The War of 1812 begins. In West Florida, British forces enlist both Blacks and Native Americans. The ensuing fight in the region becomes known as the Patriots War. Sarrazota (also known as Angola) existed in the Tampa Bay-Sarasota-Manatee area. Florida was a sovereign territory of Spain. Free people of color, formerly enslaved Africans (some were called Black Seminoles and Seminole Indians) lived along the Manatee River in a farming community that stretched into Sarasota.
Evolution over the last century
The first free African Americans began to settle in Sarasota in 1884. They and their descendants have been important partners in the development of Sarasota’s institutions, infrastructure, culture and social history. They helped carve Sarasota out of the wilderness by clearing snake infested land for real estate developers, laying railroad ties, building houses, roads and bridges; planting and harvesting citrus and celery, and helping to plat golf courses. They were an integral part of Sarasota’s early days as a thriving community, working for the Ringling Circus, tapping pine trees to collect resin for turpentine, mining dolomite and laboring as domestics and drivers for the city’s affluent white residents.
Enterprising residents established their own businesses to survive Jim Crow segregation. Survival was the priority, then when basic needs were met, community leaders focused on equal rights and political representation.
During the Patriots War, more Blacks ally with the British. Their forces are defeated. In 1815, the British leave a fort at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River to Blacks where they reside and create villages nearby with Native American allies. The place becomes known as Negro Fort.
Under the direction of then Gen. Andrew Jackson, the U.S. Navy attacks Prospect Bluff Fort. A cannon ball strikes the fort’s stockpile of ammunition causing an explosion that instantly kills about 270 of 320 inhabitants. Some survivors, including the fort’s Black commandant Garcon, were executed. Displaced Blacks moved south and throughout Florida.
Lewis Colson came to Sarasota with his wife Irene and assisted Richard Paulson in platting the town of Sarasota at Five Points in 1885. Sarasota was platted by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, a Scottish entity.
In 1899, Bethlehem Baptist Church was the first church built by and for African Americans. John Mays, a carpenter and builder helped complete the construction of the church.
In 1900, Leonard Reid arrived in Sarasota from South Carolina. He graduated as valedictorian from Savannah Normal School before coming to Sarasota where he became a community leader.
In 1902, Sarasota is incorporated. Colonel John Hamilton Gillespie is elected as the first mayor. Leonard Reid worked for Col. Gillespie and assisted in designing Sarasota’s first golf course and became its first greenskeeper.
In 1903, Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was the second church built by and for African Americans. Leonard Reid and wife Eddye Coleman were influential in forming this church.
In 1912, the first formal school facility for African American children was established in the Knights of Pythias Hall. Emma Edwina Booker, who Wright Bush helped to recruit, became the principal.
In the year of 1914, Newtown was established. The neighborhood was platted by C.N. Thompson and son on April 20. The subdivision contained 240 lots on forty acres designated “exclusively for colored people.”