The Padilla Family

Fort Myers, FL News-Press, Sat, May 13, 1972

Exploration of the New World by Spaniards brought traders to the west coast of Florida to barter with the Indians as early as the 17th century. In their wake came men who started fish ranches on the out islands before Florida was opened to American settlers.

More than 100 years ago, Tervio Padilla, a wealthy merchant from the Canary Islands, followed the precedent of early ancestors and, coming to Key West, established a lucrative trade with natives and “ranchos” that extended northward to Charlotte Harbor. In command of one of his many ships he often made port at Cayo Costa at the entrance to the harbor. Completely enchanted by the tropical island, he eventually decided to headquarter there.

Married to a Spanish beauty, Juanita Perez, he fathered six children, two of whom had died, and sad associations contributed to his desire for a change of locale. After their first-born, Tony and Sophie, the Padilla’s next child Rosa, did not survive infancy and in remembrance they named a following baby for her. When death also claimed the fifth child, Tervio, to revere his memory they bestowed that name on the son born in 1881.

Unfamiliar with United States laws, Tervio, did not know he should file a claim and merely appropriated a portion of the island on which he built a home for his family and cabins for skippers of his boats.

Three more children, John, Andrew, and Phalo were born to the Padilla’s and Tervio continued to prosper until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. His fleet burned and scuttle. He was forced to find another means of livelihood and resorted to fishing. Cuban smacks bought all of his catch and fortune was again on the upgrade when the government claimed his land for a quarantine station to check incoming ships for infectious disease. Previously foreign boats came directly into American waters, but new restrictions required them to stand several leagues off shore until certified by health authorities. Because of advancing age, Tervio was disinclined to set up another ranch and moving with his wife further down the island, as before, simply squatted.

The young Padilla’s all being grown up by then, he had sufficient savings to live comfortably. Undisturbed remained on Cayo Costa until after the death of Juanita. No longer content, he went to Clearwater to live out the last of his more than 90 years.

Rosa had married Manuel Almas, a Spanish trader, and made her home in Tampa, as did the eldest of his children. Later Tony and his wife settled on the Pine Island “fill” (Matlacha) where he died at the age of 86. Three of his issue live in Lee County — Walter of Pine Island, Jim Padilla and Exella Dooley of Fort Myers.

After John married he moved to Boca Grande, had five youngsters and at his bequest was returned to the scene of his boyhood for burial. Andrew wed Mary Gomes, daughter of a Portuguese farmer on Pine Island, also went to Boca Grande and reared four sons and four daughters. Sophie, thrice widowed, bore eight children, two of whom, Joe and Jake Darna are residents of Bokeelia.

Phalo remained a bachelor until later life and several years after John’s death married his widow. Now almost 84, he lives with his wife at Englewood and is the last survivor of Juanita and Terivo, the elder.

In 1906, Terivo, “the third,” married 15-year-old Anna Gomes, sister of Andrew’s wife and since he was fishing from Cayo Costa they made their home there. A year later their first baby, Laura, was born and in 1908 another daughter Juanita. In regular succession Anna gave birth to four more children, but all, stricken by childhood diseases, died within the same year.

In 1917 the promise of another baby helped assuage the Padillas’ grief and to avert any tragedy, Terivo took his wife to Big Hickory where she would have the care of a midwife. After the birth of the son, named Jesse, they had two more boys, John and Julius, a girl, Anna Jean, and finally Andrew Lawrence.

For the little Padillas the mainland did not exist. In company with playmates from the dozen or so families then living on the island, the older ones romped over Cayo Costa, swam, fished and in a Robinson Crusoe dream world reconnoitered neighboring islets on rafts and in homemade canoes.

Even getting an education was an adventure. Nearest school was at Punta Blanco, between them and Useppa, and Anna Padilla boated her young and those on adjoining islands to and from classes each day. Arising at dawn she packed tins of hearty fried bacon and egg or peanut butter-jelly sandwiches which she had found would withstand the heat of the long 10 mile zig-zag trip and still be palatable at noon.

Vegetable gardens, fruit, seafood and chickens provided bountiful daily fare and at butchering, Anna salted down crocks of pork and smoked hams and bacon that added zest to her always tasty meals. When the supply boat from Fort Myers put in at the island they enjoyed the special treat of fresh beef.

There was little use for money, but income from the great casks of salted fish that Tervio shipped to various markets cared for any need.

Winters were ideal fun time as summer brought swarms of mosquitoes and sand flies that were sheer torture. Insect powder and smoldering pots of black buttonwood placed near the house safeguarded the interior, but anyone venturing outdoors had to carry rushes of sabal palm to beat off the voracious pests. Violent storms, too often assailed them, but on the highest island in the chain they were never flooded and weathered the gales in their snug dwelling.

Although the Padillas were all accustomed to the onslaught of summer, Tervio and Anna were not impervious to the discomforts and in 1930 transferred fishing operations and family to the fill at Pine Island. Jesse attended high school in Fort Myers and as the younger children were ready for better schooling, for convenience sake, Terivo moved his family to a house in town on Willard Street. From then on he commuted between there and Pine Island until his death in 1948. His wife lived another 17 years that were brightened by the joy of grandchildren,. Four of her surviving children have stayed on in the area, Jesse, Julius, who is a commercial fisherman on Pine Island, Mrs. Anna Jean May and Andrew.

Jesse, caught up in the tide of the depression, left high school after his freshman year and joining the Conservation Corp, went to Alabama. His first trip away from home he was at first lonely, but an affable, handsome boy he soon made friends and was welcomed to get-togethers that were usually evenings of playing the guitar and singing.

It was at one of those gatherings that he met and fell in love with the dainty teenager he acknowledged was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. He and Velma Plylar were married in 1936 and hopeful of making a better living in Florida, Jesse brought his bride back to Pine Island and hired out as a commercial fisherman. Their first child, Virginia (Hayes), was born a year later, then Susie (Roberts) and Roy.

When World War II was declared, Jesse enlisted in the Navy. During the three and a half years in service he finished his high school education and later was sent by the government to Auburn University in Alabama. There he earned a certificate in electronics and was assigned as radio operator on a PBY plane in the South Pacific.

On his return from naval duty, Jesse resumed fishing which was profitable, but after the birth of his last child, Deborah (Walton) branched out on his own. In 1952 foreseeing much potential in an independent company, he organized the Pine Island Fish Co.

Two years ago he incorporated as Pine Island Seafood, installed Ralph Aylesworth as manager and, separating the processing of fresh fish from frozen, established the St. James Fish Co. at Bokeelia.

Confirmed islanders, Jesse and Velma proud grandparents of nine, live in the Crow subdivision at Matlacha. They are joint heads of their company that for them is a combination of business and pleasure. Just being around the water, old sights and sound, is a continual delight to both.

Confirmed islanders, Jesse and Velma proud grandparents of nine, live in the Crow subdivision at Matlacha. They are joint heads of their company that for them is a combination of business and pleasure. Just being around the water, old sights and sound, is a continual delight to both.

“In my estimation,” said Mr. Padilla, “there is no place on earth that can surpass this region. Cayo Costa was so heavenly that I wish I could live my life over again and spend another boyhood in paradise.

Early picture of the Padilla family.

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Credit Museum of the Islands

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