Unprecedented Find of Shell-Enclosed Settlement in Florida

Unprecedented Find of Shell-Enclosed Settlement in Florida

Archaeologists using the latest drone and radar technology have identified a major pre-Columbian settlement in Florida. They have discovered what appears to have been a significant settlement on the island of Raleigh. The experts have uncovered evidence that could transform the history of Florida and nearby states.

The settlement was found on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida . An archaeological site had been identified here in 1990. ‘Then, in 2010, a subsequent exploration of the area revealed the presence of a settlement dating from 900 to 1200 CE’ reports the Daily Express . However, the location on the island was covered in dense foliage and it was impossible to investigate. According to The Guardian , ‘When researchers initially tried land-based surveys to assess the settlements, they hit roadblocks because of the dense foliage’.

A test unit excavation within one of Raleigh Island’s 37 shell rings. ( Terry E. Barbour and Kenneth E. Sassaman )

A Drone Survey for Discovery

University of Florida archaeologists, Professor Ken Sassaman and Ph.D. candidate Terry E Barbour, decided to investigate Raleigh Island using the latest LiDAR technology. This is a technology that uses invisible laser beam pulses to detect objects on the ground. The LiDAR technology was mounted on drones and these were flown over the areas previously identified as having potential archaeological significance.

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It allowed the archaeologists to detect shapes between the gaps in the wood and foliage. This enabled the two archaeologists ‘to create detailed 3D maps of the surface of Raleigh Island,’ reports The Guardian .

A drone equipped with Light Detection and Ranging quickly collected architectural details and topographic data about the Raleigh Island settlement with unprecedented resolution. The images revealed rings made of oyster shells surrounding 37 residences. ( University of Florida )

The Ancient Settlement with Piles of Shells

What they found was amazing. Barbour and Sassaman stated that they had discovered the remains of 37 dwellings ‘enclosed by ridges of oyster shell,’ according to The Guardian . The ridges of shells are up to 4 meters (12 ft.) high. There have been 10 test digs carried out at the sites since they were identified. The settlement is of an extent that is ‘without parallel in the Southeastern United States,’ according to the study published in PNAS.

Numerous beads that were made from shells were also found during the test digs. The PNAS study reports ‘excavations in 10 of these residential spaces yielded abundant evidence for the production of beads from the shells of marine gastropods’. Some of the tools used to make these beads were also uncovered and it seems that the households mass-produced these items.

Numerous beads that were made from shells and some of the tools that were used in their manufacturing were found during the test digs. (Barbour et al )

The Importance of Ritual Wealth

Based on historical precedents it appears that the shell beads were not a form of currency but rather what is known as ‘ritual wealth’ according to The Guardian . The beads were used by chiefs in their political interactions and were possibly used to demonstrate their power and prestige. These items were used to forge reciprocal relationships with other tribe members and other groups.

Mollusk shells were traded far and wide, even in areas that were far from the Gulf coast. These shells were then turned into beads by craft persons on the order of local chiefs. According to PNAS, ‘ Bead making at Raleigh Island is exceptional not only for its level of production at the supply end of regional demand but also for being outside the purview of chiefly control’. This would indicate that the village was not a hierarchical society , but one where households had a great deal of autonomy.

Mollusk shells were traded far and wide, even in areas that were far from the Gulf coast. (Dr. Zachi Evenor/ CC BY 3.0 )

Tocobaga Indians Probably Built the Settlement in Florida

The builders of the settlement are not known, but it seems that they were Tocobaga Indians. They ‘ lived in small villages along the west coast of Florida, in the Tampa Bay region, from 900 to the 1500s,’ according to the Daily Express . They were known as fishermen and traders.

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In 1528, the Spanish arrived - bringing a number of diseases, such as smallpox, with them. The Europeans also committed countless acts of violence against the Tocobaga. Within 100 years of the arrival of the Europeans , the tribe was extinct. However, it is possible that the settlement that was found on Raleigh Island may predate the arrival of the Spanish and was abandoned long before the arrival of the Europeans.

The settlement found on Raleigh Island is ‘unprecedented in its architecture, its scale of bead production, and its place in regional geopolitics,’ according to PNAS. It is allowing researchers to better understand the history of the area. Moreover, the discovery of the village is demonstrating the importance of drone and LiDAR technology for archaeologists in difficult environments.

A drone collects data about the ancient Florida settlement on Raleigh island. (Photo by Kim Scotto-Kelley )

UNF archaeologist: 'No doubt' that digs have found ancient coastal Native American village

A University of North Florida archaeologist is now certain that a rich site for ancient artifacts, deep in the jungles of Big Talbot Island, is the lost Native American settlement of Sarabay, a once-thriving village mentioned in French and Spanish documents from as far back as the 1560s.

"No doubt we have a 16th-century Mocama community," said Keith Ashley, referring to the name the Spanish gave the local residents who lived here long before Europeans arrived.

Ashley has had suspicions since 1998 that he'd found Sarabay, when he and students began digging on Big Talbot. Now, generations of students later, he's sure: There's just too much evidence.

Evidence such as European documents that mention Sarabay's island location and its distance from a French settlement and a later Spanish mission. And evidence such as the hundreds of bags of artifacts found at the site &mdash Mocama pottery, Spanish pottery, bone, charred corn &mdash that are stored at a UNF lab.

On a muggy morning this week, he showed more than a half-dozen bags of more items, all found within the past day &mdash rich evidence of the people who, over hundreds of years, once lived and died on that spot.

"This is not just some little camp area," he said. "This is a major settlement, a major community."

Ashley and the UNF students who work with him are still searching for evidence of houses and public buildings such as a central meeting hall. An earlier dig found signs of the wall of a small structure, but it's no easy task finding ancient structures in coastal Florida.

Since the buildings were made of organic wood posts and palm thatch, they've long since decomposed &mdash the evidence for a building, if any were left, would be just a dark stain in the yellowish soil.

Ashley is director of the UNF Archaeology Lab, an assistant professor who heads the school's Mocama Archaeological Project. His focus is on the people who lived along the Atlantic coast of Northern Florida before and after first contact with European explorers and settlers.

'Unprecedented' Native American burial site discovered in Gulf of Mexico off Florida

A Native American burial spot has been found underwater off the Florida coast. Researchers say it’s been there for 7,000 years.

A Native American burial site hidden for 7,000 years beneath the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida has been unearthed in what archaeologists are calling an "unprecedented" discovery.

Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, said in a news release on Wednesday the unmarked site near Venice, which measures roughly 0.75 acres, was first discovered by a diver in June 2016, who then reported possible human remains on the continental shelf to the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

One of the stakes excavated at Manasota Key Offshore revealed a notch in its length. It is not yet known what the notch was for. (Ivor Mollema, Florida Department of State)

"Our dedicated team of underwater archaeologists has done an incredible job of documenting and researching the Manasota Key Offshore archaeological site, and I am extremely proud of the work," Detzner said in a statement. "Our hope is that this discovery leads to more knowledge and a greater understanding of Florida’s early peoples."

The site has been preserved in what appears to have been a "peat-bottomed freshwater pond" from thousands of years ago, according to the news release.

FPAN partner, Nicole Grinnan, measures the test unit’s depth using a laser level and folding ruler. (Ivor Mollema, Florida Department of State)

Researchers believe during that time period, when sea levels were lower, the indigenous people of Florida buried their family members at the site. As sea levels eventually rose, the pond was covered by the Gulf of Mexico but the peat bottom of the pond remained intact.

"Peat slows the process of organic decay, which allowed the site to stay well preserved," state officials said.

The find off the coast of Florida is significant because the only known examples of submerged offshore prehistoric burial sites located in Israel and Denmark, according to researchers.

"Seeing a 7,000-year-old site that is so well preserved in the Gulf of Mexico is awe-inspiring. We are truly humbled by this experience," said Dr. Ryan Duggins, an underwater archaeology supervisor for the Florida Bureau of Archeological Research.

An archaeologist uses a grid to map a section of the test unit. (Ivor Mollema, Florida Department of State)

"It is important to remember that this is a burial site and must be treated with the utmost respect. We now know that this type of site exists on the continental shelf. This will forever change the way we approach offshore archaeology," he added.

State officials said they are now working to figure out how to best manage the site and protect it for generations to come.

"As important as the site is archaeologically, it is crucial that the site and the people buried there are treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect," said Dr. Timothy Parsons, the director of Florida's Division of Historical Resources. "The people buried at the site are the ancestors of America’s living indigenous people. Sites like this have cultural and religious significance in the present day."

While the site may be accessible in the Gulf of Mexico, state officials warned that it is a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida to remove artifacts from an archaeological site without authorization, and a third-degree felony to disturb or vandalize an unmarked human burial.

The site is also monitored by law enforcement and "any suspicious or unusual activity will be reported," according to state officials.

The pre-Columbian bead business was booming

So where were all these beads bound for? By around 800 or 900 CE, beads made of seashells had become symbols of power and status at large cities as far inland as Cahokia in present-day Illinois. Shell cups, throat coverings called gorgets, and beads in a variety of shapes were worn as jewelry or sewn onto clothing. The beads became important exchange items for a network of cities and towns spanning most of what is now the Eastern US.

Most of the popular disc- and tube-shaped beads came from a Gulf of Mexico mollusk called the lightning whelk. The demand was massive even smaller towns, out on the political and economic periphery, could use tens of thousands of shells.

Raleigh Island may have gotten into that market on the ground floor. Artifacts from the island community date to the early years of Mississippian culture, so these coastal people may have supplied beads to the first budding chiefdoms before the turn of the 11 th century. In fact, Barbour and his colleagues suggest that "entrepreneurs" from places like Raleigh Island could have helped stimulate that trade economy in the first place. And as demand increased, so did the islanders' production of shells and beads.

Even at the height of the chiefdoms' power, Raleigh Island was at the very edge of its political reach, so the islanders probably maintained their independence from the pre-Columbian command economy. In fact, the partially crafted shell beads at Raleigh Island suggest that people there probably weren't trading with the biggest Mississippian cities at all. Chiefs in places like Cahokia and Etowah usually imported raw shell, not beads, and set their own craftspeople to work making beads of their own designs.

"At these large mound centers, importing whole, raw lightning whelk shell and crafting it into ceremonial cups, pendants, beads, etc. seems to have been done in order to maintain a level of control over the process of making and distributing the items themselves," Barbour told Ars. "It is also very likely that the process of making some of these shell objects themselves carried spiritual and religious prescriptions and connotations that meant the individual needed to be a specialist or priest." He added, "By controlling the process of making shell objects, beads included, elites could control certain meanings and narratives surrounding beads and other objects that they were producing."

But although archaeologists don't yet have enough data to say for sure, it looks as if some smaller cities and towns may have imported pre-made shell beads, like the ones from Raleigh Island. At the moment, we have no way to know whether Raleigh Island and communities like it also exported raw shell. We also don't know how those trade relationships worked and what they received in return. That's work for future excavations.

The influx heightens religious tensions.

Thomas Nast cartoon depicting violent Irish mobs attacking police officers. (Credit: The New York Historical Society/Getty Images)

Conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the United States had already broken out in violence before the first potato plant wilted in Ireland. Anti-Catholic, anti-Irish mobs in Philadelphia destroyed houses and torched churches in the deadly Bible Riots of 1844. New York Archbishop John Hughes responded by building a wall of his own around Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in order to protect it from the native-born population, and he stationed musket-wielding members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians to guard the city’s churches. Wild conspiracy theories took root that women were held against their will in Catholic convents and that priests systematically raped nuns and then strangled any children born as a result of their union.

The maltreatment of newcomers to the United States was, of course, hardly a cross for the Irish to bear on their own. However, while the number of German immigrants entering the United States nearly matched that of the Irish during the 1850s, the Irish were particularly vilified by the country’s Anglo-Saxon Protestants whose ancestors had explicitly made their exodus across the ocean to find a refuge from papism and ensure their worship was cleansed of any remaining Catholic vestiges. Feelings toward the Vatican had softened little in the two centuries following the sailing of the Mayflower. The country’s oldest citizens could still personally remember when America was an English colony and papal effigies were burned in city streets during annual Guy Fawkes Day celebrations.

Certainly, many Protestants reacted with Christian charity to the refugees. It was a Boston Brahman�ptain Robert Bennet Forbes—who spearheaded America’s first major foreign disaster relief effort by delivering food and supplies to Ireland aboard a government warship during 𠇋lack �.” In the new Irish exiles, however, many Protestants saw a papal plot at work. According to 𠇌onspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia,” some Protestants feared the pope and his army would land in the United States, overthrow the government and establish a new Vatican in Cincinnati. They believed the Irish would impose the Catholic canon as the law of the land.

With immigration controls left primarily to the states and cities, the Irish poured through a porous border. In Boston, a city of a little more than 100,000 people saw 37,000 Irish arrive in the matter of a few years. Naturally, it was difficult to integrate the newcomers in such sheer numbers. The Irish in Boston were for a long time �ted to remain a massive lump in the community, undigested, undigestible,” according to historian Oscar Handlin, author of 𠇋oston’s Immigrants, 1790-1880: A Study in Acculturation.”

5. The English briefly controlled St. Augustine.

Britain reigned supreme in North America in 1763, having wrested away Canada from the French and Florida from the Spanish in the Seven Years’ War. To British officials, St. Augustine failed to make much of a first impression. One army officer called it nearly devoid of all food except fish and “overgrown with weeds.” Yet at that point, it was the most cosmopolitan locale around. During their tenure, the British divided the colony into East Florida, with its capital in St. Augustine, and West Florida, with its capital in Pensacola. They didn’t have time for much else, however, because they were forced to return the Floridas to Spain in 1784 as part of the same treaty that granted the American colonies their independence.

Chapter 2

Comparison with Clinton

To be sure, likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has had her own legal challenges, including an ongoing FBI investigation and civil lawsuits into her exclusive use of an email server while secretary of State. When husband Bill Clinton was president, she was involved in investigations by special counsels looking into the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas and other controversies. None resulted in legal charges against her.

Hillary Clinton speaks in San Francisco on May 26, 2016.
(Photo: John Locher, AP)

During her time as first lady, U.S. senator from New York and secretary of State, Clinton has been named in more than 900 lawsuits, mostly as a defendant, a review of state and federal court records finds. More than a third of the lawsuits were filed by federal prisoners, political activists or other citizens seeking redress from the government by suing a list of high-ranking officials.

The USA TODAY analysis identified at least 3,500 legal actions involving Trump. Reporters reviewed thousands of pages of records collected electronically and in person from courts in 33 states over three months, read more than 20 hours of depositions and interviewed dozens of litigants.

Among those cases with a clear resolution, Trump's side was the apparent victor in 451 and the loser in 38. In about 500 cases, judges dismissed plaintiffs' claims against Trump. In hundreds more, cases ended with the available public record unclear about the resolution.

Close to half the court cases — about 1,600 — involved lawsuits against gamblers who had credit at Trump-connected casinos and failed to pay their debts. About 100 additional disputes centered on other issues at the casinos. Trump and his enterprises have been named in almost 700 personal-injury claims and about 165 court disputes with government agencies.

Dozens dealt with the bankruptcy proceedings of Trump's companies, and dozens more involved plaintiffs' lawsuits against Trump businesses that judges terminated because the Trump companies targeted had gone bankrupt.

A view of Donald Trump's club at Mar-A-Lago, a few miles away from the Palm Beach International Airport in South Florida.
(Photo: Kelly Jordan, USA TODAY)

They include Trump's ongoing suit against the town of Palm Beach over airplane noise near his Mar-a-Lago Club and an earlier lawsuit against the town over an 80-foot flag pole. Trump's team argued in court that a smaller flag would understate his patriotism, but he eventually settled with town officials, agreeing among other concessions to lower the pole by 10 feet.

There also are disputes with local governments from New York to Florida to Nevada over the size of his property-tax bills.

The terms of most of the 100 settlements that Trump and his businesses reached with plaintiffs have not been disclosed. In about 60 additional cases, those sued by the Trump side have settled with him.

A few have become fodder on the campaign trail, including two breach-of-contract lawsuits he filed against restaurateurs in connection with Trump's development of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. The businesses said they backed out of deals with Trump because of his derogatory comments about Mexicans. Both lawsuits are pending.

The luxury Trump hotel will have a prime view of the Inaugural Parade next January.

Our project found about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant. Due to his branding value, Trump is determined to defend his name and reputation.

7,000-Year-Old Native American Burial Site Found Underwater

In an unprecedented discovery, archaeologists identify a site where prehistoric people once buried their dead—now submerged beneath the waves.

See an Underwater Prehistoric Native American Burial Ground

Venice is Florida's unofficial capital of fossil hunting. Divers and beachcombers flock to this city on the Gulf Coast, mostly seeking palm-sized teeth of the Megalodon, the enormous shark species that went extinct 2 and half million years ago. In the summer of 2016, a diver searching for those relics picked up a barnacle-crusted jaw from a shallow spot off the shore of Manasota Key. The specimen sat on a paper plate in his kitchen for a couple weeks before he realized it was probably a human bone.

The diver sent a picture to Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research, where it landed in front of Ryan Duggins, the bureau’s underwater archaeology supervisor. A single molar was still attached to the jawbone, and the tooth’s cusps were worn smooth, likely from a diet of tough foods. “That’s something we don’t see in modern populations, so that was a quick indicator we were dealing with a prehistoric individual,” Duggins explains.

With a team of fellow underwater archaeologists, Duggins relocated the dive spot about 300 yards from the shore and 21 feet below the surface. “As soon as we were there it became clear that we were dealing with something new,” Duggins recalls. First, he spotted a broken arm bone on the seabed. Then, when he noticed a cluster of carved wooden stakes and three separate skull fragments in a depression, Duggins realized he might be dealing with a Native American bog burial site—one that had been inundated by sea level rise, but was miraculously preserved.

The Americas’ Oldest Most Complete Human Skeleton

The discovery was announced today by the Florida Department of State.

During the last ice age, the Floridian peninsula looked more like a stubby thumb than an index finger. But beginning around 14,000 years ago, the global climate began to warm, causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. Florida shrank over the next several millennia, and countless places where prehistoric people once lived, hunted, and buried their dead disappeared beneath the waves.

Marine archaeologists traditionally believed those now-submerged sites would be too fragile and ephemeral to survive the violent thrashing of the sea. “The vast majority of underwater archaeological projects have historically been focused on shipwrecks,” Duggins says. However, in the past couple of decades, some prehistoric sites, mostly scatters of stone tools, have been identified off Florida’s coast. Duggins thinks what he found near Manasota Key proves these underwater landscapes have much more archaeological potential.

In 2017, the team went back to the site to excavate a small test unit. They carefully dug through layers of peat beneath the seabed, sometimes using chopsticks and pastry brushes. They found densely packed organic remains, including more human bones, sharpened wooden stakes and textile fragments. Radiocarbon tests on the wood indicate the site dates to 7,000 years ago, during the Early Archaic period, a time when Florida’s hunter-gatherers were starting to live in permanent villages and adopt a sedentary lifestyle. So far, the researchers have counted a minimum of six individual sets of human remains, but “there’s probably going to be a lot more,” Duggins says, adding that their surveys of the site suggest the whole graveyard could spread across an acre.

Archaeologists already know that some ancient Floridians during this time period buried their dead in shallow, peat-bottomed ponds. In the 1980s, construction workers found human remains while clearing muck from a pond near Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast. Excavations at the so-called Windover site revealed an 8,000-year-old peat graveyard with more than 160 skeletons, some with their brains still preserved, as well as wooden stakes and textiles. Similar burial practices were also found at sites like Ryder Pond, Republic Groves and Bay West, Duggins notes, but all of these were inland.

“What we currently are thinking is that when an individual passed, they would have been wrapped in handwoven fibers and sunk to the bottom of the pond,” he explained. “A series of fire-hardened and sharpened stakes would be pounded into the pond bed around the body with the tops of those stakes protruding above the water line.”

Similarly, Duggins thinks the site near Venice would have been a watery graveyard, a small pond in a marsh made up of infilled sinkholes and natural springs, at a time when the site was likely 10 feet above sea level and part of Florida’s mainland.

Michael Faught, an archaeologist who pioneered prehistoric underwater archaeology in Florida, says the Manasota Key Offshore site has “impressive preservation of organic material that are rare terrestrially.”

UNF archaeology team finds lost indigenous settlement on Talbot Island

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A University of North Florida archaeology team is confident they have located the lost Indigenous northeast Florida community of Sarabay, a settlement mentioned in both French and Spanish documents dating to the 1560s but not located until now.

The type and amounts of Indigenous pottery the team is finding combined with the type and dates for European artifacts as well as cartographic map evidence strongly supports this location as the late 16th/early 17th century Mocama settlement.

The researchers have opened large excavation blocks with many exciting new artifact finds and are currently searching for evidence of houses and public architecture. The students, led by Dr. Keith Ashley, UNF Archaeology Lab director and assistant professor, have recently recovered more than 50 pieces of early Spanish pottery as well as Indigenous pottery that dates to the late 1500s or early 1600s. They have also recovered bone, stone and shell artifacts as well as burned corn cob fragments.

Expanding upon UNF excavations conducted at the southern end of Big Talbot Island in 1998, 1999, and 2020, the UNF research team has completed what is likely the most extensive excavations at a Mocama-Timucua site in northeastern Florida history.

This dig is part of the UNF Archaeology Lab’s ongoing Mocama Archaeological Project. This study focuses on the Mocama-speaking Timucua Indians who lived along the Atlantic coast of northern Florida at the time on European arrival in 1562. The Mocama were among the first indigenous populations encountered by European explorers in the 1560s.

The team hopes to ultimately confirm the discovery of Sarabay by finding evidence of houses and public architecture. They will continue to explore and learn about Sarabay’s physical layout during continuing fieldwork projects over the next three years.

Cedar Key History

Cedar Key is a city in Levy County, Florida, United States. The population was 702 at the 2010 census. The Cedar Keys are a cluster of islands near the mainland. Most of the developed area of the city has been on Way Key since the end of the 19th century. The Cedar Keys are named for the eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, once abundant in the area.

Early History

While evidence suggests human occupation as far back as 500 BC, the first maps of the area date to 1542, when it was labeled “Las Islas Sabines” by a Spanish cartographer. An archaeological dig at Shell Mound, 9 miles (14 km) north of Cedar Key, found artifacts dating back to 500 BC in the top 10 feet (3.0 m) of the 28-foot-tall (8.5 m) mound. The only ancient burial found in Cedar Key was a 2,000-year-old skeleton found in 1999. Arrow heads and spear points dating from the Paleo period (12,000 years old) were collected by Cedar Key historian St. Clair Whitman and are displayed at the Cedar Key Museum State Park.

Followers of William Augustus Bowles, self-declared “Director General of the State of Muskogee”, built a watchtower in the vicinity of Cedar Key in 1801. The tower was destroyed by a Spanish force in 1802. In the period leading up to the First Seminole War, the British subjects Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister used the Cedar Keys to deliver supplies to the Seminoles. The Cedar Keys may have been a refuge for escaped slaves in the early 1820s, and an entry point for the illegal slave trade later that decade.

Indian War

During the Second Seminole War, the United States Army established Fort No. 4 on the mainland adjacent to the Cedar Keys. (The name “No. 4” was later applied to a boat channel next to the fort, and then to a railroad trestle and a highway bridge over that channel.) In 1840, General Zachary Taylor requested the Cedar Keys be reserved for military use for the duration of the war, and that Seahorse Key be permanently reserved for a lighthouse. In 1840, General Walker Keith Armistead, who had succeeded Zachary Taylor as commander of United States troops in the war, ordered construction of a hospital on what had become known as Depot Key. (The island’s name may reflect the establishment of a depot there by Florida militia general Leigh Read. The primary depot for the U.S. Army in Florida at the time was at Palatka.) Depot Key was the headquarters for the Army in Florida, but Fishburne states headquarters was not in a fixed place, but wherever the commander was.

Cantonment Morgan was established on nearby Seahorse Key by 1841 and used as a troop deployment station and as a holding station for Seminoles who had been captured or who had surrendered until they could be sent to the West. A hurricane with a 27-foot (8.2 m) storm surge struck the Cedar Keys on October 4, 1842, destroying Cantonment Morgan and causing much damage on Depot Key. Some Seminole leaders had been meeting with Army officers at Depot Key to negotiate their surrender or a retreat to a reservation in the Everglades. After the hurricane, the Seminoles refused to return to the area. Colonel William J. Worth had declared the war to be over in August 1842, and Depot Key was abandoned by the Army after the hurricane.

Pre-Civil War

In 1842, the United States Congress had enacted the Armed Occupation Act, a precursor of the Homestead Act, to increase white settlement in Florida as a way to force the Seminoles to leave the territory. With the abandonment of the Army base on Depot Key, the Cedar Keys became available for settlement under the act. Under the terms of the act, several people received permits for settlement on Depot Key, Way Key, and Scale Key. Augustus Steele, US Customs House Officer for Hillsborough County, Florida, and postmaster for Tampa Bay, received the permit for Depot Key, which he renamed Atsena Otie Key. In 1843, he bought the buildings on the island, and built some cottages for wealthy guests. In 1844, he became the Collector of Customs for the port of Cedar Key, as well as for Tampa. A post office named “Cedar Key” was established on Atsena Otie Key in 1845. The Florida legislature chartered the “City of Atseena Otie” in 1859.

Cedar Key became an important port, shipping lumber and naval stores harvested on the mainland. By 1860, two mills on Atsena Otie Key were producing “cedar” slats for shipment to northern pencil factories. As a result of the growth, the US Congress appropriated funds for a lighthouse on Seahorse Key in 1850. The Cedar Key Light was completed in 1854. The lighthouse lantern is 28 feet (8.5 m) above the ground, but the lighthouse sits on a 47-foot-high (14 m) hill, putting the light 75 feet (23 m) above sea level. The light was visible for 16 miles (26 km). Wood-frame residences were added to each side of the lighthouse several years later.

In 1860, Cedar Key became the western terminus of the Florida Railroad, connecting it to Fernandina on the east coast of Florida. David Levy Yulee, US senator and president of the Florida Railroad, had acquired most of Way Key to house the railroad’s terminal facilities. A town was platted on Way Key in 1859, and Parsons and Hale’s General Store, which is now the Island Hotel, was built there in the same year. On March 1, 1861, the first train arrived in Cedar Key, just weeks before the Civil War began.

Civil War years

With the advent of the American Civil War in 1861, Confederate agents extinguished the light at Seahorse Key and removed its supply of sperm oil. The USS Hatteras raided Cedar Key in January 1862, burning several ships loaded with cotton and turpentine and destroying the railroad’s rolling stock and buildings on Way Key. Most of the Confederate troops guarding Cedar Key had been sent to Fernandina in anticipation of a Federal attack there. Cedar Key was an important source of salt for the Confederacy during the early part of the war. In October 1862 a Union raid destroyed sixty kettles on Salt Key capable of producing 150 bushels of salt a day. The Union occupied the Cedar Keys in early 1864, staying for the remainder of the war.

After the Civil War

In 1865, the Eberhard Faber mill was built on Atsena Otie Key. The Eagle Pencil Company mill was built on Way Key, and Way Key, with its railroad terminal, surpassed Atsena Otie Key in population. Repairs to the Florida Railroad were completed in 1868, and freight and passenger traffic again flowed into Cedar Key. The Town of Cedar Keys was incorporated in 1869, and had a population of 400 in 1870.

Early in his career as a naturalist, John Muir walked 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Louisville, Kentucky, to Cedar Key in just two months in 1867. Muir contracted malaria while working in a sawmill in Cedar Key, and recovered in the house of the mill’s superintendent. Muir recovered enough to sail from Cedar Key to Cuba in January 1868. He recorded his impressions of Cedar Key in his memoir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, which was published in 1916, after his death.

Decline and restoration of wildlife

When Henry Plant’s railroad to Tampa began service in 1886, Tampa took shipping away from Cedar Key, causing an economic decline in the area. Earlier, growth in population had led to the Cedar Key town limits being expanded in 1881 and again in 1884. But with the decline in the local economy, the town limits were contracted in 1890. Also in 1890 the island town was affected by the reign of terror of Cedar Keys mayor William Cottrell, who took advantage of his Florida state legislature connections and the restricted one-way road access to impose his will and conduct acts of violence. He was deposed from power only after the island was invaded by a naval (U.S. Coast Guard) boat manned with a squad of U.S. Marshals, who were sent there after Custom House officers and other federal government workers requested federal aid due to being unable to discharge their duties on the islands.

The 1896 Cedar Keys hurricane was the final blow. Around 4 am on September 29, 1896, a 10-foot (3.0 m) storm surge swept over the town, killing more than 100 people. Winds north of town were estimated at 125 miles per hour (201 km/h), which would classify it as a category 3. The hurricane wiped out the juniper trees still standing and destroyed all the mills. A fire on December 2, 1896, further damaged the town. In following years, structures were rebuilt on Way Key, a more protected island inland, but the damage was done. Today, only a few reminders of the original town on Atsena Otie Key remain, including stone water cisterns, and a graveyard whose headstones conspicuously date prior to 1896. Also, many of the eastern red cedar trees that originally attracted the pencil company, and for which the community was named, are gone.

At the start of the 20th century, fishing, sponge hooking, and oystering had become the major industries, but around 1909, the oyster beds were exhausted. President Herbert Hoover established the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge in 1929 by naming three of the islands as a breeding ground for colonial birds. The lighthouse was abandoned in 1952, just as the tourism industry began to grow as a result of interest in the historic community, but it remains in use as a marine biology research center by the University of Floridain Gainesville.


The old-fashioned fishing village is now a tourist center with several regionally famous seafood restaurants. The village holds two festivals a year, the Spring Sidewalk Art Festival and the Fall Seafood Festival, that each attract thousands of visitors to the area.

In 1950, Hurricane Easy, a category-3 storm with 125-mile-per-hour (201 km/h) winds, looped around Cedar Key three times before finally making landfall, dumping 38 inches (970 mm) of rain and destroying two-thirds of the homes. Luckily, the storm came ashore at low tide, so the surge was only 5 feet (1.5 m).

Hurricane Elena followed a similar path in 1985, but did not make landfall. Packing 115-mile-per-hour (185 km/h) winds, the storm churned for two days in the Gulf, 50 miles (80 km) to the west, battering the waterfront. All the businesses and restaurants on Dock Street were either damaged or destroyed, and a section of the seawall collapsed.

After a statewide ban on large-scale net fishing went into effect July 1, 1995, a government retraining program helped many local fishermen begin farming clams in the muddy waters. Today, Cedar Key’s clam-based aquaculture is a multimillion-dollar industry.

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