Historic Negro Fort in Apalachicola National Forest officially becomes part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

National Park Service grant makes unprecedented recovery of artifacts at the site possible

Blue lake surrounded by grass, trees and mountains
Prospect Bluff has been accepted by the National Park Service for inclusion into the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The British first built the fort during the War of 1812 and strategically placed it along the banks of the Apalachicola River, which served as the "highway for commerce" in the pre-road, pre-railroad days. Pictured in this photo is a view of the Apalachicola River from the shoreline at Prospect Bluff. Credit: USDA Forest Service.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 25, 2019 – Negro Fort, part of the Prospect Bluff Historic Sites on the Apalachicola National Forest, has been accepted by the National Park Service (NPS) for inclusion into the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (NTF). According to the NPS Certificate of Acceptance, this honor is bestowed upon sites that make a “significant contribution to the understanding of the Underground Railroad in American history.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of the Negro Fort’s inclusion into the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom,” said Kelly Russell, forest supervisor for the National Forests in Florida. “The Underground Railroad is an integral part of our nation’s history and served as the foundation for the eradication of slavery.”

Last fall, shortly after the NTF listing, Hurricane Michael severely damaged the Prospect Bluff Historic Sites and the surrounding buildings, uprooted large trees, and created multiple safety hazards. As a result, the U.S. Forest Service closed the area to the public.

To mitigate damage at the site, the National Forests in Florida partnered with the Southeast Archaeology Foundation and applied for a $15,000 grant from the NPS, which they recently received. Specifically, funds will be used to retrieve, catalog and clean artifacts for analysis, as well as document any archaeological features revealed from upturned trees. This is the first of several steps toward reopening the site to the public.

“Hurricane Michael has provided us an unprecedented opportunity to study artifacts from the Maroon Community, which occupied Negro Fort between 1814 and 1816,” said Forest Archaeologist Rhonda Kimbrough. “Historically, an independent, self-supporting group of people of African descent who lived with American Indians were called Maroons. These included free people of color, formerly enslaved British colonial marines and a number of escaped slaves from American plantations to the north.”

Group of 5 people (three women, 2 men) standing in front of the lake and treesRecently, the U.S. Forest Service and partners met at Prospect Bluff to plan the upcoming archaeological work: (left) Jayla Wilson, Student Conservation Association; Lisa Higgins, Louisiana Search and Rescue; Susan Goodhope, Southeast Archaeology Foundation; author and historian Dale Cox; and Rachel Conrad, Two Egg TV. USDA photo by Rhonda Kimbrough.

 

2-2-2-2 – Historic Negro Fort in Apalachicola National Forest officially becomes part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

The only other archaeological excavations at Prospect Bluff Historic Sites were conducted in 1963 and focused on identifying general components of the site such as the fortifications. Most existing on-site interpretation was developed from those excavations and focuses on the military occupation of the area.

“A group of trained volunteers from SEAF will begin working at the site in April,” Kimbrough added. “We believe the work made possible by this NPS grant will reveal vital information about the day-to-day lives of the people who once lived at the Negro Fort.”

Three people in the forest with flags and clipboardsArcheologist Rhonda Kimbrough (left) discusses the survey strategy at Prospect Bluff with author and historian Dale Cox and SEAF Treasurer Janet Bard. USDA photo by Jayla Wilson.

 

According to SEAF Treasurer Janet Bard, as evidence and artifacts are discovered in this area, a significant page in black history may be supported or explained in further detail.

“The existence of the Negro Fort and surrounding community of Maroons is a prominent example of the search for freedom from slavery and oppression prior to the Civil War,” said Bard. “It is said that Negro Fort at Prospect Bluff was one of the most formidable Maroon settlements in the New World.”

The British originally built the fort at Prospect Bluff during the War of 1812. When they abandoned the fort in 1815, a group of former slaves who had sworn to serve Britain in return for freedom, and a group of Choctaw Indians took command, and it became known as the Negro Fort. At least 800 or more former slaves sought and received asylum there.

Americans felt threatened by the Negro Fort and its occupants because of their open hostility toward slavery. In 1816, American forces led by Colonel Duncan Clinch and Creek Indian allies under William McIntosh destroyed the fort, killed its occupants and forced survivors back into slavery. Fort Gadsden was later constructed in 1818 on top of the Negro Fort ruins. The entire area eventually became part of the Prospect Bluff Historic Sites on the Apalachicola National Forest.

The name Prospect Bluff pre-dates European occupation and is an Anglicized version of the Spanish place name of “Loma de Buena Vista” (Hill of the Good Vistas), and a Native American place name called “Achackweithle.”





https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/florida/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD615963