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History of Mosquito Inlet and the First Lighthouse

The inlet where the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse stands today has long been known as one of the most treacherous in the southeast. Since 1565, when the entire French fleet of Admiral Jean Ribault was wrecked by a hurricane in the vicinity of this Inlet, many ships have been lost here. The Inlet was explored by Captain Antonio de Prado in 1569 and named "los Mosquitos" because of the large number of insects. Captain Álvaro Mexía charted the inlet in 1605, but, except for the planting of a few orange groves, the Spanish never settled the area.

When Great Britain gained the Province of Florida in 1763, plantations were settled in this area, and commerce became so great that the colonial government maintained a "beacon" or daymark at the entrance to Mosquito Inlet. Spain regained the colony in 1784, but the plantations languished.

After Florida passed to the control of the United States in 1821, the plantations revived, and the need for a lighthouse at this dangerous inlet was recognized as early as 1822. However, it was not until June 30, 1834, that Congress appropriated $11,000 for the construction of the lighthouse.

John Rodman, Collector of Customs for St. Augustine, chose a site on a 12-foot high dune on the south side of the Inlet. Winslow Lewis was selected to oversee construction of the forty-five foot tall brick tower and the installation of the tower's 15 Winslow Lewis reflector lamps. Construction of the new tower was completed in February, 1835, at a cost of $7,494. William H. Williams, a long-time Florida resident and step-son of prominent plantation owner Joseph Hernandez, was selected as Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse's first keeper. Although moving into the light station's keeper's quarters with his family in 1835, oil for the lighthouse never arrived, and the Williams was never able to light the lamps. He removed their silver reflectors and stored them in a trunk in the keeper's house.

In October, 1835, a hurricane struck, washing away the keeper's quarters and undermining the foundations of the lighthouse enough to cause it to lean. The trunk holding the lamp reflectors was lost in the storm. Keeper Williams and his family abandoned the area and moved back to his stepfather's plantation. Two months later, Seminole Indian attacks throughout north Florida signaled the start of the Second Seminole War. In December, 1835, a Seminole war party under the leadership of Coacoochee (also known as the Wildcat) attacked homes and settlements along the Halifax and Indian River, including the damaged Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse.

The Seminoles may have discovered some of the lighthouse lamp reflectors which probably washed up on a nearby shore. Three weeks after the attack on the Lighthouse, members of the Mosquito Roarers (one of several Florida militias formed in the early days of the Second Seminole War) reported seeing Coácoochee wearing one of the lamp reflectors as a headdress during the Battle of Dunlawton. Much to the white population's dismay, the Seminoles won the battle, and the area' s white population was forced to abandon the Mosquito Inlet area under fear of death. Unable to repair the leaning lighthouse due to the Native American uprising, the damaged Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse finally toppled into the sea in April, 1836. It would take more than 50 years for the government to decide to construct the present lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet.