"Terrific War on Florida Man - Fleets Sail Out to Loot and Burn and Kill" article re: War Among Spongers in Tarpon Springs, Florida - June 8, 1914

Published in The Day Book (Chicago, Illinois) on June 8, 1914


Key West, Fla., June 8 - High sea piracy just off the peaceful coast of Key West!

Buccaneering!  The type that loots and robs and burns and kills!

A bloody naval warfare has sprung up between Greeks and Americans.  An American naval vessel is hastening here to quell it, and meanwhile, international complications are feared!

It is the war of the spongers.

Only a few years ago the sponge-gathering industry in this region was profitable for the brawny "conch," who plied his trade leisurely by going out on the gulf a mile or so with his rowboat, his water glass and a rake.  There he scooped up sponges by the boatload.

Some ten years ago Greek spongers began to pour into Florida.  They chose Tarpon Springs as their headquarters, because Tarpon Springs is adjacent to the greatest sponge beds of the country.  The colony grew.

Today Tarpon Springs is the greatest sponge market in the world.

The Greeks weren't satisfied with the old method of taking up sponges with a rake.  They introduced a thing the "conch" has never dreamed of - sponge gathering by divers.  First the men dove into the sponge beds, with only their hands and quick eyes to aid them.  Soon came the modern diving suits.

Then the Greeks invaded the rich sponge beds near Key West, and the poor American spongers resorted to violence.

They burned the Triton, one of the Greeks' boats, as a warning.

It was like flaunting a red flag in a bull's eyes.  The "conch" declared war.  In less than a month that war has cost two good ships burned to the water's edge, a third dynamited, many families reduced to poverty, the lives of sailors sacrificed, and the laws of God and man torn to shreds.

It is an industrial clash that is beginning to transform southern Florida into a second Colorado.

Even now the United States revenue cutter Yamacraw is speeding toward this harbor in hopes of quelling the naval war.

But in the meantime a fleet of Greek sponge boats, commanded by Capt. Bell, is cruising from island to island, just outside this harbor, and a fast Greek launch is skipping about Dry Tortugas with a mysterious message to sponge gatherers.

Here is his own story of the ruthless attack upon him a few days ago.

"I sailed from Tarpon Springs, Fla., on the schooner Amelia, as captain, with a crew of twenty men, going on the Gulf of Mexico for a sponging trip.

"On May 22 I decided to stop at Key West for safety from the high wind.  Anchoring there, I went ashore with six of my men.

"I left four of them with the small boat, and went into town.  When I returned, I found that 500 'of the enemy' were rioting on the dock.  They had driven my four men into a store owned by a Greek, and were held at bay by two women armed with revolvers.

"Part of the mob was destroying our small boat.  I protested.

"They got mad and threw me overboard.  They fired two shots at me as I swam for my life.  One struck me in the left knee.  The sheriff drew his pistol, called for help and carried me to the county jail for protection.

"At 11:30 o'clock that night a big launch named 'Key West' with 25 men on board, all armed, proceeded to my schooner.

"They ordered the crew to get out, giving them no time to take even their clothing.  They then robbed the schooner of everything of value and fired her.

"A negro named John Manis was burned to death on board when they exploded dynamite."