"In this fascinating volume, Consuelo Stebbins has assembled and organized a remarkable firsthand view of nineteenth-century Key West through the eyes of its Spanish consuls. In these translated accounts, Key West is revealed as a center of international intrigue and insurgency, despite its remote location along a maritime frontier." -- John E. Worth
“In this fascinating volume, Consuelo Stebbins has assembled and organized a remarkable firsthand view of nineteenth-century Key West through the eyes of its Spanish consuls. In these translated accounts, Key West is revealed as a center of international intrigue and insurgency, despite its remote location along a maritime frontier. Historians in Florida and Cuba will find a welcome resource in this extraordinary book.”--John E. Worth, Randell Research Center, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida
This is the story of the Cuban residents of nineteenth-century Key West, Florida, and their struggle to liberate Cuba, as told by Spanish consuls. Stebbins argues that the consuls’ correspondence contained in the Key West Collection--one of the very few primary sources on Key West from 1842 to 1897--rewrites the island’s history. Drawing on official documents, newspapers, coded messages, and informants’ reports, Stebbins taps into a wealth of important and detailed information about the role of Key West and its inhabitants in the ongoing struggle between Spain and its colony Cuba, as well as the United States’ role along the sidelines of this broader conflict. Among the documents are confidential reports describing Cuban insurgents’ activities and the secretive network they established to communicate with their coconspirators in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean.
Discovered in the archives of the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores in Madrid, the collection covers three major periods in Key West’s history, the first from 1842 to 1867, as the consuls reported on the island’s maritime activities as America’s southernmost port city and as a major salvaging base for shipwrecks along the dangerous Florida reefs. Beginning with the Ten Years War in 1868, the small island maritime community changed dramatically as thousands of Cubans fled to Key West and found work in thriving cigar factories, transforming the local economy into one of the nation’s wealthiest by producing pure Havana Clears through the 1890s. By the mid 1880s, the Cuban émigré colonists controlled the insurgent movement from abroad as they tirelessly plotted the overthrow of the Spanish colonial government in Cuba. All their plans came to a temporary halt when the Great Fire of 1886 destroyed the commercial district. This event marked the beginning of the final period, climaxing with the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Accessible reading for the armchair historian, this in-depth view of Key West during some of its most eventful decades--drawing on little-known eyewitness accounts--will appeal not only to historians of Key West and South Florida but to scholars of maritime history, labor relations, and revolutionary studies as well.