Capt. Freddy Futch, an island native and descendant of both the Futch and Lowe families, recounted that his great-grandfather Futch was on the ship that delivered the timbers for the lighthouse at the south end of the island in 1890. His family had been in the Charlotte Harbor area for decades before, though.
Futch’s great-grandparents lived on Punta Blanca. They had one child in 1860, but when he was 3 years old his mother died. His father buried her on Cayo Costa. He then sent his son, Cicero Franklin Futch, to a customs agent friend in Key West and took up smuggling and running mules for the Confederacy. He was captured by the Union and sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas for the duration of the Civil War.
When he was freed he discovered that Cicero had moved to Cuba when his adoptive father was transferred there. Fortunately, he was soon transferred back to Florida, to a station in Tampa.
In 1881, Cicero returned to Charlotte Harbor, and the Futch family has been here since. In 1912, he began fishing at the north end of the island.
Capt. Futch’s parents met on Gasparilla Island when they were 16 years old. They were married that year and one year later, in 1919, they greeted the first of their six children.
His father, Rayford ‘Shug’ Futch, worked as a commercial fisherman and raised his family in Gasparilla Village on the north end of the island. Back then, the biggest thrill of the day was going to the IGA store owned by Mr. Cole and buying a piece of penny candy. This was followed by a trip to the icehouse to eat ice, a treat in a place where the homes had no electricity.
Going to the fish house where Mr. Gault always kept a few bushels of oranges usually ended the day. Illicit oranges were the final treat before heading home.
At the height of WWII in 1942, Futch’s father volunteered for the Coast Guard. He was followed into the service by three of his sons. All four came home safe at the end of the war. Freddy Futch had to wait a while, though, since he was too young for military duty. He did his four years during the Korean War, also for the Coast Guard.
Shug Futch dipped his toe into local politics once, but the nickname bestowed by his sister cost him the race. He had to run as Rayford Futch and no one recognized him when they saw the name on the ballot.
Capt. Futch’s mother was Pearl Lowe. Her parents came from the Bahamas. Futch’s grandfather, Thomas Wilson Lowe, ran away from home at 14 and grew up on a ship from Key West. He eventually came ashore on Gasparilla Island. He worked running supplies up and down the west coast of Florida and taking shiploads of mullet to Cuba.
His grandmother was also from the Bahamas. She moved with her family to Key West, where she met Mr. Lowe.
The Lowes were also involved in the construction of the lighthouse. When the original lamp was being moved from the ship that delivered it onto shore it was dropped into the water. Mr. Lowe had to dive in to retrieve it. A second attempt to get it onto dry land was more successful.
Futch’s Grandma Lowe was a fisherwoman herself. Each morning after baking Bahamian “light bread” and cleaning the kitchen, she would take her fishing pole and potato sack out to the water to catch dinner.
Capt. Futch remembered that he would run around like an idiot on the beach, trying to catch fiddler crabs that she used for bait.
In 1956, after college and his tour of duty in Korea, Freddy came back to Gasparilla Island and and began acting as a fishing guide.
Some of his more famous clients included Carol Burnett, General Walter Bedell Smith, Lee Meriwether, and German Chancellor Willy Brandt.
Chancellor Brandt caused quite a stir when he visited the island. The Secret Service came out hours beforehand to inspect Capt. Futch’s boat. There was a machine gunner perched on the roof of the Hotel. And just before he arrived they announced that they would need a second boat.
They went to see the island cop, Capt. Johns Knight. He was happy to let them use the Sheriff’s boat with himself acting as captain. He offered to provide bait for the Secret Service to fish with, but they kindly declined his offer.
They spent a few hours in the Pass, and then headed back into the Harbor. Capt. Futch looked over and saw Capt. Knight breaking out the fishing poles. By then, Chancellor Brandt had caught a 40-pound tarpon, and was very pleased with his efforts.
Just as the Chancellor decided that he was ready to head in for the day, the Secret Service agents hooked a tarpon. Capt. Futch delayed long enough for them to land the fish. It was a 100-pounder.
The party returned to the dock, keeping the larger fish hidden from the Chancellor. After he was photographed with his tarpon, Chancellor Brandt stepped into his limo, leaving behind a cloud of dust as he left the island. Then the Secret Service agents brought their fish to the dock to have pictures taken.
Capt. Futch was full of tales of both his childhood and adulthood on Gasparilla Island. He is now a great-grandfather, and his family is passing on the stories. If you want to know more about the Futch and Lowe families of Gasparilla Island, stop by the Historical Society in the teacherage on 2nd and Park Avenue.
Next week will bring a special History Bytes at the Community Center Auditorium at 9:30 a.m. Dr. Carl Wise will be discussing the 16th Century and the history of the Spanish Empire in Florida. Be sure to mark your calendar for the correct time and place.
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