Fort Mose: a refuge for slaves within Spanish Florida
Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship.
Published by James Phillips in George Yard, Lombard Street, London, 1789
General Archive of the Indies (AGI), MP, Ingenios, 66.
Accompanying this sad but illustrative image, let me tell you about Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé. It is never a bad time to learn a little bit of history, especially in the context of the unpleasant events that we have to witness.
Better known as Fort Mose, it was a site founded in 1738 in the Spanish Florida. The Spanish Crown, seeking to strengthen its border and destabilize the plantation economy of the British colonies, began offering asylum to the escaped slaves in 1687 in exchange for converting to Catholicism and serving at least four years in the army.
One of these slaves that escaped from Carolina was the one baptized Francisco Menéndez, a Mandinga African born in the Gambia region. Due to his abilities and his proved loyalty, Menéndez was freed and appointed captain of the militia and leader of the newly founded Fort Mose. Mose was first free African settlement legally sanctioned in what later would become the United States and had a total population of about 100. The village had a wall around it, with dwellings inside, as well as a church and an earthen fort. Word of the settlement of free blacks at Mose reached the colonies of South Carolina and Georgia, and attracted escaping slaves. The existence of Fort Mose inspired the Stono Rebellion in September 1739 (the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies).
As a military outpost, Mose defended the northern approach to St. Augustine, the capital of La Florida. By successfully defending their freedom and Spanish Florida in the mid-18th century, the black inhabitants of Fort Mose had a significant role in contemporary political conflicts between England and Spain in the southeast. After East Florida was ceded to the British in the Peace of Paris (1763), most of the free black inhabitants emigrated to Cuba with the evacuating Spanish settlers. In Cuba, Menéndez established a similar community called San Agustín de la Nueva Florida.
Fort Mose is now designated by the United States as a National Historic Landmark. The original site was rediscovered in an archaeological dig in the 1990s and has been protected as a park.
Aguilera López, A. J. (2020) "Fort Mose: a refuge for slaves within Spanish Florida", in Rowing through History [online].