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International Pilots Learn Human Rights Lessons During Visit to Historic Fort in Florida

View of the Apalachicola River from Fort Gadsden located on the river’s east bank. The site is the only historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region.  Photo Credit: Forest Service photo

View of the Apalachicola River from Fort Gadsden located on the river’s east bank. The site is the only historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region. Photo Credit: Forest Service photo

Nestled in the southwest corner of Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest sits a historic fort known today as Fort Gadsden—the only historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region.

The fort served as a Native American trading post, a British fort, as U.S. Fort Gadsden, and as a Confederate fort during the Civil War. The fort was also used as a safe haven for runaway slaves travelling the Underground Railroad, which ran south to Spanish Florida prior to 1821.

The Fort was not as remote then as it is now because the Apalachicola River was a major travel way as maps at that time depicted it as prominently as Pensacola and St. Marks. It was a destination for freedom because it was located in a different country at a strategically defensive position, had good soils for farming, good water sources and easy access to coastal trade via the river.

Recently, a group of pilots from the International Military Student Office at Alabama’s Fort Rucker visited the site as part of their educational series on American culture and heritage.

“One of our topics is human rights and Fort Gadsden is part of our history that speaks to human rights, abolitionism and slavery,” said Eduardo Piñeiro, the Fort’s Field Studies Program Coordinator.

Currently, this congressionally mandated program consists of 60 pilots representing seven countries. The officers are trained as both pilots and as future leaders. The program promotes world peace by providing opportunities for the students to be exposed to different cultures.

Chandra Roberts, the forest’s recreation program manager, coordinated the event. “We want to ensure the story of Fort Gadsden and its connection to the Underground Railroad is not forgotten,” she said. “Our visitor’s appreciated one of America’s most interesting treasures here on the Apalachicola.”

Martin Prokoph, one of the program’s international pilots, brought his family from Germany to experience this part of America firsthand. “It’s a pretty cool place and impressive too,” said Prokoph. “You see the river as you come over the site. My son was amazed by the bullets and bayonets in the displays.”

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