If the name James Joiner does not ring a bell, it should not be a surprise. It is entirely possible that Capt. “Cappy” Joiner might take a few moments and a tap on the shoulder to answer to that name, and it is the one he was born with.
View More images >>His father was Captain Joiner, and the three-year-old Little Captain soon became Cappy. The Joiner family came to Florida in the 1700s, from the small island of Minorca off the coast of Spain. Originally indentured to work for 10 years on a St. Augustine rubber plantation, it took the intervention of a Spanish priest to free the family and hundreds of others after 16 years of what was essentially slavery.
But those were the lucky immigrants. Of the group of 1500 that began the trek in Europe, only 900 stepped ashore in the Americas. The priest helped those who he freed to move to New Smyrna, where the family lost their original surname and gained a new one. It is believed that the Joiner name came from the old family profession of carpentry.
In fact, two of Cappy’s uncles were carpenters who had excellent reputations. The family eventually made their way to Gasparilla Island and began fishing in local waters. His mother was a member of the Padilla family. See this space next week for the story of the Padillas, who came to Cayo Costa in the 1870s. Cappy grew up in Gasparilla Village, the small fishing hamlet on the north end of the island. He spent his childhood in school or on the water.
When he came home from school each day, he would change into his fishing clothes, grab his fishing pole, and head out to the trestle. Only part of the village had electricity, and the house that Cappy was born in was not one of the houses that were hooked up to the diesel generator in Gault’s ice house. The houses in the village also did not have running water or indoor plumbing. One of Cappy’s memories of childhood is Saturday washday.
The women of the family would put on a pot of beans, something that could be left to simmer all day. Cappy ran the hand pump at the well, and a fire was built to boil the wash water and lye mixture in the pots. “The Cleanest Stick on the Island” was used to agitate the fishers’ clothes in the lye mixture. Eventually the family would get a motorized washing machine, and when the Gault family moved to Placida after the bridge was built, the Joiners moved into their empty house, and for the first time had electricity.
Cappy attempted a short-lived career as a cattle baron. He bought a piece of land on the mainland, got a few cows and started ranching. Within three months he told his wife that the experiment was a bust and he was back out on the water. While local archives say that the last of the Gasparilla Village was abandoned in 1945, Cappy’s grandmother Effie was still in the last house there in 1958. That year, after the death of her husband Samuel, she had Sam Whidden move the house to Tarpon Street where she lived until her peaceful death in 1996, just before her 96th birthday. She had seven children in all, six sons and a daughter.
Three of her sons continued the fishing tradition, including Cappy’s father. One of Cappy’s uncles joined the Merchant Marine and eventually retired from Boston Electric in Massachusetts. Another became a preacher in Graceful, Florida. The last, who was only a year older than Cappy, worked for the Fire Department in Delray Beach. According to Cappy, when he first went out on the water with his father there were few rules and no enforcement. It was possible to go an entire day without seeing another boater.
These days there are more than 1 million boats in Florida year-round, with another 300,000 coming into the water here during the winter. The times, they are a changin’. If you want to learn more about the fishing families of Gasparilla Island, or about the settlements that have existed on the island, the Historical Society has published two books, “One Island, Three Hometowns” discusses Gasparilla Village, Boca Grande, and Port Boca Grande, the three towns of Gasparilla Island. “Fisherfolk” tell the stories of fishing families from around Charlotte Harbor. Both books include interviews with the people who lived the history, and can be purchased at the Historical Society Museum.
Next week, Milton Bell and Jackie Sullivan will hold forth with the tales of the sprawling Padilla family. The Historical Society is also hosting a Florida Art Hall of Fame inductee Christopher Still, who tells the story of Florida’s history in his artwork. The artist will be speaking on Monday, March 19 at the Community Center Auditorium at 4 p.m.
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