The long range of bluffs that extends down the east side of the Apalachicola River is one of Florida’s most unique geological features. From the high elevations of Chattahoochee, Aspalaga, Rock and Alum Bluffs on the upper half of the river, the landmarks diminish in height as the continue southward.
Prospect Bluff in the Apalachicola National Forest, for example, is barely high enough to stay dry during normal river floods. Four miles below and separated from it by extensive swamps is Bloody Bluff. Of all of the bluffs along the river, this one has a name that is without doubt the most ominous.
Bloody Bluff is located roughly 16 miles up river from Apalachicola Bay and the City of Apalachicola. It is the site of a boat landing and small campground maintained by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and is part of the Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area. The adjacent Bloody Bluff Cemetery contains the remains of residents who settled there during the timber and naval stores days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The mystery of how Bloody Bluff got its macabre name remains unsolved. Some have speculated that it may have been the site of an 1816 attack on sailors from the U.S. Navy. The incident was a preliminary battle to the siege of the Fort at Prospect Bluff (often called the “Negro Fort” or Fort Gadsden). Prospect Bluff is four miles upstream from Bloody Bluff.
It is extremely unlikely, however, that the Watering Party Attack took place at Bloody Bluff. The action developed when a small party of sailors under Midshipman Alexander W. Luffborough left U.S. Gunboat #149 in Apalachicola Bay and entered the mouth of the river to obtain fresh water. The boat was attacked by a force that included around 40 former British Colonial Marines and Choctaw warriors. Luffborough and two of his men were killed on the spot. A fourth man, Edward Daniels, was captured alive but later tortured and burned to death at Prospect Bluff. The fifth member of the party, John Lopaz (or Lopez), escaped.
Lopaz (or Lopez) said that the attack took place “on entering the river.” Other reports indicate that the one of the casualties was brought back to Gunboat #149 wihin six hours of hours of Luffborough’s departure from that vessel. It would have been impossible for a heavy wooden boat being propelled by oars to have made it all the way up to Bloody Bluff and back down to the bay in the time available.
It also would not have made sense for the sailors to paddle upstream as far as Bloody Bluff simply to obtain fresh water. It could be found much closer to the bay.
If the bluff was not the scene of the Watering Party Attack then how did it gain its unusual name?
A possible answer can be found in the records of the U.S. expedition against the Fort at Prospect Bluff. Sailing Master Jairus Loomis, who commanded the U.S. Navy gunboats during he campaign, reported that he brought his flotilla up the Apalachicola River to “Duelling Bluff” on July 25, 1816. It was there that he met with Lt. Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch of the U.S. Army to plan tactics for their attack.
Clinch, in turn, reported that he met with Loomis at a bluff that was “four miles below” the fort. It is obvious from their accounts that the Duelling Bluff described by Loomis and the unnamed bluff mentioned by Clinch were identical with the low elevation known today as Bloody Bluff.
Dueling spots, for which purpose Bloody Bluff seems to have originally served, were carefully selected to avoid legal entanglements. Since Bloody Bluff is upstream from the highest tidal effect on the Apalachicola River, it would have been beyond the jurisdiction of Spanish law. Spain’s treaty with the Creek and Seminole Indians allowed Spanish authority only as far as the tides influence rivers and streams.
The use of Bloody Bluff as a place for conducting “affairs of honor” would definitely explain why it was considered to be a bloody place. The memory of duels in the distant past, then, probably accounts for the name of the bluff today.
To visit Bloody Bluff Landing, use the map below. To learn more about the Fort at Prospect Bluff and Bloody Bluff’s role in its destruction, scroll down the page to watch the free documentary from Two Egg TV.