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Founding Document Returns to Key West

Posted Oct 11, 2013 Posted by 15 Comments

pirates_well

In 1823, Commodore David Porter wrote a letter ordering that an American flag be raised at Thompson’s Island (later known as Key West) to establish the Navy’s Anti-Piracy Squadron. That letter is at the centerpiece of an extraordinary, professionally-curated collection of Keys related documents, photographs and memorabilia recently donated to the Florida History department of the Monroe County Public Library.

Enabled by an anonymous gift, the Key West Maritime Historical Society purchased the collection from Scott DeWolfe (a rare books/antiquities seller with a passion for Key West) specifically for the Library’s Florida History department.

DeWolfe, members of the Key West Maritime Historical Society, and city and county officials welcomed the collection to the Library on Thursday, October 10.

Other treasures include dozens of never-seen-before stereo views of Key West, an 1847 reward poster for a Key West Jail escapee, 1885 Incorporation documents for the Board of Trade which later grew into the Chamber of Commerce, an 1825 letter from a new resident to his mother describing the island city, local cigar memorabilia and a photograph of Asa Tift’s house, now known as the Hemingway House.

“This donation adds remarkable new information and documentation to the collection, many things that I haven’t seen before,” says Historian Tom Hambright. “Researchers and residents will all benefit,” he adds.

The Florida History department relies exclusively on the generosity of private collectors to acquire its holdings. Notable donations include the Heritage House collection from the Campbell, Poirier and Pound families, the Dale M. McDonald collection, Wright Langley’s images,  and the Wilhelmina Harvey collection. The Library’s online gallery of digitized images (viewed at http://bit.ly/keyspix) is approaching its 4 millionth hit.

Image caption: The Pirates’ Well at Key West drawn by Geo. Lehman for Leslie’s Magazine C 1830. From the DeWolfe and Wood Collection.

 

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15 Comments »

  • Michael said:

    I am researching several early Key West families. Can you tell me the writer and recipient of the letter from 1825 mentioned above? And were any other family papers donated? Thanks!

  • Anne
    Anne said:

    Hi Michel,
    Thank you for your question and interest. The family name is Janner/Jenner. We have received many other letters and family ephemera, but most have not been indexed yest. Are you here in the Key West area? We welcome your visit and look forward to assisting you in your research.
    Anne

  • Vicki Meyers said:

    We are blessed to live in such a vibrant community that appreciates it’s history! A big THANK YOU to Mr. Hambright and all the librarians for their hard work. We will be by to see the letter and collection soon!

  • Gerald l. Mansell said:

    My family landed in Key West in the 1840’s and started the Sponge business “Mansell and Birnbaum” which moved to NYC in the 1860’s. Abraham Mansell the patriarch introduced Chamois to the US and had the largest Sponge warehouse in the USA. I have only found ship manifests of my family traveling back to NYC but being my grandfather was born in Key West in 1853, I have not been able to find any other information. Mansell & Birnbaum later became American Sponge and Chamois. I would love to find someone with any info on my families Key West origins.

  • Anne
    Anne said:

    Hi Gerald,
    Thank you for writing us with this bit of Key West history. The Florida Historian, Tom Hambright, will be responding to you directly via email. In the meantime, here are some images of the early sponging trade from our library archive: https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=sponging&user_id=97623182%40N00&sort=relevance
    Thanks again and best of luck with your research,
    Anne

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  • John Beard said:

    For historian Tom Hambright: While researching my ancestor, Judge James Webb, my wife and I were shown a document (deed?) by you several years ago that you used to substantiate the claim for the oldest house in Key West. I regret not having a copy of that document made at the time and wonder if I might pay for a copy to be made now.

    Also, I would like to find out if there is a Key West marriage record for Alden A. M. Jackson and a young lady who would either be a relative of Judge Webb or of the judge’s wife, Rachel Elizabeth Lamar.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated,
    John and Kathy Beard

  • Anne
    Anne said:

    Hi John & Kathy, thank you for taking the time to write. I’m forwarding your questions to Tom. In the meantime, here’s a link to a webpage explaining the library’s long-distance services: http://www.keyslibraries.org/?p=3186
    Best of luck with your research! Anne