Taking it back a bit further, I'd like to explore the very origins of life on the Keys and that means going back to the year 1513 and Ponce de Leon. He named the Keys, Los Martirs, the martyrs, and Spain's influence, while using the keys as a landmark in ferrying gold and silver back to Sapin, is still felt today.
When the first Spanish explorers approached the Florida shores in the 16th century as they searched for rumored gold and eternal youth, a number of native Indian tribes had long resided throughout the peninsula and on its surrounding islands. The southernmost regions were dominated by the Tequestas and the Calusas, who thrived on the abundance provided by the sea and the rich coastal lands.
Like the other early Florida tribes, the Tequestas and Calusas eventually disappeared with the coming of Western civilization and its accompanying diseases and conquering spirit. Some of the void was filled by other natives, Creek Indians who slowly moved into the southern states. They were neither welcomed nor beloved by the European and American settlers. They came to be called "Seminoles", a name perhaps corrupted from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning wild or from the Creek words ishti semoli, meaning wildmen, outlanders or separatists.
One contemporary chronicler of explorer Ponce de Leon, observing the chain of islands on the horizon, said they appeared as men who were suffering; hence they were given the name Los Martires or "the martyrs." No one knows exactly when the first European set foot on one of the Keys, but as exploration and shipping increased, the islands became prominent on nautical maps. The nearby treacherous coral reefs claimed many actual seafaring "martyrs" from the time of early recorded history. The chain was eventually called "keys", also attributed to the Spanish, from cayos, meaning "small islands."
In 1763, the Spanish ceded Florida to the British in a trade for the port of Havana. The treaty was unclear as to the status of the Keys. An agent of the King of Spain claimed that the islands, rich in fish, turtles and mahogany for shipbuilding, were part of Cuba, fearing that the English might build fortresses and dominate the shipping lanes. The British also realized the treaty was ambiguous, but declared that the Keys should be occupied and defended as part of Florida. The British claim was never officially contested. Ironically, the British gave the islands back to Spain in 1783, to keep them out of the hands of the United States, but in 1821 all of Florida, including the necklace of islands, officially became American territory.
In the early 1900's, travel between many of these islands was only possible by boat. A modern pioneer, Henry Morrison Flagler, claims responsibility for providing the first civilized access to the Keys. He dreamed of extending the Florida East Coast Railway from Homestead to Key West. His dream was realized in 1912, after years of extreme physical hardship for the engineers and laborers who designed and built it.
After the 1935 Labor Day hurricane destroyed the railroad, it was replaced by the Overseas Highway in 1938. The highway has since been widened and modernized and now more than 40 bridges connect these islands, like a Caribbean necklace, for more than 126 miles.
Though most of the Florida Keys remained remote and inaccessible until well into the 20th century, their history glitters with romantic tales of pirates, fortunes gleaned from unfortunate shipwrecks, brief heydays for several island cities, struggling pioneer farmers and occasional military occupation. Huh? Military Occupation? Really? Read on...
The Conch Republic:
"The Conch Republic was established by secession of the Florida Keys from the United States of America, on April 23rd, 1982 in response to a United States Border Patrol Blockade setup on highway U.S.1 at Florida City just to the north of the Florida Keys. This heinous act effectively isolated Keys Citizens from the U.S. mainland since the blockade was on our only land artery to and from the mainland. This roadblock portrayed Keys residents as non-U.S. citizens who had to prove their citizenship in order to drive onto the Florida mainland! Hardly an American thing to do!
We protested! A totally American thing to do! Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow along with a few other 'key' Conchs, went to Federal court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the federal blockade, but to no avail. Upon leaving the Federal Court House , on the court house steps , Mayor Wardlow announced to the world, by way of the assembled TV crews and reporters, that ; "Tomorrow at noon the Florida Keys will secede from the Union!"
At noon, on the day of secession, at Mallory Square in Key West Florida, Mayor Wardlow read the proclamation of secession and proclaimed aloud that the Conch Republic was an independent nation separate from the U.S. and then symbolically began the Conch Republic's Civil Rebellion by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. After one minute of rebellion, the now, Prime Minister Wardlow turned to the Admiral in charge of the Navy Base at Key West, and surrendered to the Union Forces, and demanded 1 Billion dollars in foreign aid and War Relief to rebuild our nation after the long Federal siege!
Thus began the Conch Republic journey, which still continues today! We are both Conchs and we are Americans and we are proud to be both. By act of Congress we hold dual citizenship as Conchs and as Americans and will fight for the right to be both!
Contrary to recent reports, the name "Conch Republic" refers to "all"of the Florida Keys, or, that geographic apportionment of land that falls within the legally defined boundaries of Monroe County Florida, northward to "Skeeter's Last Chance Saloon" in Florida City, Dade County Florida, with Key West as the Nation's Capitol and all territories north of Key West being referred to as "The Northern Territories." Be it known that these boundaries were established by the U.S. Government when they set up "THE" Border Patrol blockade in front of "Skeeter's Last Chance Saloon", in April of 1982, thereby establishing a new United States border!
To enforce the validity of our secession, the Monroe County Commission, in 1994, by unanimous vote, did pass a County Resolution recognizing Mayor Wardlow's actions, on the 23rd of April in 1982, as by, of and for the people of the Florida Keys.
The Conch Republic's Official Position
The Conch Republic has it's own Passports, and has had citizens and Diplomats received by thirteen Caribbean countries, Mexico, Sweden, Russia, France, Spain, Ireland and Germany. The Conch Republic has Conch-sulates in Switzerland, Havana, Maine and New Orleans.
The Conch Republic has as its stated Foreign Policy, "The Mitigation of World Tension through the Exercise of Humor." As the world's first "Fifth World" country, we exist as a "State of Mind," and aspire only to bring more Warmth, Humor and Respect to a planet we find in sore need of all three.
The Conch Republic has conch-ceived several World Firsts. We are the first country in the world to require its citizens to obey local customs as well as laws. The Conch Republic is the world's first functioning Meritocracy whereby anyone that sees a job that needs doing can do it, and be recognized in that position. We are the first country to recognize the conch-cept of the "World Principle of Human Rights and Ambitions," because what are rights without the ability to realize ambitions?
We celebrate our Independence annually in a "public and notorious manner" during a ten day Conch Republic Independence Celebration which is held in April of every year."
For more information, conch-tact: The Honorable Sir Peter Anderson, at: Office of the Secretary General P.O. Box 658, Key West, FL/CR 33041 - 6583 Phone: 305-296-0213, FAX: 305-296-8803