The U.S. Army reached the ruins of the “Negro Fort” at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River 200 years ago today. It was the first time that Andrew Jackson ever saw the fort that many accuse him of blowing up.
This article is part of our continuing series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire series.
The general had left Alum Bluff on the morning of March 14, 1818 to continue his march down the river (please see Jackson’s army is saved at the Garden of Eden). The army was now supplied with food but not in a sufficient quantity to last for long. More provision shipments were on the way from New Orleans in a small fleet of merchant schooners and sloops, but they had not yet arrived. Jackson decided to move quickly for Prospect Bluff – site of the fort blown up by U.S. forces in 1816 – where he planned to establish a new supply depot.
The route of march on the 14th took the army south from Alum Bluff and across the site of today’s city of Bristol, Florida. After they passed the future site of the county seat for Liberty County, the soldiers caught sight of the sparkling waters of Lake Mystic:
…In the sixth mile the path winds around a beautiful little lake with high open banks. Thence for two miles the land is a little higher and some branches are headed similar to those north of Provision [i.e. Alum] Bluff. Cross a small branch with high open banks in the seventh mile and another similar one half a mile further – a third in the ninth mile with a miry thicket. Thence, the path winds among ponds and thickets of great intricacy – the land getting lower and the declivity towards the gulf becoming very perceptible-three miles of these flats to [Estiffanulga Bluff]. The river is here 250 yards wide. [I]
Jackson camped at Estiffanulga – one of the former bases of the adventurer William Augustus Bowles – on the night of the 14th after having marched around 11.5 miles.
The next day’s march brought the army to Black Creek, which the army called “Big Creek.” This large stream flows around the northern and western edges of today’s community of Sumatra just north of the Franklin-Liberty county line:
…[T]he road enters the palmetto flats and continues in them to the end. Cross a bad branch in the first mile, and an open branch in the fourth, another open branch in the fifth – a thickety and miry branch in the seventh and one of the same character in the eight mile. Thence to the creek, a succession of dry flats and glades checquered by ponds and thickets round which the path is sometimes obliged to make considerable windings. Big Creek is twelve feet wide –steep open sandy banks and sandy bottom. [II]
Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, estimated that the army covered 18 3/4 miles that day (March 15, 1818). It was after the troops made camp in the vicinity of what is now Sumatra, however, that the real action of the day took place. Lt. John Banks of the Georgia militia reported that the warrior captured at Alum Bluff on the night of the 13th suddenly sent the army into panic:
…On Sunday night a little after sunset, as the army was in the attitude of stacking arms, and all was in confusion, the hostile Indian endeavored to make his escape. He was fired on by about fifty of the guards and was killed. Those who were not contiguous to the scene thought the army was attacked by the enemy. It produced the greatest confusion in the ranks. [III]
With such confusion and so many muskets being fired in the dark, it was fortunate that more men were not killed and wounded. The warrior was the first enemy combatant killed by Jackson’s main command during the 1818 campaign.
The army continued its march on the morning of March 16 – 200 years ago today – and reached the site of the Negro Fort at around the midday hour:
On Monday, the 16th, we arrived at the negro fort 69 miles from Fort Scott. This place derived its name from the circumstance of a body of free and runaway negroes, together with some Indians, associating themselves in 1814, built a fort which was soon after blown up to the destruction of nearly all that were in it. Colonel Clinch ascended the bay with some United States troops and succeeded in its destruction by throwing a hot ball in their magazine. A part of the old fort still remained. We found some of their arms and cannon ball lying in the mud. The guns, although they had been exposed to the weather for [two] years, when put in the fire to burn the rust off, would fire. [IV]
The fort had actually been built by the British in 1814 as a supply and training depot during the Gulf Coast Campaign of the War of 1812. They left it in the hands of a company of recently discharged Colonial Marines – most of whom had been enslaved in Spanish Florida before joining the British military – and it was destroyed by a joint land-sea expedition on July 27, 1816.
Long known as Fort Gadsden after the post that Jackson’s army would soon build on the bluff, the site is now part of Prospect Bluff Historic Sites in the Apalachicola National Forest. Please click here to learn about its history. Also watch this free documentary from Two Egg TV to learn the story of the terrible explosion:
This map will help you follow the approximate route taken by Andrew Jackson’s army on March 14-16, 1818. Please note that the end point is shown as “Addie Road” by Google Maps but this is an incorrect label. DO NOT turn onto Addie Road off Brickyard Road, instead continue on Brickyard Road a short additional distance and turn left onto Fort Gadsden Road to reach Prospect Bluff Historic Sites.
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson’s Army, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. 13, No. 3 (Jan., 1935), pp. 139-140.
[III] Lt. John Banks, Diary of John Banks, 1936.