The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World

The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World

The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World

The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World

Synopsis

"A lively story that not only details the fort's rise and fall but also carefully fits its fate into the larger picture of Anglo-American imperial rivalry and the meaning of freedom in an age of revolution."--Robert Paquette, coauthor of The Oxford Handbook of Slavery in the Americas

"By examining the maroon community that formed at Prospect Bluff after the War of 1812, Millett reveals how anti-slavery radicalism threatened to rewrite the history of race in the Early Republic."--Andrew K. Frank, author of Creeks and Southerners: Biculturalism on the Early American Frontier

During the War of 1812, Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines armed ex-slaves, Red Sticks, and Seminoles to fight alongside the British from a fort erected at Prospect Bluff in the Florida panhandle. This so-called Negro Fort became the largest maroon community ever to emerge in North America. Fervently opposed to slavery, Nicolls galvanized the Prospect Bluff allies with his radical anti-slavery ideology and the promise of freedom, asserting their rights and privileges equal to those of any British subject.

At war's end, Nicolls remained at Prospect Bluff, petitioning American officials to respect the territorial sovereignty of his Indian allies. When diplomacy failed, Nicolls left the fort to his black army of radicalized British subjects and encouraged it to defend the territory against all threats. What developed was a well-organized community that regarded itself as an independent British polity.

Nathaniel Millett examines how the Prospect Bluff maroons constructed their freedom, shedding light on the extent and limits of their physical and intellectual fight to claim their rights. He compares their settlement extensively with maroon communities across the Americas, emphasizing the rare opportunity offered by Prospect Bluff to examine black consciousness during the era of slavery.

Excerpt

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. It was to this corner of the continent that Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the radical anti-slavery proponent and leader of the First South Carolina Volunteers, 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.”

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. 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 . . .

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