THE APALACHICOLA RIVER HISTORY
The Apalachicola region is one of the earliest populated sites in Florida. Numerous aboriginal sites are found along former and present banks in the lower Apalachicola River valley. Scattered throughout the estuary and river swamps are clam and oyster shell middens, remnants of the early inhabitants. Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama began settling along the river in the early 1700s. Apalachicola is an Indian word for “the people on the other side.” Today, the river today separates Eastern and Central time zones. .
The Spanish established missions near the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers during the late 1600s and later built a fort near present-day Apalachicola.
The British envisioned using the river as an avenue for invading the United States during the War of 1812 and established two forts along the Apalachicola. Their massive post at Prospect Bluff was used as a supply and training base.
Left in the hands of their Native American and black allies when the British evacuated the river in 1815, the post became known to U.S. authorities as the “Negro Fort” on the Apalachicola. It was destroyed by the Army and Navy in 1816, afterwhich became "Fort Gadsden".
Bloody Bluff was the site of one or more skirmishes fought during 1816 between American Forces and Creek Indians and their black allies, who occupied what was then called the "Negro Fort", (now called Ft. Gadsden), at nearby Prospect Bluff.
Fighting returned to the Apalachicola River just one year later when it became a focus of action during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. Battles were fought near present-day Chattahoochee and at Ocheesee Bluff and Blountstown. The war led to an invasion of Spanish Florida by Andrew Jackson in 1818 and the establishment of Fort Gadsden on the old British post site at Prospect Bluff. A base for Jackson's operations in Florida, the fort also played an important role in the story of Milly Francis, the Creek Pocahontas.
After the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States, the Apalachicola became a major avenue of commerce. Paddlewheel steamboats carried people and products up the river to Columbus and down to the port of Apalachicola. Towns grew and flourished and Apalachicola even witnessed the birth of the world's first machine for making ice.
Fighting was fierce through the valley during the Second Seminole War and Confederate troops built forts and artillery batteries along the Apalachicola during the Civil War.
During the 1830s and 1840s increasing numbers of steamboats shipped cotton, crops, and commerce from inland plantations to Apalachicola for export. It was in Apalachicola, an important maritime port, that they were loaded onto ocean-going vessels enroute to the Northeast United States, Europe, and elsewhere. The blockade of Apalachicola Bay by Union forces during the Civil War effectively stopped steamboat travel. After the war, lumber became the main cargo. Sawmills sprang up along the river, and millions of board feet of longleaf pine and cypress passed through the port of Apalachicola. Pines were also sought for their sap, which was distilled into turpentine and rosin, known collectively as naval stores.
Turpentine camps once dotted the Apalachicola River boundaries. The town of Creels consisted of a church, a commissary, housing for workers, storage or processing points, and barns for horses and livestock
During the Civil War, defending the Apalachicola River was strategically essential and several artillery batteries were constructed along the high bluffs.
The famous Apalachicola oyster industry began in the later part of the 19th century, and by 1896, three oyster-canning factories were shipping 50,000 cans of oysters each day.
If you paddle down the quiet creeks and bayous lined with blooming tupelo, titi, and black gum in mid-April or May, you will hear a loud steady hum of honey bees. The Apalachicola River valley is the only place on earth where tupelo honey is produced commercially. Popularized in the film Ulee's Gold, real tupelo honey is produced solely from the flowers of the white tupelo and is light golden amber with a greenish cast. Unlike other honeys, real tupelo honey won't granulate.
The Lanier family of Wewahitchka has been harvesting Tupelo Honey from hives in the Apalachicola River swamp for over 100 years. Film director Victor Nunez bought a jar of tupelo honey from the Laniers' stand in downtown Wewahitchka in 1996. He explained he wanted to make a movie about a bee keeper and asked Ben and Glynnis Lanier to help. Ben taught actor Peter Fonda how to handle bees, and other members of the Lanier family were cast as extras. All the bee yards shown in the film belong to the Laniers.
WILLIAM AUGUSTUS BOWLES LAST FORT, LOCATED IN ESTIFFANULGA
During the 1700s, the British pirate and adventurer, William Augustus Bowles, operated from a base at Estiffanulga Bluff and used the river to hide his flotilla of pirate ships. Bowles' location is thought to be at the bend in Estiffanulga along the river that affords you the best vista of both directions. This strategic location is at the bottom of the "U" shape, now private property of Glenn & Lawson Smith and the county park immediately to it's north.
The waters surrounding Apalachicola became a focal point for history long before the founding of the town of Apalachicola. The bays, rivers and islands were the haunts of William Augustus Bowles, who tried to establish an empire among the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Indians during the late 1700s.His “navy”, (really a flotilla of pirate ships), sailed out of the Apalachicola River to raid commerce on the Gulf of Mexico. Spain retaliated by sending a military expedition to Apalachicola Bay in 1800. They destroyed his fortified port at Prospect Bluff and captured some of his personal effects but Bowles escaped. He retaliated by besieging and capturing the fort of San Marcos de Apalache a short time later. Bowles moved his base further upriver to Estiffanulga Bluff and continued to raid shipping in the Gulf until he was captured a few years later. Legend holds that some of his treasures remain hidden in the area. Many people have searched, but none have found them.
1839 CREEK ATTACKS at ESTIFFANULGA
When it came to traveling the river system, the Creek and Seminole Indian Wars caused real fear. Sometimes settlers fleeing from the Indian threat could be seen running along the river banks, their wagons loaded with all of the belongings that they could carry, fleeing for their lives.
One such event was in early May 1839. Some 15 or 20 Creek Indians attacked the settlement of Estiffanulga on the Apalachicola River. Involved in these assaults were the Roberts and Smith families.
The Indians burned the Robert's home and killed their little boy. Mr. Roberts was wounded but he and his wife, along with their farm hand, Aldrich, escaped with their other four children.
The other attack that took place that day was at the home of Nathan Smith on nearby Ricco's Bluff which resulted in a massacre. Nathan Smith's three children, along with a man named White, were all murdered. Smith and his wife, another woman, and two men escaped.
All in all, some 15 refugees from attacks on this day carefully made their way along the river banks, hiding in the dense undergrowth and behind massive trees. Gratefully, the small party heard a steamboat coming through the Narrows, about seven miles north of Fort Gadsden. It was the mail boat, Commerce, making her way down to Apalachicola, Florida. The refugees waved her down. What a welcome site that riverboat was! As she slowed to pick them up, the Indians were spotted along the river banks, not far from where the scared group had been.
A couple of days later, what happened to these two families then happened to another one. A white family which arrived in Apalachicola, stated that their house, which sat on the bank opposite Blountstown, had been attacked and burned by a party of roughly 30 Indians, perhaps the same group that attacked others.
This family had also lost everything and had ventured south downstream to the safety of Apalachicola.
Next, the marauding, hostile Indians seemed determined to take over a steamboat. They must have figured that in doing so would cause fear in the white settlers and also slow down others desiring to settle in the area.
A huge effort by the Indians to capture a steamboat came in June of 1840 when they attacked the Irwinton. She was heading northbound to Columbus, Georgia with 15 passengers, three of which were women. The Indians opened fire from both sides of the river banks, killing the cabin boy. The passengers were smart enough to lay flat on the deck.
The Irwinton was towing a heavily loaded barge.Shortly thereafter, 11 Indians in a canoe attempted to board with three of them jumping onto it. This action caused their canoe to capsize throwing the other eight overboard. These men then floated downstream away from the attempt to capture the steamboat.
Meanwhile, the three Indians that were left went from the barge to the steamboat. Two of them were killed by the mate and engineer, who knocked them down by hitting them with one of the huge wrenches used to work on the boilers Then, they threw them into the paddle wheel house where they were torn to pieces.
The lone remaining Indian, presumably the leader, did not realize what had happened and thought the other two were behind him. He entered the cabin and sat down at the head of the table. A passenger grabbed a chair and threw it at the surprised Indian. Another passenger grapped the Indian aroud the waist and tried to force him out of the cabin but was unable to. A riverboat man then cam in and stabbed the Indian in the stomach and proceeded to throw him into the deadly paddle wheel.
For the next few years, there were more instances of Indian attacks on the many steamboats that ran the river between Columbus, Georgia and Apalachicola, Florida.
WHISKEY RIVER PLANTATION
Located a few miles south of Estiffanulga is Whiskey River Plantation. The interesting thing is actually its namesake. It was named after the Steamer Alice, her cargo, and her untimely demise. In 1864, the Steamer Alice was bound for Columbus from Cincinnati under the charge of Captain Wingate and was carrying a reported 15,000 gallons of whiskey. On October 25, 1864 at six oclock in the morning, The Alice struck a projection from the bank, careened, and sunk in only 15 feet of water in less than 15 minutes. Captain Wingate became caught between the freight, sank with his ship, and, though efforts were made, was never recovered. He was only 50 years old and left behind eight children. Three others lost their lives that day as well, two deck hands and one watchman. There was only one known survivor- a man by the name of Richard Wools who was the first clerk. At the first alarm of trouble, Mr. Wools robbed the boats safe of $7,000, jumped into the river, and was rescued. Only a few hours after The Alice sank, attempts to raise her and retrieve the body of Captain Wingate and the whiskey failed when a chain that had lifted her almost completely snapped and sent her back to her watery grave.
At the time of her sinking, The Alice a 156-foot steamer-is said to have cost $32,000 and her some 15,000 gallons of whiskey worth about $3,000. Approximately 73 years later in 1937, Frank P Blair- a salvage operator- began his task of unearthing the undisturbed Alice and her liquid treasure. He and his team located the ships wreckage using a magnameter. The Alice was buried under 24 feet of mud and 6 feet of water. Plans to extricate any remains were to begin by creating a coffer dam around the wreckage site and then drain the water and mud from on top of The Alice, exposing her to the sunlight once again. The shipwreck supposedly ended up in what is now Brickyard Lake, an 8-acre lake at Mile Marker 56.1 solely on Whiskey River Plantation. At that time, in 1937, her whiskey was worth over $300,000.
1772 RESCUE MISSION TO THE APALACHICOLA RIVER by Dale Cox
.(Tamathli and the first days of the Seminoles)
.Tamathli, seen near the center of this section of the 1778 Purcell-Stuart Map was one of the early breakaway towns that soon became known as the Seminoles of Florid The Native Americans who lived along the Apalachicola River in today's Jackson, Gadsden, Liberty, and Calhoun Counties did not immediately like the English who took control of Florida in 1763.
A party of warriors from Tomatley or Tamathli - a town near present-day Sneads - demonstrated this in 1771 by attacking an English settlement on the Pascagoula River in southern Mississippi (then part of Louisiana). They killed two people and carried away a family of slaves. It is seldom remembered that the English often took Native Americans as slaves in the early days of their colonization of America and in this case the slaves captured by the Lower Creek warriors from Tamathli were American Indians.
John Stuart, the British agent for Indian affairs, wrote to the principal chiefs of the Lower Creeks, asking that the surviving prisoners be returned:
A Party of the Tomautley People some time ago carried away a Family of Indians Slaves, who belong to a planter on Pascagaula River, the Man they Killed or Burnt, the Woman is still among them. (Y)ou have no right to keep this Woman and Children. They were poor defenceless Slaves, could not be your Enemies being brought from a Country far to the Westward of the Mississippi, where you never go to War. I wish to Know if you the Chiefs of the Nation suffer such proceedings. There is no honor in taking and Killing a poor Slave the property of your Friends. I hope you will send your Talk that the Woman and Children may be restored to their Master. [John Stuart, January 20, 1772]
Stuart's assistant David Taitt carried the message to the Lower Creek chiefs, but was unable to obtain a suitable response. He then decided to travel down the Chattahoochee River and visit Tamathli in person.
The Chattahoochee River flows in from the left to join the Flint River which flows in from the right to form the Apalachicola in this 1940s photograph of the Forks. The site is now covered by Lake Seminole. Taitt purchased a canoe and prepared for his journey but found the chiefs greatly alarmed by his plans. They pleaded with him, telling him that they "desired me not to go down the River in a Canoe as they alledged there was some dangerous Whirlpools in the river which they said would sink the Canoe."More likely the chiefs on the Chattahoochee in what is now Alabama and Georgia were concerned that the Tamathli warriors were kill Taitt. They continued to present reasons why he should not go and finally offered to send two of their own head warriors to the town, but refused to let the assistant agent go, "alledging the danger of the River and badness of the people there."
Without saying it, the principal Lower Creek chiefs were telling Taitt that the towns on the lower Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers no longer listened to them. Tamathi was one of the founding communities of what would become the Seminoles. They broke away from the Muscogee or Creeks and resettled in Florida to live independently.
The only white person who had any real influence with them was a white trader named James Burges. He operated a trading post or "store" in Tamathli and another in the town of Pucknauhitla at present-day Bainbridge, Georgia. Burges married Native American women, the daughters of chiefs, and had families in each town.
Tamathli was on the western or right side of the Apalachicola River downstream from today's US 90 and the Jim Woodruff Dam. The actual town was on high ground back away from the floodplain swamps. Taitt sent him a letter on May 4, 1772, requesting his help in freeing the surviving slaves along with a captive white women. The letter was given to head warriors named Chimhuchi and Topahatkee for delivery.
On the same day, Taitt reported back to Stuart:
…The Eufalla people say that they have done no wrong as the house they burnt was on their own land but this I shall talk to them about…I intended to come down the River to Tamatley and had prepared a Canoe for that purpose by permission of the Indians here, since they have raised many objections aledging that there is several dangerous whirlpools in the rivers and the people there are a set of runagadoes from every Town in the Nation…I shall send two head men from this Town to Tomatley for the two Slaves which are alive, although the Boy is sold to a Trader there, the Man and Girl they murdered at the place where they took them. [David Taitt to John Stuart, May 4, 1772]
The two emissaries made it to Tamathli without major incident and returned to the Lower Creek towns on May 22, 1772. They brought with them the slave woman captured on the Pascagoula, but the trader John Mealy - who operated a store at Ocheesee Bluff - had sent him to the populated areas of Georgia, apparently for sale. The white captive living at Tamathli did not wish to be freed. She was married to a warrior of the town and fled into the woods to avoid being taken back by the two messengers.,/p>The Tamathli would improve their relations with the British over the years that followed. The two were close allies by 1778 when warriors from the town went to help fight against U.S. forces in Georgia during the American Revolution.
The town was east of Sneads on the higher ground back from the Apalachicola River just north of the now-abandoned Gulf Power plant.
Editor's note: You can learn more about the colonial-era history of Jackson County in Dale Cox's book The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years.
THE STORY OF CHIEF BLOUNT & THE HISTORY OF BLOUNTSTOWN
.(Across the river and 10 miles NW of Estiffanulga)
The City of Blountstown was named for John Blount, a Seminole Indian Chief. Blount was a guide for General Andrew Jackson who invaded Spanish Florida in 1818. This invasion caused the United States to purchase Florida from Spain and the territory became a part of the U.S. in 1821.John Blount was rewarded for his services to General Jackson with a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the President. In 1823, he was granted a reservation along the west side of the Apalachicola River, four miles by two miles square. Blount and his tribe traded with the American and English trading companies while living on his reservation. Several trading posts were located on the "Big River" and the Gulf of Mexico. Chief Blount had several hundred head of cattle, which grazed in the area. The earlier settlers near the reservation were allowed to slaughter the cattle with Blount being paid in the cattle hides. The hides were placed in canoes and carried down stream to Apalachicola and exchanged for supplies for the Indian people. There were many products sold by the Indian for such items as cloth, shoes, knives, coffee, and guns. An unusual product was bees' honey and wax. Thousands of trees grew near the Blount lands, which had beehives in their hollows. The warriors would go to the trees at night and secure the honey and wax that was traded to the merchants. The wild bear liked honey and would climb the trees and rob the bees of their honey. The Indian could usually discover a honey or bee tree when a bear lost his hold on the tree and fell to his death at the foot of the tree. The U.S. government eventually purchased Blount's reservation and transported the tribe to Texas. The cotton planter then settled the rich river bottomland and planted cotton, which furnished the clothing mills in England. The cotton planter used the steamboats to travel to Columbus, Georgia and sometimes to foreign countries. He bought many fine articles for his household which included ice transported from the Great Lakes. The cotton economy declined after the Civil War and large forests furnished trees, which were floated down the Apalachicola River on rafts and manufactured into lumber. In 1880, Blountstown became the County seat of Calhoun County and a courthouse was built near the river. In 1903, another courthouse was constructed in "new" Blountstown. This courthouse was used until 1973 when the new courthouse was constructed. However, the old courthouse has been restored and is listed as a historic Florida landmark. Fascinating residents of Blountstown have included the late Fuller Warren, former Governor of Florida, as well as Everett Yon, a native of Blountstown who was honored at the University of Florida, with the creation of Yon Ha
Designed by Caroline Smith