Festival celebrating history between Bradenton and the Bahamas prepares for second year

Is Mineral Springs Park part of the Underground Railroad?

Evidence mounts that Mineral Springs Park’s history runs deeper than imagined as the National Parks Service eyes the park for a new historic designation.
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Evidence mounts that Mineral Springs Park’s history runs deeper than imagined as the National Parks Service eyes the park for a new historic designation.

Though a slight shift in the location, there are more reasons to celebrate at this year’s Back to Angola Festival.

Not only is it a chance to celebrate and deepen knowledge of history and heritage, but also to recognize the Mineral Springs Park’s newly minted spot on the National Parks Services’ National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

After excavations showed significant evidence that Mineral Springs was part of the Angola settlement of escaped slaves, the park was officially recognized as a stop on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom in March.

Organizers said it’s exciting to have the Back to Angola Festival on the land that recently received the designation.

“Our first open house here was in March but this is even more because this is bringing the descendants here,” said Trudy Williams of Reflections Manatee, a local organization dedicated to the preservation of the Manatee Mineral Spring Historic Site.

This year’s Back to Angola Festival will be held July 19-21 at the Curry Museums, 1302 Fourth Ave. E., Bradenton, which also include the Reflections of Manatee Visitor’s Center. It’s in the same historic area as last year’s festival but a slightly different location.

Admission is free.

Friday’s festivities will start with an opening ceremony at 4 p.m. and will last until 8 p.m., Saturday from 12 to 8 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m.

The festival will again feature Bahamian music, traditional Bahamian foods including conch fritters and Bahamian guava jam and a panel to discuss historic Angola. The panel includes Roslayn Howard, a professor from University of Central Florida who researched the community and documented descendants living in Red Bays, Bahamas. and Vickie Oldham, who spearheaded the “Looking for Angola,” project, which was dedicated to finding the location of Angola.

There will also be a simulated archaeological dig for children, demonstrations on basket weaving, wood carving, boat building and garment making.

Some descendants of those who lived in Angola are also scheduled to speak to attendees.

The Back to Angola Festival is presented by Oak Tree Community Outreach, Inc. a local non-profit thatorganizes festivals and other events that highlight the Bahamian culture.

“(The festival) brought life to the application (for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom), it really highlighted it,” said Daphney Barnes, with Oak Tree Community Outreach Inc.

The Curry Museums highlight homes built by Bahamian carpenters more than a century ago, and are now owned by local non-profit Reflections of Manatee Inc.

The Curry Houses Historic District in Bradenton — which encompasses three city lots fronting Fourth Avenue East, between 12th Street East and 14th Street East — features three homes built by or for the extended family of Captain John Curry. He was born in the Bahamas and worked as a ship builder and mariner who also traded cattle along Florida’s coasts.

Curry purchased land in Bradenton in 1853 and had the Bahamian carpenters he brought with him build him a home there. After purchasing more land, which contained the Manatee Mineral Spring, in 1859 from Dr. Franklin Branch, a total of 22 homes were built there for him and his family.

Two of the original homes still stand.

A granddaughter built the third house in 1925. Her home now serves as a visitor’s center. They are some of oldest homes in Bradenton still in the location where they were built.

“The first time a lot of descendants saw the site was last year,” Barnes said. “It’s a good piece of history.”

Barnes said she can trace some of her own family’s heritage back to the Curry properties.

Minerals Springs has long supported life in Bradenton, and is now known to have been a temporary home for escaped slaves. It is believed to be the site of a lost slave settlement, Angola, between 1800 and 1821.

New Angola hit the height of its slave population, about 700, in 1816. Andrew Jackson’s forces destroyed two areas further north and survivors escaped to Mineral Springs. In 1821, Jackson’s forces, under William McIntosh and his army of Indians, raided the settlement, capturing hundreds.

Those who could went south to Miami and eventually to Red Bays, Bahamas, where their descendants still live. Last summer, a delegation from the Bahamas came to the first Back to Angola festival at Mineral Springs Park that celebrated the history between Bradenton and the Bahamas.

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Sara Nealeigh covers what’s happening in the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, Florida for the Bradenton Herald. She previously covered breaking news for the Herald after moving to Florida from Ohio in 2016.