Juan Ponce de Leon and Spanish
Indians and Harnando d'Escalente
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Juan Ponce de Leon and 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
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.
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.
Indians and Harnando d'Escalente Fontaneda
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.
describes two Indian villages which researchers believe
were located in Matecumbe and Key West.
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
(Indian name which sounded like and became
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. "
Spanish account written by Andres gonzales de Barcia
describes the Calusa Indians he saw in the 1690s
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.