Yellow Bluff Fort was a fort in the American Revolutionary War, located near present-day Tallahassee, Florida. The fort’s primary purpose was to protect against attacks by Native Americans and British soldiers during the Siege of Pensacola (1781-1882), with additional emphasis on blockading trade with Canada.
The facility is now privately owned and operated as a tourist attraction. The fort is currently part of a National Historic Landmark District and is open to visitors in the winter season. Visitors can tour portions of the original fort, and learn about the history of the site. Amenities include picnic shelters, campsites, nature trails, boat ramps, boardwalks, observation decks, and interpretive displays.
Interpretive exhibits focus on the history and life of active-duty personnel, including boot camp, naval, and war experiences. Yellow Bluff State Park opened to the public in 1972. Volunteers in Parks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing historical interpretation services to museums and other organizations, provides park maintenance and operates the visitor center. Camp Murphy is maintained by the US Navy Reserve, and serves as a base for midshipmen doing reserve duty during summers and fall semesters. Camp Murphy offers dormitory rooms and a dining hall among other facilities. Camp Murphy lies within walking distance of both the beach and the visitor center.
Yellow Bluff is notable for its proximity to Lake Jackson, which allowed ships to enter easily from the Gulf of Mexico. This fort was one of several strong points established after General Andrew Jackson led his troops across the Appalachians into Georgia and South Carolina. It was also one of many fortified areas known as “Jackson Defenses,” named after him. Yellow Bluff was built between 1777 and 1780 at the direction of Major General John Moultrie who commanded the area until his death that same year. Construction began under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel William Williams who remained in charge until the fort’s completion. At first, it consisted of nothing more than 50 wooden stockade called a “post.” In less than three months, 300 acres were cleared and cultivated, while another 700 acres were marshy or wet.
On December 5, 1777, just four days before Christmas, construction started in earnest when 500 men began work on a 2200 acre site along the St. Marks River. Another 1,000 men worked on the fort over the next six weeks, with blocks being carried down from the riverbank to the site where they would be placed in position. By New Year’s Day, January 8, 1778, the fort contained 40 guns manned by 900 men. A total of 9,300 men including 3,600 raw recruits had been assigned to the post by early February. Yellow Bluff’s location proved strategic, allowing control of the entrance to the Apalachicola River and preventing British forces from invading the East Coast through the Carolinas. However, the fort’s isolation made it vulnerable to attack by land.
As early as March 1779, there were signs that the British were planning an assault on the fort. An entire regiment of infantry arrived outside the fort in June, followed by cavalry units in July. After this show of force, the British continued to make plans to invade the fort throughout the summer. Finally, in October, Admiral George Rodney set sail from Charleston with a fleet of 11 warships and 12 transports carrying 14,000 troops, arriving off the coast of Panama City on November 25. He then sailed up the coast of southwest Florida, finally stopping off at Cedar Key. From there he sent 4,000 men ashore to capture the fort. They encountered little resistance; only two men were killed and five wounded before the town surrendered without a fight.
The British occupied the fort on December 6, 1780, holding it until December 10, 1781, when they handed it back to M’Culloch who took it to Fort Dalles on May 29, 1782, where it was garrisoned until September 5, 1783, when it was returned to M’Culloch who again turned it over to the Continental Army on December 26, 1785, this time assigning it to the command of Captain Levi H. Stark of Massachusetts. Stark renamed the fort Lincoln Barracks, but left no later than April 20, 1787, when he departed for Kentucky with his company. The fort lay abandoned until 1792 when local citizens attempted to repair it for use as a schoolhouse. Local legend holds that Abraham Lincoln used the barracks as a boy, attending classes taught by Professor Samuel McDowell.
Although there are no records documenting Lincoln ever having attended any school within the fort, the story may have originated with Lincoln himself, perhaps to explain how he learned to read and write so well despite his youth. There is evidence that Lincoln did spend some time living in the fort. His stepfather, Thomas Lincoln, brought his family there in 1834, hoping to save their farm from foreclosure. Shortly thereafter, Abraham Lincoln bought 740 acres of land lying adjacent to the fort. He paid $150 for the property, using funds provided by Tishomingo County, which had loaned him money to buy the land. The county required the Lincolns to pay half the price if they wished to take possession of the property, which they did soon after purchasing it.
The Lincolns lived in the fort for about a year, renting a house from a man named Freeman. During that time, Abraham Lincoln became familiar with its layout and features, visiting the fort every day except Sunday. The state of Illinois purchased the property in lieu of back taxes in August 1830, bringing Abraham Lincoln home to what has become the city of Springfield. The state legislature subsequently chartered the Sangamon Canal Company, which completed building the canal in 1837. With traffic on the new waterway increasing, the need for guards decreased, and the once-vulnerable fort was no longer needed. The state therefore sold the property to a group of private investors in 1840, with the stipulation that the federal government maintain the site as a military reservation.