Logbook documenting first official U.S. visit to Key West returns to island after 200 years

Two hundred years ago this week, the American flag was raised for the first time on the island of Key West.

The navy sent the schooner Shark to check Key West in 1822 after the island was purchased by an American merchant.

Two hundred years later, the shark’s logbook is back in town. The Key West Maritime Historical Society recently acquired the journal and donated it to the Monroe County Library for its Florida History Collection.

Corey Malcom is the company’s president and told the schooner’s story during the official logbook presentation to the Monroe County Library’s Florida History Collection on Sunday aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham, a museum ship docked at the Truman Waterfront in Key West.

Lt. Matthew Perry recorded the ship’s approach to the island in the logbook. Key West was uninhabited, with the native population dwindling after Spanish explorers arrived in the area in the 1500s. By the mid-1700s, the last of them had been taken to Cuba, Malcom said.

The islands were only the haunt of itinerant fishermen and shipwrecks from Cuba and the Bahamas, and of course never had any sinks attack ships passing through the Florida Strait,” Malcolm said.

Perry noted in the ship’s log that on March 22, 1822, as the Shark approached Key West, a local fisherman came on board to act as pilot – but the schooner ran aground anyway on a shoal. mud.

“We pulled out an anchor and dropped it. The latter part of the day was pleasant. We hoisted it into the inner harbor and moored the ship in five and a half fathoms,” the logbook read.

Perry did not record in the diary while the ship was at anchor in Key West – but an unnamed crew member sent a letter which was published in the Norwich Courier, a Connecticut newspaper, on May 1, 1822, describing the events on the island.

A salvo of 13 cannon shots and 13 champagne toasts

On March 25, the letter reads: “We fired a 13-gun salute and hoisted the American ensign for the first time. Then we took part in a sumptuous dinner prepared for the occasion by Captain P., the purser and the doctor. consisted of venison and a variety of other things too tedious to mention. However, I won’t forget to mention the champagne we had. The place where we had dinner was really delicious, under two large shaded trees with American colors. Thirteen public toasts were drunk and also a number of private toasts and a very fitting song was sung by Mr Fleming.”

John Fleming was one of the first American investors in Key West and had arrived there the day before. There is no record of the “proper song” he sang, Malcom said.

Malcom said it was miraculous that the logbook appeared just in time for the bicentenary of the shark’s visit.

“Where has this thing been hanging around for 200 years? I have no idea. It just showed up at an auction and we saw it and started going, oh my. We have to really bring this thing back here,” he said.

The Shark departed Key West on March 29, 1822, ending perhaps the most significant week in our island’s history, a week that saw Key West officially claimed and recognized as part of the United States, which then allowed the embryonic community to flourish under laws and the protections that status offered,” Malcom said.

Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates is the only Conch, or Keys-born person, on the commission. He accepted the logbook on behalf of the county.

“It’s the beginning of our story, right there, and it documents,” he said. “It can’t be better.”

Perry named the island Thompson’s Island, after the Secretary of the Navy, and called the port Port Rodgers, for the chairman of the Board of Navy Commissioners. Neither name stuck, and when the city incorporated four years later, it was like Key West, an anglicized version of its Spanish name, Cayo Hueso.

The logbook has been transcribed and is being digitized so it will be available for public review.

US Navy


via Monroe County Public Library

The USS Shark only spent a week in Key West, but that week was pivotal in the island’s history.

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