Battlefield Archaeology Activity to Debut at Olustee!

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We are so excited because it is again time for us to pack up and head to Olustee for the battle reenactment! We have been attending for the past few years, but we are excited to debut our new activity, Battlefield on a Tarp. The

Our new Battlefield on a Tarp activity!

Civil War is an important event in our state’s and nation’s history, and archaeologists  have been hard at work studying our battlefields to create an accurate picture of the events that occurred during the Civil War. Battlefield archaeology has contributed greatly to our knowledge of past battles. Of course, there are many folks out there that collect Civil War memorabilia, including sometimes artifacts from battlefields across the country. As an archaeologist I find this trend somewhat disturbing because with each artifact that is taken off of a battlefield valuable information goes with it which can never again be recovered. Now, I understand that many people feel they have the right to collect, or think that archaeologists just want to keep the good stuff for themselves. However, that is not the case. When you take an item from a battlefield, which are often located on state or federal property, you are taking from every citizen in the state and the nation. An individual may think that they have the right to collect, but what about the rights of those wishing to visit and learn about these sites? The government has taken over the care of these sites so that they can be preserved for everyone to  enjoy  and have an equal opportunity to learn about the events that took place there. Archaeologists study these sites so that they can be better and more accurately interpreted to visitors and for scholars who want to learn about these sites. Artifacts have much more meaning and can contribute more to our understanding of the past when they are left in context. When they get removed from the site and put into a shoe box to be stored in somebody’s attic for nobody to see or learn about the context is lost! It is for these very reasons that taking artifacts from state or federal property is a crime. Our new activity is an effort on our part to show the public what archaeologists can learn from studying battlefields and exactly what damage is done when artifacts lose their context after they are removed from the site. I hope that you will make your way to Olustee this weekend for all the festivities and stop by our booth to check out our new Battlefield on a Tarp activity. We will also have a display on Florida during the Civil War that I am sure many people will find interesting.

As a related note, I often get asked how the public can get involved in archaeology. Archaeology is awesome and who wouldn’t want to have the opportunity to get involved? Well, here in Florida we have an amazing organization called the Florida Anthropological Society,  which is open to anyone with an interest in archaeology. There are chapters located throughout the state and every year in May there is the annual meeting of the organization. As a member of the Florida Anthropologist you receive the quarterly journal, The Florida Anthropologist, the quarterly newsletter and a discount on registration for the annual meeting. The 2013 meeting will be held in St. Augustine. It is also important to note that to become a member you must agree to abide by the organizations code of ethics. Many organizations have opportunities to assist on digs or  in archaeology labs, hold monthly meetings, conduct public outreach and host Florida Archaeology Month events. If you are interested you can visit fasweb.org for more information. This is a great way to get involved in archaeology and learn more about our state’s rich history!

 

The Tallahassee Old City Cemetery

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Yellow fever victims are buried in these graves.

This past Saturday, as many of you know, we hosted a tour of the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee. It was a great success, due in large part to our great tour guide, Erik Robinson!

We had about 35 people attend and I have received a ton of good reviews! I like to think of historic cemeteries as outdoor museums. There is so much history to be learned at these sites, and this cemetery is no exception. This cemetery is the oldest public cemetery in Tallahassee, established in 1829 during Florida’s Territorial Period. It was later acquired by the city in 1840 and in 1841 it twas laid out in a system of squares and lots when a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city. During the time of it’s establishment it was actually located outside of the city, although now it is located downtown. The cemetery was bordered on its far side y a 200  foot wide clearing that surrounded the town to protect it from Indian attacks. The cemetery was segregated, the whites buried in the eastern sections and the African Americans buried in the western sections. Originally various religious denominations had their own plots, but there are few indications today of the Presbyterian and Catholic areas. The majority of the Jewish burials have since been moved to other cemeteries.

This is the final resting place for many men and women who contributed to the development of Tallahassee and the State of Florida. For a long time it was Tallahassee’s only

Constructed in 1890s, this platform is still used for memorial services.

public burial ground it represents a cross section of Tallahassee residents during the 19th century. As you walk through the cemetery you will recognize many names from Tallahassee and Florida’s rich history – James D. Wescott (Wescott Building at Florida State University), John G. Riley (his house is now a museum and the headquarters for the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP), Thomas Vann Gibbs (founder of Florida State Normal Industrial School, now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University)…well, you get the picture! I could go on and on. The graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers that fought in the Battles of Natural Bridge and Olustee are also buried in this cemetery. A platform was constructed next to the Confederate graves by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the 1890s. Today that same platform is still used to for commemorations and memorial services by the UDC.

Memorial Service at the Old City Cemetery in the early 1900s.

Early Tallahassee was small and frontier-like. People had to make do with what they had and what was locally available. Many of the earliest graves were marked with wood head and footboards, which have since degraded and disappeared. The last plot was sold in 1902 and the cemetery is full, although many graves have no marker above ground anymore. During the Territorial Period there are newspaper accounts of hogs and cattle roaming through the cemetery and running over the graves. There are also articles complaining about the unkept appearance of the cemetery. Today there is a fence around the cemetery and it underwent a major restoration in 1991, with financial support from the Florida Department of State. This project was sponsored and administered by the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board. Unfortunately, due to limited funding not all of the gravemarkers in the cemetery were restored. They were able to restore the majority of those that had been badly damaged by vandalism and weathering. Unfortunately since the time of the restoration many of the monuments have been victims of vandalism once again! The cemetery is open to the public for visitation during daylight hours.

The marker for the oldest marked grave in the cemetery now lays face down in the dirt because of vandalism.

Another cemetery, located immediately north of this one, the St. Johns Episcopal Cemetery is also open to the public. We encourage you to visit these historic sites, however, please be aware that they are non-renewable historic resources that provide much valuable historical information about their community. They also provide valuable green space for both people and wildlife. Please be respectful and be sure not to damage any of the monuments. Although they are constructed of stone and metal and other very durable material, they are very old and very fragile.

If you are not able to make a trip to this cemetery, we have posted a photo tour on our Facebook page !

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.

Perry, Florida: A Small City with a Big History!

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The historic Bank of Perry building which is now the headquarters for the Taylor County Historical Society.

Last week I had the good fortune to be invited to Perry by the Taylor County Historical Society. I have to admit, I had driven through Perry many, many times on my way to other locations, but have never actually taken the time to get to know Perry. The folks at the historical society were so wonderful and sat down with me to discuss the history of the area. I learned a lot and found that although Perry may look small on a map, it’s role in Florida’s history is in no way small! Perry is located south from Tallahassee about an hours drive on US 27. I was surprised to find out that Perry had paved roads before the state capital did! Perry has played a significant role in history in many different ways. Today it is known for it’s tree and lumber industry and is known as the Forestry Capital of the South. The city was originally called Rosehead, named for the many wild roses that were found around the area. In 1875 the name was changed to Perrytown, after Florida’s fourth Governor, Madison Stark Perry. Later it became known simply as Perry.

While visiting with the Taylor County Historical Society I got to go out and visit some of the sites in the area. Some of the most fascinating sites that we visited were the Confederate salt works. To

One of the many Civil War-era salt works we came upon during my visit.

the unfamiliar eye, these sites look like nothing more than small piles of lime rock rubble, but someone familiar with local history can spot these salt works from a mile away. Prior to the Civil War, the majority of the salt that made its way into the South came from Europe. Salt was important because there was no refrigeration and it was needed to preserve meat. It was also used for seasoning food, packing fragile food items and was an ingredient in  many important products. During the Civil War Union blockades prevented salt from Europe reaching the Southern states. However, Florida’s Gulf Coast was ideal for producing salt and salt works were set up along the coast of Taylor County and other areas along Florida’s Gulf Coastline. In fact, salt production became so important that workers at the salt works were exempt from conscription into the Confederate Army. The workers would boil salt water in kettles to evaporate the water, leaving only the salt. During the Civil War the Union forces would frequently locate and attack these salt works in an attempt to cripple the Confederate forces, thus, working at these sites could be very dangerous. Today the remains of hundreds, if not thousands, of salt works dot the northwest coast of Florida.  All that remains of these sites are piles of rubble where the kettle would have once sat. In high tide the water would wash in towards the salt works and then as the tide went out the workers would boil the water to get at the salt. They would do this day in and day out.  These elevated, island-like features  consist of limerock and brick rubble. Many times the only trees growing in an area are those that grow on top of these little islands.The elevated rubble provides the plants with some protection from the saltwater during the incoming tides. In some cases, the salt works might sit on top of Native American middens or mounds that were created a long time before the Civil War, and thus you might sometimes come across some Native American artifacts mixed in with the rubble. Many have been heavily looted for artifacts, and in some cases people have even taken the lime rock for use in modern construction. Very rarely will you find remnants of the actual cast iron kettle used to boil the saltwater.

At this point I have to put my “Archaeology Hat” on and remind my readers of the great loss that occurs when archaeological sites are unscientifically excavated, or “looted”. Studying these salt works could allow us to gain a greater understanding of the Civil War-era industry in this region. Without these sites we may never be able to gain an accurate understanding of the industry or those that worked at the salt works. It is also important to remember that many of these sites are located on private property

The historic Bloodworth's Pharmacy Building in Downtown Perry.

or on state and federal land. Please do not trespass onto somebody else’s property. During our visit we had permission from the landowner to access these sites and we took nothing but photographs.

In addition to the salt works, I became familiar with many of the historic buildings located in Perry. The Taylor County Historical Society is located in the old Bank of Perry

The recently restored historic Perry Train Depot.

building. Bloodworth’s, established in 1904, was the second pharmacy ever opened in Perry and the sign is still painted on the side of the brick building. The historical society has been able to collect much of the local history and has an amazing collection of documents, artifacts and photographs. They also have very dedicated members that understand the importance and value of preserving one’s history. I could have sat with them for hours discussing old buildings, salt works, historic cemeteries and much more! I hope that in the near future I can work with the Taylor County Historical Society to help them preserve more of their history and record historic cemeteries and sites in their wonderful city!

The city has established a historic walking tour of the downtown area which highlights many of the historic buildings, including the historic Perry train depot  situated on the Live Oak, Perry and Gulf Railroad. So the next time you find yourself driving along U.S. 27, be sure to stop in Perry and take some time to explore. In fact, try to do that in every small town you visit because you never know what you will come across!

 

Creeks, Conquistadors, and Confederates: Archaeology of the Big Bend Lecture Series for Florida Archaeology Month 2012

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It is that time again! Florida Archaeology Month is upon us! This year’s theme is “Destination: Civil War! This is very exciting since the start of the 150th Commemoration of the Civil War starts this year. FPAN has a ton of awesome events lined up around the state, as do other organizations as well. To find out what is going on near you visit your local FPAN website AND check out the new Florida Archaeology Month website! This year the North Central Regional Center has teamed up the Tallahassee Community College Wakulla Center to offer a free series of lectures to highlight different archaeological topics for the Big Bend region! All lectures will be held on the dates listed below at the TCC Wakulla Center located at 5 Crescent Way in Crawfordville. All the lectures will start at 6:30 pm and last approximately an hour. They are all free and everyone is welcome! Also, be sure to check out all of our other events this month, including the reenactment at Natural Bridge! So, without further ado, below is the information about the speakers and dates for the “Creeks, Conquistadors, and Confederates: Archaeology of the Big Bend” lecture series. Trust me, you will not want to miss a single one!

The Madison :Scuttled in Troy Spring Run

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The lower ribs of the steamship, Madison, in Troy Spring Run at Troy Spring State Park.

The remains of the steamship, Madison, are located within the boundaries of Troy Spring State Park in Troy Springs, Florida. The Madison was originally constructed sometime between 1844 to 1854 for Captain James M. Tucker. It was named for Tucker’s hometown, Madison, Florida and it originally served as a floating mail service and trading post. In the 1850s, there were few road going into or out of Troy, and those that existed were often in poor condition. Additionally, the railroad had not yet arrived. For transportation, commerce and basic necessities, area residents relied on the service of Captain James M. Tucker and the steamboat Madison.

In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War the Madison was used by the Confederates as a privateer and jerry-rigged gunboat. Lafayette county was a known refuge for Union sympathizers and Confederate deserters. This put Captain Tucker at odds with many locals. In 1863 it was scuttled and set on fire in the spring run at the request of Captain Tucker in order to prevent the Union from taking it over.  Today some remains of the Madison are still visible in the spring run, mainly metal spikes, the keel and lower ribs.

Troy Spring State Park is a recent addition to the Florida State Park system. The 70-foot deep, first magnitude spring offers opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Troy Spring State Park is located off of County Road 425, 1.3 miles north of U.S. 27. While we are on the subject, this is a great opportunity to remind you that the theme for Florida Archaeology Month in March 2012 is the Civil War. What a perfect excuse to check out Troy Spring and explore the Madison! Please remember the old scouting motto though, “take only pictures, leave only footprints” (or in this case, bubbles!). We want everyone to be able to enjoy their scuba or snorkel adventure on the Madison, now and long into the future!

 

 

 

Archaeotourism and Ecotourism: Finding Common Ground

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he North Central Region of Florida is a beautiful and unique area. The area has been a tourist destination for a long time now, and many people come here to view wildlife, visit the beaches and springs, and enjoy the outdoors.

Mission San Luis in Tallahassee

Well, the very things that attract people to this area today were responsible for attracting people to this area throughout history and prehistory. It is amazing how many archaeological and heritage sites around here are open to the public. The great thing about it is that there is a site available to suit almost any interest! You can visit prehistoric mounds built by early Native American cultures, or check out a Civil War or Seminole War era fort, and of course, don’t forget that we have a  recreated Spanish Mission-period sites with living history programs (all of which is based on archaeological and historical information, and reconstructed on the actual archaeological site)! There is much more here as well, and more is becoming available as time goes on.

Lake Jackson Mound and picnic area.

The great thing about archaeotourism and eco-tourism is that they easily go hand-in-hand. One example of the many that I could choose from is Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park. At Lake Jackson you can climb an ancient Indian mound that looks out over beautiful Lake Jackson, and then you can go for a hike along one of their nature trails. The wildlife and history are abundant at this park, like so many others in the North Central Region. Is the Civil War more you cup of tea? Well then, take a day trip to Olustee Battlefield State Park or San Marco de Apalache, or how about Natural Bridge?  Again, you can learn about history and experience Florida’s beautiful natural landscape.

The great thing about archaeotourism in the North Central Region, and throughout Florida as well, you never have to travel far to find something new to learn about or to create lasting memories. These archaeological and heritage sites are everywhere! For example, just around the corner from the FPAN North Central Office, and in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, there is a Civil War fort. For that matter, my office is sitting on top of the DeSoto Encampment Site and the office building is part of the Governor Martin Property, which is

Hiking trail at Olustee Battlefield State Park

listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You might just find yourself amazed at the history and prehistory that surrounds you! So the next time you have a few moments check out our website, www.flpublicarchaeology.org, and use the tools on the website to find some true and unique Florida history near you.  Each region has a

Old Fort Park, Tallahassee

listing of sites located in that region, and you can also check out “Destination: Civil War” to find Civil War related sites in your area. Love the outdoors? Well, then load up the kayaks or the mountain bikes, strap on the hiking boots and visit a heritage site near you!

 

Plants of the Week: Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) and Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

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That’s right folks, this week we have two plants of the week!

The leaves of the Sweet Gum tree.

Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua):

Description: Tree to 125 ft. Outer limbs often corky winged. Leaves shiny, star shaped with 5-7 pointed, finely toothed lobes. Fruits spherical to 1 ½ inches, with projecting points.

The resin or “gum” formed when sweet gum bark is damaged, as well as many other parts of the tree exhibit strong anti-microbial activity. Sweet gum is used commercially as an ingredient in “compound tincture of benzoin”. The essential oil of the leaf contains compounds similar to those found in Australian tee tree, known for it’s anti-microbial properties.The gum was historically used by rural children as a chewing gum substitute. The twig, when chewed,  becomes a good “survival” toothbrush.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida):

Description: Deciduous tree 10-30 ft. Leaves ovate. Flowers in clusters, 4 showy, white bracts surround true flower.Fruits bright red to ¼ inch across.

Dogwood was widely used by American Indians as a medicine plant. It contains verbenalin, which reportedly has anti-inflammatory and pain reducing qualities, as well as being a cough suppressant and mild laxative. The red berries from the Flowering Dogwood tree are dry, very bitter and

The leaves and berries of the Dogwood in autumn.

considered inedible. Dogwood root bark tea  was widely used in the south as a quinine substitute, especially during the Civil War. An 1830 herbal study from Virginia commented that the teeth of Indians and captive Africans in the area were extremely white, and attributed this to dogwood chewing sticks. Like sweet gum, dogwood twigs form a soft pliable “brush” when chewed.

Destination: Natural Bridge (and other Civil War Sites in Florida!)

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The 34th reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge

During the final weeks of the Civil War, the Battle of Natural Bridge prevented Tallahassee from being taken by Union Troops. Tallahassee was the only capital city east of the Mississippi River to not  fall into Union hands during the Civil War.  Many people, from many different backgrounds fought on both sides at this battle. However, not many people realize that African American Soldiers fought and led the charge in the battle. Under Union General John Newton, troops from the Second and Ninety-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments fought in the Battle of Natural Bridge. In this battle the Union lost twenty-one men and the Confederates lost three men, with many more men on both sides being injured or captured. The site of this historic battle is now owned by the state and is open to the public as a Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park. Every year, in March, a reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge takes place at this park.

2nd Regiment USCT

This last reenactment on March 6 was special for several reasons. First, March 6th is the actual date the battle took place in 1865. It is also significant for one other, very historic reason. As mentioned, African American troops fought and led the charge in this battle. These men were members of the Second and the Ninety-ninth Regiments  United States Colored Troops (USCT). This year the John Gi. Riley and House Museum of African American History and Culture, along with the Natural Bridge Historical Society, formed the Second Infantry Regiment USCT to participate in the reenactment. This was an effort to assure the authenticity and accuracy of the battle as it actually occurred on March 6th, 1865.

The John G. Riley House Museum’s mission is to preserve the cultural and educational history of African Americans in the Tallahassee area and in Florida. The Riley house was named in honor of John Gilmore Riley. Riley was a  prominent member in the African American community in Tallahassee. In 1857 he was born into slavery, but he died a millionare in 1954. The Jonh G. Riley House Museum is open to the public, and for more information about the museum you can visit their website at www.rileymuseum.org.

The reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge is held each  year in March to commemorate this significant event in Florida’s history. To learn more about this battle you can visit the Natural Bridge Historical Society’s website at www.nbhscso.com or the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park’s website at  http://www.floridastateparks.org/naturalbridge/. Also, don’t forget that the Florida Public Archaeology Network has launched our Civil War internet resource, “Destination: Civil War”. Here you can learn about Natural Bridge and other Civil War heritage sites in Florida. From “Destination: Civil War” you can also see the locations of sites throughout Florida via Google Maps or Google Earth. So check it out, you may just find a site near you or a great destination for your next road trip!

 

 

My Brief Encounter with the Slave Canal and the Wacissa River

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This past weekend, like I mentioned in my previous post, I had the opportunity to paddle the Wacissa River and the Slave Canal. It was something I had heard about and  have wanted to do for awhile now, but something always came up that took priority to a day of kayaking (very unfortunate, I know!). Well, my brief encounter with the beautiful waters of the Wacissa and the historic setting of the Slave Canal has  left me wanting more!
Slave Canal Entrance from the Wacissa River
Now, you are probably wandering what the Slave Canal is and why it is named such. The Slave Canal was constructed in the 1850s using slave labor. John Gamble, a nearby plantation owner decided it would be a benificial project for local cotton merchants. The purpose of the canal was to connect the Wacissa River to the nearby Aucilla River so that cotton barges could be floated to the Gulf. You see, the Wacissa River diffuses into an almost impenetrable swamp, impossible for cotton barges to pass through to get to the Gulf of Mexico so that the cotton could be loaded on to larger ships for export. Unfortunately for the cotton merchants, the canal scheme did not work very well-it was too shallow. In some places the canal never reached more than a foot deep, and the canal was never able to be used by large boats. Shortly after the Civil War the canal was abandoned.
Signage for Slave Canal
Luckily for us adventurous types, the canal remains open  today as a premier three mile paddling trail connecting the Aucilla and Wacissa Rivers-that is, if you can find it. The entrance to the canal can be a bit tricky to find (there are signs though, so keep an eye out). Once  you do find it though, you are in for a treat. The deadfalls and swift current at high water create a somewhat challenging, but delightful paddling trip. The Slave Canal is part of the Wacissa River Paddling Trail. According to the trail guide it is an intermediate paddle. I only had a chance to kayak a small portion of the canal, but I already have plans in the works to kayak the whole thing. Paddling is a wonderful way to experience, not only nature, but history as well.  There is no documentation of who the slaves were that constructed the canal, but kayaking the canal somehow brings to light the challenges that they must have faced.

 

In addition to the history of the Slave Canal, don’t forget about the people that made their homes on these waterways long before the canal’s construction. The wonderful thing about the Wacissa and Slave Canal is that there are no houses or buildings visible from the river starting from Goose Pasture (where I launched ) to the Slave Canal. It is almost as if you are kayaking into a time long, long ago. You can almost imagine people paddling in dugout canoes along this stretch of remote wilderness. And remember, you may encounter archaeological sites along these waterways, you can look, but don’t touch. Leave any artifacts you might encounter where they are so that the next visitor can enjoy looking at them (and not picking them up) and so that archaeologists in the future can have the opportunity to study them and learn about the people that lived along these rivers in Florida’s past. Hopefully my future plans for kayaking the whole canal will come to fruition soon, and of course, I will tell you all about it!