Traces of the long-sought Angola community have been recovered near Manatee Mineral Spring, according to New College Prof. Uzi Baram, an original member of the research team set up to search for the settlement in 2004.
Baram, professor of anthropology at New College of Florida, will discuss his findings and the implications of the archaeological analysis on Saturday, Oct. 19, during the Viva Florida Pioneer Annual Heritage Festival and National Day of Archaeology festivities, at Reflections of Manatee, 1312 2nd Ave. East in Bradenton (two blocks north of Route 64, off 14th Street East).
Angola was a community of maroons, or escaped slaves – many of whom fled south into the Florida wilderness, instead of north via the Underground Railroad – who settled around the fresh-water source now known as Manatee Mineral Spring. The freedom-seeking people spread out south of the Manatee River, farming, hunting, and trading with Cuban fishermen and the Seminoles.
The community swelled to about 750 people by 1820, as other maroons gathered there after being driven from settlements along the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers. Angola – as the place was known to the Cuban fishermen – was itself destroyed by a slave raid in 1821, with survivors fleeing inland and to Andros Island in the Bahamas.
The “Looking For Angola” project began in late 2004, conducted by an interdisciplinary research team: Vickie Oldham, project director; Rosalyn Howard, professor of anthropology at Univ. of Central Florida; Terrance Weik, professor of archaeology at of Univ. of South Carolina; Canter Brown Jr., professor of history at Fort Valley State University; Dr. Coz Cozzi, underwater archaeologist, and Louis Robison, formerly of Manatee County Schools.
Archaeological field surveys in 2008, 2009 and 2013 attempted to get at the “ground truth” of Angola, which until then had been known only though scraps of archival materials, like a newspaper account of the community’s destruction, government documents in the Bahamas and records of family names that have turned up there and in Florida.
Baram emphasizes that the archaeological finds are not dramatic. The recent excavations uncovered ceramics that have been linked to the period of Angola’s existence and to traders operating in the area, as well as remnants of a structure’s foundation.
Combined with the archival research, and geographic investigations, ethnographic engagement with the descendant community on Andros Island in the Bahamas, Baram said he and his colleagues are convinced there is a solid case for the existence of the Angola community at Manatee Mineral Spring, which is significant for both the region and the country’s history.
“This is a reminder of a group of people who sought freedom here in the Sarasota-Manatee area 200 years ago, and of their saga, their struggles and what they achieved,” Baram said. He hopes the recent discoveries will lead to more research and excavation and a better understanding of the history of freedom-seeking peoples in southwest Florida.
New College undergraduates, via the New College Public Archaeology Lab, have contributed to the description, analysis and inventory of archaeological artifacts for “Looking for Angola.” Baram, director of the Public Archaeology Lab, has received support from Time Sifters Archaeological Society and the Florida Public Archaeology Network.
Baram’s discussion is part of the “Viva Florida Pioneer Annual Heritage Festival,” which will feature professional history re-enactors and the dedication a historical pathway around Manatee Mineral Spring. New College students will serve as docents for the dedication, explaining the 12 interpretive signs along the path that tell the history of the Village of Manatee, the Third Seminole War, the Civil War, the Curry family, the Spanish surveying of the Manatee River, Native Americans and Angola.
The festival, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, is free and open to the public.