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The Corps of Colonial Marines.

Discussion in 'Royal Marines History and Knowledge' started by Rover, Feb 8, 2019.

  1. Rover

    Rover Moderator

    Oct 23, 2008
    A touch of history....

    Back in 1808,The Corps of Colonial Marines were two Marine units raised from former slaves for service in the Americas by the British at the behest of Alexander Cochrane.The units were created at two different times, and were later disbanded once the military threat had disappeared. Apart from being instigated in each case by Cochrane they had no connection with each other. The term "Colonial Marines" is a euphemism for Black/Negro Marines.
    The first Corps was a small unit that served in the Caribbean from 1808 to 12 October 1810, recruited from former slaves to address the shortage of military manpower in the Caribbean. The locally-recruited men were less susceptible to tropical illnesses than were troops sent from Britain. The Corps followed the practice of the British Army's West India Regiments in recruiting slaves as soldiers.
    The second, more substantial, Corps served from 18 May 1814 until 20 August 1816.The greater part of the Corps was stationed at St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast, with a smaller body occupying the future Negro Fort, on the Apalachicola River in remote northwest Florida.Recruits were accepted from among escaped slaves who had already gained their freedom on coming into British hands and who were unwilling to join West India Regiments.
    At the end of the War of 1812, as the British post in Florida was evacuated, the Corps' Florida detachment was paid off and disbanded.Although several men accompanied the British to Bermuda, the majority continued to live in settlements around the Fort the Corps had garrisoned (which had quickly become a center of slave insurrection). This legacy of a community of armed fugitive slaves with a substantial arsenal was unacceptable to the United States of America.After the Fort was destroyed in the Battle of Negro Fort of 1816, the former Marines joined the southward migration of Seminoles and African Americans escaping the American advance. Members of the Colonial Marine battalion who were deployed on the Atlantic coast withdrew from American territory.They would continue in British service as garrison-in-residence at Bermuda until 1816, when the unit was disbanded and the ex-Marines resettled on Trinidad.
    And so to the Incident,Negro Fort was a fort built by the British in 1814, during the War of 1812, on the Apalachicola River, in a remote part of Spanish Florida. It is part of the Prospect Bluff Historic Sites, in the Apalachicola National Forest, Franklin County, Florida.

    The fort was called Negro Fort only after the British left in 1815, its later residents and staff were primarily blacks (free Negroes or fugitive slaves), together with some Choctaws. There were a significant number of maroons already in the area before the fort was built and beginning in 1804 there was for several years a store (trading post) there. The blacks, having worked on plantations, knew how to plant and care for crops, and also to care for domesticated animals, mostly cattle.
    When withdrawing in 1815, the local British commander, Edward Nicolls, deliberately left the fully armed fort in the hands of the blacks and paid off the Colonial Marines and their Creek allies, most of whom resided there and took part in the defense of the fort. As Nicolls hoped, the fort became a center of resistance near the Southern border of the United States. The site was militarily significant, although without artillery training, the blacks, tribal warriors and Marines were ultimately unable to defend themselves. It is the largest and most famous instance before the American Civil War in which armed former or fugitive slaves fought whites who sought to return them to slavery.
    The "Negro Fort", as it soon came to be called, became widely known. It offered a safe refuge to anyone who wished to flee from the United States, whether escaped slaves, who were safe once they reached Spanish Florida, or Native Americans.Escaped slaves came from as far as Virginia.The Apalachicola, as was true of other rivers of north Florida, was a base for raiders who attacked Georgia plantations, stealing anything portable and helping the slaves escape.
    To guard this portion of the U.S. border, in April 1816 the U.S. Army decided to build Fort Scott, on the Flint River, a tributary of the Apalachicola. Supplying the fort, however, was a problem; to take materials overland would have required traveling through unsettled wilderness. The obvious route to supply the Fort was the river. Although technically this was Spanish territory, Spain had neither the resources nor the inclination to protect this remote area.
    Jackson requested permission to attack, and started preparations. Ten days later, Andrew Jackson ordered Brigadier General Edmund P. Gaines at Fort Scott to destroy Negro Fort. The U.S. expedition included Creek Indians from Coweta, who were induced to join by the promise that they would get salvage rights to the fort if they helped in its capture.On July 27, 1816, following a series of skirmishes, the U.S. forces and their Creek allies launched an all-out attack under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Clinch, with support from a naval convoy commanded by Sailing Master Jarius Loomis.
    Three leaders of the fort had come with Nicolls (since departed) from Pensacola. They were: Garçon ("boy"), 30, a carpenter and former slave in Spanish Pensacola, valued at 750 pesos ;Prince, 26, a master carpenter valued at 1,500 pesos, who had received wages and an officer's commission from the British in Pensacola;and Cyrus, 26, also a carpenter, and literate.As the U.S. expedition drew near the fort on July 27, 1816, black militiamen had already been deployed and began skirmishing with the column before regrouping back at their base. At the same time the gunboats under Master Loomis moved upriver to a position for a siege bombardment. Negro Fort was occupied by about 330 people during the time of battle. At least 200 were maroons, armed with ten cannons and dozens of muskets. Some were former Colonial Marines.They were accompanied by thirty or so Seminole and Choctaw warriors under a chief. The remaining were women and children, the families of the black militia.
    Before beginning an engagement General Gaines first requested a surrender. Garçon, the leader of the fort, a former Colonial Marine, refused. Garçon told Gaines that he had orders from the British military to hold the post and at the same time raised the Union Jack and a red flag to symbolize that no quarter would be given. The Americans considered the Negro Fort to be heavily defended; after they formed positions around one side of the post, the Navy gunboats were ordered to start the bombardment. Then the defenders opened fire with their cannons, but they had not been trained by the British to handle artillery, and thus were not effective.
    It was daytime when Master Jarius Loomis ordered his gunners to open fire. After five to nine rounds were fired to check the range, the first round of hot shot cannonball, fired by Navy Gunboat No. 154, entered the Fort's powder magazine. The ensuing explosion was massive, and destroyed the entire Fort. Almost every source states all but about 60 of the 334 occupants of the Fort were instantly killed, and others died of their wounds shortly after, including many women and children.
    General Gaines later reported that:

    "The explosion was awful and the scene horrible beyond description. You cannot conceive, nor I describe the horrors of the scene. In an instant lifeless bodies were stretched upon the plain, buried in sand or rubbish, or suspended from the tops of the surrounding pines. Here lay an innocent babe, there a helpless mother; on the one side a sturdy warrior, on the other a bleeding squaw. Piles of bodies, large heaps of sand, broken glass, accoutrements, etc., covered the site of the fort... Our first care, on arriving at the scene of the destruction, was to rescue and relieve [kill] the unfortunate beings who survived the explosion."
    Garçon, the black commander, and the Choctaw chief, among the few who survived, were handed over to the Creeks, who shot Garçon and scalped the chief. African-American survivors were returned to slavery. There were no white casualties from the explosion.
    The Creek salvaged 2,500 muskets, 50 carbines, 400 pistols, and 500 swords from the ruins of the fort, increasing their power in the region. The Seminole, who had fought alongside the blacks, were conversely weakened by the loss of their allies. The Creek participation in the attack increased tension between the two tribes.Seminole anger at the U.S. for the fort's destruction contributed to the breakout of the First Seminole War a year later.
    The largest group of survivors, including blacks from the surrounding plantations who were not at the Fort, took refuge further south, in Angola.Some other refugees founded Nicholls Town in the Bahamas.
    Garçon was executed by firing squad because of his responsibility for the earlier killing of the watering party, and the Choctaw Chief was handed over to the Creeks, who scalped him. Some survivors were taken prisoner and placed into slavery under the claim that Georgia slaveowners had owned the ancestors of the prisoners.Neamathla, a leader of the Seminole at Fowltown, was angered by the death of some of his people at Negro Fort so he issued a warning to General Gaines that if any of his forces crossed the Flint River, they would be attacked and defeated. The threat provoked the general to send 250 men to arrest the chief in November 1817 but a battle arose and it became an opening engagement of the First Seminole War.
    With white American settlement, the memory of Fort Blount as the Negro Fort faded. Contemporary maps rarely mention Negro Fort; the site until 2016 was called Fort Gadsden Historic Site, but Fort Gadsden had a less dramatic history. None of the four historic markers at the site mentions Negro Fort. (It is mentioned on the information kiosk at the site.) The Union Jack (British flag) flies over the site; the Colonial Marines, at least, felt they were British subjects. (See Treaty of Nicolls' Outpost.) Historical markers call it a "British post", and nothing is mentioned as to the ethnicity of the fortress's defenders, except that, as blacks and "Indians", they were not "Americans". British Fort Magazine described the carnage:

    "It is hard to imagine the horrible scene that greeted the first Americans to stand here on the morning of July 27, 1816. The remains of the 270 persons killed in the magazine explosion lay scattered about. They also found an arsenal of ten cannons, 2,500 muskets and over 150 barrels of black powder. Some original timbers from the octagonal magazine were uncovered here by excavations."
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