"" Writer's Wanderings: The Wrecking Profession of the Florida Keys

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Wrecking Profession of the Florida Keys

Yes. You read the title correctly. Back in the early days of the Florida Keys' history many of the natives and the non-natives were in the wrecking business. That didn't mean they went around wrecking things actually the things they were looking for were already wrecked--ships with valuable cargo.

Way back in the day before GPS and smartphone apps with directions, the ships would set sail to travel from one side of the globe to another and often went through the Florida Keys. The area was strewn with reefs, dangerous ship eating reefs that set many a sailor scrambling for shore in a life boat. Needless to say there probably wasn't much time to save the gold and jewels so those went down with the ship.

At first the Spanish hired natives to help salvage what they could from the Spanish fleet that sunk there in the early 1600s. Many of the natives were good divers and could help out especially with those ships that sunk rather than just ran aground.

Along came the industrious wreckers, the guys exploring the coast line looking for where ships, most Spanish, went down and they would salvage what they could for resale or ransom. While many of them came out of Cuba, they needed a place in the Keys to put ashore. Key West had a beautiful natural harbor and it became a perfect place for a small colony of settlers to set up a town and trade for supplies and, I'm guessing, get a little entertainment as well. After all it was Key West!

Now some of the wreckers just anchored off shore and waited to hear of a ship run aground. They would not only salvage cargo but also crew and of course it was all for a price. This was a business after all--excepting the pirates though. I'm sure they had their own agenda.

Eventually courts needed to be set up to judge disputes over property rights and the like. Laws needed to be made. Hmmm. I'm wondering who the early lawyers were. Back to the history book. . .

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