), was formerly a station on the Florida East Coast Ry., which connected Key West with the mainland. [The station was at about MM 105.5.] This once-celebrated overseas section was built in 1911 [1905 to 1912], the first train running over the route January 22, 1912. At Key West passenger cars were shunted on tracks of seagoing ferryboats, which carried them to Havana, 90 miles away; thus travelers could step into a Pullman in New York and step out in Cuba. [Not true, passengers went from Key West to Havana via Flagler’s P&O Steamship Line. The steam car-ferry was for freight, tanker and mail cars only.] Uninterrupted service was maintained from 1912 until September 2, 1935, when the great hurricane destroyed more than 40 miles of track. The F.E.C. Ry. decided against rebuilding the damaged track and roadbed, and discontinued service below Homestead, on the mainland. The dismantling of the line is now complete, the right-of-way having been acquired by the Florida Road Dept. for this highway. The ferry service to Cuba is now carried on through Fort Lauderdale.
     “There is a large Lime Packing House (R) near the old station. [Chapman’s packing house]
     “At 61.1 m. (L) [MM 103.5] is Largo Garden, a refreshment stand built in a beautiful grove having many different kinds of plants. Coral Boulders mark the shoulders of the road here [ in the Oceana Drive area just north of The Cut].
     “NEWPORT, 63.8 m. [MM 101.3], is a small settlement of Negroes employed in nearby groves. [Now known as Hibiscus Park.]
     “ROCK HARBOR, 66 m. [MM 99] (12 alt., 131 est. pop.), is a tiny village with a 30-foot Observation Tower (L) over its post office. The tower is a square stucco structure anchored by cables to the bedrock; from its railed upper platform is a view of the Atlantic, Florida Bay, and the Gulf [many older houses had cables]. Eastward is the ocean shore, where are racks for fish nets. All around the tiny settlement are extensive lime groves that bear most of the year; to the W. is a mango grove.
     “At 66.8 m. [MM 98.2] is Mac’s Place, [MacPherson’s] where cabins, sea foods, gasoline and boats are available. Sportsmen starting out to catch bonefish often buy supplies here.
     “TAVERNIER, 73.1 m. [MM 91.8] (10 alt., 91 est. pop.), takes its name from the stream that winds past the lower end of Key Largo. The French pronunciation of the word is lost, the natives pronouncing it as though it rhymed with beer.
     “This waterway is supposed to have been a favorite hiding place for Tavernier, lieutenant of Jean La Fitte, the pirate who was, in 1814, promised 30,000 pounds sterling and a commission in the Royal Navy if he would assist the British operations against New Orleans. Instead La Fitte offered his information and aid to the Americans, whom he and his men served in the Battle of New Orleans. After he was pardoned by President Madison, La Fitte resumed his piracy near the present site of Galveston. When a naval expedition was sent against him for attacking American property, he sailed away. Neither his destination nor fate is known. [Tavernier was named by 1770 before La Fitte was even born.]
     “Brought into existence as the southernmost railway stop on Key Largo, Tavernier was just a railroad  station until O. M. Woods acquired holdings during the boom days, built a lumber shed, a moving picture theater and other facilities. [Woods had the Standard Oil Agency when “Mac” McKenzie arrived. Woods and Mac became partners to built the lumber shed, theater, etc.]
     “At Tavernier are some [ two ] of the storm-proofed houses built along the [Upper] keys by the American Red Cross and the F.E.R.A. Constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, these homes are anchored to bedrock; the massive effect is emphasized by heavy wooden storm shutters and the huge slabs of masonry that form the roofs.
     “At 73.7 m. [MM 91] is a Camp on Tavernier Creek, where boats are available for fishing in the ocean or the bay. [Bea and Mac’s] 
     “At 73.8 m. is the northern end of PLANTATION KEY, named for the pineapple and banana plantations that flourished in the past. This island was first settled by Bahamians who migrated from Key Vaca and Indian Key in search of farmland; from the 1870’s until shortly after the beginning of the present century, it was a very prosperous area. From the road it looks almost uninhabited, but in reality there are many homes, hidden behind the hammocks.
     “Palms on the lower part of the key show many evidences of the 1935 hurricane, the center of which cut a devastated path at this point.
     “At 78.6 m. [MM 85.8] is Snake Creek, scene of one of the major washouts of the ‘35 hurricane. The Railroad Trestle (R) was temporarily rebuilt after the storm for the removal of stranded railroad cars.
     “WINDLEY ISLAND, 78.9 M., was named after an old settler. At the foot of the bridge (L) is the Crooked Door, a camp with boats for hire and bait for sale. Much fine-grained Windley Island coral rock has been used for interior [mostly exterior] trim in building construction.
     “A broad expanse of low prairie (L) was the Site of the World War Veterans Camp Number One, one of the three camps destroyed by the 1935 Hurricane with many fatalities. A few hundred yards down the road (R) are rock quarries from which derricks lift huge blocks of coral limestone. The rock has a texture suitable for limited use in sculpture; when treated, it can be used for tiles.
     “At 80.1 m. [MM 83.5] is WHALE HARBOR. Across Whale Harbor extended another railway fill similar to that at Snake Creek, where today bent, twisted rails, swept 50 yards from their bed, are testimony to the hurricane’s violence.”
 This will be continued in the next issue when Islamorada will be featured.

A Piece of Keys Christmas
By Jerry Wilkinson
     Christmas is not what it used to be, but what is? The majority of the Middle and Upper Keys early settlers were of Bahamian origin. These early settlers relied on random sailing vessels to supply their needs that could not be hand-made, grown, salvaged, or obtained from nature.
     Christmas was an important event for these pioneers. They were religious families coming from ancestors who fled England enduring all kinds of hardships, primarily for religious freedom. Celebration was focused on the Church and centered around the family group. The holiday spirit was shared by several generations and those without family were thoughtfully included.
     There were few pine trees in the Upper Keys suitable for the customary Christmas tree, so the Spanish or red stopper tree was used. As in their daily life, they decorated the tree with whatever was available using the creativity that pioneers possessed. Ornaments of shells, tin cans, paper, cloth, wood, etc. were colored with available dyes.
     Presents were few at first, mainly clothes and other items of necessity. Rail service began in the Upper Keys in 1908 and shopping facilities could be easier accessed. The highway made it even easier.
     Worship was of course first and foremost; however the Christmas meal had its significance. In the beginning the meal was probably fish until improved transportation services brought in chickens and/or turkeys, of which many families began raising for this special day. Potatoes, collard greens, sweet potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes and onions rounded out the meal. Local fruit trees provided coconuts, limes, calamondines, dates, guavas, and sapodillas. However, the Christmas meal seems to always need a final touch, or taste I should say, of a special dessert.
     A dessert almost unique to the Florida Keys, at least in name, is the Queen of All Pudding. Its ingredients did not require refrigeration or rare items. The following is the recipe for this special artifact of Keys history. It is like a meringue custard with crackers. As an alternative, often hard bread or Cuban bread was used.
 Queen of All Pudding
5 eggs
Keep 4 egg whites for the meringue
2 cups of evaporated milk
One 5-ounce can of condensed milk
12 “Uneeda” biscuits (Cuban crackers, unsalted)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup of sugar, plus 8 tablespoons for meringue
One inch chunk of guava paste bar
1 tablespoon butter

     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat well 5 egg yolks and one white. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and butter and mix well. Add evaporated and condensed milk and the biscuits which have been crumbled. Stir in vanilla. Pour into greased pan and bake custard until set (about 35 minutes). While baking, cut the guava paste into small pieces and put into a pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Melt over a low heat making a syrup. Beat 4 egg whites until stiff and add two tablespoons of sugar at a time beating after each addition until all sugar is used. Remove custard when done and lower heat to 300 degrees. Pour syrup over custard, spread meringue on top. Bake again at 300 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Refrigerate leftovers.

- Happy Holidays to all -


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