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Duck Key in the Florida Keys

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Indians, Spanish and Duck Key

 
Indian inhabitants

1513 Juan Ponce de Leon and Spanish

Calusa Indians and Harnando d'Escalente Fontaneda

Francisco Lorenzo Ferreira

 

 

Indian Inhabitants early florida keys indian

It is likely that Indians could have hunted for game and gathered food on Duck Key since evidence of nearby habitation exists on Grassy Key. Traces of Indian occupation can be found on nearly every island in the Keys, but any evidence of early Indian life or settlement on Duck Key was destroyed as a result of island development in the 1950s.

Evidence of the Indian habitation in the Florida Keys dates back 3000 years ago. It is believe that the Keys were inhabitated earlier than that, but any archeological evidence of such early Indian settlement is under water.

About 17,000 years ago during the Wisconsin Glaciation period the level of the sea level around Florida was almost 300 feet lower than it is today.

The first people, Paleoindians, to settle Florida and the Keys arrived about 13,000 years ago when the Keys were forest covered hills and Florida Bay was covered with forests as well. Because of Glaciation and the lowered sea level, Florida had twice the land mass that it has today. The Paleoindians, native American Indians built their villages along the seashore and near the mouth of streams. With the melting of glaciers and the subsequent rise in sea level those settlements are now under 150 feet of water making them difficult if not impossible to find.

Archeologists have unearthed evidence of settlements in the Florida Keys going back several thousand years ago and proof of early Indian habitation has been found on nearby Grassy Key, Islamorada, Key Largo, and Key West. Excavations show that such inhabitants depended on the sea for much of their food, and for making weapons and tools. Parts of the conch shell were used to make throwing or projectile weapons and shells were used for making axes. Shells were also utilized as bowls, pots and dippers. They lived in rough shelters of log and thatch palm leaf.

Evidence of an Indian settlement in Key Largo exists on the bayside just notrth of Coral Shores School. There archeologists have found traces of a large midden or Indian rubbish mound with discarded shells, bones, and pottery shards which date back several thousand years.

 

1513 Juan Ponce de Leon and Spanish

Spanish records show the Ponce de Leon discovered the Florida Keys and mainland Florida in 1513. He is the first European to set foot on Florida somewhere near what would become St. Augustine. This occurred on Easter Sunday and the newly dicovered land was given the Spanish name for Easter, "Pascuas Forida". On this same voyage de Leon sailed south through the Florida Keys and named them Los Martires. The Spanish "Los Martires" meaning the Martyrs is said to reflect the twisted shape of many of the islands. Upon his return after exploring western Florida, Ponce de Leon is reported to have stopped at Indian Key.

The Spanish explored and charted the Keys. While they had knowledge of where to go in the Keys to find fresh water, timber such as mahogeny, and game for food they never attempted to colonized the Keys.

Unfortunately the indians had no immunity to the European diseases that white men brought to the New World. By 1740 the Indian population declined from several hundred thousand in Florida to almost nothing due to epidemics, of measles, small pox, and other diseases.Enslavement and killing also reduced their number. By 1763 the aboriginal Indian population of Florida was no more. Later other Indian populations from Alabama and georgiaa would repopulate Florida north of the Keys. The Seminole Indians never inhabitated the Keys.

 

Calusa Indians and Harnando d'Escalente Fontaneda

When the first Spanish explorers arrived, the Indians in the Keys and in southern Florida were called Calusas. They were described as fierce warriors according to accounts by a Spaniard named Harnando d'Escalente Fontaneda. Fontaneda, the son of an Inca noblewoman and Peruvian Spaniard, was being sent to Spain for schooling when he was shipwrecked in 1549 near present day Islamorada in the Florida Keys. He was held captive and lived with the Calusas from age thirteen until he was ransomed at age thirty. An account written in 1770 tell of an earlier massacre by Calusa Indians of 400 Frenchmen on Indian Key. The actual date of the massacre is unknown but may explain why Indian Key was given the name Mantanzas or slaughter island by the Spanish.

Fontaneda describes two Indian villages which researchers believe were located in Matecumbe and Key West.

Fomtaneda wrote,

"Indians are on these islands, who are of a large size: the women are well proportioned, and have good countenances. On these islands there are two Indian towns; in one of them the one town is called Guarugunbe (Indian name which sounded like and became Matecumbe), which in Spanish is pueblo de Llanto, the town of weeping; the name of the other little town, Cuchiyaga, means the place where there has been suffering ( researchers believe Cuchiyaga was likely Key West.).

These Indians have no gold, less silver, and less clothing. They go naked, except only some breech-cloths woven of palm, with which the men cover themselves; the women do the like with certain grass that grows on trees. This grass looks like wool, although it is different from it The common food is fish, turtle, and snails (all of which are alike fish), and tunny and whale; which is according to what I saw while I was among these Indians. Some eat sea-wolves; not all of them, for there is a distinction between the higher and the lower classes, but the principal persons eat them. There is another fish which we here call langosta, and one like unto a chapin, of which they consume not less than of the former. "

Another Spanish account written by Andres gonzales de Barcia describes the Calusa Indians he saw in the 1690s as

"naked, except for a short clothy worn over half their bodies. they wore long hair, and tied it back; their own instincts drew them towards all the abominable vices. they trade in fish, some little fruits, and a few pelts. In their canoes or barks, they go from the keys to havana, ordinarily in 24 hours. were they a more competent people they would become very rich."

Calusas travelled by dugout canoe. These dugouts were made from huge cypress trees. A 20 foot dugout canoe was found in 1956 under mangrove roots while clearly land for the construction of Marathon High School.

Further research and translations of early texts by another historian indicates that the Calusa traded in Cardinals to be used as pets by sailors in Havana. Records also indicate that Calusa Indians also traded turtle shells which would be made into combs and hair ornaments.

Another Indian settlement or perhaps seasonal Indian fishing camp was discovered in Crawl Key in 1992. No evidence of a village exixts as the site had been bulldozed, but artifacts such as a broiken flint knife, Indian bead, pointed finger scraper and a palm scraper and pottery shards were found.

Another site has been explored on Knight's Key. Found there were a shell bead, a drilled shark's tooth and Indian pottery shards. middens have also been identified on Big Pine Key and nearby islands.

 

 

 

Francisco Lorenzo Ferreira

The first documented post Colombian history of Duck Key begins with Francisco Lorenzo Ferreira in the early 19th century. Francisco Ferreira sought a land grant from the Spanish King to the island of Duck Key in the early 1800s, but his petition to the Spanish Crown may not have been legally acted upon. Ferreira assumed control of the region from Duck Key to Knight Key however, as a result royal intrigue. Thus Ferreira was the first private owner of record of Duck Key. The United States obtained Florida from Spain by treaty in 1821. This was the first of many transfers of ownership that would take place over the next 150 plus years.

 
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