Merritt Island?

By Jean Snyder

Merritt? Merritt’s? Marrot’s? Mantes? Stoney Point?  PLEASE, somebody tell me where I live!  And do I live on it or in it?

It sits smack dab in the middle of Brevard County between the Indian and Banana Rivers, looking for all the world like the X-ray your dentist shows you of your bad tooth. On the north end, where it’s some seven miles wide, stand the enormous buildings and the heavy launch pads of the Kennedy Space Center, firmly anchoring the island in the swamp. “Oh, I see”, said the salesgirl as I tried to explain where the books I ordered were to be sent, “the rockets go up and the island goes down!”

Further south the island divides into two roots, making it about forty miles from the north end to the southern tip of the longest root. Two waterways divide the island into quarters, more or less. The manmade barge canal crosses from east to west, and Sykes Creek and Newfound Harbour cut through from north to south.

The island’s southernmost tip, near the Eau Gallie Causeway, boasts a real guardian dragon. A mother dragon called Hope sits on her nest of four little dragonlets named Joy, Charity, Sunshine, and Freedom all watching out for the approach of enemies or whatever.
The dragon, hollow inside, has been repaired and enlarged over the years and has served as a children’s playroom and the site of parties, receptions, and charity fund raisers. Alas, her creator passed away in 1993, and Hope and her brood are falling into disrepair for lack of his attention.

If these names seem odd for dragons, the stories about how the island itself got its name are worse than confusing. Although it was recorded as Merritt’s Island as long ago as the early 1800s, it has been referred to by several other names. Stoney Point or Ysla de Punta de Piedra seems to be one of the earliest names. In an 1803 reference John H. McIntosh petitioned Gov. White of East Florida for land on an island in the River de Ais (Indian River) known as Stoney Point or Marrot’s Island for his family and slaves numbering 250 plus five white men, two of them with their families. He probably worked this land until 1812 when he moved to Georgia. He later returned to Florida, and on December 2, 1817 J. F. Clarke certified he had surveyed all of Marrot’s island for Mr. McIntosh.
In 1839 John Lee Williams wrote that a Mr. Merritt had begun a plantation on the island several years earlier and “some of his fruit trees” remain. Another reference says that the island was granted to a “Captain Merritt of Seminole War fame”.

Some names, such as Mantes, Mants, and Mantas, are clearly the result of misread handwriting.

The most popular versions are that the island got its name from Capt. Pedro Marratt, a surveyor for the Spanish government or the Mr. Merritt who planted the fruit trees.

A large part of the confusion results from the fact that as the Florida territory changed hands between England and Spain, residents changed their names and religions in order to remain on their lands. Also, after the American Revolution, a large section of Florida was given to a Frenchman named Murat! And what does that sound like to you?

Meanwhile, the island continues to grow and prosper. As late as 1869 there were only about half a dozen settlers, according to John M. Hawks. What happened to Mr. McIntosh and his companions wasn’t explained, but they would probably have been astonished, appalled, or frightened to death to see our housing developments, canals, business, supermarkets, four-lane roads (soon to be six), polluted waterways, and air conditioned mall.

Now, back to the first question: Is it correct to say “I live on Merritt Island” (as “I live on Oahu”) or “I live in Merritt Island” (as “I live in Cocoa”)?

Bibliography: Dodd, Dorothy, “Merritt Island”, an unpublished paper in the P.K. Young Library, Gainesville, FL, undated.
“Dragon Point” compiled by Jaye Wright, Florida Today, April 9, 2000, p. 6B.
Florida Today, April 27, 1986, p. 17 H.
Lee, Gloria, “What’s in a name? Brevard Cities and how they got their names”, Merritt Island News, undated typescript.
Polk’s City Directory : Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, Rockledge, R. L. Polk Co., 1993. Shofer, Jerrell H.,
History of Brevard County, vol. 1., Stuart. FL: Brevard Co. Hist. Commission, c1995.
Today, November 1, 1973, p. 6F.

From Travelers In Time, Volume 13, Issue 3
Copyright 2000, Brevard Genealogical Society