About 300 people attended a commemorative gathering last month at Fort Gadsden on the bank of the Apalachicola River to pay tribute to the early settlers of the outpost at Prospect Bluff and acknowledge the tragedy that occurred there.
In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, the U.S. Forest Service commemorated the 200-year anniversary of the British Fort and Fort Gadsden National Historic Landmark on Saturday, Oct. 22.
Guests were treated to 19th century music, site-wide engagement with local historians, reenactors and a formal ceremony at 11:30 a.m.
The ceremony featured the Seminole Color Guard, a traditional invocation in Miccosukee language by medicine man Bobby Henry, recognition of descendants of Prospect Bluff Maroon Community, a Peace Belt Ceremony performed by Pompey Fixico representing the Semiroon Historical Society, and keynote address from James Edward Billie, chairman of the Seminole Tribe in Florida.
Over the last 18-months, scores of volunteers partnered with numerous local organizations and the US Department of Agriculture to make the remote historic site safer and more user friendly. A spokesperson for the Forest Service said the federal government spent around $60,000 on the project.
In a thank you to the volunteers who worked on the renovation project, Regional Forester Tony Tooke said, “We all have some connection to the people who passed this way, whether through kinship, common ideology or simple respect. The Forest Service is committed to protecting significant places of historical interest and to share their values with the public.
“National forests contain many of the nation’s best preserved heritage sites in some of the least disturbed natural settings. But the job of maintaining these sites is difficult. Volunteers and partners are a key component of our heritage program and are essential to this effort,” he said.
The U.S. campaign against the fort at Prospect Bluff, occurred 200 years ago this year and lasted 17 days ending with the deadliest cannon shot in American history.
On July 27, 1816, U.S. Navy forces fired on what was then called "The Negro Fort." One of the early shots from the ship's guns landed on an ammunition shed inside the fort, resulting in a massive explosion, which killed as many as 270 men, women, and children; leaving only 33 survivors.
Today, the victims of the attack lie in unmarked graves in a clearing in the woods. Southern writer and historian Dale Cox has spent years researching the settlement and compiling a list of the names of maroons or escaped slaves, who lived there. He unveiled his list of about 300 names at the gathering.
Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Cheryl Raines said attendees traveled from Georgia, California, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and Ohio to attend in addition to an honored group of representatives from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Busloads of attendees came from Panama City and Gainesville.
The National Historic Preservation Act established the federal review process for protection of historic properties. Under Section 106 of the law, federal agencies must consider the effects on historic properties of projects they carry out, approve, or fund, and must consult with interested parties in order to try to minimize adverse effects.