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Phillippi Creek

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann Shank, former Sarasota County Historian
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Phillippi Creek photo

Phillippi Creek is the only commonly known place name in Sarasota County that derives from the time when Spanish-speaking fishermen came from Cuba to fish the waters off the Southwest Florida coast. From Tampa Bay to Charlotte harbor, they began to establish their seasonal fisheries in the last half of the 18th Century, when Spain held Florida. Plentiful fish attracted the fishermen from August to March, when they returned to Havana in fishing smacks and schooners to sell their accumulated catch. Much of it was dried and salted, some kept fresh in special holds. Left behind at the ranchos were caretakers and (often) Seminole wives and children. Both Janet Snyder Matthews in Edge of Wilderness and Joe Warner in The Singing River provide insight into this time period.

After Florida became a United States territory in 1821, the federal government began an effort that culminated in a decision to remove the Seminole Indians, who had migrated south into Florida from Georgia and Alabama, to the Oklahoma region. As the conflict between government and Indians intensified during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), the Spanish-speaking fishermen were increasingly caught in the middle. They needed government approval and protection for their commerce, yet had close family ties with the Seminoles. Many left the region.

Phillipi Bermudez was one of the Spanish-speaking fishermen in the Sarasota Bay area in the middle of the 19th Century. The 1850 census lists him as Phillipp Bermudas, age 45, a fisherman, and originally from Spain. Matthews notes an 1847 surveyor’s report that placed his rancho near present day Cherokee Park. He was known to the early Manatee community and for awhile worked for Capt. William Bunce in his fishery at the mouth of the Manatee River. His Seminole wives and children were captured and deported during the Second Seminole War. Matthews details Bermudez’ assistance to the army at several points in its relationship with area Seminoles after that war. Knowing the Seminole language, Bermudez served as an interpreter for Capt. John Casey (after whom Casey Key was named) as Casey tried to maintain the shaky peace during the late 1840s. Operating out of Ft. Brooke (Tampa Bay), Casey met one time with some of the Seminoles at Bermudez’ rancho. Later, for $30 a month, Bermudez interpreted for troops from Ft. Myers who were looking for Seminoles to ship west.

By the time permanent settlers began moving to Sarasota Bay, Bermudez had left. His name, variously spelled over time, became attached to Phillippi Creek. Although named for a man whose life was associated with Sarasota Bay and nearby waters, Phillippi Creek is associated now more with the land around it than with the bay into which it flows. Early settlers who moved in after the Civil War kept bees and farmed. The 1910s estate built by Edson Keith has remained intact and now serves the public as Phillippi Estate Park. Urbanization now crowds the creek and any association with a 19th Century Spanish-speaking fisherman seems an illusion.