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The Black Fort: A Hidden History

Portrait of Garson the Heroic Leader of Fuerte Negro also known as The Black Fort!

When the British evacuated Florida in the spring of 1815, they left a well-constructed and fully-armed fort on the Apalachicola River in the hands of their allies, over 300 surviving Africans in America and 30 Seminole and Choctaw Indian families. News of "Negro Fort" (as it came to be called) attracted as many as 1000 black escaped enslaved who settled in the surrounding area.


When the British called it quits in 1815, they left the fully-armed fort to a mixture of escaped slaves and native Indians who were becoming known as the Seminoles which means Runaways. The British knew the Seminoles would be a thorn in the Americans' side who wanted the territory to expand their slaveholding plantations, so they invited others - Choctaw, Black Seminoles, Red Stick Creek and poor freedmen of all backgrounds to trade with the inhabitants of the fort.


Under the command of a black Leader a free man who called himself Garson a name in its oldest Germanic form means EXILE, the pursued, and a Choctaw chief perhaps a relative of Cyrus a well known warrior and friend of Garson and Prince a young Seminole warrior the choctaw Chiefs name is unknown but it is possible he was a former translator under the Spanish, the inhabitants of Negro Fort not only provided protection for the community, but also launched raids across the Georgia border to free slaves. According to the Savannah Journal, fugitives ran from as far away as Tennessee and the Mississippi Territory to seek refuge at the fort.


Word spread of this new oasis. Slaves who had escaped from as far away as the Carolinas made their way to the fort as safe haven. It became a southern stop on the "Underground Railroad" to freedom much more dangerous than the pathway north because of its proximity to the plantations. Under the leadership of Garson soon, a thousand people built a thriving settlement on the east bank of the Apalachicola with the Negro Fort as a defensive anchor against the murderous slavers. The brave and charismatic Garcon and fierce fighter Cyrus became spokesmen and principal organizers of this complex community. They set up a council of leaders. The council included Choctaw, women and escaped slaves. This coalition government welcomed all to its Freedom oasis. They rebuilt the dock, and built a flotilla of keelboats and dugouts to control this stretch of the river keeping it safe from slavers, criminals, smugglers and arms runners. The Negro Fort frightened slave-owners in the Deep South, they feared the longer this Fort existed and grew in strength the more emboldened their slaves would be to run away and gain their freedom, so in April 1816, U.S. Gen. Andrew Jackson decided the fortress was a threat to U.S. security. He formally requested Spanish military authorities to close and destroy it. They refused, so Jackson vowed to do it himself.


In March of 1816, under mounting pressure from Georgia slaveholders, General Andrew Jackson petitioned the Spanish Governor of Florida to destroy the settlement. Andrew Jackson claimed in the petition that the British goal in leaving the Black Fort intact was to “excite the Black population to insurrection & massacre.” he knew it was unlikely the Spanish would fall for this as they had already proclaimed the territory a free territory so at the same time, he instructed Major General Edmund P. Gaines, commander of U.S. military forces "in the Creek nation," to destroy the fort and "restore the stolen negroes and property to their rightful owners. As for the natives Andrew Jackson wanted them "removed" One of the primary reasons Andrew Jackson believed that Native American populations would be better off separated from white populations was the desire for their ancestral lands. As white settlers moved westward, they often encroached on Native American lands, leading to conflicts over resources. So Jackson believed all natives should be moved to land areas no one wanted to die as a people


"The Choctaw Nation was one of the Native American nations, along with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek (Muskogee), and Seminole, called the “Five Civilized Tribes.” The five nations acquired this appellation because they had accepted so much of so-called western civilization: both virtues and flaws. Examples for the Choctaw included popularly elected representatives, a bicameral legislature, a written constitution, advanced agricultural growth, and public education. In this process of acculturation the civilized trait most often neglected that distinguished the “Five Civilized Tribes” from many other Indian nations was the holding of Africans and African Americans as slaves. But this acceptance didn't help them when white people wanted what was theirs. they found a way to take it.


Their goal was to get the weapons by any means necessary as America could not invade and expand slave territories while the black Fort existed as it would be a magnet for a potential black army! The decision was made to kill as many as possible and destroy or capture their armory to remove the threat of opposition to the expansion of slavery. All that was required was a reason to attack the Spanish territory.


Jackson ordered his second-in-command - General Edmund Gaines - to build a fort just north of the Florida-Georgia border. Gaines declared the fort (Fort Scott) would be supplied through New Orleans, meaning his supply line would cut straight though Spanish territory right under the nose of the Negro Fort. Not only could the Americans keep an eye on the Negro Fort, but they might even be able to pick a fight. The spark that ignited the confrontation began on July 10, 1816, when supplies from New Orleans arrived at the mouth of the Apalachicola River, ready to head north 75 miles past the Negro Fort to the starving U.S. soldiers in Fort Scott. The four-ship convoy anchored in Apalachicola Bay waiting for the commander upriver to escort them. The convoy consisted of two schooners heavy with food, medicine and rum and two small U.S. Navy gunboats known as Gunboat #154 and Gunboat #149.


They sat for several scorching days and nervous nights in placid Apalachicola Bay. They were the bait. Soon, a rowboat filled with Negro Fort warriors approached the schooners, waved, they were fired upon by the Americans and returned fire, then they and the Indians withdrew. Two days later, after waiting a week for another opportunity for confrontation, the U.S. Navy commander of the supply convoy - Jarius Loomis - dispatched four sailors in a rowboat ashore to gather fresh water and oysters. They claimed they carried only empty kegs and buckets.


After steering through the mudflats and putting ashore, the men claim they were attacked by 40 Negro Fort defenders who killed two sailors and captured a third, who they later burned alive in hot tar. The fourth sailor hid and was found the next day by a U.S. rescue party. The question remains if only four men left and one survived who are the other corroborating witnesses? The incident became known as the "Watering Party Massacre".


On July 27, following a series of attacks in which they were repelled by Negro Fort warriors, the American forces and their 500 Lower Creek allies launched an all-out attack under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Clinch, with support from a naval convoy commanded by Sailing Master Jairus Loomis. The same man who claimed his 4 men carrying kegs and buckets had been killed seeking oysters and fresh water. The two sides exchanged cannon fire, but the shots of the inexperienced black gunners failed to hit their targets as they had a limited supply of cannonballs and gunpowder they had no opportunities to practice. A shot from the American forces entered the opening to the Fort's powder magazine, igniting an explosion that destroyed the fort and its occupants. Garson and the Choctaw chief, among the few who survived the carnage, were handed over to the Creek, who shot Garson and scalped the chief. Other survivors were returned to slavery.


Fort Gadsden was constructed over the site of the ruins of Negro Fort. But the story didn't end there. The explosion was heard more than 100 miles (160 km) away in Pensacola . Just afterward, the U.S. troops and the Creeks charged and captured the surviving defenders. Only three escaped injury; two of the three, an Indian and a Black person, were executed at Jackson's orders. Jackson called the hero of Orleans for his defeat of the British in the War of 1812 had a deep seated hatred for blacks and Indians that had been offered Freedom to fight against their American slavers, and had become famous for his tactics of killing native women, elderly, and children while the men were away on hunting parties to enrage the braves so they would attack without forethought. This is how he became so effective as an "Indian killer." He now used some remnants of the Creek nation he had defeated to help wipe out other tribes. Still there were many Creek who opted to fight alongside the Black Seminole and Choctaw.


As for the destruction of the Fort General Gaines later reported that:

The explosion was awful and the scene horrible beyond description. You cannot conceive, nor I describe the horrors of the scene. In an instant lifeless bodies were stretched upon the plain, buried in sand or 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. Piles of bodies, large heaps of sand, broken glass, accoutrements, etc., covered the site of the fort... Our first care, on arriving at the scene of the destruction, was to rescue and relieve the unfortunate beings who survived the explosion.

Garson, the black commander, and the Choctaw chief, among the few who survived, were handed over to the Creeks, who shot Garson and scalped the chief. African-enslaved survivors were returned to slavery. There were no white casualties from the explosion. The Creek salvaged 2,500 muskets, 50 carbines, 400 pistols, and 500 swords from the ruins of the fort, increasing their power in the region. The Seminole, who had fought alongside the Black Militia of Fort Negro, were conversely weakened by the loss of their allies.

The Creek participation in the attack was seen as an act of betrayal and increased tension between the two tribes. Seminole anger at the U.S. for the fort's destruction contributed to the breakout of the Seminole War a year later. Spain protested the violation of its soil, but it "lacked the power to do more." Because of the terrorism promoted against Indian and Blacks alike in Florida territories, America's hierarchy of race established and promulgated in many manifestations over the course of the nineteenth century did not transfer to many Indian Territories.”


In fact, “if one lived like a Choctaw, acted like a Choctaw, and spoke Choctaw, then one was included in the community of Choctaw people” despite racial configuration. Choctaws did not practice race based lifetime slavery of humans due to their tribal custom of making slaves out of captive enemies and eventually adopting them into the tribe. Indian normal schools was an attempt to indoctrinate self hate and racial bias in native children in alignment with white supremacy and the worship of a white god and his white son to replace traditional belief of natives as spiritual beings connected to all life.


NATIVE AND BLACK UNITY


The Choctaw were a Matriarchal society, which explains why they liken abundance from nature to a mother's care.


Choctaw men were hunters and went to war to protect their families. Choctaw women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. Choctaw men wore breechcloths. Choctaw women wore wraparound skirts made of deerskin or woven fiber. Shirts were not necessary in Choctaw culture, but men and women both wore poncho-style capes in cool weather. The Choctaws also wore moccasins on their feet. The Choctaws didn't wear long head dresses like the Sioux. Choctaw men and women both wore their hair long, but some men cut their hair in the Mohawk style, decorating the fringe with feathers similar to how African Mandinkas wore their hair. Choctaws often painted their faces and bodies bright colors during battles, lacrosse games, and festivals. Some Choctaw men also wore tribal tattoos on their arms and legs.


The Choctaw, along with five other southern tribes the so called civilized tribes were forcibly moved to Oklahoma when gold was found on their ancestral lands in Georgia following the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830 that allowed white people to steal their lands legally. Many Choctaw died from disease, famine and attacks from white men and hostile Indians including the Comanche, during this transition, which came to be known as the "Trail of Tears". Those who adjusted to the relocation were soon assimilated by religious missionaries sent to Oklahoma in an effort to "civilize" the Natives. The missionaries stressed the importance of re-education and religious indoctrination in the belief of a white God to achieve the goal of establishing a better rapport with the white man that had stolen their wealth and lives.



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