Under a Flag of Truce
by Greg Carter
By the time of Florida's secession from the Union in January 1861, Adolphus Pacetty had served in a variety of military capacities without necessarily firing a weapon. The alligator boat patrols had carefully avoided confrontation with the enemy, though one source claims they captured more Natives—mostly women and children— than the more traditionally equipped calvary units. Pacetty doesn't mention any prisoners in his reminiscence, so his patrols may have been purely reconnaissance.
President Abraham Lincoln was elected in November 1860 and lost seven states to secession before he could take the oath of office the following March. Lincoln took swift action against the rebellion and declared a blockade of the southern coast on April 19, 1861. Navy warships on foreign missions were recalled, and as they returned to take up positions over the summer, the President's order was in force.
The East Gulf Blockading Squadron was based out of Key West, a naval base which had remained in Union hands from the outset of hostilities. Though island residents supported the Confederate cause, isolation prevented a rebel takeover on the naval base by the Florida Militia. Key West was guarded by Fort Taylor on the mainland and Fort Jefferson, offshore, on the Dry Tortugas. Throughout the war, the East Gulf Squadron had low priority for the US Navy. There were really no major ports on the Florida gulf coast and little potential for action. Key West was seen as a backwater for personnel assigned to ships in the squadron, with yellow fever and malaria serving as constant plagues on the men who served there.
Pacetty's specific movements in 1860 are not clear. He was counted in the census at Key West as a civilian, and he may have evacuated as soon as Lincoln's election launched its inevitable series of events. Within months of the April 1861 attack on Fort Sumter, Pacetty was back in Tampa, serving as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard. This unit was an unofficial Coast Guard that appeared in coastal communities across the state. In May 1861, the militia in Hernando County (fifty miles north of Tampa) organized a coast guard at Bayport to patrol the Gulf of Mexico between Cedar Key and Anclote Key. Militia General Joseph Taylor had the Coast Guard on the lookout for “Key Westers": refugees or sailors from the island that might be Union agents.
In his personal narrative of these events, Pacetty said he was approached by two "northern men" seeking to get out of the South as the country was heading into civil war. These men were named James and Donald McKay—a father and son from Newark, New Jersey, who vacationed each winter in Manatee and were caught behind enemy lines. Though few instances of violence against civilians were actually reported, northern newspapers asserted that loyalists in places like Florida were in danger of being shot or lynched in the streets. The McKays surely understood that the Federal embargo of Florida was going to make resources scarce, and sustenance supplies expensive.
Pacetty agreed to transport the McKays by boat from Tampa to Key West, two places where he had done business. He brought the men to General Taylor who arranged passage throughout the Federal blockading station at Egmont Key under a flag of truce. It is unclear why the McKays were not simply dropped at Egmont. A barrier island protecting Tampa Bay, Egmont was occupied by the Federals and developed as an important refugee camp where southern unionists came to escape the Confederacy. Union blockade ships regularly stopped at the island for information and to deliver food. If the northern men needed the protection of the US Navy, it seems odd that they would require the longer, more dangerous sail to Key West.
Pacetty commanded the schooner Laura for the voyage and set off August 13 with nine men aboard. The McKays were joined by William Malone of Key West, as wells as the captain, the sailing master, and a four-man crew. The weather cooperated until Laura reached Cape Romano, about 150 miles from Tampa. While anchored for minor repairs, a hurricane hit the cape, leading Pacetty to write, "if we had continued on our course we would have been lost and possibly everyone drowned." Storms were not named at the time, but the event was recorded as the Key West Hurricane, which skirted the north coast of Cuba, passed the Florida straits, and turned northwest as it entered the Gulf of Mexico, August 14-17, 1861. It did not directly make landfall, but delivered hurricane force winds to southern Florida. Though the navy suffered little damage, at least three private vessels were lost or grounded along the Florida Keys.
The storm continued for three days and nights while Laura was in a safe harbor. Once clear, they proceeded and anchored at Key West at eleven o’clock on Monday night, August 19.
On Tuesday morning at ten, an armed cutter drew up alongside Laura and demanded official papers. Pacetty explained that he was sailing under a flag of truce from Tampa to return two men to the Union. Within an hour, the officers from another cutter boarded and seized Pacetty's vessel, and took her alongside the US Gunboat Crusader, commanded by Lieutenant Tunis AM Craven. Malone and the McKays were allowed to go ashore. Pacetty was kept on the schooner with his crew as prisoners. The next day, he was ordered onboard Crusader, where Lieutenant Craven said, “You are a traitor to your country.”
USS Crusader was a heavily armed steamer. She had been used for gunboat diplomacy in Paraguay in 1855, and later in suppression of the slave trade, making national headlines in 1860 when she intercepted a slave ship carrying 450 Africans. Crusader served a brief tour of duty in the Gulf blockade from March to September 1861, during which she captured two vessels to prevent their sale for use by Confederate privateers.
Explaining that he needed to get additional documents on Laura, Pacetty was escorted from Crusader back to his vessel under guard. He left the marine at the cabin door and discussed the situation with his crew. He decided to attempt an escape and asked a crewman to put a small boat under the port bow. Without being detected, Pacetty lowered himself off the bow and struck out toward shore. He wrote, "On reaching the shore I laid on my back in the water and looking toward the vessel, I saw the marine just as I had left him standing with his hands over the muzzle of his gun, gazing down into the cabin waiting for me to come up."
Knowing Key West streets and neighborhoods proved essential to his survival as a fugitive. Once ashore, Pacetty ducked small patrols—both formal and informal—by taking short cuts, and jumping fences. His path led him from the Court House to the light house, through the woods, and finally to the salt ponds. Leaving the road, he established a camp on a little island where he stayed for four days.
He had stripped away most of his clothes and shoes on his escape and now was vulnerable to mosquitoes. He wrapped his feet—hacked from ragged stones and roots—with strips of fabric from his underclothes. Eventually, Pacetty entered a vacant house and stole some old shoes, one was a size six and the other size nine. He gathered an undershirt, a pair of blankets, and two empty bottles, which he filled with water. He grabbed an old piece of canvas from the yard to use for protection in case of rain. Once back on his little island, he rigged up a small platform out of some boards to keep him out of the mud and water. On two occasions, he heard search parties, including one with a dog and a soldier who fired a gun into the island to scare out anyone hiding.
Hungry after four days, Pacetty abandoned his refuge, deciding to cross over to Key West and strike a path that would take him east of the barracks, through the woods, and to the graveyard. Here he hoped to see friends passing and make himself known to them. By chance, the first person he encountered was Joseph Roberts, who Pacetty recognized as a former neighbor. Unfortunately, he attempted to speak to Roberts with his damaged voice from behind the cemetery wall. This served to spook his friend, as the man raced home and sealed himself behind his gate.
Roberts was the immediate neighbor of William Weatherford, a sixty year old a carpenter that Pacetty knew from his year working construction on the island. Weatherford and Roberts both indicated in the 1860 census that they were from the Bahamas--likely descendants of British colonists who escaped there when the Spanish re-established rule in East Florida in 1783.
Pacetty came out of the graveyard and started up the street, turned the corner, and recognized a house and gate. He called through a window for Weatherford who didn't recognize the haggard Pacetty until he greeted him at the door. Weatherford threw his arms around Pacetty's neck, announcing that his two sons were out hunting for him with pockets full of food.
The officers of Crusader had made up a purse of $1000 as a reward for Pacetty dead or alive. Weatherford told him that the only chance for him to get off the island was to go to the north end and cross over to Stock Island. There he could swim over to Boca Chica and get a boat. He provided a pair of pants, a top shirt, and a coat, as well as provisions that he had already prepared for his Sunday dinner. Weatherford had his sons hitch up his buggy, with a plan to let the fifteen year-old drive, while the ten year-old hid under the seat. This would allow the hidden boy to ride as the second passenger, after Pacetty hopped out.
The only route that led to the north end of the island, obliged the buggy to pass the guards at the barracks. Pacetty made up his mind that if the sentry hailed him, he would ask him to approach and give the countersign. He carried a hard stone and hoped one blow to the head would allow him a chance at the sentry's gun. In the end, they passed the guard without incident, which Pacetty thought was due to a full moon that shone bright as daylight.
He got out of the buggy about two miles further, thanked the boys and sent them home where they arrived safely. Pacetty got to the head of the island at two o’clock in the morning and remained there until daylight. He then crossed over to Stock Island, walked to the north and started to swim across to Boca Chica. The swim across the main channel was almost too much for him. He abandoned his bag of provisions, his bottles of water, his shirt, and his coat, to overcome sudden weakness in the water.
Two men with a boat greeted Pacetty in Spanish as he knelt on the shore at Boca Chica. They gave him breakfast and a suit of clothes, explaining that Key West friends had advised them to look out for him. They offered to take letters back to Pacetty's colleagues on Key West, which he wrote and waited for their return from Sunday to Tuesday.
Pacetty was rigging a small boat for his return to Tampa when great confusion broke out. The Hispanic men alerted Pacetty that an Italian sailor named Antonio had threatened to inform the authorities about both him and his colleagues. Pacetty pleaded with Antonio to allow him time to get away, but the Italian would not relent. Abandoning his rigging project, Pacetty instead asked to use the Spanish men's small bottom boat for his provisions and a barrel of water. As he was shoving off, two of his frightened helpers suddenly jumped onboard—one of the two Hispanic men who had originally befriended him, and an Asian sailor under their employ.
Together, they started out for Vacas, where Pacetty again encountered a civilian willing to provide him with supplies. This was an older gentleman who later became Justice of the Peace for the island. Pacetty and his two companions safely reached Tampa ten days later.
The official report of this encounter at Key West was only briefly summarized in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies: "The crew of the schooner Laura, that came here under flag of truce from the mainland, deserted her and have gone to the mainland. I have her in charge with several sailboats." This account was not filed until October 23, and was made by an officer of USS Wanderer (USS Crusader was placed out of commission in September 1861 for repairs, and did not sail again until January 1862). The summary makes no mention of the McKays, the runaway captain, or the search to apprehend him. It does, however, imply that Pacetty's crew avoided arrest.
This story was documented in great detail much later in Pacetty's life. Written in long hand in a series of small notebooks, he wrote several drafts of his end note, which included his decision to join the Confederate Navy as a result of the indignity of the Key West arrest. He traveled to Richmond to meet Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory in person on October 20, 1861. He was ordered to Mobile where he served as an acting master in command of the Confederate schooner Alert from 1861-1865.
Another document in Pacetty's possession includes a detail surprisingly missing from his personal memoir. Seeking an appointment as an officer, Pacetty went to Richmond carrying a petition signed by seventy-seven colleagues from Florida. This letter describes his bravery in military action such as the Seminole War and this escapade in Key West. But his supporters reveal that the specific charge by Lieutenant Craven might have had nothing to do with James McKay and running the Egmont blockade. Instead, the arrest was a consequence of Pacetty's "complicity in the recent capture of the US vessel at Cedar Keys, an offense which the US government professes to consider piracy". Federal forces might have considered Pacetty guilty by association in this case—asserting that the Florida coast guard was a conspiracy and all officers guilty of treason. Or it's possible that Pacetty, who was well-known by US Navy personnel around Tampa Bay, might have been identified in this action. If so, he was a fugitive before he even reached Key West.
Had Adolphus Pacetty not survived the Civil War, he would not have been part of this family tree. He married at a relatively late age (38) for his time, though it was an era when thousands of younger men didn't return home to eligible young women. By the time he had children, Pacetty military adventures were over.
He settled in Saint Augustine, home to his Minorcan ancestors, and married a second cousin named Ameila Monson two years after the war ended. Adolphus and Amelia's grandmothers were sisters—daughters of the the New Smyrna settlers Josef Bonelly and Maria Moll. There is no record of correspondence proving that Pacetty and Monson knew each other prior to the war, but it is likely they had met. Amelia lived with her grandmother Antonia Paula Bonelly, whose children with Bartolome Leonardy were the travelers that Pacetty carried from Saint Augustine to Tampa back in 1855. Eventually, they all lived together in a crowded house at 56 Marine Street, where Antonia Paula died in 1870.
Pacetty lived a vibrant and somewhat eccentric second life in Saint Augustine after the war. He continued his civic commitment by serving as Sheriff of Saint Johns County from 1877-1881. He was the proprietor of A N Pacetty Soda Water, Fruits, Etc on Saint George Street, which was a flourishing confectionery business he shared with his wife. Advertisements claimed the Pacettys made a "specialty of milk punch, which is most invigorating without being intoxicating." Milk punch was a milk-based brandy or bourbon beverage, which included sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg sprinkled on top. Served cold, it was not unlike eggnog and was common in this period in New Orleans, or on holidays throughout the deep South.
CSS Gaines was a wooden side wheel gunboat constructed by the Confederates at Mobile, Alabama, during 1861-62. The ship was partially covered with 2-inch iron plating. Gaines resembled CSS Morgan except that she had high pressure boilers. Operating in the waters of Mobile Bay, under the command of Lieutenant John W. Bennett, CSN, she was heavily damaged during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Tunis Craven was ordered to command USS Crusader, Home Squadron, but was shortly after promoted to Commander and ordered to command the USS Tuscarora, special service. The Tuscarora went to England to follow Confederate vessels seeking supplies from European ports. Craven was unsuccessful in England, but went to the Mediterranean, and watched the CSS Sumter so closely that her officers and crew finally deserted the ship at Gibraltar. The Tuscarora was ordered home in 1863, and Commander Craven was detached and ordered to command the USS Tecumseh which was to join Admiral David Farragut's fleet in the attack on Mobile Bay. On August 5, 1864, Tecumseh was at the head of the column of monitors which was on the starboard hand of the wooden vessels between them and Fort Morgan. Tecumseh, struck by a torpedo, disappeared almost instantly beneath the waves, carrying with her her commander and nearly all her crew. Farragut ordered the fleet to continue, allegedly shouting, "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!" Farragut's gamble paid off, and the Union's remaining column of fourteen warships passed through unharmed, and the red almost instantly beneath the waves, carrying with her her commander and nearly all her crew. Farragut ordered the fleet to continue, allegedly shouting, "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!" Farragut's gamble paid off, and the Union's remaining column of fourteen warships passed through unharmed, and the Confederacy was routed. Craven was 50 years old. A buoy in Mobile Bay marks the spot where the Tecumseh lies.
Information on James McKay seems contradictory to Pacetty's story. Though there was a Captain James McKay with a son named Donald in Tampa in 1861, he was a prominent citizen—not a winter vacationer. Captain McKay was, in fact, the sixth mayor of Tampa, serving from 1859-1860 and lived in the city beginning in 1846. He operated a general store on Franklin Street, invested in real estate, and operated a sawmill on the Hillsborough River. McKay also owned and operated two schooners for cargo transport cargo from Tampa to Cuba, Central America and South America. He was a man who likely didn't need a ride to Key West. During the Civil War McKay used his ships to run the Union naval blockade and brought guns, ammunition, foodstuffs and other merchandise for the Confederate army and civilians. On October 14, 1861, McKay and his vessel were seized and he was imprisoned in Key West until March 1862 when he took an oath of allegiance to the United States. There is no documented connection between this historical family and the city of Newark.
Commander Ebenezer Farrand entered the US Navy in 1823 and advanced to commander at the age of 31. He was a staunch believer in the Confederate cause and resigned to enlist in the CS Navy in Florida in January 1861. He was among the forces that ordered the surrender of Fort Barrancan and McRee and the Yard at Pensacola, and took over command of all ships in the Battle Mobile Bay after Admiral Franklin Buchanan was wounded. Flag Officer Farrand surrendered forces of CS Navy near the City of Mobile May 8, 1865. He was paroled at Nanna Hubba Bluff, Alabama, May 10, 1865. This date and general location corresponds with Pacetty's recollection, and is almost certainly the same event.
Key West Cemetery is located at 701 Passover Lane. It appears to be the only graveyard on the island.