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Post Housman Era

Indian-Key--Early-drawing-(2)

In the days following the Seminole attack, military forces stationed at Fort Paulding on nearby Tea Table Key relocated to Indian Key—spending in the neighborhood of $10,000 repairing damages to the island. In addition to the construction of barracks and repairs to existing buildings, three circular cisterns were built.

The island served as the base for the Florida Squadron until the end of the Second Seminole War when Fort Paulding was deserted. The island was reported deserted in 1843, though it would prove a temporary state.

When Dr. J. B. Holder visited the Florida Keys during an 1861 exploration, his account would be published in an article “Along the Florida Reef” published in an 1871 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Holder wrote of the island, “The grand rendezvous for the wreckers, fortunately for us was near at hand. Indian Key is one of the few islands of the Reef that can be called inhabited. Here for many years the wreckers have resorted, as it is convenient as a midway station and the safest harbor in heavy weather. The whole island seems to have been under cultivation. Fine cocoa palms and many flowering shrubs are here, and what with the several houses the place looks quite village-like and picturesque.”

To provide a clearer picture of population distributions in 1870 Monroe County, according to the Federal United States Census, the vast majority of the population resided in Key West. In fact, of the 5,675 people reported living in the Florida Keys all but 641 called Key West home. 133 were reported living in the Upper Keys with nearly half, 61, spread out across the largest island in the chain, Key Largo.

Building on the idea that Indian Key was a relative bastion of civilization in the Upper Keys long after the demise of the wrecking village as a result of the 1840 Indian attack, the 1870 Census shows the island as the second most populated in the Upper Keys. Nine families and 46 total residents were recorded on the island. Among the domiciles registered was the household of Robert J. McCook, 53, and his wife Zylphia, 46, from North Carolina. McCook was the only Methodist preacher registered in the Upper Keys.

Also recorded on the island were Richard and Sarah Pinder, farmers growing bananas and pineapples on the island. In fact, 18 of the island’s residents belonged to the extended Pinder family. By comparison, the population of the entire island of Upper Matecumbe Key, mostly Russells, numbered 13. In addition, 9 people were recorded as living on Plantation Key and 4 on Umbrella Key (Tea Table Key).