The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe: The Longest Dugout Recorded in Florida

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This past Saturday we had the privilege of visiting the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture , as they were host to a wonderful lecture on local history. While there we finally got to see the infamous Apalachicola

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida.

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Master Site File)

Traders’ Canoe. I have heard mention of it before and I have always been curious to see it. You are probably wondering why I would be so excited about a dugout canoe, right? What if I told you that it was the longest dugout canoe ever recovered, in one piece, in the state of Florida? It is over 50 feet long! 50 feet, 4 inches to be exact! Imagine trying to paddle such a beast upstream! This dugout was initially found in 2006 by two gentleman that were out bass fishing on the Apalachicola River. While they were loading their boat onto a trailer they noticed what appeared to be a board sticking out of the water. When their trailer struck it the object floated higher out of the water and they knew immediately they had come across an old dugout canoe. They attempted to pull it out of the water to load it onto their trailer, but soon realized it was too long. One of the gentleman operated a nearby sawmill, and so was able to arrange for a logging truck to transport it  to the sawmill for safe keeping. They then reported the find to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They recognized the potential significance of their find and wanted to do the right thing by reporting it to the proper authorities. The dugout quickly became a local celebrity, receiving numerous visitors wanting to witness this behemoth firsthand. A few days after the initial discovery archaeologists from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research were able to visit the dugout and work with other state officials and the individuals who discovered the dugout to come up with a plan to make sure that it was properly cared for and preserved.

Archaeologists generally discourage people from removing dugouts or other wooden artifacts from water or muck. These objects are usually quite saturated and have been that way for a long time. The state usually receives calls about dugouts becoming exposed during drought events, when water levels drop and they are found sticking out of the mud.  Once they are removed they start to dry out quickly and can degrade into a pile of nothing more than saw dust quite rapidly. It takes a trained conservator to ensure that the wooden object is dried carefully and in a controlled manner so that damage is kept to a minimum. Additionally, in some cases various conservation treatments are applied to ensure that the cellular structure of the object remains stable for years to come. These treatments can be very lengthy and sometimes expensive, and until the object can be treated properly, it is best preserved in place. If you are ever in a situation where you  find a dugout canoe or any other archaeological remains, you may call the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research to report it. You can also contact your local FPAN office, as all of us work closely with the folks at the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

After the the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe was properly conserved, archaeologists could see tool marks on the boat which indicated that it was made using metal tools, but with techniques commonly used by Native Americans. The fact that metal tools were used, along with the shape of the canoe, suggest that it was manufactured sometime between 1750 and 1850. Dugout canoes had long since been used by Native Americans but the technology was adapted and modified to meet the needs of Florida’s many early European settlers. It is possible that it was made by Native American craftsmen under the direction of Americans, the British or  the Spanish.

The Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

Hundreds of dugout canoes have been recovered from Florida’s lakes and rivers. Some of you may remember the dugout that was recovered from Lake Munson a few years ago. During the 2000 drought event, hundreds of dugouts and dugout fragments were recorded in Newnan Lake near Gainesville. Forty  wood samples were taken from the Newnan canoes and were found to be between 3,200 and 5,000 years old. Most dugout canoes measure between 18 and 20 feet. The traders’ canoe is more than twice that length! The traders’ canoe was also manufactured from a single cypress log. The majority of dugouts that have been recorded in Florida have been carved from pine logs, although cypress dugouts are not unheard of in Florida. It is quite possible that Florida has the largest concentration of dugout canoes in the Americans, possibly the world. Our state’s unique aquatic environment, complete with anaerobic muck river and lake bottoms, lends itself to the preservation of these delicate artifacts. In an anaerobic environment, few bacteria can survive and thus, they cannot contribute to the deterioration of organic material. In other words, there are less bacteria nibbling on the wooden artifacts and so objects that might otherwise degrade are preserved and provide archaeologists and the public a unique glimpse of our past.

If you want to check out the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe for yourself, and I encourage you to do so, it is on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture! Their hours of operation are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 noon to 5 PM.  It is located on the corner of Avenue E and Water Street in one of the beautifully restored cotton warehouses on the Apalachicola River.  You can make a day trip out of it and continue your forays into the local maritime culture by visiting the Apalachicola Maritime Museum as well!

The Big Anchor Project

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If you have ever visited a coastal city you probably have seen at least one big anchor just laying around somewhere – perhaps in front of a business, a street median or even in someone’s

Measuring an anchor in Apalachicola.

yard. Have you ever wondered where that anchor came from or what it’s story was? Apalachicola has numerous anchors just laying about all over the community. Some are sitting on private property, but many are on public property as well. This past Saturday, FPAN, the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research and community volunteers set out to learn about these anchors and record them for the Big Anchor Project’s world-wide database. It may sound a little strange, and you may be asking why we decided to do this, and we have a valid answer for you!

Think about the symbolism of the anchor for a minute. They are everywhere – flags, military insignia, business logos, etc. Anchors are an iconic symbol for anything maritime related. The anchor represents safety and stability and has been used by mariners as a symbol of such  for over 4,000 years. Many times an anchor is all that remains as a visible symbol of something that occurred at sea. The anchor may have been cut loose in an emergency or it may be resting atop an ancient shipwreck. The anchor is a lasting symbol, but amazingly very little work has been done to collect and organize data that exists about these anchors which are on display all over the world.

The Big Anchor Project is an effort to gather and organize this information. It was created by the Nautical Archaeological Society and currently contains information on over 500 anchors from all over the world! The great thing about this  project is that anybody from anywhere can participate by measuring an anchor and entering the information in the database online at biganchorproject.com. Online they have very descriptive and easy to follow directions on how to do it. This information is made available to researchers that may want to study anchors and thus contribute to our understanding of these very iconic symbols. If you know of an anchor in your community or elsewhere, I encourage you to check out the Big Anchor Project and record your anchor. It is a great group project for youth and adults and you make a direct contribution to furthering the understanding of your communities maritime history. In just one days time, with a great group of citizens from all walks of life, we were able to record fifteen anchors total. It doesn’t take very long to record an anchor and it is a lot of fun!

Volunteers recording an anchor in Apalachicola, FL.

 

Florida’s FANTASTIC Civil War Heritage Sites

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I recently came across a listing of the 12 fantastic Civil War sites, and to my dismay, none were from Florida! It was then that I realized that many folks in the North Central Region, as well as around the state, may not be familiar with the great Civil War sites that Florida offers. Florida seems to be the forgotten state of the Confederacy. Even in a 1860s Northern newspaper Florida was described as the “smallest tadpole in the dirty pool of secession”.  The state’s role in the Civil War has not been as thoroughly researched as other states in the South, but there has been a recent revival in the interest of Florida’s role in the Civil War. Florida was still a very frontier-like state at the start of the Civil War, with its territorial period having ended in 1845. The 1860 census reports that the population of Florida at that time totaled 140,424 with almost 45 percent of those recorded being slaves. More than 15,00 Floridians served in the confederate military and others, including more than 1,000 African Americans served in the Union Army. They fought in battles both in Florida and outside of the state. Eventually, decades later the “smallest tadpole” would emerge from the war as a major and influential player in the New South. Of course, this war had a lasting effect on the state, and many remnants of the Civil War remain part of the state’s great cultural history and can be seen still today. There are so many FANTASTIC Civil War sites in Florida that it would be impossible to list them all in this post. I can give a few highlights though!

The Orman House in Apalachicola.

Apalachicola is famous for its oysters, but it also has a great history. During the Civil War Apalachicola was the largest cotton port in Florida. It was the third largest cotton port on the Gulf of Mexico, behind New Orleans and Mobile. This port was an active area for blockade running as you can imagine. It was also an active area for salt production. As you stroll through the historic town you can find multiple sites relating to the Civil War.  At least 76 Confederate soldiers are buried in Chestnut Street Cemetery, along with other historical figures of the town of Apalachicola. Now a state park, the Orman House was constructed by Confederate sympathizer and businessman, Thomas Orman. Orman was arrested and detained by Union authorities during the Civil War. Local lore tells of Mrs. Sarah Orman warning Confederate soldiers up river of the approaching Union troops by walking on the roof and pretending to repair roof shingles. There are several other Civil War sites located in the town, including the Raney House and Trinity Episcopal Church.  There are many surrounding communities that have ties to the Civil War as well including St. George Island, Sumatra and Port St. Joe.

Tallahassee has more Civil War sites than you can shake a stick at! One of the lesser known sites is that of Fort Houstoun, also known as Old Fort. This is an earthen fort , one of

The 2nd Infantry USCT Reenactment Troop at the Battle of Natural Bridge Reenactment.

the few left that was constructed to protect Florida’s capital. At the time it was situated on a plantation belonging to Edward Houstoun. Today it sits in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in “Old Fort Park”. Due to the Unions defeat at Natural Bridge (just south of Tallahassee in Woodville), this fort was never utilized to protect the capital. The Tallahassee Old City Cemetery, located downtown, includes the remains of both Union and Confederate soldiers, some of who died at the Battle of Natural Bridge.

South of Tallahassee and Woodville, down by the Gulf Coast is situated St. Marks. Here, now as a state park, are the remains of Fort Ward. This fort was fist constructed by the Spanish in 1678 at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers. Later this fort was occupied by Confederate forces in 1861. Union forces failed to take control of St. Marks and Ford Ward and the fort remained in Confederate control until the end of the war.

The Olustee Battlefield Monument.

The area surrounding Live Oak and Lake City also has several wonderful Civil War sites.  Earthenwork fortifications are visible at Suwannee River State Park in Live Oak. These earthworks were created to protect the railroad bridge that crossed the Suwannee River. Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is located in Baker County, east of Lake City.  Here is the site of the state’s largest Civil War battle. The Confederates successfully defeated the Union Army, which were forced back to Jacksonville.  A monument was erected at the site in 1899. In 1909 three acres of the battlefield were donated to the State of Florida, and the Olustee Battlefield became the first Florida State Park. Each year the largest Civil War reenactment in the state is held at this site in February.

As you can see, Florida has a ton of Civil War sites. This post just barely scratches the surface of Florida’s vast Civil War history. There are several great resources available to those wishing to learn more about Florida during the Civil War. Online you can check out FPAN’S Destination: Civil War. You can even take Destination: Civil War along with you as you visit these sites with our Civil War iPhone App.  You can also  check out the permanent Civil War exhibit at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. The Florida Association of Museums has produced the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail booklet which is available at your local FPAN office or by contacting the Florida Division of Historical Resources. This year is the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. So take some time to reflect on this influential time in our history by visiting some of our states fantastic Civil War sites. To learn about events happening nationwide you can visit the Civil War Trusts website.