Henry "Hank" Banks Mural - Vignettes Detail
The Key Biscayne History Mural painted by Henry "Hank" Banks in 1964 contains vignettes of island history and lore. The piece is on display in the Community Room on the first floor of Village Hall.
Musch of the following information was adapted from
Key Biscayne: A History of Miami's Tropical Island and the Cape Florida Lighthouse by Joan Gill Blank, Pineapple Press, Sarasota, 1996.
Please consult this resource for further historical information.
Southeast Florida was home to the Tequesta Indians for more than 2,000 years and archeologists have discovered remains of Tequesta fishing villages along the length of the island. Many artifacts of their coastal civilization have been excavated. The Tequesta were a small, peaceful tribe. They were hunters and gatherers, relying mainly on fish, shellfish, nuts and berries for food. The Europeans' arrival in the 1500s brought disease, slavery and war and the Tequesta Indians all but vanished.
Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Key Biscayne in 1513 and named the small island "Santa Marta", claiming the island for Spain. Although Ponce de Leon thought he didn't find a Fountain of Youth he is said to have found a fresh water spring, and mariner maps began to show Key Biscayne as a source of fresh water, encouraging sailors to stop and replenish drinking water supplies here. At the time of the mural's painting, John Cabot, sailing under the English flag, was thought to have discovered Cape Florida in 1497. Today's scholars believe that Cabot's travels did not extend as far south as Florida.
Some say that in the late 17th century the infamous, notorious pirate Black Caesar was said to heel his ship and hide its masts in Hurricane Harbor. He made his headquarters on Elliot Key and terrorized the coast, looting and killing, until he was caught and hanged in 1718. Black Caesar amassed a great plunder, which according to legend may still be found hidden on the Island of Key Biscayne.
Hidden sandbars, treacherous coral reefs, unchartered waters and ferocious storms took a toll on ships that sailed around Cape Florida before the lighthouse was built in 1825, and, as shipping traffic increased, so did the number of shipwrecks. Wreckers, or scavengers, emerged to take advantage, swarming over and stealing cargo or collecting spoils that washed ashore. A cargo of wine, spirits or ale could have been responsible for what has been said to be the gayest, most raucous beach party of all times, credited to the Wreckers of Key Biscayne.
The Burning of the Lighthouse by Indian Raiders
The Second Seminole War outbreak in 1835 led to an attack the following year on the Cape Florida Lighthouse. The Keeper's assistant, John Thompson, and the Keeper's free black helper Aaron Carter defended the Lighthouse from warring Seminoles who set fire to the 65 foot Lighthouse and burned the Keeper's House. John Thompson was severely injured, but survived the siege to be rescued two days later. Aaron Carter was killed. The Lighthouse was dark until 1847.
Colonel William S. Harney who Stopped the Rebellion
Colonel William S. Harney, stationed on Key Biscayne, was instrumental in bringing the Seminole Rebellion to a close. In 1839 and 1840, using the natural terrain of Key Biscayne as a training ground, Colonel Harney abandoned traditional warfare methods and successfully taught his men to fight like the Seminoles.
Dr. William J. Matheson
In the early 1900s Key Biscayne pioneer William J. Matheson started a coconut plantation and built a great house on Mashta Point. In the mural he is depicted standing on the colonnade of the "Old Mashta House", where he entertained friends and celebrities from around the world.