South of Sumatra in the heart of Tate’s Hell lie three small cemeteries that memorialize the lives and struggles of hearty Florida settlers.
In the piney woods near the little Brickyard community is Brown and Smith Cemetery, a family burial plot sheltering mostly Walkers, Browns and Smiths.
Adolph and Hattie Smith, parents of 100-year-old Preshia Crum, the oldest living graduate of Chapman High School, are buried there.
The earliest interment took place in 1901, and was that of Rowan Appleton Brown, born in 1863 and father of prominent beekeeper Rowan Brown Jr. The earliest birth recorded on a stone in Brown and Smith Cemetery is that of Berry Ann Walker, patriarch of the Walker family, born in England in 1833 and who lived until 1908.
Marie Walker Wimberly of Sumatra said members of her family who go back at least three generations, including her parents, rest in Brown and Smith.
“When I was a little girl, I remember going to the cemetery and my mom had me sit by a tree during the funeral,” she said,
The cemetery and the community are indeed in a quiet wooded setting.
Also at rest in Brown and Smith is John Keith, husband of Addie Brown Keith, who died while worm grunting. His death certificate, filed by M. Witherspoon, reads: “It was found that the aforesaid came to his death from a heart attack, at Brickyard, Franklin County, Florida the 5th day of October, 1954. The body was found by Dewey Brown about 1/2 mile from the home of Capers Smith. John Keith had been living in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Capers Smith. He often went out to dig worms for the fishing boats. He left home about 7:30 that morning and failed to return at the noon hour. ”
According to research at www.findagrave.com, Keith’s family knew for some time that he suffered from a heart condition.
Wimberly said her parents built their home on the site of Keith’s death and when they went to inspect the property for the first time, they found Keith’s shovel and grunting rod still with his pail at site.
Bloody Bluff, Fort Gadsden no longer used
The origin of the name Bloody Bluff is shrouded in mystery but some residents of the Sumatra area believe it commemorates a battle in the Seminole War. Few living souls remember the tiny Bloody Bluff community, but the burial ground with only a single headstone still remains.
Although there are an unknown number of graves, the lone stone belongs to James David "Buddy" Branch, who rests beneath a veteran’s gravestone. Born Oct. 10, 1890 to Thomas J. and Sarah E. Freeman Branch at Bloody Bluff, "Buddy" served in World War I and died of pneumonia on Dec. 5, 1922.
The Fort Gadsden Cemetery, between Sumatra and Eastpoint is the oldest and the largest of the three, nestled deep in the woods near the site of the famed “Negro Fort.” But no gravestones can be seen there, mainly indentations in the earth.
During the War of 1812, the British Royal Marines established the fort on Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola. The garrison initially included around 1,000 Britons and several hundred blacks, some runaway slaves recruited by the British. In 1815, when the war ended, the British withdrew from the post and left the black population. Over the next few years the fort became a colony for escaped slaves. By 1816, more than 800 freedmen and women had settled around the fort, along with friendly natives of the area. The fort grew into a flourishing free black community with cultivated fields and plantations extending 50 miles up the river.
The community, though isolated and peaceful, drew the attention of white settlers because they feared its existence would inspire a slave uprising.
Following the construction of Fort Scott north of the Negro Fort, Gen. Andrew Jackson used the navy to transport goods to the outpost via the Apalachicola River. During one of these resupply missions, a party og sailors stopped near Prospect Bluff to fill their canteens and were attacked by men from the Negro Fort. All but one of the Americans were killed
In response, Jackson, commander of the Southern Military District, ordered Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines to destroy the fort. Gunboats were dispatched to the outpost, occupied by about 330 people at the time of battle, at least 200 of them freedmen, armed with cannons and muskets. A handful were Seminole and Choctaw warriors, and the remaining occupants about 100 women and children, families of the black militia.
Gaines ordered the fort to surrender, but the leader, an African named Garson, refused, telling Gaines that he had orders from the British military to hold the post. He raised the Union Jack and a red flag to symbolize that no quarter would be given.
The gunboats opened fire and, after less than a dozen rounds were launched, a super-heated cannon ball or “hot shot” struck the fort's powder magazine. The ensuing explosion destroyed the entire post and instantly killed 270 men, women, and children. Many more died of their wounds.
"The explosion was awful, and the scene horrible beyond description. You cannot conceive, nor I describe the horrors of the scene,” Gaines later wrote. “In an instant, lifeless bodies were stretched upon the plain, buried in sand and 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.”
History records no American casualties. Victims of the massacre were buried in the Fort Gadsden Cemetery in unmarked graves.
In later years, residents of the area around Fort Gadsden continued to use the cemetery for occasional burials. One of these was Bunk Brown, brother to Rowan Appleton Brown.
Wimberly remembers being told a story about how, in the late 1800s, Bunk contracted a mysterious disease that caused his limbs to begin to “petrify” before his death. He eventually died but his travails didn’t end there. Acting in the dead of night, someone came and robbed his grave, spiriting away the mummified corpse. Nobody knows what really became of Bunk Brown.
“My father always said he was taken by a traveling show or a circus to display,” said Wimberly.
Next week, the Eastpoint Cemetery.