"Former Capitol" Indian Key by grandmaR

Indian Key Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 21 photos

Picture shows Indian Key with moorings and Park Service dock.

Indian Key is only slightly more than 10 acres, and there is no access except by boat.

The history of the Key is more colorful than might be thought from the above statement. The first inhabitants of the keys were Indians. When the Bahamians and wreckers came to the keys, Key West was the main wrecking station in south Florida.

Around 1821, Jacob Housman came from Staten island in a 'borrowed' ship of his father's. After had had 'disagreements' with the folks in Key West who accused him of unethical business practices, he established his own wrecking station on Indian Key. Fresh water on nearby Matecumbe Key and proximity to the most dangerous reefs made the Key ideal for Housman's plans. He bought the island in 1831 and began to build including a store, hotel and dwellings with cisterns, warehouses and wharves. There were 40 to 50 permanent inhabitants.

Housman was quite sucessful. He landscaped the island extensively with tropical plants, but eventually he got into trouble again with the folks from Key West who accused him of illegal conduct.

To make his island independent of Key West, he had the Legislative Council establish Dade County in 1836, with Indian Key as the county seat.

Housman lost numerous court battles and eventually his wrecker's license. At the outbreak of the Second Seminole War in 1835, he also lost his Indian trade and had to mortgage the island.

In 1838, Dr. Henry Perrine, a physician, moved to Indian Key. He had a government grant to cultivate useful tropical plants. Perrine's special interest lay in cultivating agave for the manufacture of hemp (as used in rope), but he was also interested in tea, coffee, bananas and mangos. He started a nursery on Matecumbe.

As the war continued, it was thought that the island might become a target for the Indians because of the well-stocked store and warehouses. To protect it, military forces were stationed at nearby Tea Table Key.

In the early morning of August 7, 1840, a band of more than 100 Indians attacked the island. Most of the inhabitants, including Housman and his wife, managed to escape. Dr. Perrine hid his family in a turtle kraal below the house, where they survived the attack. But after a futile attempt to talk to the Indians, Dr Perrine was killed and the house set on fire.

Except for one building and the stone foundations, all the structures on Indian Key were destroyed. The garrisons at Tea Table Key had been reduced to five men a few days before.

Some of the inhabitants returned to the island, but Housman did not. He sold Indian Key and returned to Key West, where he served as a crew member on a wrecking vessel. In 1841, during salvage operations in rough seas, he was accidentally crushed between two ships.

Indian Key has remained uninhabited since the early part of this century. Gradually, Dr. Perrine's plants have grown over the ruins.

It is now a state park.

  • Last visit to Indian Key: Dec 2003
  • Intro Updated Jun 3, 2004
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grandmaR

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