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  • 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.

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    ULEE'S GOLD

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    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.

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    WILLIAM AUGUSTUS BOWLES LAST FORT, LOCATED IN ESTIFFANULGA

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    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.

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    1839 CREEK ATTACKS at ESTIFFANULGA

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    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.

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    WHISKEY RIVER PLANTATION

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    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.

    Designed by Caroline Smith