When the City of Ocala and the Fort King Heritage Association built the replica of the 1800s outpost four years ago, the first challenge was to educate the community about the history of the site. In December 2015, they held the first reenactment of the skirmish between U.S. soldiers and Seminole Indians. Now in its fourth year, A Fight For Freedom: Attack on Fort King offered an entire weekend of living history fun December 7th-8th at the 40-acre Fort King National Historic Landmark.
“The whole purpose of this fort and this site is to educate,” says Bill Rodriguez, parks division head for the City of Ocala. “We want to educate the public on the history and on the skills that it took back then.” He explains that the outpost was actually the first county seat of Marion County as well as the first county courthouse.
The site bustled with activities and people as Fort King came to life. Reenactors dressed as 19th century soldiers faced off against members of the Seminole tribe who traveled to Ocala from Big Cypress Reservation in the Everglades. Craftspeople continued the traditions of blacksmithing, candle making, weaving and gunsmithing as it was done back then. Adults and children enjoyed authentic sights including a display of early 1800s medical supplies and a site-built Seminole hunters’ lean-to shelter, authentic sounds such as the firing of a vintage howitzer cannon and authentic smells like traditionally prepared Seminole fry bread and wild boar roasting over a wood fire. Hands-on activities including weaving and axe throwing gave attendees of all ages the chance to test their frontier-era skills.
From his face paint to his beaded sash to his buckskin breeches and moccasins, reenactor Daniel Sampson was authentically costumed as a Seminole warrior.
“This event is very important,” he explains. “It’s to promote the history of the Seminole Indian War. The reenactors here are keeping this history alive. We’re here because we love history.”
Proceeds from the event and sales of T-shirts and merchandise help the nonprofit Fort King Heritage Association raise funds for expansion at the site, which will eventually include an educational center and museum as well as several other buildings. The site’s newest addition is the David Laffey heritage teaching garden, which was planted last month with winter vegetables.
“One of the next projects we’re working to get started on is a blacksmith shop,” explains association board member Sandy Clardy, adding that ongoing archaeological excavation has already uncovered more than 70,000 artifacts.
This year’s event was bigger and better than ever, and Fort King continues historical education programs for adults and children throughout the year, including skills classes such as rag rug and broom making as well as the popular Junior Ranger program.
For more information about the many historical offerings at Fort King National Historic Landmark, visit ftking.org.