Historical Sketch of Monroe County

Historical Sketch of Monroe County


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St. Augustine who came shortly after, were hospitably received by the proprietors, and building lots were given them within that part of the island intended to be laid out for the city of Key West. 
In 1822, Lieutenant M. C. Perry, hoisted the United States flag over the island, thereby proclaiming its sovereignty over this and the neighboring islands included in Monroe county. During the same year, Commodore David Porter, set up a naval base at Key West. With shallow draft vessels Porter industriously and efficiently set about exterminating the pirate nuisance.
Thompson's Island
Then came the class of settlers called "wreckers". Ships sailed from ports all over the world to be wrecked on the Florida Reef; they were salvaged by the early "conchs", those men from the Bahama Islands who saw Key West as a profitable place for their wrecking trade. In 1825, on Key West, was sold $233,000 worth of salvaged property - silverware, wines, laces, and silks.
Naval defense authorities early recognized the strategic importance of Key West. Commodore Porter used it as a base of operations when he drove the pirates from the Caribbean; the Government looked upon it as a logical port of entry and established there a customs house; coast and harbor were surveyed, and by 1823 a regularly constituted naval depot existed on the island. In 1828 the city of Key West was incorporated, and within the city limits lived most of Monroe county's 500 inhabitants.
Population increased, scattered mainly along the Gulf shore of the keys. The centrally located Matecumbe Keys became wrecking headquarters. Plater, an important early settlement, sprang up on Key Largo, along the ocean front north of present Tavernier. On Knight Key a peculiar industry was established: the beche de mar, a sort of sea slug, was salted down (with Key Veccas salt) and exported as a delicacy to the Orient.
In December 1835, Major Dade, commandant of the Key West Army Post, left the keys and on a march from Tampa to Fort King was ambuscaded and massacred by Indians with his entire command. During the long bloody warfare that followed, key [sic] settlers were constantly on the alert to prevent surprise attacks. About 1839 Tea Table Key was made a base of operations for Navy cooperation with Army maneuvers[.] In 1840 Indian Key boasted a population of twenty families. That year 300 Indians wiped out the peaceful little settlement, with the exception of a few individuals who found precarious concealment. Heroic Dr. Henry Perrine saved his family by rushing them into a cellar; he stayed above to hide the opening and died fighting.
In 1828 Congress passed the bill establishing a Territorial or Federal Court at Key West under the title, "Superior Court of the Southern Judical District of the Territory of Florida".


State Library of Florida, WPA - Historical Records Survey, County Histories


Brief history of Monroe County, Florida collected by the Works Progress Administration's Historical Records Survey.

Note to Researchers: Though the WPA field workers included extensive citations for the factual information contained in these county histories, it should be noted that these historical narratives were produced in the 1930s by federal government employees, and might reflect the inherent social biases of the era.