Fort Mose, Florida (1738-1820) • (2023)

Fort Mose, Florida (1738-1820) • (1)

Battle for Fort Mose

Courtesy State of Florida National Historic Society

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Established in 1738, Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States. Located just north of St. Augustine, Florida, Fort Mose played an important role in the development of colonial North America.

As Great Britain, France, Spain and other European nations competed for control of the New World and its wealth they all in varying ways came to rely on African labor to develop their overseas colonial possessions. Exploiting its proximity to plantations in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies, King Charles II of Spain issued the Edict of 1693 which stated that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom provided he joined the Militia and became a Catholic. This edict became one of the New World’s earliest emancipation proclamations.

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By 1738 there were 100 blacks, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. Many were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. With accompanying women and children, they created a colony of freed people that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.

When war broke out in 1740 between England and Spain, the people of St. Augustine and nearby Fort Mose found themselves involved in a conflict that stretched across three continents. The English sent thousands of soldiers and dozens of ships to destroy St. Augustine and bring back any runaways. They set up a blockade and bombarded the town for 27 consecutive days. Hopelessly outnumbered, the diverse population of blacks, Indians and whites pulled together. Fort Mose was one of the first places attacked. Lead by Captain Francisco Menendez, the men of the Fort Mose Militia briefly lost the Fort but eventually recaptured it, repelling the English invasion force. Florida remained in Spanish hands and for the next 80 years remained a haven for fugitive slaves from the British colonial possessions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and later when these possessions became part of the United States.

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Cite this article in APA format:

Bullock, J. (2008, January 22). Fort Mose, Florida (1738-1820).

Source of the author's information:

Kathleen Deagan and Darcie MacMahon, Fort Mose: Colonial America’s
Black Fortress of Freedom
(Gainesville: University Press of Florida,
1995): Jane Landers, “Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose: A Free Black
Town in Spanish Colonial Florida,” American Historical Review 95:1
(Fall 1990); Jane Landers, “Spanish Sanctuary: Fugitives in Florida,
1687-1790,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 62:3 (1984). Deborah Huso,
“Fort Mose,” American Legacy: The Magazine of African American History
and Culture
(Fall 2006).


Why is Fort Mose so important to Florida history? ›

Fort Mose Historic State Park is the site of the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what is now the United States.

Why was Fort Mose destroyed? ›

Taken by surprise, the British garrison was virtually annihilated. Colonel Palmer, three captains and three lieutenants were among the British troops killed in action. The battle destroyed the fort. The Spanish did not rebuild it until 1752.
Siege of Fort Mose.
Date14 June 1740
ResultSpanish victory
1 more row

Was Fort Mose the first black settlement? ›

In 1738, when more than 100 Africans had arrived, the Spanish established the fort and town of Fort Mose (pronounced “Moh-say”), the first legally sanctioned free Black town in what is now the United States. The story of Fort Mose is a tribute to these courageous Africans and their pursuit of freedom.

What year was the second Fort Mose built? ›

Their work revealed the site of the original fort, as well as the second facility constructed in 1752. Their discoveries showed that Africans played important roles in the geopolitical conflicts between European colonial powers in the southeast of what is now the United States.

When did slavery start in Florida? ›

In 1539, slavery arrived in present-day Florida when the slave trader and Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto attempted to establish a permanent settlement and claim more territory for Spain.

What was the first black city in FL? ›

Eatonville, Florida, is the oldest black-incorporated municipality in the United States. Incorporated in 1887, it is the first town successfully established by African American freedmen.

Is Fort Mose still standing? ›

Although there are no remains of the earth and wooden structures, visitors can view the land where the settlement once stood. Visitors interested in birding will enjoy ample viewing opportunities for species such as the great blue heron, bald eagle and white ibis.

What was the first black neighborhood in America? ›

Tremé is the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States, and the site of many major events that have shaped the course of Black America in the past two centuries. Filled with incredible history in terms of culture, music, and more, Tremé is arguably the most significant neighborhood in the whole city.

What are the oldest black neighborhoods in America? ›

Tremé, a historic community just north of the French Quarter, is the oldest African-American neighborhood in America. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, free persons of color and eventually those African slaves who obtained, bought or bargained for their freedom were able to acquire and own property in Tremé.

Why was Florida so important in most of the Civil War? ›

Florida's greatest contribution to the war, besides the 5,000 Floridian men who fought, was food supplies. Florida sent beef, pork, fish, and fruit to the Confederate troops. A vital part of the Confederate strategy was to keep Florida's inland roads and rivers protected so that the supplies could get safely northward.

Why is St. Augustine important to Florida history? ›

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European and African-American origin in the United States. Forty-two years before the English colonized Jamestown and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the Spanish established at St.

What did African Americans contribute to Florida's history? ›

Africans were among the first to explore Florida upon its discovery. In the 1500s, they joined Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez as soldiers in the service of Spain. African Americans established the first legally sanctioned free black settlement in the U.S. in 1738.

What is the oldest fort in Florida? ›

Built by the Spanish in St. Augustine to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument preserves the oldest masonry fortification in the continental United States and interprets more than 450 years of cultural intersections.

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