Biscayne National Monument
A Proposal
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Archeological sites are often found on the upper keys from Key Largo south. Thus it might be expected that they would occur within the area of the proposed monument as well. This supposition is further supported by a number of small artifacts which were observed on Sands Key during early field investigations.

The Florida Keys were known to Europeans from about 1500 onward. Ponce de Leon named them Los Martires in 1513. A young Spanish boy, Escalente de Fontenada, taken prisoner from one of the frequent shipwrecks that occurred on the uncharted reefs, was held captive by the Indians for 17 years before making his escape. His Memoirs gave us the first written account of the South Florida natives.

Pirates made these keys their base of operations and an inlet between Elliott and Old Rhodes Key was a refuge for such notorious pirates as the Black Caesars. Black Caesar the Second is said to have kept both loot and prisoners on Elliott Key.

Under different flags (Spanish, English, United States), the upper Florida Keys and surrounding waters have borne differing names. Biscayne Bay, for example, was once known as Sandwich Gulf.

The emancipation of slaves in the Bahamas in 1834 caused the failure of many plantations. Thus pioneer families who had originally emigrated from Georgia and the Carolinas to the Bahamas, Green Turtle Cay, and Governor's Island again crossed the Gulf Stream and homesteaded on the Florida Keys.

Colonel Robert E. Lee, under instructions from General Joseph Totten (Totten Key), Chief of Engineers, Washington, visited Biscayne Bay in 1849 to consider the advisability of local military installations. Captain M. C. Meigs (Meigs Key) was later Captain of Engineers based at Key West during the Civil War. Key West was the largest salvage center in the United States.

Dr. A. J. Hanna writes in his Flight to Oblivion that General John Breckinridge, Confederate Secretary of War, sailed down Biscayne Bay to Elliott Key and escaped through Caesar's Creek, taking what was left of the Confederate treasury to safety. One diary of that era recorded that "scores of Flamingoes, vermilion scarlet" were on Elliott Key.

Sponge fishermen on Sands Key

In 1886, The United States granted land on Elliott and Adams Keys to Jeremiah Saunders who came from Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas. Saunders was a planter and lived with his family on the ocean side of Elliott Key, a mile north of Caesar's Creek. In those days, according to one of his daughters-in-law, the land grew large trees some "two feet in diameter and 100 feet tall." After these trees were cut, the planters then burned the cleared land and "the rock went to lime and pineapple slips were planted in the powder." Eventually, almost all the high land was burned.

Among other early inhabitants were William D. Albury and his family who lived at the south end of Elliott Key. Albury's parents lived on neighboring land along the ocean front, and the Henry Filers lived at the northern end of Elliott Key. Of all the early settlers' homes, only that built by Arthur and Edgar Higgs still stands on the Key.

Although relatively undeveloped, the keys within the area studied are by no means undisturbed by the hand of man. Much of the higher land was farmed until the early 1900's. The largest of the keys, Elliott, was rather extensively cleared and planted to pineapples and cane. Hogs were raised here in considerable numbers.

Bridging the gap from past to present, we find that commercial harvesting of natural resources is confined largely to the waters of Elliott Key. Neither agriculture nor harvesting of forest products is now carried on within the area. The relatively young even-aged trees which replaced the valuable original tropical hardwood forest have little commercial value.

Today, outdoor recreation is the area's principal attraction. Boating enthusiasts and sports fishermen are ever present. Increasing underwater wonders are attracting more and more snorkelers and scuba divers. Picnicking is good, and some camping is done.

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Last Updated: 17-Sep-2009