Located only two miles north of historic St. Augustine, Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in what would become the United States.
Hidden away in the marshes of St. Augustine, Florida is one of the most important sites in American history: the first free community of ex-slaves, founded in 1738 and called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose or Fort Mose (pronounced Moh-Say).
More than a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves from the British colonies were able to follow the original "Underground Railroad" which headed not to the north, but rather south, to the Spanish colony of Florida. There they were given there freedom, if they declared their allegiance to the King of Spain and joined the Catholic Church.
Fort Mose was the northern defense of St.Augustine, the nation's oldest city.
The events that took place there should cause all American history textbooks to be rewritten.
Chronology of Fort Mose Events
Pedro Menendez de Aviles founds St. Augustine. Free and enslaved Africans are part of his colonial expedition and become a constant component of St. Augustine society.
First recorded birth of an African American child in the St. Augustine Catholic parish records.
English colonists settle Carolina, bringing African slaves with them. Throughout he seventeenth and eighteenth centuries English colonists import Africans and also capture Native Americans, impressing them into slavery. Many Native Americans are shipped as slaves to the Caribbean.
First African American militia formed to help defend Florida against English encroachment.
A Spanish raiding party form Florida, including 53 Native Americans and African Americans, attack the Carolina colony, carrying away booty, money and slaves.
First recorded escaped slave enter St. Augustine, eight men, two women and a three year old nursing child. Florida governor refuses to return them to Carolina and puts the men to work on the Castillo de San Marcos for wages. Runaway African Americans accept the Catholic faith.
King Charles II of Spain approves official sanctuary for runaway foreign slaves.
Col. James Moore of Carolina attacks and burns St. Augustine. Residents including African Americans, take refuge in the fort and Moore fails to capture the town. Many Native Americans from outlying missions and villages are taken into slavery by the English.
Africans now outnumber Europeans in the Carolina colony. African slave revolts occur in 1711 and 1714. Many slaves join the Yamasee (a Carolina Native American tribe) in their war against the English in 1715.
African American slave militia formed in Florida. This group participates in the defense of St. Augustine in 1728 and in attacks on the Carolina province.
Royal edict reiterates freedom for African Americans who reach Florida from Carolina, but requires conversion to Catholicism and four years of service to the Spanish crown.
Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose) is established for African American freedmen. The settlement includes a four-sided fort, houses and fields. Fort Mose militia forms and Fort Mose becomes the northern defense post for St. Augustine.
General James Oglethorpe of Georgia attacks St. Augustine and Fort Mose is abandoned. Mose militia men fight bravely in defense of St. Augustine and recapture their town. This battle is a key turning point and Oglethorpe retreats.
Mose residents live in St. Augustine, their numbers increase by further runaways. Mose militia continues to distinguish itself in skirmishes with British colonists.
Fort Mose resettled. In 1759 it contained twenty-two households of sixty-seven people.
The site is abandoned when the British take possession of Florida. The residents of Mose evacuate to Cuba and form a new town, Ceiba Mocha, Matanzas province.
1980s and 1990s
The location of Fort Mose reestablished through archeological (Dr. Kathleen Deagan) and documentary (Dr. Jane Landers) research.
The site of Fort Mose (23 acres) is purchased by the State of Florida.
Fort Mose is given national Landmark status, the highest designation of national site significance, by the U. S. Department of the Interior.
Fort Mose Historic State Park Visitors Center
For more information: www.fortmose.com & www.fortmose.org
Article by Ennis Davis