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Fort Gadsden Historic Memorial is located in Franklin County, Florida, on the Apalachicola River. The site contains the ruins of two forts – the earlier and stronger Negro Fort, built by the British and destroyed by a lucky cannonball, and Fort Gadsden. The site has been known by several other names at various times, including Prospect Bluff Fort, British Post, Nicholls Fort, Blount’s Fort, Fort Blount, African Fort, and Fort Apalachicola.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Fort Gadsden Historic Memorial is located in Apalachicola National Forest and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1972. When the British evacuated Florida in the spring of 1815, they left the well-constructed and fully armed fort in the hands of their allies, about 400 fugitive slaves, including members of the disbanded Corps of Colonial Marines, and a sizable number of native Indians. News of the “Negro Fort” (as it came to be called) attracted as many as 800 black fugitives who settled in the surrounding area. The blacks developed plantations extending up to 50 miles along the river. A report from 1812 mentions over 36 cleared acres and 1,200 cattle.
In 1818 General Jackson directed Lieutenant James Gadsden to rebuild the fort, which he did on a nearby site. Jackson was so pleased with the result that he named the location Fort Gadsden. It was abandoned in 1821, the year Florida became a U.S. territory and there was no longer a national border to defend. During the American Civil War, Confederate troops occupied the fort until July 1863, when an outbreak of malaria forced its abandonment.
In September 1815, US Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins sent a group of 200 men to attack the fort at Prospect Bluff. The attack failed, thereby lulling the inhabitants of into a false sense of security. Under the command of a black man known only as Garçon (French for “boy”) and a Choctaw chief, whose name is completely unknown, the inhabitants of Negro Fort launched raids across the Georgia border. The fort, located as it was near the U.S. border, was seen as a threat to Southern slavery. The U.S. considered it “a center of hostility and above all a threat to the security of their slaves.”