Indian Key: Florida’s Pirate Island Shrouded In Mystery

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Located in the beautiful turquoise waters of the Florida Keys, Indian Key stands as a testament to a time long past, shrouded in history and mystery.

The island's history can be traced back to the early 18th century when it was used as a fishing village by the indigenous people of Florida, the Calusa and Tequesta tribes.

This is no ordinary island. Indian Key holds the key to a pirate mystery that continues to fascinate historians today.

Exploring Indian Key

Indian Key, an unincorporated community in Monroe County, Florida, is located in the upper Florida Keys and is currently a ghost town.

The island, with a total area of 0.017 square miles (0.045 km²), is an offshore island and part of the United States. It is a place filled with history and past human endeavors.

The keys are low-lying, sandy islands that are built up from coral.

They are surrounded by clear, shallow water that is a combination of ocean water and rainwater, creating a unique and picturesque environment​​.

Information traffic sign for Irving R Eyster bridge Indian Key

Getting to Indian Key is an adventure in itself as the island is accessible only via a kayak launch. The boat ramp at Indian Key Fill is closed due to storm damage.

One of the best ways to reach the 11-acre island is by paddling over the shallow seagrass flats. The island is only half a mile offshore but feels a world away.

The park is open 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. until sundown, and the fee to visit is $2.50 per person. These details may change so be sure to check the park's information site for updated details.

Kayak rentals are available from local charter companies, providing an accessible and enjoyable means of transportation for visitors.

A Bit of History

In the 18th century, Indian Key was used as a base for fishing, turtling, logging, and wrecking by Bahamians and Cubans.

Despite there being no permanent settlers, crews would stay on the island for months at a time.

Indian Key Historic S.P. Florida map

In the 1820s, a settlement grew on the island as a store was opened to serve wreckers, settlers, and Indians in the upper Keys. The settlement was large enough to include a dozen women by 1829.

In the following years, the island saw improvements with the arrival of Jacob Housman, a wrecker, who became the leader of the community and its chief landlord.

He made significant improvements to the island, spending close to $40,000 on it in four years​.

The island was not abandoned during the Second Seminole War, unlike most of the Keys, due to the presence of a small militia company for defense and the strategic location near any wrecks in the upper Keys.

However, in 1840, a tragic attack by Spanish Indians resulted in the death of 13 people, after which the island was largely deserted​​.

Today, the island is deserted except for the ruins of a town that existed in the early 1800s. The locals made their living salvaging boats that ran aground on the local reefs.

The park now welcomes visitors who come here to swim, sunbathe, and hike. The forgotten shores and ancient relics tell of the storied past of this tiny piece of paradise​​.

The Wrecking Captain: John Jacob Housman

John Jacob Housman, a notorious figure in Florida history, arrived on Indian Key in 1831.

Housman was a wrecking captain, a profession that involved salvaging goods from shipwrecks that frequently occurred in the treacherous waters surrounding the Keys.

Shipwreck off the shore

He created a thriving business from this trade and soon became one of the wealthiest men in South Florida.

Housman, seeing potential in the island, purchased most of the land and transformed it into a prosperous wrecking outpost.

Under his leadership, Indian Key became the center of wrecking in the Keys, even gaining the status of a county seat in 1836.

However, his reign was not to last, as he died in a shipwreck in 1841, a tragic irony given his line of work.

Today, Housman's legacy remains etched in the history of Indian Key, with the remnants of his establishment still visible to visitors.

The Legend of Black Caesar

Adding to the mystique of Indian Key is the legend of Black Caesar, a notorious pirate rumored to have operated in the area.

Pirate ship sailing on sunset

Black Caesar was a former African chieftain who turned to piracy after being captured and sold into slavery.

According to legend, he escaped from the slave ship and started his life as a pirate, amassing a substantial amount of wealth over the years.

Legends paint him as a merciless man, notorious for his treasure hoarding. But one question remains: Where did the treasure go?

Many attempts to uncover this lost pirate treasure have been made. Yet, the island guards its secret well.

The mysterious treasure of Indian Key remains hidden, stoking the flames of intrigue and fascination.

While the connection between Black Caesar and Indian Key is more folklore than fact, many believe that he used the island as a base for his pirate operations, hiding his stolen treasures among the island's dense vegetation.

The allure of hidden pirate treasure has only added to the island's mystique.

Beyond the Pirate Enigma

Indian Key is not just about pirates and lost treasure. This island offers a myriad of experiences that can make any vacation unforgettable.

Today, Indian Key is a part of the Indian Key Historic State Park, providing visitors with an opportunity to explore its rich history. Here are some activities that visitors can enjoy:

Kayaking Adventures

For the more adventurous, kayaking around the island provides a unique perspective of its beauty.

Meeting sunset on kayaks. Rear view of beautiful young couple kayaking on lake together with sunset in the background

Embark on a kayaking adventure around Indian Key, exploring the serene waters that surround the island.

Renting a kayak provides a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the island's diverse marine life.

As you paddle through the clear turquoise waters, keep an eye out for playful dolphins frolicking in the waves.

Glide over vibrant coral reefs, teeming with colorful fish and other fascinating marine creatures.

Historical Tours

Immerse yourself in the rich history of Indian Key through a guided tour.

Wooden roadside sign of streets in Indian Key, Islamorada, Florida

Walk in the footsteps of pirates and explorers as you explore the remnants of 19th-century buildings that once stood on the island.

Expert guides will bring the island's captivating past to life, sharing intriguing stories and historical insights.

Discover the significant role Indian Key played as a wrecking outpost and county seat in the early days of Florida's history.

Bird Watching Extravaganza

Indian Key provides a unique bird-watching experience, attracting a variety of rare and beautiful bird species.


Bring your binoculars and get ready for an avian spectacle like no other.

Stroll along the shores, keeping an eye out for herons, egrets, pelicans, ospreys, and other fascinating winged creatures that call the island home.

The tranquil surroundings and diverse ecosystem make Indian Key a haven for bird enthusiasts, offering ample opportunities for bird watching and photography.

Nighttime Beach Camping

Spend an enchanting night on Indian Key's pristine beaches by indulging in nighttime beach camping.

Campire at the beach night time camping

As the sun sets, witness the island transform into a peaceful haven illuminated by the soft glow of starlight. Set up your tent on the sandy shores and let the soothing sound of waves lull you to sleep.

Wake up to the gentle caress of the ocean breeze and the golden hues of sunrise painting the sky.

Nighttime beach camping on Indian Key provides an immersive nature experience and a chance to reconnect with the serenity of the island.

The Enigmatic Indian Key Awaits

Did you find these information intriguing enough to visit Indian Keys? Beyond its sandy beaches and sun-kissed landscapes lies a story waiting to be unraveled.

Who knows? You might just stumble upon Black Caesar's hidden treasure. In any case, you're sure to return with a treasure trove of unforgettable memories.

For more unique fun and adventures in Florida, read here:

11 Unique Things To Do In Naples, Florida

The Florida Gulf Islands’ Hidden Charms: 9 Experiences to Seek on the National Seashore

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