Fort Gadsden: Forgotten “Negro Fort” history hidden in Apalachicola National Forest

We decided to stop by Fort Gadsden while returning back from our trip to St George Island. Fort Gadsden is located in the Apalachicola National Forest. This fort is quite deep in the forest.

If you google search for places to visit in the Florida panhandle, you would probably not get Fort Gadsden listed. At least, we did not. We got to learn about Fort Gadsden in one of our travel guide books published by travel journalists. It is effortless to miss the road to this fort. We found a brown sign that said, Fort Gadsden. We just followed it. Deep in the forest, the road was unpaved.
On top of that, it was a rainy day. My husband doubted if our sedan would be able to drive on all the thick dirt. We kept on moving, and nothing to be seen. There was no service on our cell phones because we were so deep in the forest.
The white truck driving in the opposite direction was the only vehicle on the dirt road. We stopped our car and asked the man about how far the fort was. He was a hunter. He informed us that it was only about a mile. He said that our car would be able to handle the dirt road.

Hopeful enough, we decided to move further. We thought we almost reached the fort, but in vain. We noticed the signs that warned hunters to keep their weapons away from the residences there. Well, we only saw a couple of houses. At a point, I thought to stop and ask the resident. We saw the man in one of the houses who was doing dishes. We stopped our car but in a dilemma whether to proceed and ask him. My husband thought it was not safe to get out of the car as he could have firearms. We kept on following other signs with anxiety. We reached the park entrance, but the gate was closed. After driving all the bumpy roads, my husband was in huge disappointment and not ready to believe that the empty ground that we were seeing was a fort Gadsden. He didn’t want to give up yet. But, I pulled him away because the big “closed” sign at the shut gate said it all.

Fort Gadsden

Although Fort Gadsden was closed, here is what we know about this hidden historic landmark.

The fort is located on the eastern bank of the Apalachicola River, accessed by Highway 65. In 1812, British Royal Marine built the fort on recruiting Seminole Indians and escaped black slaves allies to fight against America. The fort was called British post. However, the British left the fort around 1815. The fort, now, was occupied by 300 escaped slaves and 30 Seminole and Choctaw Indians. Thus, the fort was known as the Negro Fort. The Negro Fort was a symbol of rebel and freedom from slavery. Seminole women, children, black families in Florida took refuge in the fort.

However, the U.S. Navy attacked the Negro Fort and left no trace. The American soldiers raided the surrounding settlements, burnt everything, and returned black families to the white slaveholders. The Indians were sentenced to death. The Americans continued the raid along the bank of the Apalachicola River for the next few years. James Gadsden, in 1818, built Fort Gadsden on the site where old Negro Fort was. The fort, a home, a place to fight for freedom for the black community was destroyed.

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