MANATEE -- New College Anthropology Professor Uzi Baram said traces of the Angola community have been recovered near Manatee Mineral Spring after years of research.
Baram said Wednesday the history of Angola, a community of escaped slaves that fled south two centuries ago to Florida wilderness, is an obscure piece of history unique to Manatee County that he hopes to see in the school curriculum one day.
The "Looking For Angola" project was created in late 2004 by archeologist Vicki Oldham. Baram, an original member of the research team set up to search for the settlement, said Oldham started the project after reading scholarly works on escaped slave communities on the Manatee River.
Baram will discuss the findings at a special presentation starting at 11 a.m. Saturday during the Viva Florida Pioneer Annual Heritage Festival and National Day of Archaeology festivities at Reflections of Manatee -- near where evidence of Angola was found, at Second Avenue East and 14th Street East.
"It is a chance to go right to the spot the Angola people were," Baram said.
The project received funding from the Florida Humanities Council and the State Division of Historical Resources. Numerous New College students helped hunt for evidence.
"The goal of this project is not purely archeological, but to educate people about the history of the community and explain the archeological process," Baram said.
New College students helped identify and inventor artifacts and volunteered at excavations.
Baram said the Angola were slaves from South Carolina and Georgia who lived along the Manatee River with their children and grandchildren 200 years ago. Baram said the name "Angola" is associated with strength and leadership, and there is no assumption they were from the African nation Angola.
The research into the Angola community was long and careful.
"We worked with historians to look for archival information and documents," Baram said.
Baram said Cantor Brown, professor of history at Fort Valley State University, found descriptions of the Angola community.
"It gave us a good sense of the contours of the several hundred people living in this region until 1821," Baram said. "It was a challenge twofold. First, nothing was precise in any of the documents and the descriptions were broad. Second, most of the south side of the region of the Angola Community is Bradenton, with buildings and roads."
Digging was done in the fields around Manatee Mineral Spring. Property owner, Reflections of Manatee, gave permission for the digs
"We did not want to do too much excavating, as strange as that may sound," Baram said. "We wanted to analyze the finds carefully."
Sherry Svekis, vice president of Reflections of Manatee and the president of the Time Sifters Archeology group, said she has collaborated with Baram on a number of research projects.
"It is important to know that the people of Angola, as well as many people in the past in the area, have all contributed to building the community we have today," Svekis said. "We don't know as much about the Angola, the enslaved African-Americans, Cuban fisherman and so many histories of the Manatee River that need to get more attention to have a holistic view."
Baram took artifacts to the New College of Florida Public Archeology Lab and trained students how to examine them.
"It took awhile to make sense of the material," Baram said.
Baram said the key to finding evidence of the Angola community was evidence of trade -- not special artifacts.
"They used the same mass-produced goods of the early century world," Baram said. "That does not mean they were not unique. They traded with Cuban fisherman and exchanged fruits, vegetables and meats for goods like axes and ceramics."
Baram said archeologists focus on ceramics because of their preservation in archeological records.
"We can make the case that we found traces of the Angola," Baram said. "They lived in small communities rather than one large one, so it is only a piece of the picture. We don't have the whole thing at all."
Eventually, the Angolan community was destroyed and plundered during a series of raids in Spanish Florida by Andrew Jackson, including the Battle of Suwannee. Jackson sought permission to destroy the slave community. Although the request was rejected, an ally went in and destroyed the community anyway. Baram said the research team has the 1821 Charleston City Gazette newspaper article about the raid in their records.
Some survivors of the raid moved inland; most moved to the Bahamas. Baram said the team is sharing their information with Angola descendants in the Bahamas.
"We have impressive history underfoot in Bradenton," Baram said. "It is a reminder of people who sought freedom here and their saga, their struggles. Their achievements can give children in school the sense that they, too, can achieve a lot like this group of people. It ends badly in Florida, but their descendants are free in the Bahamas."
The Viva Florida Pioneer Annual Heritage Festival and National Day of Archaeology event starts at 11 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. at the Reflections of Manatee at 1312 Second Ave. E.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081