The U.S. campaign against the fort or post at Prospect Bluff – sometimes called the “Negro Fort” – began 200 years ago today. The expedition ended seventeen days later with the deadliest cannon shot in American history.
The Fort at Prospect Bluff has been called by many names: British Post, Negro Fort, Fort Negro, Fort Blunt, Fort Gadsden, etc. It likely did not have a real name in 1816 as its British builders simply referred to it as the British Post on the Apalachicola or “the Bluff.”
We will explore its history more over coming days, but the fort was built by British forces during the winter of 1814-1815 as a base for operations against Georgia during the closing months of the War of 1812. It served as a supply depot and training post for a battalion of African-American Colonial Marines and thousands of Red Stick Creek and Seminole Indian allies.
When the British evacuated the Apalachicola River during the late spring of 1815, they left the fort in the hands of one company of Colonial Marines for whom there was no room on the transports. The other troops from the battalion were carried to Andros Island in the Bahamas and other places in British territory.
The plan seems to have been for the company to hold the Fort at Prospect Bluff until the British could send more ships to retrieve it, but time passed and the expected transports never came. The black soldiers and their families settled into a routine of life on the lower Apalachicola, planting fields, fishing and hunting for food. They maintained military discipline and raised and lowered the British flag over the fort each day.
The presence of a large colony of free blacks in what was then Spanish Florida alarmed the United States and Major General Edmund P. Gaines ordered U.S. troops to build Fort Scott on the Georgia frontier in anticipation of a campaign to take the Prospect Bluff establishment.
Artillery and other supplies for the new American fort were sent from New Orleans and Pass Christian by way of the Gulf of Mexico to Apalachicola Bay via the merchant ships Semelante and General Pike. Recognizing that any attempt by U.S. vessels to pass Prospect Bluff would likely be met with resistance, General Gaines asked the U.S. Navy to provide an escort of warships. He also ordered Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Lamont Clinch of the 4th U.S. Infantry to be prepared to move to their support with a land force from Fort Scott.
Commodore Daniel T. Patterson agreed with Gaines’ assessment and ordered U.S. Gunboats No. 149 and 154 to escort the supply vessels. Sailing Master Jairus Loomis of Gunboat No. 149 was given command of the expedition, with Sailing Master James Bassett serving as his second aboard Gunboat No. 154.
The ships reached Apalachicola Bay 200 years ago today on July 10, 1816. Their arrival marked the beginning of the move against Prospect Bluff and the first recorded presence in history of U.S. military forces in Apalachicola Bay.
The Creek chief John Blunt, for whom Blountstown is named, was waiting at the bay when the ships arrived. A former Red Stick, he had fled to Florida at the end of the Creek War of 1813-1814. Blunt allied himself with the British during their tenure at Prospect Bluff, but realized following their departure that the United States was the ascending power in the region. He subsequently made peace with the U.S. and was now serving as a scout and messenger for Lieutenant Colonel Clinch at Fort Scott.
The chief delivered a request from Clinch for the ships to drop anchor in the bay and wait for the army to come down in force to support the planned movement past the bluff. Loomis agreed and Blunt started back upriver to Fort Scott.
Learn more about the beautiful Apalachicola Bay region in the video below: