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This Month in History: Former resident discusses her family's island history

April 16, 2014
By Tim Knox , Pine Island Eagle

The following story was provided to me be a former Pine Island resident Ernestine Foster. She currently resides in Jacksonville, but her heart remains on Pine Island.

With her permission I wish to share this with you:

Pine Island Generations

First Generation

Paternal great-grandfather, Capt. John Smith and Paternal great-grandmother, Ellen Elizabeth Vivas

Pine Island is in my DNA. As a matter of fact, the whole state of Florida is in my blood. Over the years of traveling from Virginia, Carolina and Georgia colonies, my mother's family found its way to Alligator Town (now Lake City), Columbia County, Fla., by 1833. By 1866, my dad's family and their friends, the Gonzales family, had sailed up the Caloosahatchee River, built homes and settled on the grounds of the old fort in Fort Myers.

My paternal, great-grandmother, Ellen Elizabeth Vivas, came to Fort Myers with her brother, Joseph Delores Vivas and bride, Christiana Stirrup Vivas. Of Spanish decent, Ellen was born in the Bahama Islands about 1850. She was about 16 yards old when she arrived from Key West with her brother and the Gonzales family to help settle in Fort Myers. I believe her and Joseph's parents died either in Key West or the Bahamas. And, Joseph had become Ellen's guardian.Their father was born in Spain, their mother in Mexico, and Joseph was born in Mexico. So, I can speculate that their father left Spain, went to Mexico, married and began family in Mexico. Then, they migrated to the Bahama Islands where Ellen was born Oh, how I wish I could find something more about my long-ago Vivas family.

Of Finnish decent, my paternal great-grandfather, Capt. John Smith, was friends with both the Gonzales and Vivas families of Key West and Fort Myers. I believe now, he had become familiar with the southwest coastal islands of Florida. He being a bachelor and on his own, he could have easily investigated the waters and islands of the Gulf of Mexico north of Key West before 1866. He could have been in the Bahamas also.

Capt. John, born about 1839-1840, was 11 years older than Ellen, but, by 1867, they had married, had built a home near Punta Rassa and their first child, John Smith Jr., had been born. In 1868, Frank Smith, their second, made his appearance, then, "Ada" Adelaine, came in 1872. All were born near Punta Rassa. Ellen and Capt. John barely had time to come up for air when in September, 1873, a high-tide hurricane hit and demolished their home near Punta Rassa! How, they all survive, I do not know? But, they were survivors and pioneers, they did what island pioneers do they moved to higher, more protected, safer ground. Saint James was chosen, and in May of 1874, my paternal grandmother was born there on Pine Island.

As far as I know, she is the first-born pioneer of Pine Island, Fla.

Following Lena, Minnie Smith was born in 1876, James Lawrence born in 1881 and Nellie born in 1893, all born at Saint James. This completed the Ellen E. Vivas and Capt. John Smith family. They lived the rest of their lives on their island, raised their kids, suffered more dreaded hurricanes, made their living fishing and raising fruit and introduced others to the island.

Capt. John passed away May 29, 1911, and his wife, Ellen, passed away about 20 days later on June 18, 1911. Their children buried them at the old Fort Myers Cemetery on Michigan Street in Fort Myers. Pine Island had lost the first generation. They both loved that island of pines.

You will be hearing more from Ernestine Foster in following months as she continues to share stories and photos of the history of her family on Pine Island.


For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.

The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.

Tim Knox is museum historian at the Museum of the Islands.



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