Commemorating a Bicentennial of Tragedy and Survival
On July 27, 1816 US Naval forces destroyed the fort at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River, which was a refuge of African Seminoles, self-emancipated people of African heritage, and runaway slaves (referred to as Maroons). Survivors fled to the Suwannee River, but the 1818 Battle of Suwannee pushed some of them further south, to the Tampa Bay area on the Manatee River where they formed a settlement called Angola. In 1821, the Maroon communities were attacked again, this time survivors fled inland, or to Cape Florida, or to the British Bahamas where their descendants lived in freedom.
In recognition of the bicentennial of the tragic loss of hundreds of lives, a Florida Humanities Council supported project titled, "Tragedy and Survival: Bicentennial of the Southward Movement of Black Seminoles on the Gulf Coast" hopes to create digital reconstructions of the Black Seminole/Maroon landscape for two of the historic locations; Prospect Bluff and Angola. The reconstruction of these landscapes grows out of an expanding scholarship on the Maroons of Second Spanish Period Florida. The project's central goal is to inspire further interest, study, and research into the history and heritage of early 19th century Florida people and places.
Excavations recently revealed traces of Angola, an early 19th century Maroon community on the Manatee River. Angola is a chapter in a decades-long history for peoples of African heritage that stretches from the Apalachicola River to Tampa Bay at the end of the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821). For the Black Seminoles, also known as exiles, runaway slaves and free blacks, African Seminoles, and freedom-seeking people, the period from 1816-1821, which is less well-known than than the earlier Fort Mosé and the later Second Seminole War eras, includes several locations on the Gulf Coast. This project uses the opportunities of new digital heritage technologies to represent two of the locations for the saga: the fort at Prospect Bluffs, known as the Negro Fort, which was destroyed in 1816 and Angola, which was overrun in 1821. Two hundred years ago, people struggled for freedom and their descendants continued the fight, in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) or by falling back and finding a haven in the Bahamas. The scholars involved will discuss the history and explain the reconstructions at public lectures at or near the two locations: Apalachicola/Fort Gadsden and Bradenton/Sarasota. Download the brochure
The Challenge of Names
This project review includes references to Black Seminoles. The term is one of several that can describe the people who lived in Second Spanish Period Florida (1783-1821). Black Seminoles connects to popular terminology for the Second Seminole War period (1835-42); other labels include African Seminoles, self-emancipated people of African heritage, maroons, runaway slaves, escaped slaves, and the freedom-seeking people. The multiplicity of terms respectfully reflects the fluidity and changes over time.
US military documents label the fortification at Prospect Bluff –Spanish name was Loma de Buenavista and the Creek called it Achaikwheithle - on the Apalachicola River as Negro Fort. For 21st century ears, the term Negro Fort might be uncomfortable but right now it is the name that is used in scholarship and in the interpretation of the site. This project will focus on the geographic name: Prospect Bluff. For the community on the Manatee River, the archives offered Angola and Sarrazota, we use Angola to stress the African heritage for the community and to avoid confusion with today's Sarasota (the origin of the name is the subject of popular and academic disputes) and note the project focuses on one aspect of the diffuse community, the area by the Manatee Mineral Spring.
The Challenge of Sources
Our view today of the maroon communities comes from the archives and limited archaeological excavations. The archives offer the perspective of the U.S. military - the plans of the Negro Fort and the Suwanee settlement and information on military engagements and geography; observations from the aftermath of destruction of maroon communities rather than accounts by Black Seminoles.
The Locations Today
Whether looking from a top view or from a landscape perspective, today there are only interpretative signs visible at the maroon community locations.
Important information on geography and British influence for the Maroon communities comes from archaeology.
From 2007-2013 Uzi Baram led excavations revealing material traces of Angola; published as The Historical Archaeology of Looking for Angola at 8Ma103: Excavations and Public Outreach by the Manatee Mineral Spring, Manatee County, Florida, on file at the Florida Master Site Files.