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What is a Key West Conch?

When people speak of the Key West Conch, they may be referring to the large sea snail that lives in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico surrounding the Florida Keys. But most often the term refers to Key West natives—the first settlers and the long-time residents of Key West.

conch shellAmericans loyal to the British crown after the war, Tories, were not very popular, so they fled the southern states to the next British colony, the Bahamas. Unfortunately, the British Parliament started taxing the Bahamians on their food just like they taxed Bostonians on their tea. The Bahamians said they'd rather eat conch than pay taxes and that is just what they did. They came up with 27 different ways to eat this animal.

Throughout the years, many came to know and use the term Conch to describe the locals, and those who made the island their home were proud to be nicknamed Key West Conchs.

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"To this day if you are born in Key West you are a conch.
If you are born elsewhere but live here seven years you become a fresh water conch."
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people at conch republic dayThe story continues when in April of 1982, the city of Key West declared itself the Conch Republic. This historic event was an act of protest against the United States Border Patrol when a blockade was set-up on US Highway 1, just north of the entrance into the Florida Keys. Visitors and residents alike were stopped, asked for identification and forced to prove their American citizenship. An uproar ensued—how could the United States shut-off the only land route into the Keys? Key West tourism suffered and as such the economy in the Keys began to decline.

conch republic logoKey West Mayor Dennis Wardlow and several determined Key Conchs went to Federal court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the federal blockade. When their plea was denied, the Mayor told TV reporters that the following day the Florida Keys would secede from the Union. The next day, as promised, Mayor Wardlow stood in Mallory Square and led the Conch Republic Rebellion which lasted approximately one minute and was followed by a surrender to the US Navy Admiral in Key West.

Although these events took place many years ago, the name Conch Republic stuck and those who live in the Florida Keys officially hold dual citizenship—they are American Citizens and Conchs!

couple eating conch frittersToday, visitors to Key West are likely to meet an assortment of interesting Conchs out and around town - and if you’re in the mood for even more adventures, stop by a local watering hole for a refreshing cocktail and a smoldering bowl of authentic Key West Conch chowder. And don't miss the best conch fritters which you can find at Mallory Square.

Other Fun Key West Facts
To this day if you are born in Key West you are a conch. If you are born elsewhere but live here seven years you become a fresh water conch.
Conchs who live in the waters surrounding the Florida Keys are an endangered and protected species. The conchs we consume come from The Bahamas.
key west red hatOur Key West High School teams are the “Fighting Conchs”, our girls' drill team the “Conchettes” and our sidewalks are... "conchcrete"! If you have ever tried to remove a conch from its shell, you understand the name. – Fighting Conchs.
In Key West when a baby is born, a conch shell is placed on a stick outside. If it is point end up, it is a boy. If it is open end up, it is a girl.
The conch is really a sea animal in a large shell – something like a giant snail. The meat is edible and used to make conch fritters, conch salad, and conch chowder.
The foods we call island cuisine are actually Bahamian in origin. Foods like conch chowder, conch fritters, conch steaks and conch salad. Even the nickname conch comes from early settlers.
A conch (pronounced in the U.S.A. as "konk" or "conch" is one of a number of different species of medium-sized to large saltwater snails or their shells. "True conchs" are marine gastropod mollusks in the family Strombidae, and the genus Strombus.
The name "conch" is often quite loosely applied in English-speaking countries to several kinds of very large sea snail shells which are pointed at both ends, i.e. shells which have a high spire and a noticeable siphonal canal. These other species include the crown conch Melongena species; the horse conch Pleuroploca gigantea; and the chank shell, Turbinella species. None of these are true conchs; they are all in other taxonomic families.
It is spelled CONCH...but its pronounced "konk" a "konk" on the noggin. It is a member of the mollusk family. And that's how we acquired the nickname “conchs”.
Conch, name for some tropical, marine gastropods having heavy, spiral shells, the whorls of which overlap each other. The typical gastropod foot is reduced in size and the horny plate (operculum) located at the end of the foot has the appearance and function of a claw. Their shells range in color from white to red. Conchs are a valuable food source.
Conch, island and coast dwellers are called "conch" to distinguish them from "crackers" who settle on farms in the interior. The "conchs" know the sea and live by it and love it and are seldom content to live in inland localities. (William C. Harllee)
If you have a fish tank, you should never put live conch shells inside the tank. Live conchs will kill and eat everything.
William Golding's, Lord of the Flies features frequent references to "The Conch". In the book the conch is used to call everyone together and held by whoever is speaking at meetings, symbolically representing democracy and order. When the tyrannical Jack (antagonist of the book) smashes the conch to pieces, it is a sign that civilized order has collapsed and Jack's domination has begun.
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