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Key West Honors Two Of Its Own: Its First African-American Postmaster And A Talented Musician

Nancy Klingener
Father John Baker blesses the new gravestone of Nelson English at the Key West Cemetery.

Key West is known for celebrating its history. But until recently, the graves of two of the island's most influential African-American citizens were unmarked.

Credit Florida Memory / State Archives of Florida
State Archives of Florida
Nelson English was named postmaster in Key West in 1882.

Now that's been rectified by the efforts of the city — which runs the cemetery — and the Historic Florida Keys Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for restoration from cemetery tours.

On Wednesday, Father John Baker from St. Mary Star of the Sea Basilica blessed the new gravestones for Nelson English and Ellen Welters Sanchez.

They lived mostly in different centuries, but were connected by the same community, and by music.

English served as the island's first African-American postmaster, appointed in 1882. 

He was also a musician and founder of one of the island's most prominent groups, the Welters Cornet Band. The other leader was Frank Welters.

Welters' daughter, Ellen Welters Sanchez, was also a talented musician who taught generations of island kids in kindergarten and music classes. And as a young woman in the early 20th century, she wrote a song that was a local sheet music hit: "The Beautiful Isle of Key West."

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
Ellen Welters Sanchez is remembered as a dedicated teacher — and as the composer of the song 'The Beautiful Isle of Key West.'

"It's important to acknowledge the people who are in these graves because they were remarkable human beings, who had an influence on the lives of the people of Key West" Baker said. "But also it's remarkable and important because it tells a story of Key West."

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.