Guest Column: The NPS multi-cultural connection

I would like to thank Historic City News for their partnership and continued coverage of the National Park Service Gullah-Geechie Cultural Heritage Corridor, and its proposed extension to connect with St. Johns County.

This will provide many new economic benefits to the local and surrounding Southeastern Regional area through tourism, increased visitors and length of stay via the multi-cultural economy.

This inclusion will also provide additional promotional dollars for Fort Mose and other St. Augustine area sites that feature our multi-cultural history. We are learning new things about our early colonial past through archeology and translating documents, and together this paints a picture of a diverse group of colonies that struggle for survival. This is what makes the GGCHC unique, because it does not focus on a single hero, a single battle, single gender, or ethnicity. Survival and freedom were more important that color, and gender at that time!

The area included in the GGCHC includes the story of the battle over the contested lands, originally claimed by Spain), which comprise North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. This is a multi cultural story of international significance because it involves the major players in the settling of the New World to include England, France, and Spain.

It also involves free people of color, indentured servants, Native Americans, and African slaves. It is only right that the whole story be told, and regardless of what the outdated history books say, in one way or another all of these groups contributed to the development of the United States, and formation of our national identity.

Matter of fact, if we are fortunate enough and the Secretary of the Interior approves the NPS Master Plan to include St. Johns County into the Corridor; we would have put St. Augustine on the map! Literally and figurative, meaning that every map that the NPS makes regarding the Corridor and the Underground Railroad, St. Augustine will be on it. This too is a first.

There is speculation that the Gullah people first arrived in the New World as part of the expedition of Allyone in 1526. Because of lack of supplies the colony was abandoned, leaving behind some 150 Blacks. They appear to have survived, and maintained their cultural identity. Their tradition of rice growing and ability to survive and adapt to their new surroundings is now being recognized. The impact of these people can be measure in one way; which is the exports of colonial South Carolina.

In 1700 S.C. exported 5 tons of rice by 1740 they exported 25 tons. This period includes a rapid increase in the number of Africans brought to S.C., which was estimated at 40 thousand. During this time the colony of St. Augustine was struggling, its black militia and Spanish Garrison fought heroically to fight off an attack that year by British Navy, Scottish Highlanders, and Creek Indians. This was not the first attack. The attack of 1702 was disastrous for Spanish Florida with Gov James Moore of S.C. destroying the mission system, which was supplying food for the colony, and burning down the town. They would return in 1726, and again Spanish Garrison and Black militia fought bravely.

Although Fort Mose is the first settlement of free people of African descent in North America, it should not be forgotten that, it was established in 1725 as a refugee camp for Native Americans and during the fight over the contested lands coastal Indians paid a high price, with many, like the Timucan, Yammasee, Guale, and Ocono becoming extinct. The southeastern Indians also known as the 5 civilized tribes tried their best to survive and adapt to a rapidly changing world. Let it be known that the first slaves in North America are Native Americans, and how ironic that within two hundred years that these tribes would be some of the largest slave holders in the south. Hence, this is why Fort Caroline is included in the GCCHC. What had been proposed as the Capital of Spanish Florida was Santa Elana (off the coast of S.C.) on the site of a previous fort established by the French called Charles fort, and Spanish missions were establishes as far north as Virginia (Ajacan, and Gutarie in S.C.)

Currently, it is not clear when the first Blacks came to St. Augustine, however the first Black baptism is recorded in 1606, and it could be argued that in 1565 all Spanish nobles and officers would have brought their servants with them. Because, they would not cook, or do their own laundry, and theses servants not slaves bought their freedom from the Spanish, and some remained in St. Augustine.

There were even naval battles between the French and Spanish 1580, the battle of San Mateo where two Black sailors fighting for France were mentioned for heroism. The Spanish attacked S.C. with raids on Beaufort, and Sullivan’s Island in1722, 1741 and 1742. The rising power of the British navy was created out of naval stores and timber, pine and oak, as well as turpentine, and pitch were used to build their ships that came from the coastal southeast. And, although the Edict of 1693 is considered the first Civil rights law in the New World, it should be remembered that the first record of runaways from the Carolina’s arrive in 1687, and another edit is on the book dating back to 1600 from King Charles I.

As we know we have a rich heritage that we all share and the sacrifices and hardships suffered by all were essential ingredients in the making of our modern world, and we have many treasures here to add to the GGCHC. To include Fort Mose, St. Augustine Lighthouse as the oldest maritime port in North America, and the Fountain of Youth to name a few. The Fountain of Youth is currently, working with the University of Florida to excavate the site for more clues about the location of the first St. Augustine and the Timmuca people prior to and during the Spanish arrival. The GGCHC not only fills in many blanks in our knowledge of history, and some that was overlooked, due to the fact that most of this pre dates the formation of the United States. Yet the story does not end there.

During the American Revolution both sides struggled with weather to enlist Blacks on their side, and eventually, both armies made use of Blacks. Lord John Murray Dunmoore, Royal Governor of Virginia created the Ethiopian Regiment., and the United States had the First Rhode Island regiment, as well a mixed units like the 2nd Conn. But we cannot forget the 453 free Black Chassuars de Voluntaires from Haiti who covered the American retreat during the Battle of Savanna, or the exploits of Admiral Bernardo Galvez in capturing Mobile, and New Orleans from the British and who brought some 5 million dollars to the American cause.

There were the East Florida Rangers who out of some 2,500 men had about 700 to 900 Blacks soldiers, and there was the 300 Black Dragoons raised in S.C. stationed in St. Augustine in 1782. The issue of slaves and free Blacks were very much a part of the debate about freedom and liberty in the U.S. The French Admiral De Staing arrived at Yorktown late, because he had to protect the harvest of Sugarcane in the French islands. Perhaps it could be said that the revolution would have ended differently if the British had not had some many soldiers protecting the planters throughout the Caribbean. The issue of Blacks and freedom affected the policies of all the colonial powers, legislation, and economies of scale.

The critical manpower they provided, results in the 3/5th compromise, and the issue of runaways and the value as property) would not go away either. The first treaty as a Nation was with the Creeks in 1790 the treaty of Holston was about the recovery and return of runaway slaves. In an estimate; Thomas Jefferson noted that some 30 thousand slaves had escaped plantations during the war from Virginia alone. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that in the census of 1790 there was 57,729 free blacks listed in the U.S. How many of these people came to Spanish Florida?

With the Louisiana purchase, indirectly caused by France having lost Haiti to revolt, the U.S. begins its policy of Manifest destiny, and this is fueled by the ban on importation of Slaves, which drives up the prices, and the cotton gin in1803 which creates the plantation system that both Gone with the Wind and Uncle Tom’s Cabin focus on. What followed is the war of 1812, the invasion of Florida by Andrew Jackson (largely to address the problem of free Blacks and Native people forming an alliance). The Black Militia and Seminoles defeat the Patriots in their abortive attempt to take over Florida in 1814, and the treaty of Moultrie Creek, 1823 was the largest gathering of its kind with over 500 creek and Seminoles in attendance. Here they seeded 25 million acres of land, and this lead to years of war, and the Trail of Tears.

All of these people from the earliest of colonial times through the creation of Florida as a state include the history of people of many colors (multi-cultural). There were heroes on every side; they came in all colors, men and women. And they all were fighting for freedom. These are things that as a Nation we hold dear. The larger story, the More complete and accurate version of the story is contained within the GGCHC, which will add to the multi-cultural economies that will bless our economy in the years and generations to come.

Derek Boyd Hankerson
St. Augustine, FL

James Bullock is the author of Freedom Road, a story about Fort Mose – the First Free Black Settlement in North America. He is also the creator of Many Flags, Many Colors which takes the audience through a cast of little known American heroes.

Derek Boyd Hankerson is lobbying the National Park Service on the inclusion of St. Johns County into the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and is working on other National Heritage Area projects for Northeast Florida. He also has lobbied the NPS Underground Railroad “Network to Freedom” project to include St. Johns County because of the county’s contribution to the Underground Railroad. Hankerson is a graduate or Webster University School of Business and Technology with a masters degree in management and leadership. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and completed graduate studies in organizational communications at Bowie State University.

Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News contributed photograph. L-R, Danny Cromer, Legislative Director, Congressman James Clyburn and Gayle Hazewood, National Park Service, Southeast Regional Director.

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