Hidden Treasure of Florida's Second Seminole War
Located just minutes from the Hillsborough River State Park Visitors Center and nestled unseen on the northeast side of U.S. 301 lies a true Florida treasure, the Fort Foster Historic Site. The year was 1836 and the state of Florida was in the midst of the Second Seminole War which by now was well on its way to becoming the costliest, in terms of money, of all the Indian wars throughout the United States. This sites strategic importance was based on its point of crossing of the Hillsborough River which allowed for the construction of a bridge at a relatively fordable point. Lt. Col. William S. Foster was commanded by General Thomas Jessup to rebuild another fort at the site of the former Fort Alabama which had been destroyed, by booby trap, by the troops garrisoned there upon their departure. With construction beginning in late November by Fosters unit and nearing completion by late December, Foster and a large contingent out of his 320 man unit were called to head north to begin construction on another fort and bridge on the Withlacoochee River. The remaining men at Fort Foster were reinforced by a unit of U.S. Navy sailors numbering 50 in all and took up the defense of the now almost completed fort and soon found themselves repelling two attacks by Seminole Indians attempting to destroy both the bridge and fort. By late March of 1837 the sailors, under the command of Lt. Thomas Leib, had been replaced by U.S. Army Major Zantziger and his 2nd Artillery and would bear witness to harsher realities of fort life in Florida. Of note were the limited accommodations for troops within the fort itself. Essentially constructed to protect the bridge crossing and act as a supply depot for campaigning troops in the field, Fort Foster and her sister forts throughout the Florida Peninsula could only house a relative few troops. Any excess troops garrisoned at these forts would have had to live outside the walls in tents and covered with palmetto in order to maintain equipment and supplies in Florida’s hot and humid climate. By 1838 the Seminole war had moved further down into Florida’s southern reaches and so Fort Foster would be abandoned during the long hot summers and then manned again in late fall. Another aspect of Florida’s harsh climate was the pervasiveness of decease carrying mosquitoes which would claim the majority of the 1400 deaths of U.S. troops during the entirety of the war which officially ended on August 14, 1842.
The site of the original Fort Foster was entered into the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and would see the reconstruction of the fort in 1980 on the same site. Today Fort Foster plays host to two major events each year, December and January, which entail reenactments by staff and volunteers in period uniforms and weapons which accentuates the uniqueness of these reenactments for visitors to hear and see weapons and camp life in action during this pivotal time in Florida history.