Road trip

LITTLE is known about writings from William A. Whitehead’s youth, but a generous amount survives from his early twenties, in the form of a volume of travel narratives in his own hand. This volume is the second of at least two, none other having come to light. Whitehead gave the work a jocular name: Memorandums … More Road trip

Tift’s Tower

GAZING one last time at a pair of large, unfurled sheets of paper, William A. Whitehead traced with his eye the busy waterfront, the streets and buildings depicted on them. Then, possibly with a faint smile, he again rolled them up carefully to be delivered to their final destination. License to imagine such an interlude … More Tift’s Tower

The fiefdom

KEY West the island sits upon a bed of limestone a hundred thousand years old, while Key West the city has for its foundation poor judgments and worse luck that, less than two centuries ago, with painful regularity piled up seagoing vessels on the Florida Reef. That history created what attorney Charles Walker called “the … More The fiefdom

A rising tide

SOMETIME in 1833 or thereabouts, citizens of Key West witnessed the opening of a large mound near the island’s western shore. At least ten feet in height “and of considerable circumference,” it stood midway between the custom house and the slight rise of Whitehead’s Point. The collector of customs, William A. Whitehead, who appears to have … More A rising tide

Light duties

AMID a hoisting of the American ensign, a salute of thirteen guns and a greater number of champagne toasts, Lieutenant Matthew C. Perry in March 1822 extended the dominion of the United States to a desolate coral cay that he named Thompson’s Island, better known before and ever since as the island of Key West.1 … More Light duties

Numbers to neighbors

NINE years after lowering the flag of Spain and fifteen years before statehood, Florida made its debut as a contributor to the United States decennial census. The national enumeration of 1830 separately counts whites, slaves and free persons of color, but records the names only of “heads of families.” Enslaved and free dependents remain anonymous, … More Numbers to neighbors

The greatest gifts

LOWER latitudes and warmer climes than William Whitehead had previously known defined his nineteenth full winter, and each of the nine that followed. On its face this decade of residence in the South answered no maverick yearning for wild frontiers; it sprang instead from Whitehead’s trusted role in the business concerns of his family, spun … More The greatest gifts