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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Lanier On The Runaway Slaves at Fort Gadsden.

In 1875, the consumptive poet Sidney Lanier agreed to do a guidebook on Florida, for Lippincott & Co., for $125 per month, travel expenses and the benefit he hoped the excursion would give to his health. Lanier's descriptions of the state and its history are concise and informative however much they are tainted with the bigotry of the times. Here he describes the history of a fascinating fort commandeered by runaway slaves.

Florida could not have been a pleasant place of residence in these days. Some account of a singular fort which existed for several years on the Apalachicola River may illustrate the state of affairs at this time. During the war of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States, General Jackson moved down upon Pensacola and captured it by storm. Thereupon its former commander, Colonel Nichols, who had gotten away by water, proceeded with some British troops and friendly Indians up the Apalachicola River and caused a fort to be constructed on a bluff of that stream at the point now known as Fort Gadsden, in which was placed a garrison of British troops and Creek Indians. This fort was intended to be used as a rendezvous and base of operations for the runaway negroes, from which they might depredate upon the neighboring border. The war of 1812 having closed, the British troops left the fort; but a negro named Garcia retained possession of it, the runaways under his lead garrisoned it, and it became a really strong point of defense to that large colony of runaway outlaws who had settled upon the banks of the Apalachicola. The walls of the fort were fifteen feet in height and eighteen in breadth; it had a swamp behind, and creeks above and below it; it was armed with nine cannon and three thousand small arms, and had amply stored magazines. This fort existed until 1816 when Colonel Clinch of the United States army reduced it, after a set battle with the negro garrison which opened hotly enough and would have doubtless been a troublesome piece of work for the whites had not a lucky hot shot from one of the United States gunboats exploded a magazine in the fort, causing great slaughter and demoralization among those inside. Garcia, and a Choctaw chief who was aiding and abetting him, were executed after the capture; and property amounting to two hundred thousand dollars in value is said to have been recovered in the fort.

Florida: its Scenery, Climate, and History by Sidney Lanier. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1876. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1945. 133-34. The JHP edition is a reprint of the second edition text with only page numbers altered.)

Also See:

  • Sidney Lanier on the Fate of the Seminoles. The consumptive poet Sidney Lanier agreed to do a guidebook on Florida, for Lippincott & Co., for $125 per month, travel expenses and the benefit he hoped the excursion would give to his health. Here he deals rather perfunctorily with the fate of the Seminole Indians.
  • Pierce Butler, Fanny Kemble, et al. This book review/essay includes considerable information on the famous slave auction called "The Weeping Time" and the marriage of slve owner Pierce Butler to the abolitionist Fanny Kemble.

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