The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Fourth of July

Fourth of July | Who gets to claim the holiday in Key West?

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Considering that a name-dropping chunk of Key West’s lineage springs from white, wealthy, sometimes-slave-holding planters loyal to the British Crown back in the day and also from less affluent, but equally loyal black and white Bahamians, I’m going to put this out there: Our memories are short; our forgiveness is sorta quick and rather lackadaisical, and our determination to get on with getting on is darned impressive.

Here we are in Fourth of July week, festooning our customary key lime and mermaid teal with red, white and blue and celebrating the War of Independence, a bloody awful seven years in which we killed each other in our neighborhoods and downtowns.

It’s only happenstance and a willingness to let bygones be bygones that Key West celebrates the Fourth of July. We could just as easily be celebrating Boxing Day, given the War of Independence lineage we trace to Colonial “traitors,” who remained loyal to the British crown.

Back in the day, when the American Revolution was winding down and the victory laps were ramping up, Loyalists packed their bags and belongings and fled to then-British-owned Florida. When Great Britain needed a negotiating tidbit for the Treaty of Paris, it returned Florida to Spain in 1783.

About 6,000 of those Loyalists, ever-faithful to all things British and who didn’t cotton to being Spanish, packed again and headed to Abaco and points south, like Green Turtle Cay.

Key West traces its founding families, like the Currys and the Alburys, to the Loyalist emigrants to the Bahamas. William Curry, born in Green Turtle Cay in 1821 and the son of Benjamin Curry and Martha Albury, moved to Key West in 1837.

Key West Island News

Fourth of July | Were we different in the beginning?

In the almost 250 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Americans have forgotten that we were not of one mind when a radical minority marched us to war with Britain and when those with means and loyalties to King George left the country.

Instead, we’ve turned marketing hype into truth. As the saying goes, “History is written by the victors” and we actually think we were all of one accord. We were no more homogeneous in our beliefs then than we are today.

About 20 percent of those early Americans thought of themselves as Patriots. Their hard left front men, so to speak, were a bunch of rich, radical, privileged terrorists who got together in their private rooms; fought over minutiae; stormed out over who was right, smart and going to win; settled scores; killed and were killed in duels; protected friends, families and personal funds; screwed women and slaves (literally and figuratively); split the politically correct hairs of every word; got the underprivileged, poor and un-entitled to fight and die in the subsequent war — and created a country.

On the hard right, there were those darned Tories, about 20 percent of Americans who were loyal to King George and proud to be British. They wanted no part of overthrowing the British. They liked their powerful control of their land, families, businesses and slaves.

The idea that “all men are created equal” was anathema. They believed God created them — and their divine king — to own land and others. If they had the wherewithal, they high-tailed it to Canada and the British-owned Caribbean islands. If they didn’t, they stuck around long enough to prepare their sons to fight the American Civil War. They lost that one, too, though some appear not to get it just yet.

In the middle was just us. Regular folks without the resources to move and without the time to take off from work to fight the British soldiers in what clearly was a war of ideology among elites and oh-so-entitled. Most folks just wanted to go along to get along. Make enough money to pay the bills, raise a crop or a family, have a little fun occasionally. Do the right thing even when we’d rather not. And so very weary with the yelling back and forth.

Sound familiar? I suspect it does. We’re in a similar position today as we decide what kind of country we are going to be. I don’t know whether I’d have been a Patriot, a Loyalist or just a regular, uncategorized person back when John and Abigail Adams were exchanging letters. I do know the choice isn’t so simple as fireworks and parades.


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