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The Story of Gasparilla
Price- 15 cents
The Story of Gasparilla
Price- 15 cents
Copyright 1946 by
This little folder was issued in response to an ever-increasing demand made to us by our winter tourists. Here's hoping that it may prove of interest to all readers.
We appreciate all courtesies extended by the passenger department of the Charlotte Harbor & Northern Railway Co., (Which has since been acquired by the Seaboard Airline Railway) who presented the first Gasparilla booklet in the spring of 1916.
Boca Grande, Florida
Printed in U.S.A.
The Story of GASPARILLA
Prior to the year of 1822 the name of Gasparilla was a name to be thought of and bold word to conjure with, but romance still holds sway in the minds of each of us and here we find a story that is full of the spice of romantic adventure, that abounds, with thrills and causes the pulse to beat just a little faster at some daring exploit, the eyes to water at some touching story or the fists to clench in the good America way at the brutal butcheries that authentic documents show ere committed. Gasparilla has gone, his pirate gold lies hidden somehwere on the isles of Charlotte Harbor, but the bleached bones of his murdered victims, with the stories that have drifted down from past generations to give the world a synopsis of the life and death of Gasparilla, the terror of the Southern Seas.
His name was Jose Gaspar, (Gasparilla meaning Gaspar, the outlaw.) He stood high in the graces of the Spanish court, so high indeed he filched the crown jewels. Jose was also an office of high standing in the naval affairs of the Spaniards. Some records give him the honor of being what we would call an admiral. His theft discovered,
he desereted his wife and children, gathered together a nice lot of cut throats, stole the prize vessel of the Spanish fleet and escaped. This happened in the year 1782. A price was declared upon hid head, and, it is stated, when Gasparilla heard this decree he swore eternal vengeance upon all Spaniards in general, and commenced to destroy the commerce of Spain.
The Gulf of Mexico at that time being a rendevous for pirate fleets, Gaspar settled in Charlotte Harbor and built upon the shores of what is now called Turtle Bay twelve houses, where under guard his female captives were palced, all male prisoners being killed when captured. The buildings were contructed of palmetto logs, and arranged in a semi-circle close to the water's edge.
About one hundred yards further inland the burying ground was discovered several years ago, containing not only the bones of his men but the skeletons of his murdered women captives. Many a touching story has been unearthed when the ghostly remains were uncovered- stories of great, strong men who died in the fight, of women who died to save their honor, and of nobility we even find a trace, but these are only traditions and the story of "The Little Spanish Princess," as told by old Panther Key John Gomez*, we will relate later on.
Close to Turtle Bay lies the little Isle of Cayo Pelean. Upon this island stood of burial mound fifty feet high and four hundred feet in circumference at the base, built centuries earlier, it is thought, by the Mound Builders of a preshistorice race. Evacuations in this mound have produced ornaments of gold and silver, together with hundreds of human skeletons. On its summit Gasparilla constructed an observation tower, where always a grim sentinel was stationed and looked across the warm, smiling waters of the Gulf for a victim.
The present Isle of Gasparilla, on which is located the popular Gasparilla Inn and Boca Grande Hotel, the pirate named for himself. Taking the best of everything when a capture was made he chose the best of the islands in Charlotte Harbor for his own secret haunts. It is said that Jose was saluted the King of the Priates and his home on Gasparilla Island was regal in its fittings.
Some writings have said that Gasparilla joined Pierre La Fitte, the famous French pirate while others have stated on good authority that La Fitte joined Gasparilla's band, contributing a boat and thirty men.
While taking the census in 1900 two gentlement stopped at Panther Key and spend the night with John Gomez*. The race of the old buccaneer was nearly run, but all through the night he told a story of piracy that could scare be believed, yet it was a daying man that was
clearing his sould before his maker. He told of the looting of ships, the massacre of innocents and last of all, when his life had nearly passed, he told the story of "The Little Spanish Princess," whose name he did not remember. he told where the body would be found and a sketch was prepared under his direction, and in recent years in the exact location described the skeleton of a beheaded women was found. This is the story:
In the early days of the year 1801 a princess of Spain sailed in great state for Mexico. While in that country she was royalley entertained by its ruler, and to show her appreciation to the Mexican people, she prevailed upon the nobles to allow her to take eleven of Mexico's fairest daughters away with ehr to be educated in Spanish customs. a trasure of much gold, bound in octagon chests of copper*, it is said was in cargo. When about forty miles from what is now Boca Grande, Gasparilla engaged them in combat, killed the crew, took the gold, and carried away as captives the princess and eleven Mexican girls. The Princess he kept for himself, the maids were divided among the men. The Little Spanish Princess spurned the one time favorite of the King and Gasparilla swore that if she did not return of her own free will the affections lavished upon her she would be beheaded , and the story goes the threat of Gaspar was fulfilled. Far away from her native land, alone on a tropical isle, the Little Princess still lies in the lonely bed made for by gasparilal. The night birds singing in the dusk lull her spirit to rest in the evening, and the moon throws kindly shadows o'er the spot where royalte sleeps.
From members of Gaspar's crew and from records left by John Gomez, jr., many a strange story has drefted down concerning him, his traits, his ways, and his passions. He was polished in manns and a great lover of fashionable clothes; fearless in fight, and at all time cruel in anture. Concerning women he was fantatical, and his houses were always filled with captives. It is stated beauty was essential to him. He kept for himself a certain number of picked beauties, but so fickle was his nature that when an additional capture was made a new face appealed to him, one of his old loves must forfeit her life to make room for the new favorite. That this was true, there is no doubt, as the graveyard of Gasparilla tells its own terrible story.
In 1819, the United States, having obtained, under the Louisiana purchase in 1803, the states bordered on the Gulf, made war upon the robber bands. On Sanibel Island a conference was held by all the pirates, and with the exception of Gasparilla, Baker, Caesar, and Old King John, all sailed away to be heard of no more.
Nearly two years later, the war on piracy becoming too severe, Jose and his crew agreed to divide their wealth, which was estimated at thirty million dollars, to give up piracy and live as honest men the rest of their lives. This was decided upon and plans made accordingly.
In the spring of 1822 while getting together his treasure for division, which at that time was hidden in six separate palces he sighted what appeared to be a large English Merchantman just off Boca Grande Pass. It is said his greedy eyes lit with pleasure at the thoughts of just one more victim ere his piratical days were over. Closely following the shore line of the Gulf, he slipped into Charlotte Harbor through what is known as Little Gasparilla Pass, crept around Gasparilla Island and gathered together his crew. Great excitement reigned when the plans were unfolded. The band of eight men was divided into two parts, he commaning thrity five men, La Fitte thirty five, while ten were left in chage of the camp. At about four in the afternoon Gasparilla and his men dahsed through Boca Grande Pass for the English prize; fast overtaking the fleeing ship the black flag was hoisted, and his men stood ready with the grappling hooks, but suddenly the English flag floated down and the Stars and Stripes pulled in palce; in a moment guns were uncovered on deck and Gasparilla, realizing that he was in a trap, turned to flee. His boat disable by the shots from the war vessel and capture staring him in the face, he wrapped a piece of anchor chain around his waist and jumped into the Gulf. His age at his death was about sixty-five. His crew was hanged on the yard arms, with the exception of the cabin boy and the ten men left in charge of the captives, they having escaped to the mainland. The cabin boy* was carried to New Orleans where he reamined in prison for ten years.
La Fitte, watching the battle from afar, turned and fled, but the next morning his boat was captured and sunk off the mouth of the Manatee River. Whether he was captured at this point is not known as so many conflicting stories arose concerning him, still it is a positive fact that he was buried at New Orleans.
For thrity years the craft of Gasparilla was visible from Gasparilla Island, lying five miles off Boca Grande Pass, but the sand has now compeltely covered the wreck.
Since the peace has reigned on the waters of the Gulf, but the death of pirates did not end all tragedy. Josy Gaspar is said to have buried eleven millions in a ship's long boat, on or near Gasparilla Island, and for a hundred years thousands of dollars have been spent and hosts of men have lost their lives or minds while searching for this hoarded pirate gold. But the treasure still lies unmoved. Come! Maybe you'll be the lucky one to find it.
*John Gomez, better known as Panther Key John, was a brother-in-law of Gasparilla and a member of his crew he died at the age of one hundred and twenty years, at Panthery Key, Florida, twelve miles below Marco, in the year 1900.
*A chest of this description was found in recent years, though practically empty, by some treasure seekers, at the mouth of Sand Creek, just to the right at the beginning of the long testle, over which travles the Seaboard Airline Railroad that brings you to Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande.
*The cabin-boy on Gasparilla's ship, John Gomez, Jr., who was kidnapped by Gasparilla, witnessed the death of this pirate and all on board his vessel. he died and was buried at Palmetto, Florida, in 1875, at the age of seventy years.
Distances from BOCA GRANDE,
Gasparilla Island, FLORIDA
PLACIDA, [Mainlaind] Via Rail or Ferry, Six miles
South Boca Grande 2
Useppa Island 6
Concer Gas Station (Fla. 181) 16
Englewood (Fla. 311) 19
Venice (U.S. 41) 31
Palmetto (U.S. 541) 64
Punta Gorda 31
St. Petersburg 120
Lake Wales 128
Fort Myers 56
Daytona Beach 243
St. Augustine 297
Lake City 299
Waycross, Ga. 402
Washington, D. C. 1081
New york 1315
Chattanooga, Tenn. 802
Indianapolis, Ind. 1136
Chicago, Ill. 1299
Detroit, Mich. 1305
St. Louis, Mo. 1169
Kansas City, Mo. 1424
Denver, Col. 2048
Los Angeles, Calif. 2835
Houston, Tex. 1140
Oklahoma City 1810
Mackinac Island, Mich. 1771
Chicago Manual of Style
Wickman, G. H. The Story of Gasparilla, booklet, 1946. 1946. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/324361>, accessed 23 September 2023.
Wickman, G. H. The Story of Gasparilla, booklet, 1946. 1946. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 23 Sep. 2023.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/324361>
AP Style Photo Citation
(State Archives of Florida/Wickman)