The Florida Keys are a culturally rich and extremely unique place whose history is is just as intriguing as the islands themselves. The Keys first inhabitants were the Calusa and Tequesta Native Americans. They were first charted by Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce-de León in 1513. The name “Keys” comes from the Spanish word cayo meaning small island. For years Key West was the biggest city in Florida, being that it was in the ideal location for trade with Cuba and the Bahamas, and it was on the main trade route for New Orleans.
The Keys are also known as the Conch Republic with their own official flag and seal. This name is said to have come about during the 1980’s. During this time there was a lot of drugs coming up from Central America, through the Keys, and into the mainland. In response to the problem, the US was planning on placing a border patrol checkpoint on the road (the only road) going to and from the Keys. Needless to say, the Keys are very dependent on this road, and out of concern for their economy, it was decided they would secede from the US. The new country was declared “The Conch Republic”. Needless to say, the US government never fully recognized the succession of The Conch Republic.
So, where did the name “The Conch Republic” come from anyway? Well, for as long as people can remember, Keys locals have always referred to themselves as “Conchs”. No one knows exactly where that name originated, but it is commonly thought that the name may have originated from the people of the Bahamas who moved to the Keys due to the amount of conch they ate. Others say it was the widespread presence of the conch shell in the Keys during the 18th century.
The Florida Keys is a beautifully diverse place that has so much to offer the world. The atmosphere is indescribable and the people are equally as unique. The Key’s have a way of staying with everyone who has the opportunity to experience them. Maybe there’s something in the water...