History of the Conch Republic
The Conch Republic (also known as Key West and the Florida Keys) like many nations was born from trouble. The trouble started back in the dark days of March 1982, when the U.S. Federal Government placed a Border Patrol Roadblock at the Last Chance Saloon in Florida City.
A seventeen mile traffic jam immediately ensued as the Border Patrol stopped every car leaving or entering the Keys, supposedly searching for illegal drugs and aliens who might be hiding under the front seats, in glove compartments, and in trunks.
The media starting reporting on the unprecedented action of the Border Patrol in setting up a Border Roadblock within the United States, itself (after all, most everyone believed that the Florida Keys were indeed part of the United States!) As the stories of the traffic jam poured out across the nation and the world, visitors started canceling reservations to come to the Keys.
Community leaders started to gather around Mayor Dennis Wardlow to decide what to do. The very lifeblood of a budding tourism industry was threatened and Secessionist talk was bubbling up in each discussion. At the urging of David Paul Horan, the legal route was chosen as the first alternative and an injunction was filed against the government’s action in Federal Court in Miami.
The court essentially refused to enjoin the US Federal Government’s Border Patrol from treating the Keys like a foreign country. When the Key West delegation left the courthouse, they were met by a gaggle of the world press asking "What are you going to do, Mr. Mayor?" and Mayor Wardlow replied "We are going to go home and secede" and thus the Conch Republic was born.
On April 23rd, the Conch Republic flag was raised over city hall and the Schooner Western Union, under command of Captain John Kraus, went forth into the harbor and attacked the US Coast Guard Cutter DILIGENCE with water balloons, Conch fritters and stale Cuban bread. The DILIGENCE fought back with fire hoses and thus commenced the Great Battle of the Conch Republic. Prime Minister Wardlow surrendered and demanded foreign aid from the United States (which we are still waiting for!) The road block was quietly removed and the glorious Conch Republic was born.
*A Footnote to History
The secession and subsequent creation of the Conch Republic should not be viewed as a revolution against the United States of America. Rather, it was quite the opposite…it was a protest against the folly of zealotry resulting in the people of the Florida Keys being literally alienated as Americans.
The United States Coast Guard, the object of the first and only act of military aggression by the Conch Republic government was never considered as a “enemy.” The US Coast Guard Cutter DILIGENCE was merely a target of opportunity. Let no one ever come under the impression that the US Coast Guard has ever been considered anything other than a good friend.
The Conch Republic exists as a sovereign state of mind, which signifies our vision of the America which we are proud to be part of.
History of the Conch Republic Navy
IImmediately following the formation of the Conch Republic, the Conch Republic Navy was created by Captain John Kraus when his Schooner WESTERN UNION spontaneously attacked the US Coast Guard Cutter DILIGENCE with water balloons, Conch fritters and stale Cuban bread in Key West Harbor on April 23rd, 1982. The Diligence responded with her fire hoses, resulting in the Great Battle of the Conch Republic.
Captain Bill Wickers was appointed Secretary of the Conch Republic Navy and Monroe County Mayor Wilhelmina Harvey was appointed Admiral and First Sea Lord.
In November of 1984 the newly built Schooner WOLF, commanded and owned by Captain Finbar Gittelman, arrived in Key West to find that the Schooner WESTERN UNION had been sold and taken north. In April of 1985 the WOLF led the fleet in the re-enactment of the Great Battle. While celebrating the victory, Admiral Harvey commissioned the WOLF as the new flagship and appointed Finbar as Flag Captain. Several years later Finbar was promoted to Rear Admiral, Fleet Commander and Second Sea Lord.
Upon the passing of Admiral Harvey in 2005, Finbar was promoted to Admiral and First Sea Lord and Captain Reef Perkins, King of the Key West wreckers, was appointed Vice Admiral and Second Sea Lord. In 2009 Reef retired and Rear Admiral Frank Holden was promoted to Vice Admiral and Third Sea Lord. The Conch Republic Admiralty also boasts Vice Admiral Sir Peter Anderson (who also serves as Second Sea Lord & Secretary General of the Conch Republic,) Rear Admirals Marci McNamara and Bill Grosscup.
With the support of the Coast Guard Group Key West, the CR Air Force, the CR Army, the CR Coast Guard, the Office of the Secretary General and Schooner Wharf Bar, the re-enactment of the colorful Great Sea Battle is held each April in Key West Harbor (usually the last Friday of the month) in conjunction with the Annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration.
Admiral Finbar (along with Vice Admirals Holden and Anderson, and Rear Admirals McNamara and Grosscup) presides over the strategy for this "Great Sea Battle" that has brought victory to the Conch Republic each year. A true food fight at sea, the battle is fought each year against the invading Federal Ships (represented by vessels of the U.S. Coast Guard.)
Each year, after the Victory Celebration held at Schooner Wharf Bar, Admiral Finbar ceremoniously accepts surrender from the invader's Commander and then graciously invites the Federal invaders to join in the celebration of the victory!
Featured on the Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel, citizens of the Conch Republic don their battle gear for this exciting adventure at sea that pits Tall Ships against Coast Guard Cutters for the biggest & baddest sea battle held annually anywhere in the world!
Today the Conch Republic boasts the world’s last all privateer, mainly sail propelled navy. In addition to the Flagships WOLF and WESTERN Union, other vessels which have served under the Conch Republic battle flag include the schooners APPLEDORE, LIBERTY and REEF CHIEF, and the ex Navy PT 728.
The USCGC EAGLE has also been commissioned into the CRN, as has Brazil’s Cisne Branco and the Captain Sinbad’s MEKA II. In 2006 the ex USS/CGC MOHAWK was commissioned as Flagship of the Conch Republic Naval Reserve Fleet, brought to Key West by Captain Frans Boetes.
TO ENLIST, contact the Conch Republic Navy.