Rumors about the Riverwalk expansion have long been talked about – and finally, they are coming true.
Feb. 26, the Bradenton City Council is consenting to approximately a third of the final designs for the Riverwalk – after that, the rest will be presented throughout the course of the construction. Although the plans are not finalized yet, the city administration has said that construction may start in fall or winter of this year.
According to 10News, this reconstruction plan will add an extra 1.25 miles to the eastern section of the Riverwalk, already 1.5 miles long, expanding from Riverside Drive East to Manatee Mineral Springs Park. Before construction, the park was used as an archaeological dig site starting from the end of last year to all of January to dig for remnants of the Angolan community – an escaped slave safe haven from 1812-1821.
“I think it’s really cool that they wanted to extend the Riverwalk,” junior Sage Arnish said. “It would be amazing. But if there truly is an Angolan community, then they have to examine it a lot more. We can’t go through with building the Riverwalk until we are done analyzing the entire community because we don’t want anything going unnoticed or unknown. Overall, I think this is super positive, and if everything goes well, it will be a super good find.”
According to the Bradenton Herald, the dig was successful – finding artifacts such as marbles, buttons and plate fragments to provide context to life in the settlement.
“I feel that the discovery of the Angolan community’s remnants are a big part in the history of Angolan people who had settled in Florida and to the roots of that specific area,” junior Johnnie Ferrito said. “I find it nice to hear that archaeologists are taking great interest in preserving the artifacts to keep it in tact as a piece of history. It’s also very fortunate that they found all of the priceless artifacts of the community before construction. In reference to the expansion of the Riverwalk, I hope that all remnants are discovered and preserved prior to it. I think it adds a sort of nice touch to the Riverwalk through its connection to historical communities.”
In the beginning of the 19th century, Florida was under Spanish control, with land being used as a refuge for runaway slaves. In northwestern Florida by the Apalachicola River during the War of 1812, the British trained with the Maroon communities (a settlement for the escaped slaves) until they left to fight the U.S. The communities defended the fort and farmed for survival, but most were wiped out by the U.S Army. Approximately 750 fled and survived, fleeing to the Bradenton area, and formed the Angolan community.
According to the News Press, while they were in Bradenton, the community utilized the Manatee River all the way to Sarasota Bay for a water source. This, along with freshwater springs, attracted Native Americans and other pioneers to the area. They thrived on trading deer hides and bird feathers and negotiated with Cuban fishermen.
After the Spanish ceded control of Florida, under U.S. General Andrew Jackson, the U.S. attacked the community and the slaves either returned to slavery, died or fled to central or south Florida.
Although the Angolan community ended in tragedy, the Bradenton area proved to be a rich historical hub. In 2009, New College’s Public Archeology Lab discovered artifacts from that time period. Three feet down in Manatee Mineral Springs Park, a small white piece of clay was found and identified as the stem of a pipe from the early 19th century. Upon further investigation, in 2013, the archeologists found a type of ceramic called pearlware. According to Visit Florida, the National Park Service said it was even part of the Underground Railway Network.
“We [in history have] talked about Native Americans having what in the academic world we call agency, which is basically the ability to be actors on the stage, you know, they aren’t just people that are constantly being acted upon,” history teacher Daniel McLean said. “They actually play a part, they play a role and in this case, history, so I think that the story of Angola kind-of teaches us that all people at some point are going to have agency. They are all going to have the ability to act upon what they see as in their best interest at that time. Now, that doesn’t mean that they are always going to be completely freely making these decisions. They’re obviously going to be influenced by what other groups are doing around them or to them, but I think that it definitely is an example of agency.”