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The Destruction of Negro Fort Part 5

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At 5 A.M. on the morning of July 17th, 1816, Sailing Master Jairus Loomis manned a boat with five men, and armed them with a swivel gun and muskets. The ships had patiently waited a week at Apalachicola Bay for word to proceed up river, or assistance from Lt. Col. Duncan Clinch, and were running out of drinking water. In charge of the boat was Midshipman Luffborough, who had just turned in his resignation of enlistment as soon as the cruise had ended, but had volunteered to take the boat out.

At 11 A.M., Sail Master Bassett of Gun Boat 154 found the body of John Burgess, floating at the mouth of the river, who had been shot through the heart. Burgess was one of the crew with Luffborough’s boat. At 4 P.M., they discovered a man on a sand bar, John Lopaz; the only survivor of the Luffborough’s crew.

Below: Interpretive sign at the boat launch at the river at the end of Bloody Bluff Road, which briefly tells about this incident. (Spoilers alert!)

John Lopaz told what had happened. On entering the river, they saw a black man on the shore by a cultivated area. Luffborough ordered the boat to go over and talk with the man to see if there was a source of drinking water nearby. As soon as they touched shore, a volley of muskets fired upon them from Indians and Blacks that had been concealed. Mr. Luffborough, Robert Maitland, and John Burgess were killed instantly. Lopaz escaped by swimming away. The other seaman, Edward Daniels, was captured and carried off; later it was learned that he was tarred and burned alive. Lopaz estimated that forty Indians and Blacks were involved in the ambush.

Below: From the docks at the city of Apalachicola, you can see that the mouth of the river today is all marsh and cat tails. Lopaz might be referring to the area after pinhook curve just up the river, where there are trees and heavier foliage and cover.

On the 20th, Loomis received a canoe of five Indians with dispatches from Lt. Col. Duncan Clinch, saying that he had arrived a mile above the fort, and requested that Loomis ascend the river and join him with the gun vessels. Odd that Clinch would think that Loomis could easily do that without opposition from the fort!

Clinch further informed Loomis that he had captured one of the enemy with a scalp of Luffborough’s party.

Below: Looking down river from the boat landing at Bloody Bluff Road.

On the 22nd of July, Loomis heard heavy cannon fire from the direction of the fort. (So they hear cannons firing 20-25 miles away, but didn’t hear a volley of muskets firing on Luffborough’s men only a couple miles away?)

On the 23rd, Loomis again received another message from Clinch, this time as a verbal message from one white man and two Indians who arrived by canoe, asking him to again ascend the river to join him. Loomis distrusted this form of communication, felt that it was unwise, since he expected that there were many bends and bluffs in the river that would leave him exposed to musket fire, which he could not defend himself against. He suspected it a trap, and retained two of the men, and told one of the Indians to return to Clinch and tell him that the only orders he would receive, had to be in writing from one of Clinch’s officers.

I can only imagine that by this time, Loomis has gotten impatient with Clinch after waiting in the bay for two weeks, and Clinch making suggestions showing his inexperience.

This campaign was the first time that Clinch was in command of a real battle situation during his military career. He had gone through the War of 1812 without any major combat. Now Clinch is in charge and making some obvious blunders, and it really shows. As an infantry officer he cannot think outside the tactics of an infantry soldier. He does not have enough men or weapons to do any harm to the fort, and is asking his naval commander to put himself in harm’s way under the guns of the fort, in a maneuver that obviously shows that Clinch is unfamiliar with the ship’s abilities and naval tactics.

On the 25th, after sailing upriver about twenty miles to Dueling Bluff, four miles below the fort, Loomis meets with Lt. Col. Clinch himself.

Below: Boat launch from Bloody Bluff Road, what I believe was called Dueling Bluff. From the distance given of four miles below the fort, this would have been where Loomis finally met with Clinch face to face, where they made their final preparations to attack the fort.

Today, if you go down highway 65 to visit Fort Gadsden, a few miles south of the forest road that turns off to the fort, you will find another dirt road heading west off the highway known as Bloody Bluff Road. Follow this road all the way down to the river, and there is a boat launch with an interpretive sign, which I have a photo of at the top of this page. In the springtime, the river floods, and it may be impossible to follow the road all the way down. When I visited in March 2016, it was only a day or two since the flood waters subsided and the road was finally passable.

Below: Forestry kiosk at the turn-off from highway 65 at Bloody Bluff Road. It is very nice, but someone has shot some low caliber bullets through the display! (I am finding that a common occurrence in forestry kiosks, unfortunately.)

I do not believe this is the actual location of where the ambush happened, but another site that was already known as Dueling Bluff. The names of Dueling Bluff, and Bloody Bluff, all show up on early maps. Lopaz says in the naval report, “on entering the river, they discovered a negro on the beach, near a plantation that Mr. Luffborough ordered the boat to be pulled directly for him; that on touching the shore he spoke to the negro and directly received a volley of musketry from two divisions of negroes and Indians who lay concealed in the bushes on the margin of the river.” This places the ambush spot down near the mouth of the river from the description.

Sailing Master Loomis says, “On the 25th, I arrived with the convoy at Duelling Bluff, about four miles below the fort, where I was met by colonel Clinch.” That is exactly where the boat launch is today at the end of Bloody Bluff Road.

I have found one map that marks Dueling Bluff, and a later map by John Forbes in 1821 that marks a non-descript area as Bloody Bluff. The ambush itself was never called Bloody Bluff until modern times. I find it interesting that it is called Dueling Bluff by Loomis before the area was US territory. I would like to know the story behind that!

And of course, the sailors who were ambushed were alive no more than a couple hours once they left the gun vessel. There was no way they could have rowed or sailed approximately 20 miles upriver to where Dueling Bluff / Bloody Bluff Road is today in that short time before getting killed. So I am pretty sure that happened down river. But you wonder how Dueling Bluff got its name, and how did Loomis know to call it that in 1816?

Taken from:

The Army & Navy Chronicle, Vol. 2, No. 8, Page 114-116, Feb. 25, 1836

Navy Doc. # 119, Letter from the Secretary of the Navy, Transmitting, in Obedience to a Resolution of the House of Representatives, of the 26th Ult, sundry Documents relating to the Destruction of the Negro Fort in East Florida, in the Month of July, 1816. February 1, 1819. Washington, 1819.
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