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More than 250 years ago, enslaved Africans risked their lives to escape English plantations in the Carolinas and find freedom among the Spanish living at St. Augustine.

In the late 1600s, enslaved Africans began to escape from English plantations in the Carolinas upon hearing that the Spaniards in St. Augustine would grant them freedom if they converted to Catholicism. 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. While slavery was certainly the dominant practice at the time, Fort Mose sheds light on the little-known story of free Black people in colonial America.

James Bullock, a re-enactor who brings to life the story of Fort Mose militia captain Francisco Menendez, discusses the fort’s role in the defense of Spanish Florida against the English during colonial times.

In the 1980s, Florida Museum archaeologist Kathleen Deagan set out in search of Fort Mose. After 250 years, the only evidence of the fort was buried underground, nearly lost to time. Using historical documents and maps as guides, the search narrowed to a small island in the salt marsh just two miles north of St. Augustine. Excavations revealed evidence of the fort – its moat and some interior structures, and fragments from daily life.

Fort Mose Today

Today the site of Fort Mose is a state park and UNESCO Slave Route Project Site of Memory. An engaging visitor center on the mainland interprets its story and showcases many of the artifacts from the museum’s excavations. These humble artifacts provide details about daily life at the fort – cooking and eating, house construction, defense, religion and entertainment.

Website: Fort Mose Historical Society

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