Indian Key State Historic Site
Indian Key Historic State Park
Indian Key as seen from U.S. 1
|Nearest city||Lower Matecumbe Key, Florida|
|Governing body||Florida Department of Environmental Protection|
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||June 19, 1972|
Indian Key State Historic Site is an island within the Florida State Park system located just a few hundred yards southeast of U.S. 1 within the Florida Keys. The island was briefly inhabited in the middle of the 19th century, but is now an uninhabited ghost town. It is frequently visited by tourists, and is the subject of an archaeological project to uncover the historic building foundations.
Some of the survivors of the 19 ships of the 1733 Spanish treasure fleet wrecked in the Florida Keys by a hurricane camped on Indian Key until they were rescued. Beginning in the 18th century, Bahamians and Cubans used Indian Key as a base for fishing, turtling, logging and wrecking. Crews might stay on the island for months at a time, but there were no permanent settlers. In 1821, Florida was transferred from Spain to the United States, and in 1824, two Key West men, Joshua Appleby and a man named Snyder, sent an employee, Silas Fletcher, to open a store on Indian Key. The store was to serve wreckers, settlers and Indians in the upper Keys, and settlement of primarily Bahamian wreckers and turtlers grew up on the island. By 1829, the settlement was large enough to include a dozen women.
Jacob Houseman, a wrecker who was at odds with the established wreckers in Key West, moved to Indian Key in 1830 and began buying property on the island. He soon became the leader of the community and its chief landlord. He made numerous improvements to the island, and it acquired an Inspector of Customs in 1832 and a post office in 1840. In 1836 Houseman persuaded the Territorial Legislative Council to split Dade County off from Monroe County, with the upper and middle Keys in the new county and Indian Key as the temporary county seat.
The Second Seminole War began late in 1835. After the New River Massacre in early 1836, all of the Keys were abandoned, except for Key West and Indian Key. Despite fears of attack and sightings of Indians in the area, the inhabitants of Indian Key stayed to protect their property, and to be close to any wrecks in the upper Keys. The islanders had six cannons and their own small militia company for their defense, and the Navy had established a base on nearby Tea Table Key.
Early in the morning of August 7, 1840, a large party of Indians sneaked onto Indian Key. By chance, one man was up and raised the alarm after spotting the Indians. Most of the 50 to 70 people living on the island were able to escape, but thirteen were killed. The dead included Dr. Henry Perrine, former United States Consul in Campeche, Mexico, who was waiting at Indian Key until it was safe to take up a 36 sq mi (93 km2) grant on the mainland that Congress had awarded to him.
The naval base on Tea Table Key had been stripped of personnel for an operation on the southwest coast of the mainland, leaving only the doctor, his patients, and five sailors under a midshipman to look after them. This small contingent mounted a couple of cannons on barges and tried to attack the Indians on Indian Key. The Indians fired back at the sailors with musket balls loaded in one of the cannons on shore. The recoil of the cannons on the barges broke them loose, sending them into the water, and the sailors had to retreat. The Indians burned the buildings on Indian Key after thoroughly looting it. Abandoned by almost all of its civilian population, Indian Key was taken over by the Navy for the duration of the Second Seminole War.
Indian Key continued to be occupied for a while after the Second Seminole War ended. The 1850 Census found a few families living there, while only two families were left on the island in 1860. In 1856, during the Third Seminole War, the U.S. Army stationed a few men on the island to protect the two remaining families from possible attack by Seminoles. The Keys lost most of their population again during the Civil War, but William Bethel, a wrecker, continued to live on the island from the 1850s until sometime after 1880.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- Indian Key - Ghost Town
- Viele 1996. Pp. 13-4, 24, 33-4, 43.
Viele 2001. P. 11.
- Viele 1996. Pp. 41-6.
- Viele 1996. Pp. 33-35.
- Knetsch. P. 128.
Viele 1996. P. 35.
- Buker. Pp. 106-107.
Viele 1996. P. 36.
- Viele 1996. P. 69-70.
Viele 2001. P. 84-6.
- Buker, George E. (1975) Swamp Sailors: Riverine Warfare in the Everglades 1835-1842. Gainesville, Florida:The University Presses of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1514-6.
- Knetsch, Joe. (2003) Florida's Seminole Wars 1817-1858. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2424-7.
- Viele, John. (1996) The Florida Keys: A History of the Pioneers. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, Inc. ISBN 1-56164-101-4.
- Viele, John. (2001) The Florida Keys: The Wreckers. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, Inc. ISBN 1-56164-219-3.
- History of Indian Key
- Indian Key Historic State Park at Florida State Parks
- Indian Key State Historic Site at Absolutely Florida
- Indian Key State Historic Site at Wildernet
- Indian Key - Florida Ghost Town