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From the 1830s through the early twentieth century, most general readers of American history would have been familiar with the maroon community at Prospect Bluff, Florida, the “Negro Fort” on the Apalachicola River where the Royal Marines armed ex-slaves and Native Americans to fight alongside the British in the War of 1812. Abolitionists marshaled its antislavery story to their cause during the Civil War era, and even schoolchildren were made to better understand the War of 1812 and American expansion through the widely used textbooks that prominently highlighted the story of the maroons, a community of escaped slaves, at Prospect Bluff. Indeed, for nearly a century, these freedom fighters even overshadowed the (now) more well-known story of Fort Mose near St. Augustine. However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the memory of the [End Page 670] maroon settlement at Prospect Bluff faded to near obscurity in the twentieth century.
Nathaniel Millett, in his captivating and informative The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World, joins a number of scholars who have recently turned their attention back to the fleeting yet fascinating world of the Prospect Bluff community. Thankfully, Millett offers the first systematic and exhaustive study of this maroon community and demonstrates that his subject was far more than a “sideshow” in a larger regional drama.
During the War of 1812, Edward Nicolls was ordered to raise an army of slaves and Indians on the southeastern frontier as part of the larger British campaign to take New Orleans. A passionate abolitionist, Nicolls also utilized his command to carry out his antislavery principles by proclaiming to the former bondsmen who flocked to his standard a message of equality and inclusion and the insistence that the British Empire was a universal empire of liberalism. Under his command at Prospect Bluff on the Florida Panhandle, maroons organized their own independent community, were granted full political and legal equality, and encouraged to use all methods at their disposal, including violence, to combat slavery and the nation that most sought its expansion, the United States. Although the fort was abandoned by the British after the war and destroyed by a joint Creek and American force in the summer of 1816, it had stood as an independent radical, even revolutionary, force for freedom and equality.
Millett argues that the story of the Prospect Bluff maroon community is essential to a balanced understanding of the triracial history of the Southeast, the War of 1812, the First Seminole War, the American annexation of Florida, and the expansion of the plantation complex. Moreover, with their importance fully understood, the author asserts that the rich documentary record informing the history of these maroons forces a reexamination of the argument that North American slaves faced far too many obstacles to form significant maroon communities, especially when compared to their Caribbean and South American counterparts. At its peak, the maroon settlement at [End Page 671] Prospect Bluff numbered in the hundreds, and although they were closely allied with the British and their community survived for fewer than two years, Millett convincingly places them within the same category of grand marronage as the well-documented and more closely studied examples across the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, as did their Caribbean and South American counterparts, the maroons of Prospect Bluff played a vital role in the negotiation of some of the most important ideas of the era: political inclusion, republicanism, natural rights, and liberty.
Scholars of North American slavery and slave resistance are indebted to Millett for this fine study. The Maroons of Prospect Bluff removes the need to speculate about what might have happened had large numbers of American slaves fled their enslavers, formed an autonomous community, and undertook a forceful stand in opposition to their oppression. Here, richly documented and compellingly argued, is that rarest story of North American slavery: a detailed analysis of successful communal slave resistance.
J. BRENT MORRIS is an assistant professor...