1738: Black Freedom Fort Built in Florida

Harriet Tubman did wonderful work in the Underground Railroad, but this is not a story about her. This is an earlier account of an Underground Railroad, that went from South Carolina to Florida in the late 1600s and into the 1700s. At that point, the Spanish still owned Florida. They wanted to increase their population and offered a deal; Africans and African descendants could gain freedom there and Spanish citizenship, in exchange for swearing loyalty to the Spanish Crown, becoming Catholics and the men serving in the militia.

That was what King Charles II ordered in 1693, however the governor of Florida, Benavides decided freeing fugitives only applied to enslaved people during wartime. So when African Francisco Menéndez left South Carolina for Florida with his wife and eight others in order to escape slavery in 1724, they unfortunately exchanged one sort of forced servitude for another. Menéndez was the surname of Francisco’s enslaver in St. Augustine, the royal treasurer Francisco Menéndez Márquez y Posada. Francisco was originally from Gambia and his Mandinga name was not recorded. Although Menéndez served in a Black Militia to defend the city of St. Augustine from the British, he was not awarded his freedom until 1737, from the new Florida Governor Manuel de Montiano.

The newly freed Captain Menéndez was appointed the leader in charge of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé, known informally as Fort Mosé, a new village of around 100 free Blacks. This was the first officially sanctioned free Black city in North America. I would like to celebrate this amazing achievement. I wish the story ended there. But the tides of history and European greed did not stop at this high point of justice. The British destroyed the fort in 1740. The fort was rebuilt in 1752. Finally, when the Spanish gave Florida to the British in 1763, the group from Fort Mosé including Menéndez and his family left for Cuba.

Lost for two centuries in a marshy area, in 1986 the site of Fort Mosé was rediscovered by Kathleen A. Deagan and historian Jane Landers. This is one of the many stops visitors can make on the Florida Black Heritage Trail.

Fort Mose, St. Augustine Florida Photo: Ebyabe

Viva Señor Menéndez, ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

20 thoughts on “1738: Black Freedom Fort Built in Florida

  1. VERY interesting and another piece of new knowledge. Thank you for sharing. This pushes me a little further down the road towards the goal of my project on black history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, hopefully, although historians weren’t able to find them. British history is long and complicated. Before the 12th century, slavery was legal. Then, as the Portuguese got into the African slave trade in the 16th century, the British got involved as well. Sounds as if there were African slaves in England as servants. The Somerset decision of 1772 underlines that fact, because the decree was that African slaves could not be transported outside England against their will. That implies they were in England. Also, tragic if technically it was illegal and still practiced in order to exploit millions of people, in the name of generating greater revenues. Sad part of history the US and Britain share. Thanks for bringing up these issues! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have neighbours descended from a black man who ran a local pub in the early 1800s. And the writer Samuel Johnson left his estate to his black assistant Francis Barber (c. 1742/3[1] – 13 January 1801).
        As I understand it, different laws applied in the empire. There are records of people realising a neighbour has come back to Britain with a slave, and then freeing that slave. But kidnapping of free black Britons and then trafficking them as slaves did occur. There was no clear law against it until ordinary people brought a lawsuit to stop it. There’s a plaque in St Barr’s London to commemorate this. Our history of slaving across the empire is sickening.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Kim for sharing the history of friends’ families and local history you know. I’m glad people stood up so that slavery was not allowed in Britain, wish we could have prevented it in the States. Now to continue working on equal rights here.

        Like

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