KEY WEST -- The General Order is just 47 words, handwritten in tough-to-read cursive by U.S. Navy Commodore David Porter from the U.S. ship Peacock.
It calls for a salute of 17 guns to be fired at 8 oclock the morning of April 6, 1823, from the battery in front of the town. The American ensign is to be raised at the flag staff.
Later that morning the Navy officially took possession of the remote island to set up a base to fight what was left of the pirates of the Caribbean. Wrote Porter: The town is hereafter to be called Allenton.
Well, the name Allenton, after a Navy lieutenant who had been killed by pirates, never stuck. The island became known as Key West. But the Navy order which local historians call the citys founding document did survive.
And now, 190 years later, the important document is finally back in Key West where it belongs along with more than 1,000 other pieces of the islands history that a rare book dealer from New England has collected over the past 15 years.
I thought: What good is it doing for me to have the collection sitting in my small farmhouse in Maine? said Scott DeWolfe, owner of DeWolfe & Wood Rare & Used Books of Alfred, Maine.
I wanted from the very beginning for the material to come back to Key West, he said. I expected it would be maybe 20 years from now. But Im pleased for it to go now.
DeWolfe traveled to Key West this past week to see his beloved collection of historical documents, letters, pictures, postcards, menus, books and a hodgepodge of everyday items unveiled for the first time at its new home: the Monroe County Public Library on Fleming Street.
A local couple who wished to remain anonymous purchased the entire collection from DeWolfe to donate it to the library.
We are very lucky to have it, Key West historian Tom Hambright said.
While the commodores order was the most significant historic piece of the collection, it is not DeWolfes favorite. That honor goes to three editions of the islands first newspaper, the Key West Register, printed in 1829.
Early American newspapers tended not to have local news because everybody knew the local news; everybody knew everybody elses business, DeWolfe said. What was cool about them were the ads and laws.
The Key West Register printed the local ordinances that prohibited prostitution and nude bathing. You cant do it in the front of the town, but you can do it in other places, DeWolfe said of the nude bathing.
One edition included a law regulating dogs. People were allowed to shoot canines that were running loose except for terriers. They were spared because they kept the rat population in check. Its great stuff, he said.
Theres also the 1885 incorporation of the Board of Trade, which later became the Chamber of Commerce, and an 1874 reward poster for an escapee from the Key West jail.
U.S. Marshall George D. Allen signed the reward that offered $200 for the delivery of Charles Eden back to jail.
DeWolfe found many of Key Wests historical gems thousands of miles away in the Northeast. That did not surprise Hambright, the historian.
The first settlers here were from New England, and the Navy guys were predominantly from the Northeast, Hambright said. And during the Civil War, the two primary regiments here were from Pennsylvania and upper state New York.