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Cape Florida Lighthouse

The Attack on the Cape Florida Lighthouse, 1836

In July 1836, an historic event occurred on Key Biscayne. It involved the lighthouse keeper, J. B. Thompson, a slave named Aaron Carter, and dozens of hostile Indians who held the lighthouse under siege for several days in an effort to drive the handful of white settlers from the key.

Dade County, which at that time also covered all of what is now Broward and Palm Beach counties, was thinly populated with scattered pioneers scratching out a living in the pine woods. The entire white population was moved into the lighthouse, which had been built in 1825, at the beginning of hostilities.

After many days, they were evacuated by boat to Key West. Thompson, and the slave, Carter, defended the lighthouse for several days, waiting for help to arrive. Carter was killed in the fierce fighting that followed the evacuation. He was buried on the island near the lighthouse in an unmarked grave. After using dynamite to blow up the interior of the lighthouse, Thompson was rescued several days later and lived to tell the tale.

The lighthouse still stands, but the exact location of Carter’s grave is unknown. In an effort to whitewash Key Biscayne history, white historians refer to Carter as the “assistant lighthouse keeper”. The man was a slave.