The archaeological record at Mound House shows us that long after the last Calusa had inhabited this location, this site was utilized by 18th and early 19th century Cuban fishermen as a “fishing rancho”, one of many common to the bays and coastal estuaries of southwest Florida and, as was typically the case, located on top of an old Calusa Mound. In contrast to the difficult and less productive deepwater fishing off the north coast of Cuba, the productive shallow water fishing found here made it worth the 200 hundred mile sail to the busy port city of Havana where dried and salted fish were sold. As such, the fishing rancho was a seasonal base camp and in general, the fishing season ran from September into March with some fishermen and their families staying on all year. Many of these fisherfolk were of Spanish descent, while others were of Indian or Spanish- Indian descent, and were known as “Spanish Indians”. When Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819, life changed irrevocably for these fishermen. During the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), the United States military, believing that these ranchos were supplying and arming the Seminoles, forcibly ended these fishing operations. Several military leaders were certain that the Spanish Indians were actually Seminoles and had assisted in the war against the Americans. As such, the Indians of Southwest Florida were to be forcibly removed.
As with most things, the reality down here on the wild frontier may have been somewhat different as we see below:
The following document contains excerpts from a story edited by James Covington
A PETITION FROM SOME LATIN-AMERICAN FISHERMEN; 1838
One of the best clues as to the background and life of the Cuban fishermen here in Southwest Florida and early relations between Cuba and the United States were discovered in the records of the Office of Indian Affairs at the National Archives in Washington D.C. This evidence was recorded in a petition from a group of fishermen to the Secretary of War Joel Poinsett.
“To the honorable Joel Poinsett, Secretary of War:
The memorial of the undersigned respectfully represents that your memorialists were located on the Gulf Coast of the peninsula of Florida as fishermen and seamen at the time of, and long prior to the cessation of the territory to the United States, that it has been a long established custom among the class to which your memorialists belong, and one which was recognized by the Spanish government at Havana as legal to intermarry with the Indian women of the country. Many of the children, offspring of these marriages, were baptized and educated there and recognized as legitimate by the authorities of that city and country. Some of them are now residing there in respectable situations and enjoying all the rights and priviledges of Spanish subjects.
Your memorialists further state that at the change of Flags they became lawful citizens of the United States by virtue of the provisions of the treaty and have since that period exercised the right of suffrage and all other priviledges and immunities of American citizens.
…This order which by a single blow has severed from them their families and blasted at once their happiness and all their prospects in life, your memorialists solemnly believe has been the result of deep and malignant misrepresentations and falsehood contrived by their enemies to wreak their vengeance upon those who refused to join them in the atrocities which they have perpetuated…
That having continued true and faithful to their allegiance and hold themselves at all time in readiness to serve the country in any manner in which their services could be required while those who sought to destroy them have spread ruin and desolation over it, they feel that they have just claims on the protection of the Government for themselves, their wives and children.
They therefore earnestly pray that they may at least be permitted to return to their homes when the Seminoles shall have been removed and the only shadow of a cause for their present position shall cease to exist, but if their prayer is denied, they earnestly entreat that they may be permitted to remove to some other country where heir families can be supported and protected from the vengeance of a people from whom forgiveness is rarely extended.”
Bonificio Crusado Jose Bromudos Domingo Alvarez
Maximo Hernandez Manuel Benitez Jose Suqones
Pedro Felis Felipe Sevilla Iviculas Bara
Gabriel Ferrera Antonio Herrera Felipe Orta
Gregorio Montes de Oca Juan Castohima Peter Weaver
Jose Rudriquez Juan Diego Morales Antonio Carpechamo
Joaquin Caldel Juan Montes de Oca Santos Domingues
A true copy
Lt. 4th Artillery
And so it was, that even way out here on the banks of an estuary in the middle of nowhere, tucked away between the gulf and the mangroves, our fishermen found themselves to be not only pawns in a game of international politics but enemies of the Seminole and the United States government .
Not long after this letter was sent, it was reported in one newspaper account of the Second Seminole War that about 150 Spanish Indians had been removed from Florida.