LOOKING FOR ANGOLA: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY EFFORT
The Looking for Angola team members respresent several academic disciplines and bring varied skills, experiences and backgrounds to the research. Cross disciplinary (or multidisciplinary) research is useful because each discipline has strengths and limitations, in what it can or cannot tell us about a given research problem. So each member of the
Looking for Angola team approaches the research from a different point of view. When taken as a whole, their various results will give us a more complete understanding of Angola and its inhabitants.
We sat down with each team member to discuss why the search for Angola is important, what the story of Angola can teach us today, and what information their particular research can, and cannot, tell us about the lost community. We hope you will enjoy reading about what each team member hopes to contribute to the search for Angola!
To read the individual interviews, you can use the navigation bar on the bottom of the page. Enjoy the interviews!
Vickie Oldham, Director, LFA
Journalism, Project Management
Terrance Weik |
Uzi Baram, Ph.D. |
Rosalyn Howard, Ph.D.
Louis Robison, Ed.D | Educator/Historian
Canter Brown, Jr., Ph.D.
| Discipline: History
Bill Burger, M.A., RPA
Interview with Vickie Oldham, Project Director
Interview with Vickie Oldham, Director, LFA
Expertise: Journalism, Project Management
Q: How Did the Looking for Angola Project come about?
A: I was hired to revise and complete the script for a documentary about the history of Sarasota. The draft written before I joined the project had problems. While reading it, I also noticed that there were no references to black settlements in the area before the Civil War. I reworded the script to include the Angola Settlement.
I knew about Angola’s existence because 15 years ago I was contracted to produce another documentary about the history of Sarasota’s black community. Sarasota County Historian Ann Shank (a godsend) pointed me to Dr. Canter Brown’s newly released book, Florida’s Peace River Frontier. Canter gave a lecture in Sarasota during that time. I met and interviewed him for a show I hosted that aired on the ABC affiliate.
Fast forward to 2003. I was undergoing a career transition in my life. It was challenging. At times I was uncertain about my next move – should I leave the area, should I stay, stay and do what? I was in the midst of redefining who I was after 20 years in very visible positions in Sarasota as a TV journalist, community advocate and host of a popular television show.
I completed the scriptwriting assignment of the Sarasota history documentary around the same time as this challenging transition. During the process, I was pushed to revisit Canter’s research about the tenacity, determination, courage, enterprise and survival skills of the Angola inhabitants. Some themes resonated loud and clear. These people were making it on their own and surviving. That message of self-determination spoke directly to me in a powerful way over and over again; morning, noon and night. It encouraged me and reminded me that I could do the same.
The story of Angola kept nudging me and playing over in my mind. I was moved to seek funding to tell the story for what became my next project, – a documentary solely based on the Angola Settlement. I spoke to Dr. Jan Matthews (at the time Director of the Florida Division of Historic Resources) at the premier of the Sarasota History documentary, about grants. Shortly afterwards, I organized a conference call to see if there was interest in the story. Invited to participate in the call was Matthews, historian Dr. Canter Brown, Jr., anthropologist Dr. Rosalyn Howard , TV 19’s station manager, and archaeologists Marion Almy and Ann Shank. During the conversation, I learned that no archaeology had ever been conducted to find artifacts of Angola. I was even more intrigued about the project after the call.
Soon after, I visited a website and found out about a state historic preservation grant. The application was due in 10 days. I had no experience at grant writing but felt sure making the deadline was do-able. I asked each scholar to answer the grant questions that fit their discipline. For advice and pointers, I met with a successful grant writer, Linda Mansperger (Executive Director of Historic Spanish Point). Cynthia Newell founder of Neighborhood Leadership Initiative Incorporated allowed her non-profit to serve as LFA’s fiscal agent. I gathered letters of support from the community, the district’s legislative delegation and gathered the match needed for in-kind donations. After many hair splitting moments and lots of running around to gather letters, documents and photos, the grant was submitted on time. Bill Burger, Canter Brown and I defended the proposal in Tallahassee. It was enthusiastically approved by the grant panel.
Q: What was it about this piece of the past that held your fascination?
A: What held my fascination was the fact that the people of Angola had so little, yet they held on to the determination to live in freedom. They fought for freedom and many died for freedom. I thought, “Surely, I have more resources than they had.” The message to me was, “I can make it too with that same steely determination.”
Q: So you have pulled together a stellar team and won so much funding, working entirely on faith?
A: I’m living by faith and working around the clock to make sure the Angola settlers are honored for their sacrifice and contributions related to Florida’s development. Committing great amounts of time, effort and my own money to this project is risky (I wouldn’t recommend this work to the faint of heart). It is indeed a faith walk that requires a visionary willing to think big and dream big. I have a broad vision for this project and I believe every venture undertaken can and will be fulfilled.
Q: I sense that there was something in this story that haunted you and spurred you to action. Is this correct?
A: The message of the story kept playing over and over in my mind…The Angola inhabitants were making it on their own, doing the best they could with the innate skills and resources they had. The idea of telling the story was burning in my heart. I had no time to sit and wait on something to happen. If anything was to happen, I had to make it happen. I had the time and the drive because the story touched me in a very profound, personal way.
Q: What do you hope comes out of this research?
A: I want the message I learned from the people of Angola to resonate for others who are at a crossroads as I was.
The playing field has never been leveled as it relates to African Americans in the workplace, housing, the economy in this country. Perhaps it never will be. The Angola story taught me not to depend on the benevolence of the government and leaders to help. Our own self-determination (such as was displayed by the people of Angola) must suffice. That’s the message that I hope school students grasp, as well as people of color every where. But if you think about it, the message is universal. It’ll work for anybody.
I want the message to be accessible and understandable. That’s why LFA is a multi-disciplinary project … it’ll cross all disciplines. A documentary short is now ready for air. Phase I archaeological testing was conducted. This is only a beginning. I’d like books of fiction and non-fiction to be published based on the story, more archival research completed, theatrical performances staged, a feature length film produced, an educational component organized and placed in schools, a cultural exchange program (between teachers, students here and the Bahamas) put together and information about Angola incorporated into the social studies curriculum for Florida students and others nationwide.
I’d like to tell the Angola story through multi-media presentations, academic publications and the creative arts.
Q: How will those goals be met, and what is on the immediate horizon for the Looking for Angola Project?
A: I am currently talking with archaeologists about where they would like to conduct further investigations. There are three places that we’ve discussed. First, archaeological research should be done in the area of Red Bays, where the descendant population first landed on Andros Island. When Rosalyn Howard and I were in Nassau and Red Bays this summer, we met with officials from the National Museum of the Bahamas to discuss a partnership and to learn what it would take to conduct archaeology there. The meetings were successful. As a result, we will work with our Bahamian counterparts on an oral history project initially, as funding becomes available. The officials are willing and excited about working together on LFA. We have a wonderful letter of support from them stating such.
Uzi Baram would like to start a project at De Soto National Park to investigate the presence of the British fillibusters, the Cuban fishermen who maintained fishing ranchos along this coast, and possibly of Angola, too. He’s not absolutely certain of the Angola connection there, but it is certainly worth looking into. Another location would be on what was once called Negro Point.
My goal has always been to involve schoolchildren in this process. That’s what I’m working on right now. I’d like to engage teachers in Sarasota and Manatee Counties in the Looking for Angola Project. I’ve met with school administrators and teachers to elicit their help in developing a social studies project for two or three pilot classrooms. We would share the Angola story with students; conduct hands on activities, and also engage students and teachers on this side of the ocean with students and teachers in Andros Island. The students could write or email each other and discuss their shared history. The ultimate goal is to get the Angola story included in the social studies curriculum statewide.
Canter Brown, Jr.’s remarkable historical research is continuing, of course, and we’re working to develop and schedule a panel discussion in the near future, where LFA scholars will discuss the development of Angola, its subsequent destruction, its significance in American history, the results of the Phase 1 archaeological survey, and any other items the public would like to discuss about Angola.
We’re also looking into the possibility of staging a theater adaptation of the Angola story. I’ve met with director Nate Jacobs, who is the Founding Director of the West Coast Theater Troupe here about developing a play that tells the Angola story, to attract a wider audience.
I plan to continue production on a series of documentaries. I would especially like to produce a piece about the descendant population in Red Bays, Andros Island, the Bahamas. A feature length documentary that includes A-list actors is also on my ‘to do’ list.
When artifacts of Angola are found, LFA will apply for designation in the National Register. Then a commemorative program to remember and honor Angola residents and survivors will be planned.
I expect several books will be published about the project. I’ll write one about this entire experience focusing on my personal journey of self actualization and empowerment.
So that’s just a start. There are other components of the project, but that’s enough to say grace over for now [laughs].
LFA is my most exciting project yet. It has all the elements that keep life long learners (like me) engaged. I’d like to commit all of my time toward fulfilling the vision for LFA. Unfortunately, my bills wouldn’t get paid if I gave it my total attention. I’ll keep “pounding the rock” until the story gets the exposure it deserves. The Angola story was almost forgotten. Canter Brown must be thanked for his research. I’d also like to appreciate all of the LFA scholars, my supporters and friends who’ve contributed toward the development of LfA.
Interview with Canter Brown Jr., Historian
Interview with Canter Brown, Jr., Ph.D.
Q: How did you become involved in the search for Angola?
A: I first became aware that there was a settlement that we came to find out was called Angola when I was researching a book called Florida’s Peace River Frontier in the late 1980s. I was, of course, interested in all the nineteenth century history of the greater Tampa Bay and southwest Florida areas, and I kept finding references, in official documents and newspaper reports, of a massive Indian slave raid into Florida in 1821.
One day I was in Atlanta in the Georgia Archives, and I came across a collection of typed letters from the Creek Indian Agency. All of a sudden, I find this flurry of correspondence talking about this raid and even listing some of the former slaves or slaves that had been seized in this raid who were brought back to Fort Mitchell in Georgia and placed into the custody of the United States government.
I thought, “Good Lord, I wasn’t aware of any of this.” So, at that point I really focused on trying to find some sort of narrative description of the raid, and I got lucky. I was living in St. Augustine, and the St. Augustine Historical Society was wonderful about ordering microfilm for me. They got a microfilm of a Philadelphia newspaper from 1821, and, of all things, they had picked up an article from the Charleston City Gazette in South Carolina. It was a letter from a man who described himself as a planter, talking about this raid and describing it and alerting people not only to the magnitude of the raid but about how many slaves had been seized and the fact that they didn’t all make it back, and who got the value from these slaves.
With things like that, I just slowly began piecing the story together. I didn’t yet know the name of the settlement. There I got lucky. One day I was visiting Tampa, in 1992 or thereabout, and I was in the Tampa Public Library and found some old microfilm of Spanish land grant appeals. I was looking through them and all of a sudden I began to see references to Spanish land grants relative to Angola, and, as I read them carefully, it became clear that they were referring to the site of the Indian raid. So, at that point, at least we had a name.
I didn’t really find everything all at once, and I didn’t necessarily always know what I was looking for. But I got lucky, and I also persisted. Eventually, by the mid 1990s, I was able to piece together the story pretty well. I already had told it to Bob Ingalls who is a distinguished faculty member at the University of South Florida history department, who then edited the scholarly publication Tampa Bay History. He asked me to write it up for him. That was the first really extended account of Angola. Even then I still did not know the name of the settlement. Anyway, it encouraged me that people were interested but it took a long time to really round out the story and, like I say, even to discover the name of the place.
Q: Why is it important to tell the story of Angola? What does the story have to teach those of us in the present?
A: I think it’s important to tell the story on a number of levels. One, what a story! It has everything: drama, loss, exhilaration, sacrifice. It is just a wonderful, heroic human story, and, particularly, within the context of the absolute insistence upon liberty and against the bonds of slavery. On another level, it extends a legacy of Florida that had existed since early in the Spanish Era of Florida as a haven for runaway slaves.
Thanks to the great work of Jane Landers at Vanderbilt University, we know about Fort Mose, which existed north of St. Augustine, the first free black town in North America, from 1738 till (with an interruption) 1763, and Jim Covington at the University of Tampa had written about and helped us to learn more about another black settlement called the Negro Fort which existed on the Apalachicola River in 1815 and 1816.
We knew generally that that were other maroon communities such as Fort Mose and the Negro Fort, but nobody had ever suggested there was such a community in Southwest Florida, nor that it could have served such a central purpose in keeping alive that legacy of Florida as a haven for runaway slaves.
Clearly many of the men who lived at Angola, at least eventually, had served in the British Army during the War of 1812. Doubtlessly, some were survivors of the destruction of the Negro Fort in 1816. Without a doubt, some were survivors of the heroic Battle of the Suwannee in April 1818, when black warriors turned back, or at least held off, Andrew Jackson’s army, in a day long battle on the Suwannee River in the First Seminole War. Probably, I’m just guessing here, but probably some of the men still had their British army uniforms and weapons when they were living at Angola.
They certainly felt that they had commitments from the British Empire that I believe they attempted to enforce through contacts with British officers such as Edward Nicolls and George Woodbine. I suspect that they also had contacts with the Spanish Empire through Cuban fishing ranchos located on the southwest coast of Florida below Tampa Bay, including one that lay very near what we believe is the site of Angola.
So you’ve got international diplomacy going on; you’ve got armed, trained veterans ready to fight to maintain the freedom of their loved ones, their families and themselves; you’ve got a legacy being extended well into the American era in Florida, that had existed since the early days of Spanish rule; and then you have this compelling, compelling story itself of the lives and experiences these men and women had. All of those things combined, I think, suggest that this is truly a special place and it is one of those places whose memory all Floridians, for that matter all Americans, can take pride in. Where else can you see the spirit of and determination for freedom portrayed so vividly as in the spirits of the Angolans in Florida?
Q: What role does the documentary record play in this multi-disciplinary effort?
A: We have a lot more documents to discover that will allow us to have an even greater understanding of Angola, but, nonetheless, we have now a body of documentary evidence that I think is unimpeachable in establishing the existence of Angola, suggesting the types of people who were there, and giving a sense of how many people were there. Clearly we have evidence that details its destruction, and who destroyed it, and suggesting (not proving, but suggesting) that its destruction was carried out under the orders of Andrew Jackson.
Q: What are the limitations of the documentary record?
A: We have a couple of huge gaps in the documentary record. We can use documents in every aspect of Angola’s existence, but details about day to day life, as well as its specific location, nonetheless constitute huge gaps. We do have evidence on the location that seems to point pretty clearly to where the community was located, but it would have been an agricultural community, so we have to assume that it occupied a large area.
There is evidence that, I believe, indicates that there could have been as many as six or seven hundred people there by 1818 or 1819. With that many people and it being a farming community, it would have been spread out over a large area, which makes it tough to find evidence of its existence. We do have one account of an American who traveled to the site and saw ruins and remains of its destruction, and recorded how he got there. The documentary record evidences its existence, but our challenge remains to locate it on the ground.
Q: We know that there were other maroon communities in Florida but few as large as Angola. Why was this community such a magnet for freedom seekers?
A: I believe Angola became a magnet in spite of the presence of other maroon communities because of the time and place. It really grew and thrived in the aftermath of the War of 1812, of the Patriot War in northeast Florida, of the Creek Civil War of 1812-1814 in Alabama, and also the First Seminole War in Florida in 1817 and 1818.
Its location was remote enough that it afforded security or, at least, a sense of security. It also afforded direct communications for residents of Angola with their allies: their Indian allies, and the British and Spanish Empires. So, it was remote, safe, and strategically located for diplomatic and communications purposes. There was fertile land there, too. The maroons in Florida had been traditionally top quality farmers, so I’m sure they were able to grow a good deal of their own food, and you’ve got the availability of various forms of wildlife and seafood, so there were lots of advantages to the site.
Q: What sorts of economic activities did the inhabitants engage in? How did they support the settlement?
A: I think Angola must have served as not only a central communications point, but also as a market in some sense. Its location allowed easy access to Cuba and the Bahamas (there was a Cuban fishing rancho there that had served historically as a center for trade) and this was at a time when Indians from all over the American southeast–Chickasaws from as far away as the Memphis, Tennessee area, Cherokees from the mountains of North Carolina–traditionally would come into Florida for the winter. They were the first tourists.
They would come down to the south Florida hunting grounds and then they would trade the deer hides and bird plumes that they would gather for trade goods at the Cuban fishing ranchos. If the residents of Angola were growing enough food to sustain themselves and they saw an
opportunity to profit from providing goods to sustain the Indians who were hunting here, I’m sure they carried on a good trade. From an historian’s point of view, we shouldn’t just assume that these people were unable to accomplish much of anything. I think the entire record of their existence in Florida suggests that they were able to accomplish quite a lot. They could easily have supplied all manner of goods and services to the itinerant hunters.
Q: Does the documentary evidence reveal anything about the demographics of the community? Were there women and children there?
A: I do expect there were families there. In all honesty, the details of daily life are what escape us in the documentary evidence we do have. But we do know from first hand accounts and from the later writings of Congressman Joshua Giddings in his book The Exiles of Florida, that the Battle of the Suwannee in 1818, (and I suspect the survivors went to Angola), that the Battle of the Suwannee occurred because black warriors were fighting to protect their families and to allow them to cross from the west side of the Suwannee at Old Town over to the east bank in order to escape into the peninsula. So, I think it is a reasonable assumption that once the warriors were across the river themselves, they went with their families down to Tampa Bay and Angola.
Does that mean all of them stayed there? No. Angola existed for many years after the Battle of the Suwannee. There was certainly enough time for comings and goings. I guess in this automobile, jet airplane, spaceship age, we look back at the past and how difficult movement was
and suggest that people just didn’t move around very much. Lots of people moved around a lot and certainly the Indians and maroons in Florida saw no real obstacle to moving around. They simply accepted that it would take a while. There were comings and goings.
Q: Does the documentary record suggest that there were Native Americans living at Angola?
A: No. Not specifically. But certainly, we should assume that Native Americans visited Angola on a regular basis. The people of Angola would have had close ties to the Red Stick Creeks who lived forty miles away on the Peace River. I think that Indians on winter hunts would have continually come through Angola. I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually discover that the residents of Angola benefited from commercial pursuits from those kinds of visitations.
I think the Seminoles also would have kept close touch. The ties between Florida maroons and the Seminoles went back to the arrival of the Seminoles in Florida, and the Seminoles, too, came into south Florida for the winter hunting season. Could limited numbers of Native Americans have been living at Angola? Yes. Were there likely large numbers of Native Americans living there? No, not in my opinion. But, there certainly were lots of Native Americans in proximity to Angola, particularly in the winter.
Q: How could such a large and prosperous maroon community have survived unmolested for so long?
A: I think it was partly because Andrew Jackson was unable to force the issue earlier than he did, for various political and personal reasons. Spain still owned Florida, so anything that Jackson or his associates did to the residents of Angola would have violated international law and caused Jackson a problem.
In fact the raid itself that destroyed Angola did cause Jackson problems, and he had plenty of enemies waiting to take advantage of them. It’s interesting to me that the newspaper that printed the account of the raid on Angola was the Charleston City Gazette, which was closely associated with John C. Calhoun, Jackson’s bitter enemy and later his vice president. Even though these people may not have written down their political maneuverings on a national level related to events in Florida, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t occur.
Calhoun and Jackson already were maneuvering for future control of the country by the time Angola existed. That was a rivalry that was going to continue until Jackson’s death and cause bitter divisions with massive repercussions in Florida, and in the United States. I think the residents of Angola played a role in that.
Jackson didn’t like to be defied. They had defied him. The Red Stick Creeks had defied him. When he was appointed provisional governor by President Monroe in January of 1821, the letter accepting the appointment asked for permission to go into the peninsula, to take the US Army into the peninsula and get the Red Stick Creeks and the blacks, and he was ordered by the Secretary of War not to go. They felt like they had to issue him an official order from the Secretary of War not to do it.
It was about two weeks after that letter arrived in Nashville, where Jackson was living, that his own Indian allies under the authority of, if not led by, Lower Creek Chief William McIntosh went on the warpath into Florida and destroyed Angola. Now you might say, “Wait a second. They could have been acting independently.” Well, at the time, William McIntosh was a brigadier general in the United States Army by appointment of Andrew Jackson. Tell me it’s all coincidence.
Q: Where were those who were captured taken? What was their fate?
A: The newspaper account in the Charleston City Gazette mentioned that around 300 slaves had been taken. Only about 60 or so arrived back in the United States, and what happened to the remainder is open to question. The author of the letter points out that, along the way, some were given back to the people who claimed ownership, but, clearly, lots of captives just disappeared. I assume, and he hints in this letter, that they were sold for the benefit of the backers of the raid.
Q: Is there evidence that any survivors of the raid remained in the area?
A: Yes. I think that a substantial number of the survivors fled to the east, to the protection of the Red Stick Creeks on the Peace River, and they settled in a village just north of modern Bartow, that they then called Minatti. Jane Landers believes, and I think she’s right, that this was actually an attempt to spell Manatee. So, I think they named their settlement there for the River where they had lived earlier.
Historically, that became a very important site, because it is from Minatti and from Talakchopco, where the Red Stick Creeks lived (and where Osceola grew up) that I think the Second Seminole War was planned, and provoked. The war chief of Minatti was named Harry. He associated closely with Osceola in the events that led up to the Second Seminole War. The Red Stick Creeks maintained their headquarters at Talakchopco until it was destroyed in April of 1836.
So there was a real legacy of Angola in the continuing presence of survivors, just to the east. I believe that they can take credit for prompting the largest slave rebellion in United States history. Others say that the Second Seminole War was like the American Revolution and the War of 1812 in that large numbers of slaves abandoned or fled slavery because they were offered protection. I don’t think that holds up, because no one offered them any protection. I think that when the maroons and the Creeks were able to provoke a war, they were just prepared to rise up and fight for their freedom. To me, that qualifies as a slave rebellion.
The best evidence we have suggests that probably 750 to 1,500 slaves left plantations to fight, in the opening stages of the Second Seminole War. By far, that’s the largest slave rebellion in US history. I just don’t see diminishing the record by claiming it was not a slave rebellion, just because it happened during a war.
General Thomas Jesup, who commanded US troops in Florida not long after the war began, made clear in his report to the President and to Congress, that this was not an Indian war, it was “a negro war.” But, of course, it was not to the advantage of the southern press and the southern politicians who really controlled affairs in Washington to make that known.
The Democratic party and the Democratic press had invested very heavily in the growth of the southern cotton kingdom which, they believed, could not be done without slaves. And so much money was involved. They just simply weren’t going to play up anything that suggested the possibility of a slave revolt on that scale. In fact, you see many instances of raids by maroons in Florida and Georgia in the 1810s and 1820s that were portrayed by the press as Indian raids.
Q: Many of the survivors of the raid eventually made their way to Red Bays in the Bahamas. Is there evidence that any Native Americans migrated to the Bahamas as well?
A: I know that any number of attempts were made by Red Stick Creeks to engage in what I have called diplomatic missions, from southwest Florida, to either Havana or Nassau, and in one instance, I believe I saw a reference to them trying to get to Jamaica. In terms of Indians being among the settlers at Red Bays in the Bahamas, I have not seen any documentary evidence that suggests that.
It’s interesting that, in this case, we knew of the end of the story without knowing the story itself. When Rosalyn Howard wrote her fine book Black Seminoles in the Bahamas, not much was known about the existence of Angola, and exactly how its destruction set off this diaspora.
Q: What questions are you hoping to answer as your research progresses?
A: I’d like to learn anything we can learn about Angola. It would be especially wonderful to be able to trace the whole experiences of some of the residents of Angola, all the way back to the Battle of the Suwannee, and before that to the Negro Fort, and before that to the Battle of Mobile, and before that to how they were recruited into the British Army.
And I would like to learn more about their daily lives. The more we can paint a human portrait of their lives, the more compelling this story is going to be. If we can do that, I think that it will touch more people and allow more people to understand the real significance of that site, of their lives, and the importance of understanding African American history in Florida and in the United States.
Q: What else would you like for our readers to know?
A: I’d like for folks to know that African Americans have played a vital, essential, sometimes defining role in Florida’s history from the very earliest European contacts. Speaking figuratively, when Juan Ponce de Leon stood on his ship in 1513 and looked over and saw the flowers on the beach and named the land La Florida, there were two free black men–Juan Garrido and Juan Ponce de Leon–standing next to him.
Africans and African Americans played a role in the discovery of La Florida, in the development of La Florida, and in every aspect of life in, and development of, the territory and state of Florida. To look at Florida history without encompassing the contributions and experiences of African Americans is basically to create a fiction. And, unfortunately, the definition could apply to a good deal of the history that was written up until the modern era and, I would argue, consequently amounts to fiction.
Today, though, we have some top quality people who are doing excellent scholarly work that is putting Florida on the map nationally, as well as regionally, in terms of utilizing the Florida experience as case studies for larger points relating to United States history.
I guess if I were going to sum it up further, it would be that this is no light matter. This is a site of high importance, not only to the Tampa Bay area, not only to Florida, but to the United States and to some extent, to much of the world. There’s no story more important than the struggle to maintain freedom, and few people have done it under more difficult circumstances.
Every indication we have is that other than the treachery involved in the betrayal of the Angolans, whatever it was, they led their lives and equipped themselves with honor, courage, and dignity, and there was real accomplishment.
We have the opportunity to tell that story, but we need the help of people in doing it. We need their support and their open-mindedness about it, to realize that here is something we all can take pride in, here is something that we all can benefit from, and to help encourage our state to get more heavily invested in its history, particularly its African American history. Don’t let me forget to add many thanks to you and to the University of South Florida Library for aiding the Looking for Angola project along its road to discovery.
Read Canter Brown, Jr.’s latest and most comprehensive research article on Angola, “Tales of Angola: Free Blacks, Red Stick Creeks, and International Intrigue in Spanish Southwest Florida, 1812-1821.”
Interview with Rosalyn Howard, Cultural Anthropologist
October 2005Q: What inspired you to study Black Seminoles in the Bahamas?
A: I was a graduate student at the University of Florida and one of my professors and I were talking. I had originally planned to study something totally different in grad school but he knew that I was part Native American and part African and he asked, “Did you know about the Black Seminoles?” I said, “No.”
He said that John Goggin, who also had been at the University of Florida, had written some papers back in the forties, about people in the Bahamas who were supposed to be descendants of Black Seminoles who fled from Florida. I started looking into it and started meeting more people, and I decided that this was a part of history that really needed to be recorded. It was new information that could add a piece to the puzzle of the African diaspora and Florida history, that had yet to be discovered. I was very happy to be the person to do that.
Q: What were you hoping to achieve with your ethnographic fieldwork?
A: My research proposal was to record the oral history of elders in the community of Red Bays in particular, but also others who lived in surrounding communities on Andros Island. I knew that not all of the Black Seminoles who fled from Florida actually stayed in the Red Bays community.
The original Red Bays community was located about three miles north of what is today called Red Bays. That original community was devastated several times by hurricanes. Eventually the Bahamian government said, “Everybody has to evacuate that community or we’re not going to help you anymore.” So some of the people from that original Red Bays went to other places like Lowe Sound (another settlement), Mastic Point, Nicolls Town and Stanyard Creek.
So I went to those communities seeking elders to whom the story had been passed down about their ancestors and how they got to Andros Island. My questions were “Do you remember the stories? What were the stories?” I wanted to record those, and I wanted to question them about how they identified themselves. Did they still consider themselves Black Seminoles, or any kind of separate identity other than Bahamian? I also wanted to know about the kinds of cultural retentions the people had, perhaps Seminole cultural retentions or African cultural retentions. Those are the main things I wanted to discover in my research.
Q: How did you go about your research?
A: I went to the community initially, to ask permission. I felt it was important to get their assent for my project. So I went and spoke to a man named Reverend Bertram Newton, who was a leader in the community. He was the principal and a teacher at the only school in Red Bays, where I would live. That’s where the majority of the Black Seminole descendants live.
I asked permission and after Reverend Newton had spoken to several people in the community, he agreed and he said that he thought it was a good idea that their oral history be recorded. A few months later, I came to live in the community. Anthropologists learn a lot more about a community by living in a home of some of the people there. That presents its own problems, especially when you have factions in communities who don’t get along; you’re living in one person’s house and they don’t get along with somebody else.
But Reverend Newton arranged for me to stay at the home of a single woman who has five children. I was there for a couple of months and unfortunately had an accident, almost broke my ankle, and I was on crutches, so I had to leave and come back a couple of months later when I was more healed. At that time, I made arrangements to live with a woman who actually had more space in her house to accomodate me.
Q: How did you become involved in the Looking for Angola project?
A: My initial research on Andros Island started in 1996, as my dissertation research, then I wrote the book. Not many people knew that there were descendants of the Black Seminoles living in the Bahamas. When the book came out, that generated a lot of interest and really filled in some gaps in information in the anthropological and historical record.
I met Canter Brown, Jr. who had read my material and knew about my research. He and I participated in a yearly conference that is held in Bartow, Florida, and so I knew about his work and saw that there was a connection. So when Vickie Oldham found out that there was this black presence in the Sarasota area while she was doing another project, she contacted Canter, who then told her about my work and how all of this really flowed together.
Q: What can oral history and ethnography bring to the LFA project?
A: The oral history that I collected from the people on Andros Island stated that their ancestors came from Florida. They had no knowledge of what their ancestors’ lives were like while they were in Florida, what part of Florida they lived in, or anything like that. That didn’t give me links to anything in Florida. The question that it raised was, “How do I find out about what happened with their ancestors?”
Not long after that is when I met Vickie and all of this started coming together. I got more historical documents from Canter Brown and others that gave information that tied this story all together, how the survivors from Angola had come south through the keys, and other information about people fighting their way through the Everglades to the keys and Cape Florida and embarking from there to the Bahamas. The stories that they told me about their ancestors and the documents I found in the archives in the Bahamas (which really were discovered first by David Wood, who is a researcher at the Bahamian Archives) substantially agreed.
The history shows that their ancestors landed on Andros, and that a British Customs Agent discovered them there in 1828. He said in a letter that they had been living there for seven years. That makes their initial settlement in 1821. We know that 1821 was the year that Angola was destroyed, and the year that people fled from there and came down to the keys and went to the Bahamas. That created the connection to Andros that we needed. It created that link.
The British Customs Officer made a list of 97 names of people who he took from Andros Island to Nassau, thinking that he was protecting them from being sold into slavery. Some of those names are the same surnames and first names of the ancestors that were mentioned to me in the oral history interviews.
Also, there is a letter with a list of names that the army provided to the US government, of the people who they had taken from Angola, and they were supposedly returning them to their owners or returning them to the United States to the plantations that they supposedly belonged on. There is one name, Prince McQueen, that I’m still doing research on to try to connect that name. I’m sure there were others who had that same name, but it seems likely that that same person wound up in Andros. That name is on that 1828 letter.
So, I’m hoping that at some point we can say definitely that that was the same man. The McQueen family has died off now in Red Bays, but there are some other McQueen families throughout other areas in the Bahamas. Some of the Black Seminoles actually landed in Nassau and blended in with the population there, so there are descendants in Nassau also.
I know that because I did a lecture for the Bahamas historical society a couple of years ago, and many people came and spoke with me afterwards. They told me that they know that some of their ancestors were the Black Seminoles who came from Florida. There’s much work left to be done in the Bahamas as far as gathering more stories that may give us information that ties into Angola.
Q: What are the limitations of oral history and ethnography?
A: Some of the limitations are of course that some people don’t remember the story exactly. Oral history can be limited by people’s memories. It’s kind of like the telephone story, you pass something around and it gets changed. So it can have some inaccuracies. It also can be a story that just gets repeated, everyone has the same story and you wonder if it’s just something that’s been memorized, or was it really passed down this way. And over time, people simply forget portions of their history. There are limitations to that extent with oral history.
But remembering that oral tradition is the way that people of African descent and Native American descent have always passed their history down, I think that cultural tradition is something that’s important to remember. That can lend more credibility to it. The fact that I was able to confirm those stories with the documents in the archives, definitely gives the oral history a stronger standing.
Ethnography is only as good as the person who’s doing it, and how much a person brings to the research situation. I was welcomed into the community and people were happy to tell me their stories, and I didn’t have major cultural barriers. The way I did it was not just to walk up to them with microphones and cameras. I spent a month or more just acclimating myself to the community, and them to me, before I started doing the interviews. I wanted them to know that I was deeply interested in their history, and it was valuable history.
By the time I finished a year later, I felt I was just getting to the tip of the iceberg. If I had been able to stay another year, who knows what I would have found out about the community, the contemporary community in particular? Unfortunately it isn’t that condusive now to passing on that oral history because of the modern invasion of infastructure, people can get in and out of the community more easily, there are more distractions with television.
The times when all there was to do was to sit around and listen to the elders talk about the history around the fire that was built to keep the mosquitos away, those days are gone. A lot of young people don’t seem to value the past or the oral history of their ancestors. But I’m glad that I did get a chance to record the people I did, because three of the people I recorded have now passed on. So their stories would never have been recorded. What I did, also, was give a copy of my oral histories to the Bahamanian Archives, so if anyone else wants to do research, the stories will always be there.
Q: What new information did your research bring to light?
A: David Wood had put out a book in 1980 with excerpts of letters from the 1800s that referred to that community of Black Seminoles in the Bahamas, but it was a locally produced piece and it didn’t receive wide readership. What I think my work did was to publicize the information of the documented presence of the Black Seminoles who fled to the Bahamas from Florida.
My work was also the first ethnography on this community. Goggin had met Felix MacNeil in 1937 and he said that MacNeil had mentioned Red Bays, but he himself never went into Red Bays. They were this community that was a mystery to many Bahamians. There were all these legends and rumors about these wild Indians living in the back of Andros Island, which they called “the land behind God’s back.” This was not a very complimentary name that implied that the people there were backwards, that they were these strange people. My work cast light on who these people were, and what their history was. No one had ever done any oral history with them, so this was all new information that no one else had recorded.
Q: What was the most exciting aspect of your research?
A: The most exciting thing was to be the person to actually do this! There are so many gaps in the history of African-descended people in our anthropological and historical record, and this was a big one. I felt very privileged to be able to do this work, and provide this information about people who had virtually been ignored, and whose history makes a vital connection between Florida and the Bahamas.
The history of these two countries is very closely intertwined and there has been research from different angles, but no one ever followed up that lead that Goggin left hanging out there so many years ago. I feel a deep fulfillment that these people’s stories have now been told to a certain extent.
As I’ve said, there’s much more work to be done. I’d like to interview many more people who don’t live on Andros Island, and many more who do. I’m hoping to be able to accomplish some of that with a grant that Vickie and I are going to work on, to actually teach Bahamians how to do ethnography, and get some of these interviews done that can add more pieces to the puzzle.
Q: Why is the search for Angola important?
A: The history of Native Americans and African peoples and their interactions and interrelationships has not been one that’s popular to record or popular to publish, but it’s important and it can tell us a lot about how people adapt to situations and how people develop relationships and cultural transfers via actions and artifacts, all of that.
Q: What’s next for your research?
A: One of the things we’ve been discussing is seeking permission from the Bahamian government to do an archaeological dig at the original Red Bays site. No one lives there now, but I know that there is a house foundation there that I have seen and photographed. I don’t know if that is one of the original ones or not, because I’m not an archaeologist, but there’s also another area that the person who was guiding me pointed out to me, where they were supposed to have lived. We’re hoping to get permission to dig there, and just find what we can. If we can find some material there, we’ll know better how to match it up with material we find, when we find Angola.
“Looking for Angola” is such an apt name for this project. I guess when we find it, we’ll have to name it something else [laughs].
We had a conference call recently and we were all thinking that this would be part of the strategy for the next phase of this project. I can see it also branching into Polk County, where people there say that some of their ancestors were Indian, too. We know that some of the Angola survivors went into that area instead of coming down and escaping to the Bahamas. It’s just wide open, it’s just a rich, rich history that is still to unfold.
I really believe that. I am just so excited to be able to make this connection that the people in Red Bays didn’t know anything about, that their ancestors were residents of this Angola community, or some of them were, anyway. It’s very exciting and it gives me a really deep sense of fulfillment that this is not only important to me, but certainly important to them and many others.
Q: What challenges will you face in your continuing research?
A: Some of the challenges will be physical, because the area we seek this location in is very developed, so we must get permission from many land owners.
Another challenge will be getting permission from the Bahamian government to do archaeology over there. Other challenges are trying to substantiate the historical documentation we do have and find more if possible, because we know that there was a strong connection between the Angola community and Cuba.
Cuba has a lot of archives, but they’re a mess [laughs]. I have a good friend who did her dissertation research there, and from what she described, it would take a long, long time to find what we’re looking for. But the University of Florida is supposed to be engaged in trying to scan or microfilm a lot of the documents there. Hopefully we’ll be able to get more information from historical documents that haven’t been accessed yet.
Certainly the main challenge is finding the community [laughs]. Actually finding it.
Then what we’ll need to get is get more money. Big money, on the scale of what the African Burial Ground project has obtained. That will be a major challenge.
But the looking for it, the search for it, is absolutely fascinating, because each day is bringing us closer to making the actual tie between Angola and Red Bays, and other communities in Andros. We could create this cultural tourist trail that I’m sure would be beneficial to a lot of people.
Q: Do you expect to find any descendants of Angola survivors in the Manatee River region? Around Cape Florida?
A: That would be wonderful, to find someone who knows that their ancestors came from Angola but didn’t go to the Bahamas, just stayed in the swamps with the Seminoles or went inland to the Polk County settlements. The oral history hasn’t been done there, either. I’m talking with Clifton Lewis there, who spearheads the Bartow heritage festival, and he and I may work on a project to do some oral history there sometime in the near future.
I wouldn’t be surprised to know that there are some stories there, because we know that some of them fled into that region from various battles; when the settlement on the Suwannee was destroyed, and then Angola. There may have been some people who fled there and managed to find a way to stay safe all these years. Who knows what we may find? That’s what’s so exciting about this, too!
Q: What would you like to add?
A: I’d like to stress that this is exciting, not only because of the information we’re going to get, not only the puzzle pieces that we’ll be able to fit in that were missing, but it’s also exciting because of the interdisciplinary nature of this project.
You have history, cultural anthropology and archaeology all coming together to work on this project. You don’t have those disciplinary boundaries and territorial gate-keeping going on. We are really cooperating in this effort, and I think that is totally exciting and something I think many projects can benefit from.
Read an excerpt from Rosalyn Howard’s book Black Seminoles in the Bahamas.
Interview with Uzi Baram, Archaeologist
Q: How did you become involved in the Looking For Angola Project?
A: My training is as a historical archaeologist. As a historical archaeologist, my interest is actually pretty broad, with fieldwork both in North America and the Middle East. When I was hired here at New College back in the late 1990s, I decided I would give my students some experience with historical archaeology, which meant doing some local projects. I quickly teamed up with Sarasota County archaeologists and engaged in some small scale projects.
What was very evident after the second project was how much issues of race haunt the recent past of Sarasota and Manatee Counties. As I was talking to various local historians and local archaeologists, and just getting involved with the community, one of the things I heard about was Angola. It just really captured my imagination, I saw the article by Canter Brown, Jr., and it seemed to me that Angola was obviously very important to look for, but I knew at the time that I was not the person to do it, and particularly not at that point.
Then a year and a half ago, I get a phone call and Vickie Oldham comes into my office, and she comes in like a firestorm [laughs], with a wonderful very positive energy. She had heard from one of my colleagues here about my work as a historical archaeologist, and just came knocking. I quickly recognized that this was the person who could pull it off, and that would do the project the way I thought it needed to be done, that is, with the African American community. It wasn’t about myself just walking in and finding something. That appealed to Vickie. She understood that very well, more than actually I ever could have hoped.
And so the partnership developed. I helped her write up the grant proposals and then volunteered my time to do the public education campaigns and to start doing some serious research into Angola.
Q: Why do you feel this research is important?
A: My sense is that the larger component of looking for Angola is what is referred to in historical archaeology as African American Archaeology, revealing the lives of people whose efforts, labors, struggles aren’t well documented in the historical record. Angola as a settlement, as a community, reminds us of people’s struggles.
People struggled mightily for freedom, and they overcame tremendous obstacles both geographic (in getting from Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama to the Manatee River in Florida) and in the struggle to try to live as free people, as others were trying to capture them as property, and trying to negotiate a new way of life in a very challenging environment.
My sense is the more we can remember about these maroon communities, the more we can demolish the racist assumption that people were willing to live as slaves. These communities show that people did not want to live as slaves. They refused to accept that tyranny, and they had to take great chances to escape it and live as free people. So Angola is part of that larger story of maroon communities, and it provides an example of one locally.
And my sense from Canter Brown’s research is that Angola is an important example of a maroon community, one that should receive more attention. Archaeological evidence of Angola will facilitate such attention.
Q: What do you hope will come out of this research?
A: On one level, that of the archaeological research, hopefully we’ll find material evidence of Angola. Thanks to the efforts of Canter Brown, we have documentary evidence, archival evidence, but we don’t yet have clear material evidence of this community.
So the first aspect is just finding Angola as a settlement, as a place, and finding the things people used in their daily lives. The second aspect is to better understand what Angola really was. Combining the archival record with, hopefully, the material record that will come forward, will bring forth the textures of people’s lives and some of the choices they made.
The third goal, and one that’s concurrent with the first two, is education, to let the larger public know about this community, to know about the history of people who escaped slavery by going down into Spanish La Florida, and thanks to the work of Rosalyn Howard, to connect that story to the people of Red Bays in the Bahamas, and really shine a light on this quest for liberty and freedom.
Q: What role does archaeology play in the search itself?
A: The first level is just finding material evidence, finding the location of the community. We have a fairly good idea of where that might have been, but we don’t yet have any evidence of the actual place. So the archaeology at this point really fits the popular image of archaeology, and that is excavation.
We need to survey and excavate and locate material evidence. Once we have the evidence, that’s where historical archaeology will come in, and we will compare the documentary evidence with the material evidence. We’re still at that first stage of just looking, around the Manatee River region, for traces of the settlement.
Q: What challenges do you, as an archaeologist, face in the search?
A: I think there are several challenges for this archaeology. The one that I think we’re starting to meet is gaining community support. With the ethics of archaeology today, one does not just go in and look for things, but needs to get support, one, of local communities, people living in the place, and two, of descendant communities. In our case that includes the people of Red Bays who may indeed be the actual descendants of the people who lived at Angola, and then more generally, people who feel kinship to the people of Angola.
I think we’re meeting that challenge. We haven’t met it, but I think that we are gaining in meeting that challenge. Thanks to what you’re doing with the webpage, thanks to the lecture series that we’ve done, to the video that’s coming, then more lectures, more community outreach, we’re going to meet that challenge of community support.
The second level of challenge is that there’s a lot of development around that river. There are a lot of single family houses, and so there’s the challenge of getting the permission of individual land owners to excavate on their lands, to survey and to look for the evidence. That’s a big challenge, because it means talking to a lot of people to assure them that they can contribute to a larger good, without losing any of their property rights. The people I have spoken with have been tremendously supportive, excited, and willing to contribute.
The third challenge is going to be one that we haven’t faced yet, but one that at one point will come up. In archaeology, the identification with historical documents is always difficult. There are always going to be questions about the materials we find, and how they connect to what the documentary evidence puts forward. That’s going to take a whole series of good methodological techniques to pull that together. So, we can look forward to that issue, but that’s still in the future, since we don’t have the material yet. It is a problem I’m looking forward to having [laughs].
Q: How will you know when you have found Angola? How would you distinguish it, say, from an early settler’s home?
A: That’s one of the wonderful things about being a historical archaeologist is the knowledge that scholars have already wrestled with identification of sites and come up with methodologies for addressing that issue. In going through the history of the Manatee River region, we see that Angola would have been one of the first large-scale modern settlements down there. We have enough of a sense, thanks to the work of archaeologists and historians, of the history of settlements.
There were the Native peoples and their archaeological evidence that’s been documented. When the Spanish came in they just passed through, they didn’t set up permanent settlements in this region, so the next settlements come with the Cuban fishermen. As far as the evidence points, it was a coastal phenomenon. They would have been on the barrier islands and at the mouth of the Manatee River, but not inland. While the Seminole people used the inland area, the people of Angola likely had a slightly different set of materials that they would have used.
Thanks to the work of people like Dr. Brent Weisman at USF, we know what the material record for the Seminoles looks like at this time period. The only time that people came from the US was considerably after Angola, a few decades later. And so if we find evidence from the early nineteenth century, if we find ceramic and glass and other materials that can be dated to that period, that’s going to be a really good inference that it’s Angola. It won’t be any proof-positive of Angola, but it’s going to be a really good hint.
Once we have that material, there is a whole series of techniques that African American Archaeology has come up with to help us link it to what Canter Brown has found in the historical record, and ultimately we’re going to connect it with what Rosalyn Howard has shown about the people of the Bahamas at Red Bays. We know a bit, from her work, about their material culture, and so we’re going to connect the dots from the plantations of the American South to the Bahamas and fill the gap in the geography with the research at the Manatee River.
This work is larger than just Angola itself. We’re going to bring in Terrance Weik from the University of South Carolina, who did the archaeological work at Pilaklikaha. That work is invaluable in terms of connecting the pieces. There’s the work that’s been done on the African Burial Ground in New York City that has provided a whole series of techniques and methodologies that will be useful. The work at New Philadelphia, in Illinois, is yet again a very large project with a lot of wonderful scholars.
We’re going to be reaching into experience with techniques and theories. There’s the work in Brazil at Palmares, the very large seventeenth century maroon community, that’s going to be helpful. So, none of us have to rely just on our own wits. There is a whole network of scholars throughout the rest of the Americas, who have been struggling with how to identify maroon communities and how to analyze them. And so we’ll be asking for their help.
Q: What can archaeology tell us about Angola and the people who lived there? What can it not tell us?
A: What archaeology brings forward are several types of information. First is location. It can tell us where Angola was, and hopefully it will tell us the extent of Angola. Canter Brown has put forward in presentations the fact that there may have been as many as 700 people living in Angola. One way to know for sure of the number of people there is to have a sense of the number of houses and the extent of the settlement. So archaeology can recover the size of the place and the density of the housing. That will tell us something about the number of people at the site, it won’t tell us the exact number, but it will give us a better sense of the scale of Angola.
Second, it will tell us what people were doing with their daily lives. They lived for a couple of decades as free people. Were they fishing in the Manatee River? Were they hunting game? What kind of foods were they eating? Archaeology is very good at recovering that sort of everyday life. What sort of materials were they using? Were they making their own pottery? Were they using ceramics that they got from their British allies at a trading post that may have been associated with Angola? Were they trading with the Cuban fishermen for Cuban-made goods? Did they bring anything from the north, when they came down? The archaeology will tell us about the material culture, the everyday things: how they lived their lives, what they ate, as well as the size of the community. All of this is the positive benefit of the archaeology.
What archaeology doesn’t tell us are the names of these people. We’re not going to get a sense of their personalities. We already have a bit of a sense about that, just because they escaped slavery, about what kind of people they were.
They were freedom-loving people. But we might not get too much further than that. We can’t really recover their feelings, and the fear they might have had when they heard of raiders coming in. So that’s the inference that just won’t be possible, but we’re going to get a better sense of what archaeologists refer to as the cultural landscape, the sort of place they built. By seeing the place they built, we’ll probably get a better sense of what kind of people they possibly were.
Q: Do you expect to find evidence of families there?
A: Yes. I suspect if we are able to find their houses, huts and the rest, we’ll probably be able to recover some sense of their family structure.
Q: Are there specific research questions or problems that you will be investigating?
A: The first set of issues that I think we’re going to address is the cultural landscape of the settlement. Charles Orser has done some impressive work in Brazil, on the cultural landscape of Palmares, on what that maroon community looked like and how its inhabitants built a landscape of resistance.
I think we can actually build an image, once we start finding some material evidence, of what the place was like, how they used the river as the boundary, what some of the other boundaries of the place were, and how they used the natural environment as part of their home. That’s the first level of research question, what was the cultural landscape like?
The second question, we know from Rosalyn Howard’s work, that they ultimately become Black Seminoles, and we know that by the 1840s, it is common to refer to Black Seminoles in Florida. The research question is: What was their identity? How did they materially identify themselves? Were they closely connected to the Seminole people? Were they more closely associated with the life they knew in the United States? Were they still maintaining African-ness? I suspect it’s not going to be only one of those. It will be a combination of all of those. So how they identified themselves and how they created new identities for themselves on the Manatee River is going to be the question.
Q: Once you recover artifacts, what will become of them? How will they be used, and where will they be kept?
A: By state law, when we excavate on private property, any materials found actually belong to the land owner. So we’ll need permission from the landowner to use the artifacts for education. I suspect that won’t be a huge problem, I think everyone is pretty excited about the educational aspect of this project. We expect to find everyday materials that aren’t necessarily valuable on their own merit, but precious in context. I think most people are really excited to help.
Once we have the material, we’re going to need a permanent location for it. I hope that it’s going to be near the Manatee River, that one of the local institutions will allow us to display the materials in their facility, or maybe, and this is, of course, more like a dream, we could actually create a facility, an interpretive center. I suspect we’ll follow the example of Kathy Deagan and Jane Landers with Fort Mosé, and have some kind of display in the place, a research area for the materials, and a traveling exhibit.
I think that’s a very sound approach: a place for analyzing the materials, a place the public can visit to view and learn about the materials, and there’s no reason we should be selfish and keep it here [laughs]. Having a traveling exhibit would work really well. I think there would be interest in it, a national interest, and possibly even international interest.
Q: What’s next for your portion of the research?
A: We have a wonderful team of scholars involved in this project. What I can contribute is to explore a portion of the river and do some more research. At De Soto National Park, which is at the mouth of the Manatee River, there’s a nineteenth century structure, which was tested by a National Park Service archaeologist several years ago. The ceramics dated to the early nineteenth century, the period of Angola. And that’s really intriguing.
We know from the historical record that the British supported these maroon communities and set up trading posts. Where the tabby house ruin sits is a wonderful place for such a facility, just by a protected cove, not visible from the Gulf of Mexico, but a very useful location for sending things up the river. So I am going to work on getting some grants with one of my former students, and in partnership with the National Park Service, excavate at the tabby house ruins, and see if we can connect that structure definitively to the nineteenth century, and maybe to the British filibusters who supported Angola. So maybe we will have a chance to begin telling that portion of the story of Angola.
Q: What does Angola have to teach us in the present?
A: The most important lesson from Angola was that freedom was a goal for the enslaved. People undertook incredible challenges to live as free people. Some of those amazing challenges, those amazing struggles, took place here, in our neighborhood.
When we think of the land that we are walking on or driving past, we should remember what happened here. We need to remember the Native peoples who were here before the Spanish, we need to remember the Spanish conquest, we need to know about the Seminoles and their ways of life.
And, we should know about this group of people who moved down here and created what Canter Brown refers to as a “beacon of freedom.” We need to know about those who struggled, who were ultimately defeated when the settlement was destroyed, but somehow went across the state, across the Florida Straits, and got to the Bahamas, and their descendants in the present live as free people.
In the mid-nineteenth century Joshua Giddings wrote about escaped slaves as Exiles, with a religious connotation. Angola is part of an Exodus story: to escape slavery and go all the way from Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, through the panhandle, down the coast, and then ultimately to the Bahamas is an amazing story.
We need to remember those who were killed, the hundreds who were captured, and we can’t forget those who died trying to live as free people, but we can really celebrate those who succeeded. Their descendants in Red Bays were able to live in freedom. That’s a tremendously important lesson for the present.
Living in liberty and freedom did not come easily. People struggled mightily in the past; the story of the strength of these people is an amazing story to know.
Q: What else would you like for our readers to know?
A: I think that in this region, where so much development sprang up that doesn’t seem connected to the landscape: nice straight roads, and developments that just grow in every direction, it’s easy to not recognize that there is a rich history under our feet.
There are what anthropologists refer to as “hidden histories,” parts of the past that just don’t make it into the mainstream histories, histories that we can discover, that we can learn about, to enrich our sense of this place, and I think enrich our sense of the human condition. We can learn a little more about what people are capable of, and the story of Angola says that people are capable of just amazing things. I think it helps us to see the present slightly differently, and maybe helps us to imagine a different future.
Interview with Bill Burger, Archaeologist
Interview with Bill Burger, M.A., RPA
Q: What is the significance of Angola, and what role does archaeology play in the search?
A: The story of Angola is not just significant to Florida history but our national history as well. Even international history. Archaeology’s role in the search is to find physical evidence of what we’re proposing occurred along the Manatee River.
Q: What can archaeology tell us about the lives of the pioneers who lived there?
A: You can tell a world of things about the daily lives of people – how they lived, how they adapted to their local environment.
Q: The remains of people found during the African Burial Grounds Project showed stress and the hard work the people were forced to endure. Archaeology revealed this. Do you agree?
A: Oh yes definitely. Such labor is reflected in the skeletons very clearly in a number of populations of the past. Similar studies have been done on American Indians who were enslaved prior to the introduction of slaves from Africa. So bones can exhibit this kind of information.
Q: How will archaeologists know when they have found the site? What types of artifacts will alert them to possible success?
A: Well, the definitive evidence as far as archaeological evidence of Angola will be an assemblage of materials that would include British trade ceramics and other materials; also trade materials from Cuba and quite likely some items that were made locally, that is to say ethnic materials that could be identified as African.
Q: Ethnic materials like what, for instance?
A: Well some years ago a wooden drum was found along the Little Manatee River that is clearly of an African design. It’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that Blacks would have used local clays of which there are high quality deposits along the Manatee River to make their own ceramic pots, cooking pots. And insofar as some of these people were Africans, I mean first generation here, Africans, they might then have made pots in African style that would be identifiable as African.
Q: Are there specific research questions that the team hopes to answer through archaeology?
A: Primary research questions that we’d be addressing of course would be identifying an archaeological site as Black African fugitive. In addition, depending on the nature of the site, how they lived, how they adapted to their environment in this part of Florida after escaping from North Florida which was a very different sort of environment than down here around Tampa Bay. Again, how they lived their lives in freedom down in the Tampa Bay region.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced in the search so far?
A: I would say the chief challenges in this project have been the more than hundred years since the event we’re trying to document. That is to say all the subsequent development that’s occurred – housing, commercial development, roads, etc.- these developments have impacted the record wherever it is. We’re still looking for it. It does make the search more difficult as well as what that development has done below ground: sewer pipes, water lines, power lines. It’s much more difficult to do archaeological work in an urban context because of those hidden dangers that are underground.
Q: Are these the same challenges that lie ahead for continued archaeological investigations in the future?
A: Yes, these are the same challenges with an urban context. There are additional areas in East Bradenton that we’d like to intensively examine. These are areas around Tampa Bay not as developed which would be relatively more easy to examine, but again another factor in the project which has not been a problem to date would be getting the permission of private property owners to examine their property.
Many people have the mistaken idea that if something is found on their land then they can no longer develop it. Well this is untrue. But this prevalent fear is something that regularly has to be addressed when an archaeologist tries to get permission to dig on privately owned properties.
Q: I’ve heard you say in the lectures you dig a hole or holes on someone’s property, but you fill them and the lawn does return to its normal state once it rains and the ground settles. You won’t ruin the lawns of property owners?
A: Another aspect of working on private property is, it is non permanently damaging. Shortly after we’ve done our work you can’t tell we’ve been there plus another aspect of this is whatever we find on a private property belongs to the private property owner. Typically, the evidence we find has no real intrinsic monetary value. The value is in the knowledge it represents. Bottom line what we find belongs to the property owner. And depending on what is found this can actually help to generate a sense of pride in the owner for the local history of a property and region regardless of the color of the private property owner.
Q: How do you think white property owners will feel about the Black Seminole story?
A: Times have certainly changed in terms of racial attitudes. Some people are more enlightened and some are not. And all individuals will have to be approached individually. Some people are intractable. Some people are more easily convinced of the value of the big picture, that the story is much more than just what you read in standard history books.
Q: What does the story of Angola have to teach us today?
A: The value of the Angola story is that it elaborates the important aspects of American history, the big picture, that are attributable to a racial minority. Blacks had a part in this country’s history, more than “just slaves.”
Further, this particular story has so many different levels besides the local, the regional and state; it also has aspects of national importance and international importance insofar as it directly relates to the War of 1812, which has been described by some as in fact the second American Revolution.
Q: What about the courage of the people? Does that touch you in any way?
A: Certainly having worked in many of the wild areas of Florida as an archaeologist I think I can appreciate more than many others the difficulties faced by people of whatever color going into an unknown, wild territory and managing to successfully exist and make a living out in the wilds.
Of course even more so when you do put color on the story and you reflect on the fact that these people were running away from slavery; they were, in my opinion, pretty regularly living with one eye looking over their shoulder since they were fugitives and always had to be mindful of the fact that they were repeatedly escaping from one danger to another. It was a remarkably difficult life, but successful for many of the fugitives in Central and South Florida.
Q: What else should our readers know about the archaeology of Angola?
A: I would just add the point that we are looking around Tampa Bay. We have some sites in particular but we don’t have documentation that points us to a particular spot. And when we speak of Tampa Bay we really mean the west coastal area of Florida, inclusive of parts of Sarasota in all likelihood, so it’s a large region. It’s very likely to have very thin evidence impacted by 100 years of development which is increasing as we all know, particularly in this part of Florida. So it’s a very challenging project but a very fascinating project which I think has great ramifications for the story of America.
Q: What if a developer’s project unearthed something in Manatee in the area you’re talking about and discovered something intriguing that looked like an artifact from the Angola Settlement. Wouldn’t that be amazing? How likely is that?
A: To be honest, I think that’s very unlikely because the evidence is very slim and not particularly noticeable to anyone without a trained eye. It would not be like the recent, accidental, fortuitous discovery of mammoth bones by a developer in West Bradenton where you have a 4 or 5 foot long thigh bone. It’s pretty obvious when you find something like that. As far as the discovery of human remains, it’s required that work stop and such remains be reported to police authorities. The medical examiner determines whether they are 50 years old or older. If they are older, then the state archaeologist comes in to investigate. But the bottom line is all human remains are protected under felony provisions of law no matter how old the bones are, what color the flesh was on the bones in life.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: The discoveries that have been made along the Little Manatee River really have me interested in the Ruskin area, both the African drum and a curious metal spear point that I examined back in the 80’s during the Desoto Trail project that was found by a resident along the Little Manatee River in Ruskin. The spear point was definitely not 16th century which was the subject of our work at that time looking for evidence of Fernando Desoto. Something more recent than that, something historical, something manufactured, a substantial metal spear point. There’s still a puzzle.
Q: Where are they, the drum and the spearpoint?
A: The drum is in the collection at Gainesville, the Florida Museum of Natural History. The spearpoint is still in private hands. In doing the research I’ve done on early maps of Tampa Bay, it struck me that the Little Manatee River is really emphasized in many of these maps.
It’s shown in quite exact detail as early as 1757 as opposed to the Manatee River, the Alafia, the Hillsborough, the other major rivers into Manatee. The Little Manatee sees this great amount of detail 7, 8 miles up its course inland, deep navitable water inland, with high banks going inland. These are different pieces to the puzzle. I think there’s good potential there.
I’m sorry to say the likelihood here in Sarasota is probably less because of the impact of development. Also in John Lee Williams’ book, he relates seeing ruined structures in an abandoned field which was very clearly Yellow Bluffs, right here in Sarasota, which is covered in condos. But in between the condos is a little green space. I’d still be able to put in a couple of holes here and there.
Interview with Terrance Weik, Archaeologist
Interview with Terrance Weik
Q: Why is it important to tell the stories of Black Seminoles and maroons in Florida and elsewhere?
A: It’s very important because the story hasn’t been told for so many years. I think one of the lessons that anyone can take away from this history is that no matter what the odds are or how much you are outnumbered, or how you don’t have some of the weapons or perhaps the skills to have full control over your situation, there were people who faced those challenges.
Some people overcame their obstacles. Whenever and wherever people were faced with slavery, some rebelled against it, and some succeeded. That’s really a tremendous accomplishment, given what people were facing.
With regard to Angola, people need to understand that repression and exploitation work, in part, because people go along with it, with what they think they are offered. People tend to settle for what they have in front of them, perhaps because they don’t have a lot of information or haven’t taken that first step to find an alternative. Angola illustrates that there are alternatives that are definitely not the easy road. Many people do not take that road, but many do, and some succeed.
Histories like that of Angola, are an important lessons in survival strategy: they were self-sufficient, they were able to communicate across lines of language, culture and politics. They were able to grow their own food, build their own houses. How many of us can do that today? What happens if we run out of gas or the grocery store closes (laughs)? People are thinking about that more and more, with the gas crisis and the recent hurricanes.
Q: What do you feel your experience and insight have to bring to the Looking for Angola research?
A: One perspective is that I have been doing archaeology of Africans rebelling against slavery for many years now. What it has taught me is to have patience with how long it takes to do such research. It’s not like we’re going to find pyramids and treasures of gold.
The treasures we find are much more modest, very interesting nonetheless, but on a much smaller scale. It’s given me an appreciation for how patient you have to be, how careful you have to be, and how some of the nuances in the earth make all the difference. It’s a matter of being in the right place, asking the right questions, and even knowing what to look for.
The same, I think, holds for the documentary record. Now that I’m looking back at the earlier questions that I had with different eyes and doing a lot more reading, I think, “What sorts of inferences can I make?” and it can be frustrating.
So I’m learning that we have to be patient in seeking these sites out. The odds are that we can look for years before we’ve found it. That may make it more difficult to find funding, depending on where you look. When you get funding you’ve got to come up with something. That’s been a great challenge for me. People are really excited in the beginning of such a project, but it’s only the people who are willing to stick with it for a number of years, who will turn this into a product that you can really get something out of.
Just think of the Fort Mose work, that took many years, but it’s a perfect example of how a team built collaborative research, and that’s why that project was so successful. So I think that I can bring an appreciation of how long and how hard this research can be. Also, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can theoretically conceptualize the establishment, transformation and the perpetuation of these communities: behaviors, interactions and processes that brought about these communities. These are things I hope I can bring in.
Q: How will your involvement in the Looking for Angola project further your ongoing research?
A: One of the things that intrigues me, looking at the maps, is how far south into the peninsula people were willing to go to remain free. Another fascination is comparing Fort Mose, where you had Africans allied with Europeans; Pilaklakaha, where you had Africans allied with Native Americans, and Angola. These folks seem to have disregarded the issues of proximity and alliance and sort of went off on their own and left the safe haven of alliance. I think that is really interesting, that they were willing to go out there and take such a risk.
I think part of it was due to the nature of Florida at the time, it was a sort of frontier region. Also there were opportunities to interact economically with the Spanish fishermen and people from the many nations who were plying around the Caribbean and nearby waters at the time. It will be interesting for me to see what having access to the sea meant in a strategic way for their survival. I’m interested in how to conceptualize defense and economy in a place where you had the advantage of a seaport.
It seems like this group was more independent and autonomous in many ways, than groups in the interior of Florida. Of course there was plenty of diversity there, but rather than looking at some of the more hybrid models of Seminole and African interaction, that I would expect in interior Florida, I would be looking more at more of a model of Inter-African and African-African American cultural contact. It’s a nuance that affects diversity, the fact that they were out there on their own. My general impression is that they seem less plugged in to their Native American neighbors and allies, than the interior groups.
Q: What are the implications of those differences for the expected material culture? How might the artifacts of Angola and Pilaklakaha be similar? How might the material culture of the two communities differ?
A: I think it will be different in terms of material evidence of integration and engagement with Native Americans. I would expect that there would be a larger percentage of the Seminole brushed and sand-tempered pottery at a place like Pilaklakaha versus Angola, where I would expect to find less Native American pottery, and more European ceramics.
I’d expect creamwears, pearlwares, annular wares, ironstone ceramics. That’s one of the biggest ways I think the two assemblages would probably differ. I think there would be a lot of overlap in other categories of artifacts, though: beads, arms and ammunition, metal earbobs, tiny intricate adornments, things like that.
Q: Did the residents of Angola have ties to other maroon communities in Florida? Were there comings and goings between, say, Angola and Pilaklakaha?
A: That’s an interesting question. I think there probably were, especially during the crisis of abandonment at Angola, when they were under attack. I think it’s entirely plausible, given that protection was offered by more interior sites, such as the Withlacoochee Cove sites. I’ll be interested to see if there is evidence of family ties or personal linkages among the various communities.
The documentary record is probably the most promising for documenting that. Lists of names before and during the Seminole Wars may shed some light. I think that the documentary record will reveal evidence of people moving all about the peninsula during those times. There is already clear documentary evidence of linkages between Pilaklakaha and the Alachua communities, and I think we will find other instances as well. It’s a matter of finding specific evidence and thinking about what kinds of evidence would help us to see such a link.
I think the artifacts are a challenge, because of course, they don’t speak for themselves. It may be the more personalized objects such as stylistic links in pottery, for instance, that would help us start making inferences about linkages between the people of Angola and Africans elsewhere in Florida.
Q: What will your role be in the Looking for Angola project?
A: I’m really new to this project, so I’m trying to figure out ways in which I can be of benefit. Certainly trying to formulate important research questions and theories is something I hope to help with. I’d like to provide encouragement for folks to persevere, no matter what they find or don’t find, and of course I’d like to be on the ground when fieldwork is going on. I hope to help the team spend as much time on the ground trying to locate this site, as we do in archives. I’d also like to look at how using oral histories as evidence can contribute to our understanding of the past.
Q: Are there specific questions that you are hoping to ask of the material record, when Angola is found?
A: I’ll be interested to know if there are, indeed, differences in proportions of Seminole versus English ceramics, between Angola and Pilaklakaha. That would allow me to make inferences about how politics and economics shape the material assemblage of a given site.
Another fascinating question is, “What would a group of Africans, newly escaped from slavery, do, when they stopped running?” What decisions would they make about where to settle, building houses, etc? You have to have a long term vision of your survival or else you will quickly disappear as a group. I’d be interested to see how they made their society work by making decisions about agriculture, opportunistic commerce, arms and defense, protection from slave raiders and other issues that would affect their long term survival as a group.
Q: Is there anything else our readers should know?
A: I certainly hope that people become interested in looking for these types of sites. There’s so much more work to be done.
I think that it is crucial for people to explore not only themes such as this; resistance and succeeding against the odds, but also to learn of such things that exist in their own family histories. You just never know what you are going to find when you begin to explore your own history.
It’s clear to me that people have so much to bring to Angola’s history as well. The more eyes and ears we have out there, the more successful we will be in learning this history. It’s important to have a public component of such research. I really learned a lot from people when I traveled and spoke to different groups in Florida during my research on Pilaklakaha. Different people have different experiences and bring things to the story, as well as evidence.
I think the story of Angola speaks about people overcoming the odds and prevailing despite enormous challenges. It’s a story that people can connect to, even today.
Interview with Louis Robison, Ed.D, Educator/Historian
Q: Why do you feel that it is important to incorporate the history of Angola into school curriculums?
A: I think anytime that the history of a people is uncovered, it’s important for children as well as their families and teachers to know about it. In the history of Florida, the story of Angola existed. But the story is virtually unknown to the public and familiar among a few scholars. That’s until the “Looking For Angola” project began. The story includes significant historical figures such as Andrew Jackson and major events in history that shaped the development of the state. Angola’s inclusion into the Manatee County social studies curriculum is essential and important.
Q: What do you hope to achieve by teaching the story of Angola?
A: That’s a good question. When you talk about what we hope to achieve, it really depends upon the level of understanding and the level of openness of those who will be teaching, and those who will be learning. Subsequently, what we hope to achieve, ideally, is 100% awareness and understanding of Angola and the contributions its inhabitants made to our community and state.
We hope to teach that a settled group of free blacks and escaping slaves were involved in collaborative efforts and cooperative dealings with Seminoles. These interrelationships say a lot about the integration of races and the integration of people as far back as the 1820’s. That’s more than we can say about some other integration rates, as you know.
Q: How many schools will be targeted?
A: We’re hoping to target the high schools and the middle schools initially. That includes approximately 14 or 15 schools. One of the reasons for limiting the number initially is, of course, funding. Anytime you incorporate a new curriculum into schools, there’s always the need to train teachers, and we want to do it right.
We want to offer pertinent information, age appropriate learning materials and curriculum guides so that interested teachers are excited about the subject and have an opportunity to participate. We have had a chance to make a presentation about the Angola Settlement at a meeting of the School Board of Manatee County and the Superintendent. Both are supportive.
At the same time, even with that support, unless we get teachers interested in including the subject of Angola in lesson plans, our objective won’t be accomplished. What we want to happen here is for children and their families to know about the Angola Settlement and the contributions inhabitants made while they were here. We want to remember this important local history story that has national and international implications.
The danger of moving whole-heartedly into the educational component of the “Looking For Angola” project without a buy-in from the instructional staff and the principals at that level would be detrimental to our education mission, I think.
To garner support from staff and administrators in the district, we’re sharing the story in as many venues as possible, bits and pieces at a time. Vickie Oldham, the LFA Project Director produced a short documentary that is available to teachers on DVD. Many newspaper articles about the Angola project have appeared in the media. The clips are available to our staff. Dr. Canter Brown has updated his research paper and bibliography. It is also accessible to our staff. A videotape of a panel discussion conducted by Angola scholars is also available for check out in the Manatee County public library. I was a panelist joined by Dr. Canter Brown, Bill Burger, Dr. Uzi Baram and Dr. Rosalyn Howard.
Now we want to identify teachers who really want to include information about Angola in their lesson plans. I think at some point in time there have, to be other forums organized for teachers, and others, for that matter who’d like to pose questions to Angola scholars. Certainly the place to start is with social studies teachers. We can invite their questions, as well as their participation in writing the Angola curriculum. That’s how you get buy-in. Of course that would be the work of the curriculum team, we have a department that does that.
Q: What grade levels will you target?
A: We probably want to start at the middle grades, but we haven’t really settled that issue yet. The intent would be to develop a pilot program to first get a feel for activities that work in the classroom then see what kind of a response we get from students.
Q: How will the Angola story be incorporated into the curriculum?
A: Because it’s not something that the large textbook companies have in place at this time, anything that we do regarding the production of textbooks or other instructional materials will have to be funded through grants, outside funding, or whatever the school system might be willing to offer.
The curriculum department will hopefully have an opportunity to become engaged in this process, and I plan to meet with them fairly quickly, to discuss just how we intend to put an educational plan into place. There are a lot of education initiatives ongoing in Manatee County right now. I don’t want this one to slip through the cracks as one that’s not important.
So the more we can say to administrators that this is important, and that we want to put this on the front burner, the better. That’s one of the reasons we’ve taken the route we’ve taken by making sure that the School Board and the Superintendent are supportive. That carries a lot more clout than someone just coming along and saying, “We think this is a great idea, can we put it into the Manatee County curriculum?”
Writing and designing a curriculum is a difficult task, especially with the accountability measures we have now. If we can design something that’s truly interactive, the activities will be far more exciting for students. For instance, field trips to active archaeological sites would be ideal. Our students can be assigned tasks that assist archaeologists. This is ‘hands-on’ learning that works according to research. That is far more exciting than reading about Angola in textbooks anyway. The intent is to develop activities that are relevant to students.
Q: What challenges will you face?
A: For one, it’s probably not the most popular topic, when you start to talk about our history, the history of African Americans and the history of Native Americans. We’re talking about the history of two minority groups. That’s not a priority. What we have to be sure of is that all students understand that this is a part of the history of Florida and the United States of America. Before now, not much of that history has been incorporated at all in school textbooks and lessons.
Q: What else would you like for our readers to know?
A: I’d like readers to know that our efforts are ongoing, and we certainly solicit any response or any assistance from people who have an interest in this topic.
Q: What lesson does the story of Angola have to teach us today?
A: I think it teaches us about relationships. I think it teaches us that there was integration of the races very early in history – free blacks, former slaves and Native Americans lived together cooperatively and worked together cooperatively. Families developed as a result of those relationships.
The more we see and understand that those kinds of relationships existed, the more it says a lot about what we can continue to strive for in the society that we live in. Angola also teaches so many lessons about the struggle for freedom and the risks the people of Angola took in pursuit of freedom. The story has universal appeal.