“No one ever asks to go there,” admits Ed Roberts, a ranger at Biscayne National Park, any more than they did around 1700 when Black Caesar ran his buccaneer operations from this edge of the Atlantic Ocean, when asked about Caesar’s Rock, Florida, an ugly mangrove-covered island . There is no visible sign on the two-acre outcropping of land that would help link it to the legendary black pirate, nor prove that it has ever been inhabited.
For the inquisitive who wade or jump ashore after crossing seven miles of Biscayne Bay from the mainland, there is no paths to explore the island. Apart from uncontrolled vegetation, the only living thing here thirty miles south of Miami seems to be mosquito’s. Even rats haven’t bothered to come for the garbage, and there is no sound of birds.
Established as art of the U.S. National Park Service in June 1980, Biscayne National Park covers 175,000 acres of pristine waters, subtropical islands, and living coral reefs. The oval-shaped land mass is wedged between Elliot Key and Old Rhodes Key; and legend has it that Black Caesar used it as a base to prey on passing vessels, especially slave ships.
The real name of the Haitian-born pirate, said to have been a slave himself, was either Henri Caesar or Caesar LeGrand. Another account says he was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica and later enslaved in Haiti. Sometime in his 20’s, he escaped and freed twenty men he found in a jungle prison. These became his followers and later part of his crew.
It is said he took his first ship by killing the pirate captain on board. He renamed it the Ebony Eagle and flew the Jolly Roger from its mast. For 28 years, he roamed these waters as a privateer; wrecking ships, freeing slaves, and taking prisoners. He’s described as cruel and is supposed to have kept a prison camp on Elliot Key. They say he had a penchant for Jewelry and more than 100 women supposedly graced his harem over the years.
Sometime after 1716, Black Caesar joined Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, a British pirate with long-braided hair who terrorized the Carolina and Virginia coasts. Blackbeard was killed in battle November 21, 1718, off the coast of North Carolina. Black Caesar was taken prisoner and reportedly hanged in Virginia.
Betty Bruce had been the librarian of the Key West Public Library for many years and five generations of her family have spent their lives in the Keys. “It’s hard to track down these pirates,” Bruce said with a laugh. “We have microfilm of newspapers going back to 1784, and I’ve never found any mention of Black Caesar.” “He’s all legend,” says Ed Roberts, one of the few park rangers who ever heard mention of him.
If Black Caesar did not exist, and there seems to be no verifiable documentation available to prove either way, then there is no reason for the island’s name nor the name on nearby Caesar Creek nor the name on nearby Caesar Creek Bank.