Underground Railroad Travel Itinerary Header



British Fort An artist's rendition of British Fort being shelled by the American army in July of 1816.
Painting by Pat Elliott, courtesy of Apalachicola National Forest.

 

Seminole Indian
Portrait of an early 19th century Seminole Indian.
Painting by Pat Elliott, courtesy of Apalachicola National Forest.
British Fort, a National Historic Landmark, like Fort Mose in St. John's County, Florida, is a precursor site to the Underground Railroad, demonstrating that resistance to slavery arose decades before abolitionism became organized and influential. Located in northwest Florida's Franklin County, approximately 15 miles from the mouth of the Apalachicola River, British Fort is a symbol of the strong relationship between runaway slaves and the Seminole Indians. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, slaves from the Carolinas and Georgia escaped to northern Florida, at that time under Spanish control, and sought and received refuge from the Seminole Indians. In return, the runaway slaves would cultivate crops, paying one-third of their produce to the Indians. Seminoles welcomed the development of black communities alongside their villages. Knowledgeable in the white man's languages of English, French, and Spanish, the fugitive slaves often acted as interpreters and intelligence agents for the Seminole community.

In the summer and fall of 1814, near the conclusion of the War of 1812, British Major Edward Nicholls led an expedition to recruit Seminoles and blacks to assist the British fight against America. British soldiers and the black and Indian recruits constructed a fort 500 feet from the river bank on Prospect Bluff, which they called British Post. Consisting of an octagonal earthwork holding the principal magazine and surrounded by an extensive rectangular enclosure covering about seven acres with bastions on the eastern corners having parapets 15 feet high and 18 feet thick, the fort was used as the British headquarters for negotiations between the black and Indian communities. In 1815 when the British withdrew from the area, the fort, including its artillery and military supplies, were given to the many blacks and a few Indians that had moved into it, seeking the protection it offered and cultivating successful and profitable plantations around it. The fort became known as "Negro Fort" and it served as a "beacon of light to restless and rebellious slaves." In 1816, the American army, under the command of Major General Andrew Jackson, constructed Fort Scott on the Flint River a few miles from Florida to protect the American border between Georgia and Florida and to destroy Negro Fort, which was perceived as a threat to white slaveholders in Georgia. In July of that year, Jackson gave the order to destroy Negro fort and to return the blacks to their white owners. In the insuing warfare, an American shell hit an open magazine within the fort, killing approximately 300 men, women, and children. The few survivors were taken prisoner and turned over to Georgia slaveholders who justified their title to them by saying that their ancestors had owned the ancestors of the prisoners. This "savage and negro war," as Andrew Jackson himself called it, was devised to destroy black towns in Florida, depriving slaves of bordering states of a refuge, while at the same time bringing the entire Florida province under American rule. In 1818, Jackson ordered Lieutenant James Gadsden to build a new fort (which became known as Fort Gadsden) upon the site of the old Negro Fort, due to its strategic location on Apalachicola River. American forces were garrisoned their until Florida ceded to the United States.

British Fort, or Fort Gadsden, is located in the Apalachicola National Forest and is a short distance from State Road 65, near Sumatra, Florida. The site is open to the public seven days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Previous | List of Sites | Home | Next

Comments or Questions
Last Modified: EST