American History06 Aug 2010 07:47 am
Commodore Matthew C. Perry is most famous for the event described in today’s entry in The Intellectual Devotional: landing his gunships on Japan and opening communications and commerce with the once-isolated island nation. But years before doing so Perry anchored on a less exotic locale: Key West, Florida.
The Keys get their name from a mispronunciation: the Spanish name “Cayo Hueso” was turned into “Key West” rather than translated into “Bone Island.” Though known as part of Florida today, the were not officially within the boundaries of that state until 1822. Florida had long ago been a Spanish colony, first encountered by Europeans when Ponce de León landed there in 1513. The British had possession of the island since 1763, but it was reclaimed by the Spanish after the colonies defeated the British in the War of Independence. The new United States eventually gained control of Florida from Spain 1819, by, in part, promising not to make any claim on Texas. The United States made its claim on Texas in 1845.
While Florida became part of the United States in 1819, Key West was not incorporated until three years later, in 1822. The gap occurred because Spain originally claimed the Keys as part of Cuba and didn’t cede them to the United States along with Florida in 1819. This claim didn’t last long: by 1822, the islands were part of the United States, and the moment was made official when Commodore Perry landed his ships on their shores on March 25. He named them “Thompson’s Island” in honor of the then-Secretary of the Navy, but then as now they were always known as Key West.
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