Negro Fort was a fort built by the British in 1814, during the War of
1812, on the Apalachicola River, in a remote part of Spanish Florida.
It is part of the Prospect Bluff Historic Sites, in the Apalachicola
National Forest, Franklin County, Florida.
Although the fort was called
Negro Fort only after the British left in
1815, it was built by blacks and its residents and staff were
primarily blacks (free Negroes or fugitive slaves), together with some
Seminoles, the whole governed by a comparatively small number of
British troops. Also, there were a significant number of maroons
already in the area before the fort was built, and beginning in 1804
there was for several years a store (trading post) there. The blacks,
having worked on plantations, knew how to plant and care for crops,
and also to care for domesticated animals, mostly cattle. The
Seminoles, from a hunter-gatherer culture, were much less interested
in agriculture; the
Red Stick leader
Francis the Prophet despised farm
animals, to the point of slaughtering his own when, about 1813, he
decided to start the breakaway
Red Stick faction of Creeks, resisting
United States influence on their traditional culture, which included
fighting but not domestic animals.
When withdrawing in 1815, the British deliberately left the fully
armed fort in the hands of the blacks – maroons or their
descendants, some of them trained members of the former Colonial
Marines – and their Creek allies. As the British hoped, the fort
became a center of resistance, near the Southern border of the United
States. The site was militarily significant, although without
artillery training, the blacks were ultimately unable to defend
themselves. It is the largest and most famous instance before the
American Civil War
American Civil War in which armed former or fugitive slaves fought
whites who sought to return them to slavery. (A much smaller
predecessor was Fort Mosé, near St. Augustine.) The fort was
destroyed in 1816 at the command of General Andrew Jackson. A lucky
cannonball shot landed in the powder magazine and ignited it, blowing
up the fort and killing over 270 people immediately. However, the area
continued to attract escaped slaves until the construction of Fort
Gadsden in 1818.
1 Negro Fort
2 Battle of Negro Fort
4 Memory of
Negro Fort suppressed
5 See also
7 External links
The "Negro Fort" (as it soon came to be called by the U.S. Army)
became widely known, both to slaves and to U.S. defenders of slavery.
It offered a safe refuge to anyone who wished to flee from the United
States, whether escaped slaves, who were safe once they reached
Spanish Florida, or Native Americans. The proslavery press in the
United States expressed outrage.:49 This concern was published in
the Savannah Journal:
It was not to be expected that an establishment so pernicious to the
Southern states, holding out to a part of their population temptations
to insubordination, would have been suffered to exist after the close
of the war [of 1812]. In the course of last winter, several slaves
from this neighborhood fled to that fort; others have lately gone from
Tennessee and the Mississippi Territory. How long shall this evil,
requiring immediate remedy, be permitted to exist?
Escaped slaves came from as far as Virginia.:178 The Apalachicola,
as was true of other rivers of north Florida, was a base for raiders
who attacked Georgia plantations, stealing anything portable and
helping the slaves escape.
To guard this portion of the U.S. border, and to establish a base for
attacks on the Negro Fort, in April 1816 the
U.S. Army decided to
build Fort Scott, on the Flint River, a tributary of the Apalachicola.
Supplying the fort, however, was a problem; to take materials overland
would have required traveling through unsettled wilderness. The
obvious route to supply the Fort was the river. Although technically
this was Spanish territory, Spain had neither the resources nor the
inclination to protect this remote area.
Put differently, the new Fort Scott meant that supplies in or men in
or out went right in front of the Negro Fort. The boats carrying
supplies for the new fort, the Semelante and the General Pike, were
escorted by gunboats sent from Pass Christian. The defenders of the
Fort first fired and killed all but one of a watering party gathering
fresh water, and when the U.S. boats attempted to pass the Fort on
April 27 they were fired upon. This event provided a casus
belli for destroying Negro Fort.
Jackson requested permission to attack, and started preparations. Ten
Andrew Jackson ordered Brigadier General Edmund P. Gaines
at Fort Scott to destroy Negro Fort. The U.S. expedition included
Creek Indians from Coweta, who were induced to join by the promise
that they would get salvage rights to the fort if they helped in its
capture. On July 27, 1816, following a series of
skirmishes, the U.S. forces and their Creek allies launched an all-out
attack under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Clinch, with
support from a naval convoy commanded by Sailing Master Jarius Loomis.
Secretary of State
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams justified the attack and
subsequent seizure of
Spanish Florida by
Andrew Jackson as national
"self-defense", a response to alleged Spanish and British complicity
in fomenting the "Indian and Negro War." Adams even produced a letter
from a Georgia planter complaining about "brigand Negroes" who made
"this neighborhood extremely dangerous to a population like ours."
Southern leaders worried that the
Haitian Revolution or a parcel of
Florida land occupied by a few hundred blacks could threaten the
institution of slavery. According to Historian William Cooper Nell,
the freedmen who occupied the fort "caught the spirit of liberty, --at
that time so prevalent throughout our land" and "they were slain for
adhering to the doctrine that 'all men are endowed by their Creator
with the inalienable right to enjoy life and liberty.'"
On July 20, Clinch and Creek mercenaries left Fort Scott and stopped
at gunhot range of the Negro Fort, but realized that artillery
(gunboats) would be needed.:173
Battle of Negro Fort
Battle of Negro Fort
Battle of Negro Fort was the first major engagement of the
Seminole Wars period and marked the beginning of General Andrew
Jackson's conquest of Florida.
The three commanders of the fort had come with the British general
Nicolls (since departed) from Pensacola. They were: Garçon ("boy"),
30, a carpenter and former slave in Spanish Pensacola, valued at 500
pesos (about 2500 grams of silver, which in 2018 would be about
$275);:181 Prince, 26, a master carpenter valued at 1,500 pesos
($825), who had received wages and an officer's commission from the
British in Pensacola;:157 and Cyrus, 26, also a carpenter, and
literate.:181 (For comparison, an untrained slave fresh off the
boat in 1808 cost about ₤69 or $95, using 2013 values.:20) Prince
may be the military commander of the same name at the head of 90 free
blacks brought from Havana to assist the Spanish defense in St.
Augustine during the Patriot War of 1812.:155
A plaque at the site of
Negro Fort marking the location of the powder
As the U.S. expedition drew near the fort on July 27, 1816, black
militiamen had already been deployed and began skirmishing with the
column before regrouping back at their base. At the same time the
gunboats under Master Loomis moved upriver to a position for a siege
Negro Fort was occupied by about 330 people during the
time of battle. At least 200 were maroons, armed with ten cannons and
dozens of muskets. Some were former Colonial Marines. They were
accompanied by thirty or so
Choctaw warriors under a
chief. The remaining were women and children, the families of the
Before beginning an engagement General Gaines first requested a
surrender. Garçon, the leader of the fort, a former Colonial Marine,
refused. Garçon told Gaines that he had orders from the British
military to hold the post and at the same time raised the Union Jack
and a red flag to symbolize that no quarter would be given. The
Americans considered the
Negro Fort to be heavily defended; after they
formed positions around one side of the post, the Navy gunboats were
ordered to start the bombardment. Then the defenders opened fire with
their cannons, but they had not been trained by the British to handle
artillery, and thus were not effective.[dead link]
It was daytime when Master Jarius Loomis ordered his gunners to open
fire. After five to nine rounds were fired to check the range, the
first round of hot shot cannonball, fired by Navy
Gunboat No. 154,
entered the Fort's powder magazine. It has been called "the single
deadliest cannon shot in American history." The ensuing explosion
was massive, and destroyed the entire Fort. All but 60 of the 334
occupants of the Fort were instantly killed, and others died of their
wounds shortly after, including many women and children. The
explosion was heard more than 100 miles (160 km) away in
Pensacola. Just afterward, the U.S. troops and the Creeks charged
and captured the surviving defenders. Only three escaped injury; two
of the three, an Indian and a Negro, were executed at Jackson's
orders. General Gaines later reported that
The explosion was awful and the scene horrible beyond description. You
cannot conceive, nor I describe the horrors of the scene. In an
instant lifeless bodies were stretched upon the plain, buried in sand
or rubbish, or suspended from the tops of the surrounding pines. Here
lay an innocent babe, there a helpless mother; on the one side a
sturdy warrior, on the other a bleeding squaw. Piles of bodies, large
heaps of sand, broken glass, accoutrements, etc., covered the site of
the fort... Our first care, on arriving at the scene of the
destruction, was to rescue and relieve [kill] the unfortunate beings
who survived the explosion.:173, 172
Garçon, the freedman commander, and the
Choctaw chief, among the few
who survived, were handed over to the Creeks, who shot Garçon and
scalped the chief. African-American survivors were returned to
slavery. There were no white casualties.
The Creek salvaged 2,500 muskets, 50 carbines, 400 pistols, and 500
swords from the ruins of the fort, increasing their power in the
region. The Seminole, who had fought alongside the blacks, were
conversely weakened by the loss of their allies. The Creek
participation in the attack increased tension between the two
Seminole anger at the U.S. for the fort's destruction
contributed to the breakout of the First
Seminole War a year
Spain protested the violation of its soil, but according to historian
John K. Mahon, it "lacked the power to do more."
The largest group of survivors, including blacks from the surrounding
plantations who were not at the Fort, took refuge further south, in
Garçon was executed by firing squad because of his responsibility for
the Watering Hole Massacre and the
Choctaw Chief was handed over to
the Creeks, who scalped him. Some survivors were taken prisoner and
placed into slavery under the claim that Georgia slaveowners had owned
the ancestors of the prisoners. Neamathla, a leader of the
Seminole at Fowltown, was angered by the death of some of his people
Negro Fort so he issued a warning to General Gaines that if any of
his forces crossed the Flint River, they would be attacked and
defeated. The threat provoked the general to send 250 men to arrest
the chief in November 1817 but a battle arose and it became an opening
engagement of the First
Anger over the destruction of the fort stimulated continued resistance
during the First
Negro Fort suppressed
In the antebellum period the fact that there had been a
Negro Fort was
nothing to commemorate. Once it was destroyed, "mention of the 'Negro
Fort' was excluded by the media, politicians, and others who were
interested in stirring up public support for [the first Seminole]
This attitude has continued until the present, as modern maps rarely
mention Negro Fort. The modern site until 2016 was called Fort Gadsden
Historic Site. Fort Gadsden was nowhere near as strong, and is far
less important than the Negro Fort. Its renaming as Prospect Bluff
Historic Sites is a step forward, but still avoids mentioning Negro
Fort. None of the four historic markers at the site mentions Negro
Fort. (It is mentioned on the information kiosk at the site.) The
Union Jack (British flag) flies over the site that detracts from the
identity of the
Negro Fort since it was run by blacks longer than by
the British. Markers call it "British post", and nothing is mentioned
as to the ethnicity of the fortress's defendants, except that, as
blacks and "Indians", they were not "Americans". The concern is the
impression their broken bodies made on the victors:
British Fort Magazine
It is hard to imagine the horrible scene that greeted the first
Americans to stand here on the morning of July 27, 1816. The remains
of the 270 persons killed in the magazine explosion lay scattered
about. They also found an arsenal of ten cannons, 2,500 muskets and
over 150 barrels of black powder. Some original timbers from the
octagonal magazine were uncovered here by excavations.
^ Cox, Dale (2016). "The Defenses of Prospect Bluff (July 14, 1816)".
exploresouthernhistory.com. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
^ Carlisle, Rodney P.; Carlisle, Loretta (2012). Forts of Florida. A
Guidebook. University Press of Florida. ISBN 9780813040127.
^ "Fort Negro [sic] (Fort Gadsden)". 2008. Retrieved February 10,
^ a b c d e Smith, Gene Allen (2013). The Slaves' Gamble. Choosing
Sides in the War of 1812. Palgrave MacMillen.
^ Cox, Dale (2018). "Gunboats No. 149 and No. 154 at Apalachicola Bay
(July 12, 1816)". exploresouthernhistory.com.
^ a b c d e Cox, Dale (2014). "Attack on the Fort at Prospect Bluff".
exloresouthernhistory.com. Retrieved December 25, 2017.
^ a b c d e "AfricanHeritage.com". africanheritage.com.
^ Casualties: U. S. Navy and Marine Corps Personnel Killed and Wounded
in Wars, Conflicts, Terrorist Acts, and Other Hostile Incidents
Archived June 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine., Naval Historical
United States Navy.
^ Nell, William C. (1855). The Colored Patriots of the American
Revolution. Boston: Robert F. Wallcut. pp. 256–263.
^ a b c Wasserman, Adam (2010). A People's History of Florida
1513–1876 (Revised ed.). Adam Wasserman.
^ Cox, Dale (2018). "The Fort at Prospect Bluff (July 11, 1816)".
exploresouthernhistory.com. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
^ Cox, Dale (2017). "Prospect Bluff Historic Sites". Explore southern
history. Retrieved December 25, 2017.
^ a b Federal Writers' Project (1939), Florida. A Guide to the
Southernmost State, New York: Oxford University Press,
p. 489 access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Aptheker, 259.
^ Mahon, 23.
^ Mahon, 24.
^ Mahon, 23-24.
^ a b Millett, Nathaniel (2013). The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and
Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World. University Press of
Florida. ISBN 9780813044545.
^ Saunt, Claudio (1999). A New Order of Things. Property, Power, and
the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 0521660432.
^ National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, British
Fort, Aboard the Underground Railroad, retrieved December 22,
^ Wasserman, Adam (2010). A People's History of Florida 1513–1876.
How Africans, Seminoles, Women, and Lower Class Whites Shaped the
Sunshine State (4th ed.). Sarasota, Florida.
The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution: With Sketches of
Several Distinguished Colored Persons (1855) at archive.org
USDA Forest Service (2011). Historic Fort Gadsden. The Archeology
Channel. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
"North America's Largest Act of Slave Resistance", a 2015 lecture by
Allen, Paul (2012). Negro Fort. Paul Allen Books, sold by Amazon
Digital Services. (A histor