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  Week 11   Apalachicola River Program Menu
  Program 51 Apalachicola River
      Flowing over 100 miles from the northern state line to the Gulf of Mexico meanders one of the most important waterways in Florida’s history: the Apalachicola River.

I’m Dr Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

The Apalachicola River basin within Florida covers more area than the state of Connecticut and it is home to diverse plant and animal life.

People have chosen to live in this abundant area of natural resources for quite some time.

Archaeological discoveries along the banks, bluffs and floodplains of the river demonstrate that through the millennia the Apalachicola has played a significant role in the enterprises of Floridians. At one time or another, Florida’s diverse cultural groups have used it as a mode of transportation, highway to trade, and as a means to wage wars.

Artifacts found along the river have included rare objects of metal and stone—symbols of religious significance – from ancient Native American mounds.  Also found are boilers from sunken steamships, and discarded fuses from Confederate cannon emplacements.

  Program 52 Hammock Landing
      In the summer of 2010, archaeologists investigated a Civil War cannon emplacement in Florida’s Torreya State Park along the Apalachicola River.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense with Unearthing Florida…

In 1862, the Confederate government of Florida made it a priority to defend the Apalachicola, which led to the manufacturing heart of the south at Columbus, Georgia.  To accomplish this, obstructions were placed in the river and a series of defensive gun emplacements, with massive cannons, were set up.  

One of these gun batteries was at a site called Hammock Landing. Here archaeologists have found a wide variety of remains from this gun emplacement, including a heavy floor timber -- with a large iron spike driven into it.  This spike was probably used to pivot the gun.

Also found were the still-intact wooden walls built to support the magazine, where gun powder was kept, along with several smaller artifacts associated with firing the cannon.

  Program 53 Negro Fort
      During the War of 1812, the British built a military base in Florida on the eastern bank of the Apalachicola River that became a sanctuary for runaway slaves. The U.S. government called it “Negro Fort.”

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

After losing the war, the British evacuated, leaving the fort in the hands of free black soldiers and Indian allies, who had been recruited to fight the Americans for the promise of freedom. Afterward, the fort became a refuge for runaway slaves and their families.

With pressure from powerful American slaveholders, however, U.S. forces led an expedition to destroy it in 1816. A single cannon shot landed a direct hit in the powder magazine and set off a deadly explosion that nearly killed everyone inside. 

A depression in the ground created by the blast is still visible today. In the 1960s, archaeologists found mangled artifacts such as twisted brass straps from ammo chests that were blown apart. Also, discovered were portions of barrel hoops from the powder kegs that caused the explosion.

  Program 54 Mystery Steamship

In the 19th century steam powered vessels once reigned supreme on the waters of the Apalachicola River, but the huge boilers that powered them often exploded and in sunken ships.  

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida… 

Two of these large iron boilers, each thought to weigh a couple thousand pounds, rest near the edge of the Apalachicola in Fort Gadsden Historic State Park. Nobody seems to know for sure, but they likely came from an early 1800s paddlewheel steamer dredged out of the river.  Over the years these big metal artifacts were exposed to harsh outdoor elements. 

Archaeologists from the University of West Florida and Florida Public Archaeology Network are helping to preserve these vestiges of the past. With heavy equipment, house jacks, and stabilizing straps, they carefully raised the boilers from the river’s edge onto wooden platforms.   

Additionally, once the mystery surrounding the origin of the boilers has been solved, an outdoor exhibit will be created to help visitors better appreciate the significant history that this type of vessel had on the river.

  Program 55 Chattahoochee Landing Mounds
      For Native Americans, rivers were highways, and along the Apalachicola River, one site that served as a major hub of activity was the Chattahoochee Landing. 

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida...

The Chattahoochee Landing site sits strategically at the junction of two major rivers that form the Apalachicola, making long distance trade and communication possible between many different ancient cultural groups.

The most visible feature at this site is a group of Indian mounds, built over a millennium ago, and used probably up until 1700.

Dr. Nancy White from the University of South Florida has studied this site and others in the area for over 30 years.  She theorizes that these mounds were not used as high status burial grounds, but instead were raised platforms used as places to hold sacred ceremonies and to keep homes above floodwaters.

Over the years, erosion and modern human activities have destroyed four of the seven mounds that once stood at this site, leaving remnants of only three for further study about these lost cultures. 

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