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Destruction of Negro Fort in 1816

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It took me a few days to write this up, and thunderstorms in the afternoon have kept me off the computer to write it up. Also, I have been looking for some good images of the history and site, and there is not much available.

191 years ago, on July 27, 1816, was one of the worst events in the history of the Seminole Wars. The quick and total destruction of Negro Fort on the Apalachicola River.

Native American Tribes were a lot different 200 years ago then they are today. There was no such thing as a blood quota for membership, and people from outside the tribe were regularly accepted into the tribe. Among those accepted into the tribes were many freed and escape slaves.

I found this print (below) in the book, "Essential Histories, The War of 1812," by Carl Benn, Osprey Publishing. This print from 1814 shows Black Indians as a part of the Native population in the Mississippi region in 1814. Also note the warrior with the musket wearing a British military coat and peace medals.

Both the Spanish and British allowed Freed slaves to establish communities in Florida, and many of them joined with the Seminoles. These people became the Black Seminoles. Abraham was a former slave from the Pensacola area who became the most famous among them. So there was a large black population allied with the Seminoles, that caused much concern among the slave states in the southern United States.

During the War of 1812, the British impressed into the army almost all the black slaves around Pensacola for the New Orleans campaign. These former slaves were trained in military arms dills. After the failure at Chalmette Battlefield in New Orleans, Royal Marine Col. Nicholls stockpiled arms on the Apalachicola River and created Negro Fort, located at Prospect Bluff on a strategic part of the river.

Well the Natives were not too happy with the Americans for taking their land in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The Panton-Leslie Trading Company had sided with the Americans on the treaty, and was due to benefit at the expense of the Native people. Unfortunately for the Natives, they had grown dependent on the Indian Trading companies who provided them goods and services and purchased their pelts. Now the prices had gone up, the goods had stopped, the land was being taken away because of debt to the trading company, and the Natives were losing their economic livelihood that they had come to rely upon. Not only their economic livelihood, but also being pushed out of their homeland. These are some of the factors that led to the Creek War of 1813-14 and the First Seminole War. Add on top of that Black Indians who were under the same pressures, plus the possibility that they would be captured and taken in as slaves.

Negro Fort became a community of escaped slaves and Black Indians, who were affiliated with Creeks, Choctaw, or Seminoles. The leader at the fort was known by the French name of Garcon. The people gathered around what was known as Negro Fort certainly had no love for the Americans, and were incited by British support. The Americans felt they had a right to travel up the Apalachicola River to southern Georgia and that nothing should impede this river traffic. But, the people in Negro Fort would fire at American ships coming up the river.

The Spanish could do nothing, because Spain had become powerless from the Napoleonic wars in Europe. Florida had become a Spanish territory where Spain had little to no influence outside of Pensacola and St. Augustine. No soldiers or support would come from Spain, and there were not even enough Spanish soldiers in Florida to protect their own interests. So General Andrew Jackson, head of the military district in the south, gave orders to his second-in-command General Edmund Gaines to do something about Negro Fort.

(Below) Jackson about 1815, from Florida Archives.

Gaines had Colonel Duncan Clinch put in effect a plan to destroy the fort. Clinch would march down from Fort Scott from Georgia with a large force of allied Creeks with him. At the same time, naval gun ships would come up the river and provide artillery support for the soldiers.

The plan to take Negro Fort was accomplished faster than anyone had anticipated, including the soldiers. A red-hot cannon shot fired from one of the naval vessels hit the fort powder magazine, blowing everything sky-high and instantly killing most of the people inside the fort. The blast was so powerful that it was heard in Pensacola, over 150 miles away. A grotesque scene greeted the soldiers and Creek allies who came upon the fort and found body parts scattered everywhere.

Photo below of the fort's destruction from the website of the Apalachicola National Forest.

The next year during the First Seminole War, Jackson had Fort Gadsden built on the same location, and the Americans occupied it as a military post until Florida became United States territory.

The site of Fort Gadsden at one time was a state park, but about 15 years ago the state turned it over to the Apalachicola National Forest. I visited it around 1993, but did not stay long. The place still has a sad or eerie feeling about it.

Image below from the Florida Archives, of both Negro Fort and Fort Gadsden.

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