St. Augustine – A couple of years ago, when I vacationed in St. Augustine, I wanted to visit the Fort Mose Historic State Park, but wasn’t able to because the weather was uncooperative. During my visit to northeast Florida this week, I decided to visit Fort Mose while I was in the area to visit Fort Caroline and the Kingsley Plantation. The reason I wanted to visit is that Fort Mose was the first government-sanctioned free black settlement in America.
In the 1700s, Spain had a policy of encouraging British slaves to run away from the British colonies in America, convert to Catholicism, and settle in Florida. There were two reasons for this policy. First, the Spanish wanted to destabilize the British colonies’ economy, and the colonies closest to Florida, the Carolinas, depended on slavery. Second, a community of freed slaves between St. Augustine and the Carolinas would help defend against British incursions.
In 1738, the Spanish built Fort Mose just north of St. Augustine and settled runaway slaves from the Carolinas there if they agreed to convert to Catholicism. Males were also enrolled in the Spanish militia to help defend the colony. Fort Mose would come to be led by Francisco Menendez, an escaped slave who help defeat British forces when the British moved south to attack Fort Mose and St. Augustine in 1740. Although the original fort was destroyed during the fighting, it would be rebuilt by 1752. By that time, the black residents of Fort Mose had settled in St. Augustine and had to be forcibly resettled at the new Fort Mose. When East Florida was ceded to the British in the Peace of Paris in 1763, Fort Mose was abandoned and many of its residents moved to Cuba along with the Spanish colonists of St. Augustine.
While there is nothing left of the first or second Fort Mose, the Historic Site is located near where archaeologists discovered the remains of the forts and artifacts from them are housed in the Site’s museum. The museum itself is for all ages but is geared toward educating young people about the settlement. I wish I had taken some photos of the exhibits inside the museum, but I was so interested in reading and listening to them that I forgot to! There is also a short film on the history of Fort Mose and the archaeology that discovered its site; watching it before going into the museum is a good idea. I think it’s well worth visiting because it presents a side of American Colonial History that is mostly unknown. There is also a boardwalk out over the marsh and offers a great place for taking photos of wildlife. I encourage everyone to visit and learn about a part of our history that isn’t taught in most schools.