Peonage and Flagler’s Railroad. Jerry Wilkinson Collection

Marathon History

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines peonage as 1. a) the use of laborers bound in servitude because of debt, and b) a system of convict labor by which convicts are leased to a contractor. Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway was investigated for peonage. Labor agents working for the railroad were charged with convincing laborers to go with them to New Jersey only to be taken to Florida and put to work on the railroad connecting Miami to Key West in a state of, “peonage, slavery, or forced servitude.” The trail began on November 11, 1908 in the United States Court with Judge Hough presiding over the case. The government planned to call 300 witnesses. On April 24, 1909, the first congressional committee came to Key Vaca and conducted a hearing at Boot Key Harbor in connection with charges of peonage involving the railroad and its workers. Judge Hough was inclined not to charge peonage, but that evidence showing conspiracy should be introduced. Peonage charges against the F.E.C. were later dropped.

Upper Keys History

Image of general store at Indian Key from model at Keys History & Discovery Center. BRAD BERTELLI/Contributed

Indian Key’s first general store was built by Silas Fletcher in 1824.

He would take on a partner, Joseph Prince, who would sell his rights and interests to the store to Fletcher, move away, come back to Indian Key, and open a second general store on the island.

Fletcher would sell his store, and his home, to Thomas Gibson in 1828 who, in turn, would sell the store and other properties to Jacob Housman in 1831.

It should be noted that what was by 1833 Housman’s store was no Mom and Pop operation. The residents of Indian Key sent a Memorial to the Congress of the United States dated April 23, 1833 with the testimonial (Carter’s Territorial Papers of Florida): “One store on this Island sold in the last 12 months merchandise to the amount of 25 thousand dollars. 1/4 part of this sum was purchased by residents of the mainland — the remaining 3/4 by inhabitants of the Keys and by vessels who resort here for supplies.”

Adjusting for inflation, $25,000 in 1833 would have been equal to $747, 341 in 2018.

Key West History

 

It was April 18, 1982, a Sunday afternoon, at just after three o’clock when the flashing red lights and barricades of a United States Border Checkpoint cut the Florida Keys off from mainland America.

Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow filed an injunction in Miami Superior Court hoping to have the checkpoint lifted. The case was heard by chief federal judge Clyde Atkins of the U.S. District Court.

Just after 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, Wardlow and his constituents were told that while the checkpoint would not be dismantled, it would cease to operate in its previous, egregious manner.

Wardlow left the courthouse with his head held high. When he stopped on the courthouse steps to make a statement to a smattering of reporters, his words would change everything.

Wardlow, along with a handful of stalwarts from the Key West community, decided that if the government was going to treat Key West as a foreign nation than that is exactly what the island would become.

Wardlow announced that Key West would secede from the United States of America at noon the following day. Mayor Wardlow and his advisors gathered at Clinton Square and declared Key West the Conch Republic.

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