Indian uprisings, buried treasure, and a stalwart U.S Army Captain are not the first things that come to mind when one considers our pristine white beaches and unequaled sunsets. Casey Key, at only 8 miles long and a mere 300 yards wide in many places, is an island that is steeped in a rich history that few people are aware of. It is this history that we can thank for our naming.
According to many old Florida maps, the island was originally shown as Chaise’s Key. In my research I have not found any mention or official record as to why the name Chaise’s was adopted. There are some that still contend that the name Casey Key was a mistake caused by a notation on an early map. There have actually been unsuccessful efforts to change the name back to Chaise’s Key in order to correct this assumed error. The earliest maps prior to Florida’s statehood show the island as “Clam Island”. It is my assumption that this name could likely be attributed to the Seminole Indians that lived here during that time.
On a map produced in 1856, Lt. J. C. Ives changed Chaise’s Key to Casey Key in honor of the respectable efforts by Capt. John C. Casey in charting this region. I have no doubt that this was done in homage to the work ethic and character of the man as well.
A fellow officer once commented: “He was known to have great influence with the Indians…he never deceived them; never told them a lie; and never made a promise he did not fulfill….By this simple means he gained the confidence of the whole nation.” “Captain John C. Casey – Seminole Emigration Agent”
In all of my research I have found out much about the man, John C. Casey, and of his colorful career as an officer in the U.S. Army. Capt. Casey had a huge impact on those who knew him. Among his peers and the Seminole Indians he became known as a man of character and he was held in the highest regard by all who knew him. It is for this reason that our island bears his name…and rightly so.
Should you desire to know more, clicking through the links within this post will lead you toward a much deeper understanding of Capt. Casey and his impeccable character as he worked in Florida with the Seminole Indians. I have included some of my favorite quotes from the more unique and “romantic” of these below.
“From 1848 to 1851 the western coast of Florida was charted by the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, with Capt. Casey assisting. In his honor the inlet at the southernmost end of Little Sarasota Bay, just south of Chaise’s Key, was named Casey’s Pass. In April 1856, a map of Florida by Lt. J. C. Ives, in which he gave much credit to Casey, was published. Chaise’s Key was then charted as Casey’s Key.” – Spessard Stone, “Captain John C. Casey – Seminole Emigration Agent”
The grammar and peculiar vernacular caught my attention here:
“One link in the chain of off-shore islands extending from Anclote Key southward along Florida’s Gulf coast is Casey Key in Sarasota County. This little Key has more than its share of natural beauty and charm yet remains one of the least known islands. Although little is heard of Casey Key, except locally, for which the residents who value privacy are grateful, even more obscure is the origin of the name. One historian has written, “When and how Casey’s Pass was named no one knows. According to waterfront legend an Irishman named Casey settled there for a number of years early in the 19th century and left during the War of 1812. But that is only legend.” It seems fitting and proper that a closer acquaintance be had with Captain John Charles Casey and that he receive credit for the role he played in the early history of Florida. Recent attempts to glamorize this island paradise by changing its name to the insipid title of Treasure Island have, happily, failed and the euphonious and distinctive name it has had for more than a century remains.
The first mapping of the interior of southern Florida and its Gulf coast was done by the U. S. Army. This project was imperative for operations against the Seminoles and maintaining lines of communication with outlying depots and forts. This task was difficult and hazardous and involved much hardship. The terrain covered great expanses of swamp, sawgrass, and dense jungle and offered few places of elevation or reference points. Taking observations, bearings, and measurements and making detailed notes and sketches under these conditions was an exacting job. It was admirably done by a number of officers during the years 1839‑1855. Lieutenant John Christmas Ives, Topographical Engineers, compiled all this data and, by order of the Secretary of War, produced a most interesting and valuable map of Florida south of Tampa Bay and latitude 28° North which p128 was published in April, 1856. This map is amazingly accurate in detail and is a superb work of cartography and engraving. Under “Notes” in the lower left corner, and in greater detail in his memoirs, Lieutenant Ives gives the sources of his data and credits the officers who derived it. Included prominently in this roster and given much credit for the entire map, particularly for the Gulf coast area, is Captain John C. Casey.” – Fred W. Wallace: “The Story Of Captain John C. Casey” in the Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 41 No. 2 (Oct. 1962)
It should also be noted that during the Florida land boom of the 1920’s, a real estate developer tried to change the name of the island to Treasure Island in the hopes that the name, along with the accompanying rumors of buried treasure on the northern end of the island would help to sell lots. I do find a strange satisfaction in the irony that the north end of Casey Key has actually become much more valuable than any fictional treasure. North Casey Key today boasts some of the most sought after and valuable real estate in all of Florida.
So there you have it, my best effort at a decent explanation of how our island came to be called what it is today. I hope that you feel somewhat enlightened. I thoroughly enjoyed the research process and I certainly feel quite a bit more knowledgeable than before I began. Feel free to leave us a comment if you have anything to add or any interesting stories and folklore about Casey Key that you’d like to share!