Tuesday, February 7, 2012

February 7, 1862 - "Cold Turtle for Supper" in Key West, Florida

Historic Postcard of East Martello Tower
The following letter was mailed from Key West during the first week of February 1861 and provides fascinating insight to activities there 150 years ago this week.
Of special importance is the mention of the arrival of a "flag ship." This was the USS Hartford, which stopped in Key West while on its way to Ship Island, Mississippi, for the organization of the fleet being assembled for an attack on New Orleans.

Also of interest is the note that construction was underway on the East and West Martello Towers. These brick fortifications were completed during the war and both still exist today.

The East Martello Tower is now the Martello Gallery - Key West Art and Historical Museum. It is extremely well-preserved and is regarded as the best preserved fort of its type in the country. The West Martello Tower is now home to the Key West Garden Club and is in more of a ruined state than the well preserved East Tower.

Key West Lighthouse
I think you will also find the menu at the "Russle House" hotel to be of interest:

There are not many attractions here - if the amusements were equal to the climate this would be a very desirable place to spend a winter. I cannot say that I fancy the State of Florida. We have such continual heat here, that a Northern man soon becomes debilitated, and does not have strength or ambition to do anything. The Southern people should not be censured for being lazy and employing negroes to do their work. The negro is the only being that can do hard labor in this climate. No news here of importance excepting that pertaining to the Army and Navy. Three Regiments of Gen. Brennan's Brigade have arrived, and the balance, two Regiments, are expected soon. A flag ship arrived here a few days ago, which has increased the trade of this place very much, Most of the Gulf squadron touch here to receive orders. There have been from 10 to 15 gun boats and ships anchored in the harbor most of the time since the flag ship arrived. Key West is the most important military post int he Gulf. Strong fortifications are being structed, about two miles from Fort Taylor, on the south beach. They are to be permanent Martello towers of large size and mounting very heavy guns. Key west no doubt will always keep a large garrison, not only for the protection or safety of the place, but to move rapidly to any other point in the Gulf where they may be wanted.

Sunset in the Florida Keys
There is only one Hotel in this place. The first thing I observed in the Hotel was a notice. Annexed I give you a portion of it: -

"Russle House - terms $2 per day and $10.50 per week. The board they say is good for this country. We have Fish and Turtle for breakfast, Turtle and Fish for dinner, and cold Turtle for supper. For drink, tea and coffee, cistern water well tinctured with wiglers about 1-4 of an inch long, no ice and no ardent."

The naval steam transport Connecticut has just arrived here with the remains of Lieut. Marcy, son of the late Ex.-Gov. Marcy. Lieut. M. was killed by a cannon on the Vincennes, which ship he was commander of. - Letter from Key West printed in the Pittsfield Sun, February 27, 1862.

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