THE OLD SANYBEL ISLAND MAP
In 1819, the U.S. Government was negotiating with Spain to annex the territory known as Florida. At the same time, the former U.S. Consul to Spain, Richard Hackley from Virginia, was negotiating with the Duke of Aragon of Spain for a large tract of land in southwest Florida, including any and all barrier islands. After the U.S. government obtained Florida from Spain in 1821, Hackley completed his transaction with the Duke of Aragon and obtained questionable title to the land in southwest Florida. Needless to say, the United States was not pleased.
Once a customs post was established in Key West, agents were sent up the southwestern coast to check for piracy and any other illegal activates. It was recorded that only small fishing huts were sighted on Sanibel, and the islands in Estero and Pine Island bays were populated by Cuban fishermen.
In the meantime, Hackley was busy checking out his land. In 1831, with his title still hazy, Hackley sold part of his tract to a New York group of investors called the Florida Peninsula Land Company. Fifty shares of stock were created, one share equaling 1,800 acres of land. Each share originally sold for $500. This gave each buyer a plot of land from the bay to the Gulf along with a lot “in town.” The U.S. government promptly started legal proceedings against Hackley’s title and his company.
In 1832, the New York group proceeded with their exploration of the land and settled on establishing a colony on “Sanybel.” Workmen were sent to the island to set up huts and cabins for settlers. In early 1833, Dr. Benjamin Strobel and 20 men and women settled on the island. Dr. Strobel explored the island and recorded his findings with the company: flat land, good soil for farming, fresh water, and an average height of five to eight feet above water.
The company had hoped for just such a favorable report. Producing farm crops during the winter months for the northern states would be very profitable. The company contacted Edward Armstrong to complete a survey and map of the island. Once completed, the survey and the maps were brought to New York.
In the meantime, Dr. Strobel also explored Captiva and found deserted huts, gardens, and worked farmland. Later that year, he left the settlement under clouded circumstances and traveled to South Carolina, never to return.
In the winter of 1833-34, another 60 settlers were to come to Sanibel but it was never recorded that they did. In 1834, settlers and Cuban fishermen petitioned the government
for a lighthouse, which was rejected. In 1836, the second Seminole War began and fighting broke out near Ocala. Troops were sent to evacuate all settlers.
In 1905, the U.S. courts finally resolved the litigation against the company. Hackley’s title was invalidated as well as claims by the Florida Peninsula Land Company.
In 1977, three maps of the company’s survey were discovered in Oswego, New York. One of the maps was given to the city of Sanibel and is hanging in the Rutland House hallway.