Thursday, May 22, 2008
Apalachicola River, Part Twenty
When Lt. Col. Nicolls left the British Post on the Apalachicola in the hands of his former black and Native American allies, he gave them the opportunity to build lives for themselves in Spanish Florida and the means to defend themselves.
Most of the Native Americans, with the exception of about two dozen Choctaw refugees, soon drifted on to other locations, but for the African Americans, the fort on the Apalachicola was a dream come true.
They began clearing fields upstream from the fort and built a village of rough houses within the outer trenches of the large fortification. The men maintained military discipline, serving under the Sergeant Major of their old regiment, an escaped slave named Garcon. They continued to fly the British flag over the works and considered themselves subject to their final orders from Col. Nicolls to defend the fort against all attacks.
The colony on the lower Apalachicola quickly became a beacon to slaves on the plantations of Georgia and the Carolinas and one after another, enslaved laborers and their families began slipping away and making their way down to the fort. U.S. officials began calling the post the "Negro Fort" in their correspondence, and made no secret of the fact that they felt the fort should be destroyed and the blacks there returned to their "owners."
Major General Andrew Jackson sent a messenger to Spanish Governor Zuniga in Pensacola, requesting that the Spanish take action against the fort. Zuniga replied that he would first have to seek orders from his superior, the Captain General of Cuba.
Meanwhile, Major General Edmund P. Gaines ordered a battalion of the 4th U.S. Infantry to the frontier from Charleston, South Carolina. Commanded by Lt. Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch, these men went first to Fort Mitchell, Alabama (near present-day Columbus), where the constructed large flatboats for a trip down the Chattahoochee River to its confluence with the Flint. Then, in May of 1816, they moved downstream and established the new outpost of Fort Gaines, Georgia.
By June they had reached the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers (today's Lake Seminole). Here, on a commanding bluff a short distance up the Flint, they built a new fort named Camp Crawford. Located just a few miles above the line dividing Georgia from Spanish Florida, the new installation could best be supplied by boats via the Gulf of Mexico and the Apalachicola River. This would mean, of course, passing under the guns of the "Negro Fort."
Permission was obtained from the Spanish to send supply boats up the river and a small flotilla soon left New Orleans and nearby Pass Christian, Mississippi, en route for the Apalachicola.
Our series will continue.