The Wreckers

Though some looked at them as scavengers, others saw them as pirates, and many as insensitive covetous individuals who's only purpose was to satisfy their greed, the wreckers of Key West were businessmen, perhaps all these, yet much more.  To those who's lives lie in jeopardy upon a sinking vessel, ravaged by a coral reef and soon to be taken by the sea, the wreckers were little less than saints providing to them sanctuary and salvaging what materials they could.

When a ship fell to misfortune, blown upon the coral heads by a fierce storm, or otherwise, the courageous of Key West sailed to the reefs exposing their own ships, and themselves as well, to the same perils.  Struggling against the swells and frequent gales, they labored for hours, sometimes days, ... and sometimes there was nothing spared from the waters to toil over.  Often, the wives of these men too, would brave the wind and rainstorms perched atop the widow's walks looking to the horizon, watching the ships there and wondering who was to be claimed by the ocean's depths and what riches were to reach the island's ports.

Laces, silks, wines, silverware, china, gold and spices of all sorts, some of the most valuable cargoes in the world, were bought and sold here by merchants from port-cities everywhere.  In one year alone (1824-1825), it was estimated that wrecked property valuing $293,000 was sold in Key West.  By 1848, well over 500 vessels and the freight they carried had been wrecked upon the reefs, with a total worth of roughly one and a half million dollars.

Most everyone drew benefit from the wrecking industry here.  While the crews and passengers of the ill-fated ships needed to be housed and fed, mechanics and carpenters were busy effecting repairs.  All businesses profited in some way or another, despite the fashion in which business practices were sometimes conducted, often unorthodox and illegal to a measurable extent.  Yet, a rugged trade such as this called for a tough lot to govern it.


Conch Republic, Founded 1982