Dr. Matthew Clavin of the University of West Florida, our workshop director, welcomes our group of 40 educators to Pensacola. This was a very exciting year for Pensacola as they celebrated their 450 year anniversary. In 1559, Spanish explorer, Don Tristan de Luna de Arellano landed on the shores of what is now Pensacola, Florida and claimed the land for Spain. The King and Queen of Spain visited Pensacola this year to mark this historical anniversary.
Dr. Clavin’s message to the educators gathered in Pensacola for the week is that during slavery times Pensacola was an “enclave of freedom” for Black Americans.
Julee Panton, a free black woman of color, lived in Pensacola, Florida, at a time when slavery was legal. A free woman, Panton earned a living by making candles and by baking. Many people believe that Panton spent the money she earned to buy the freedom of enslaved African Americans. When they were free, she helped them set up better lives.
Julee Cottage, located in the downtown historical village, is dedicated to the memory of Pensacolian Julee Panton who once owned the cottage in 1805. Visitors here learn about the rich African-American history of Pensacola.
Today the cottage is a museum and the interior is displayed in the way Black Americans would have lived in Pensacola during the Reconstruction Era.
St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Pensacola, is an open-air museum that reflects the rich history of Pensacola. We learn so much about Pensacola’s diverse history and its society by visiting St. Michael’s Cemetery. For example prior to 1821 a quarter of Pensacola’s population was made up of Black Americans. This tombstone marks the burial site of Salvador Pons, a Black mayor of Pensacola and the first Black mayor in Florida.
The “Negro Fort”, located about 30 miles from the Gulf Coast near the community of Sumatra, was built by the British during the War of 1812. The post was called the “Negro Fort” by the U.S.Government. Inside its walls were 300 African American men, women and children and around 20 Choctaw warriors. Some were free residents of Florida, but others had escaped from slavery and came here to live in freedom. On July 27, 1816, at the culmination of an invasion of Spanish Florida, a pair of U.S. Navy gunboats attacked the fort . Most of the inhabitants of the fort were killed, a few escaped to fight with another day with the Seminole Indians and several were taken in chains to Georgia and bondage.
Dr. Steve Belko gave a very powerful lecture on the history of Fort Negro to our group. Later he led us on a tour the historic site. Nothing remains of the original structure of Fort Negro except for a lone British Flag and a marker commerating the site. Very little remains of the cemetery where the 270 victims of the Fort’s attack are buried in a mass grave.