Nearly fifty participants in the Florida Indian Youth Program coordinated by the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs visited Prospect Bluff Historic Sites (British Fort/Fort Gadsden) in the Apalachicola National Forest today (July 13, 2017).
The program is made up of Native American youth who are generally 14-18 years old and allows them to participate in scholastic, cultural and social activities while spending two weeks in a dorm at Florida State University. The Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs says that the purpose of the program is to “increase the probability of high school graduation and and inspire the students to higher academic achievement.”
The participants were joined by U.S. Forest Service personnel and volunteers as well as several enrollees from the Youth Conservation Corps for a tour of the Prospect Bluff site, which encompasses both British Fort National Landmark and Fort Gadsden. The bluff is 20 river miles upstream from Apalachicola, Florida.
The British Fort (also called “Negro Fort”) was built in 1814 as a supply and training depot for British Royal and Colonial Marines. The War of 1812 was then in its final year and Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines was sent to the Gulf Coast ahead of planned British invasions of the southern United States.
Nicolls enrolled more than 300 maroons (escaped slaves) and free blacks into a battalion of Colonial Marines at Prospect Bluff, while also arming thousands of Red Stick Creek, Seminole, Miccosukee, Choctaw and other warriors. This force carried out raids against the Georgia frontier and was also engaged in an unsuccessful attack against Fort Bowyer, a U.S. post at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Some of the chiefs and marines were present at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.
The British evacuated Prospect Bluff at the end of the War of 1812, leaving the fort in the hands of one company of the former Colonial Marines. It was fully equipped with cannon, gunpowder, muskets and other supplies. U.S. officials called it the “Negro Fort” because it was populated by former slaves and sent the U.S. Army and Navy into Spanish Florida to attack and destroy the post.
A cannonball fired from U.S. Gunboat No. 154 struck a pine tree during the battle and ricocheted into the gunpowder magazine. Nearly 300 barrels of gunpowder exploded and the fort was leveled in a blast that could be felt more than 100 miles away. The cannon shot was the deadliest in American history and killed an estimated 270 of the 320 men, women and children inside the fort.
The participants were guided through the ruins of the destroyed fort and the earthworks of the later Fort Gadsden (1818-1821), a U.S. fort built on the site during the First Seminole War.
The tour was guided by Dale Cox, author of the coming book The Fort at Prospect Bluff, which is set for release this fall. It is one of three volumes that he will be releasing this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War (1817-1818). The others are San Marcos de Apalache: History of the fort at St. Marks, Florida and The Battle of Fowltown, Georgia.
The students also had the opportunity to speak with a variety of U.S. Forest Service employees to learn about career opportunities in areas including archaeology and cultural resource management, fire program management, wildlife program management, recreation management and timber management.
For more information, please click here to visit the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs and the National Forests in Florida. You can learn more about the historic forts by visiting Prospect Bluff Historic Sites (Negro Fort/Fort Gadsden) or by enjoying this free documentary: