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1  Introduction The Apalachicola River twists and turns lazily through the Florida Panhandle as it makes its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. Along its banks in present day Franklin County lies Prospect Bluff, situated fifteen miles from the Gulf and forty miles south of Tallahassee in a remote area densely covered in sandy flatwoods, with stands of sixty-foot-high longleaf pines, black gum,pop ash,red maple,myrtle-leaved holly,and various cypresses.1 It was to this corner of the continent that Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the radical anti-slavery proponent and leader of the First South CarolinaVolunteers,the first federally authorized black military unit during the Civil War, turned his gaze and wrote:“I used seriously to ponder, during the darker periods of the war, whether I might not end my days as an outlaw,—a leader of Maroons.”2 Higginson was forced to make this association, because in the second decade of the nineteenth century a large and well-organized maroon community (an independent settlement of escaped slaves and/or their descendants) emerged at Prospect Bluff. The inhabitants of the “Negro Fort,” as it came to be known in popular parlance, were able to define a cutting edge version of freedom that fought to reject fully their prior enslavement because of the intersection of a triad of forces: exceptional geopolitics, tradition, and exposure to an unusual set of ideas about radical anti-slavery and the nature of the British Empire.3 These forces, when combined with the former slaves’ own worldview and desire for freedom,would have remarkable results.How these former slaves constructed their freedom, I argue, sheds much light on slave consciousness and the extent to which slaves would and could fight physically and intellectually to claim their freedom. In 1972 Prospect Bluff became a National Historic Landmark. In spite of the federal government’s recognition of the historic importance of the maroon community, the settlement of former slaves has been marginalized in The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World 2  and has largely receded from both the scholarly and popular imagination for much of the last century.There was a time,however,when Prospect Bluff was central to the master narrative of American history. Based on intense media attention, the publication of primary sources, and individual and collective memory, the maroons at Prospect Bluff became an important component of nearly every national history of the United States as well as works that focused on the history of Florida, the South, or more specialized subjects, regardless of the author’s origins, sympathies, or agenda.4 Examples abound of the scholarly and popular attention paid to the maroon community in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.To realize the community’s historical importance to past generations, one need only look at a handful of published examples. Historical Sketches of the United States, from the Peace of 1815 to 1830 by Samuel Perkins (1830) contains a long and detailed chapter that begins with a section titled“Negro fort on the Apalachicola destroyed ,” which the author ties to the origins of the First Seminole War, before concluding with the American annexation of Florida.5 As the Civil War began, volume 2 of John Warner Barber’s Our Whole Country, or, The Past and Present of the United States, Historical and Descriptive (1861) contained an extended account of the origins of “a colony of negro slaves about twenty five miles up the Apalachichola” and the role that the maroons played along with the British in the outbreak of the First Seminole War and annexation of Florida.6 In the midst of the Gilded Age, Richard Hildreth noted in volume 6 of his History of the United States of America (1880) that “loud complaints had been made by the Georgians of the asylum to runaway slaves afforded by the Floridian fort on the Apalachicola.” Hildreth then quickly passed over the community’s destruction, before concluding that“such was the prelude to the first Seminole war.”7 The dawn of the twentieth century saw no decline in interest about the maroon community nor in the estimation of its historical importance. For example, Edwin Emerson’s exhaustive history of both the United States and the western world during the nineteenth century addressed“Fort Negro”and its connection toAmerican expansion.8 Perhaps nothing better illustrates the popular regard for the importance of the community during these years than the fact that it featured prominently in...


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Subject Headings

  • Maroons -- Florida -- Franklin County -- History.
  • Black Seminoles -- Florida -- Franklin County -- History.
  • Seminole Indians -- Florida -- Franklin County -- African influences.
  • Slavery -- Florida -- Franklin County -- History.
  • African Americans -- Florida -- Franklin County -- Relations with Indians.
  • Nicolls, Edward.
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