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"No, I don't think about going home," Jones told me during a telephone call a few weeks before he died. He lived his last days in Miami with the family of a woman he came to call his wife. "Yes, yes, I remember you well," he had chuckled when I'd introduced myself on the phone. "I remember all that. I remember you as well as Nixon, so you must have some qualities."
That's a high compliment -- not the Nixon comparison, but to be told by a man of quality that I have "qualities."
I had periodically checked in, as did many of Jones' other friends in Miami, mostly people whose families' roots go much deeper in Miami than the topsoil of Cuban immigration and the various strata of Yankees seeking paradise, to a time before Miami was the Magic City -- it was just a sleepy corner of a tropical heaven.
Jones' admirers have now placed a marker on the foundations of his old family home on Porgy Key. I'm glad he'll be remembered, but sad that when other boys go adventuring on Biscayne Bay, they won't find his quiet wisdom waiting for them.
Jones' birth date is a little uncertain. 1899 is the best guess, although Coconut Grove lawyer James Woodard, one of Jones' closest friends, says one birth certificate shows 1898.
Israel Lafayette "Parson" Jones, had purchased 277 acres on Porgy and surrounding keys in 1897 and built a solid two-story rock house. On a Christmas Eve, Parson Jones was taking his pregnant wife to Miami when a baby boy arrived early, born on the waves of the bay that would become his life. Parson Jones was enamored of the Arthurian legends and had named his first son King Arthur. Naturally, the second son would be Sir Lancelot.
Jones' family was one of several African-American clans that lived on the islands in the early years of the century -- there were enough to even have a school. Lime growing, lobster fishing and sponge harvesting were the underpinnings of a thriving economy until the 1926 superhurricane blew apart the community.
King Arthur (who died in 1968) and Sir Lancelot became bonefish guides. Across Caesar Creek from their home was an infamous resort and casino called the Coco Lobo Club. Originally built by Miami Beach pioneer Carl Fisher, it eventually was owned by Richard Nixon's pal Bebe Rebozo. The club supplied steady business for Jones and among his fishing clients over the years were four men who lived in the White House -- Nixon, LBJ, Herbert Hoover and Warren G. Harding.
Florida's longtime U.S. senator, George Smathers, also was a frequent Coco Lobo guest in the 1950s and 1960s. "Lancelot knew a lot, he was very wise about many things," Smathers told me. Smathers treasures a late 1950s photo of Rebozo's boat, The Coco Lobo -- crewed by a squad of young U.S. senators, including Talmadge, John Kennedy and LBJ, and skippered by Sir Lancelot.
Caesar Creek got its name from a real pirate of the early 1800s called Black Caesar, who hid in the cut until ships sailed by, and then attacked. As much as $65 million in Black Caesar's loot has long been rumored to have been buried in the area. I once found two old silver pieces of eight at a Homestead antique store. The owner said Jones brought them in; he strongly denied finding anything more than an occasional coin or trinket.
Jones, in his way, battled latter day pirates with indefatigable stubbornness. Developers repeatedly tried to buy the islands. A city called Islandia was even incorporated to spur building. One billionaire, D.K. Ludwig, in the 1960s planned to pillage Biscayne Bay with an oil refinery and causeway to Elliott Key. He was stopped -- barely -- in part because Jones wouldn't give up his corner of paradise. Later, the drug buccaneers flocked to the islands, and gave Jones his greatest scares. "Those were bad people, and they always thought I had treasure, but I didn't," he told me. In my last conversation with him, he conceded he might have found "a little."
Eventually, the federal government paid Jones $1.2 million for his land, which became Biscayne National Park, but allowed him to live on the islands for as long as he wanted. A propane explosion in 1982 wrecked most of Jones' house, but he resided in rustic splendor in a cabin built for him by sailors, like me, who loved the old man and his islands.
By the time Andrew hit, the permanent population of the park, other than rangers, had declined to two. The other resident, an elderly woman pioneer of south Florida, died the year before Sir Lancelot Jones.
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