by Rhonda Moffit, Moffits-Mad Hatter Adventures May 31, 2017
We tell people all the time that yes, we travel all over the place and not just to Disney Parks. My husband and I have always thought it important to teach not only our students the value of history and historic places, but also our own children. It has been a priority for us to show them that the history of our world is every bit as enchanting as a Disney tale, complete with pirates, princesses, and soldiers- only the authentic types.
On our last journey to Florida, we returned to a place that I had not visited since I was the tender age of 12. We visited Fort Mose.
Established in 1738 by Colonial Spanish Florida’s Governor Manuel Montiano, Fort Mose gave sanctuary to Africans challenging enslavement in the English Colony of Carolina. Approximately 100 Africans lived at Fort Mose, forming more than 20 households. Together they created a frontier community which drew on a range of African backgrounds blended with Spanish, Native American and English cultural traditions. Fort Mose was legally sanctioned by the Spanish Government making it the first free African settlement to legally exist in what is now the United States.
Usually when we consider post contact discovery and development of North America we think about the English settling at Jamestown in 1607 or perhaps Plymouth in 1620; but it was the Spaniards who established the Oldest European City of the United States, St. Augustine in 1565. In contemplating experience of Africans within the post Columbian context we again think about Jamestown, Virginia and Charles Town, Carolina. However, the first Africans to accompany Europeans in coming to the New World arrived not as slaves in Jamestown in 1619. Aboard ships with Spanish Conquistadors and Adelantados, Africans arrived as artisans, seamen, navigators and adventurers, forever establishing their presence in North America. In early 1500’s Juan Garrido took part in the expeditions of Ponce de Leon in Puerto Rico and Florida as well as with Hernando Cortez in Mexico. Esteban joined Panfilo de Narvaez traveling through the Gulf Coast and the Southwest.St. Augustine, Florida founded in 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, is the Oldest European City in what became the United States. Africans helped in forming and maintaining the settlement as both slaves and free people. Skills and knowledge gained from Africa including blacksmithing, carpentry, cattle ranching, and military techniques enabled African people to make important contributions to the St Augustine community. They formed 12% of the population, 1 of every 5 was a free person.
English Planters established Charles Town in 1670 along the southeastern coast of the North American Continent. This intensified regional inter-colonial rivalry involving Spaniards, Native Americans, French Huguenots, and Africans. In Charles Town, enslaved Africans soon outnumbered whites and many resisted bondage by running away. 1672 brought a Spanish response to the increasing regional tensions. Queen Regent Mariana of Spain and the Florida’s Governor Cendoya commissioned the construction of a coquina fortress, the Castillo de San Marcos, a defensive move to fortify the settlement of St. Augustine. Spaniards worked with Native Americans and Africans building the structure.
Hidden away in the marshes of St. Augustine, Florida is one of the most important sites in American history: the first free community of ex-slaves, founded in 1738 and called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose or Fort Mose (pronounced Moh-Say).
More than a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves from the British colonies were able to follow the original “Underground Railroad” which headed not to the north, but rather south, to the Spanish colony of Florida. There they were given their freedom, if they declared their allegiance to the King of Spain and joined the Catholic Church.
Fort Mose was the northern defense of St.Augustine, the nation’s oldest city.
The discovery and verification of the events that took place in Saint Augustine and at Fort Mose have resulted in the revision of not only Florida’s but America’s knowledge of colonial history.
Visiting this location on a lovely sunny day, we were the only people there aside from the museum curator. After a good discussion with him, we were able to walk all over the grounds and the museum by ourselves.
The grounds are hauntingly beautiful. I have often said that when visiting a true historic site, one can almost feel the significance if enough attention is paid. This was no exception. Ghosts of the past exist.
Photos ©Moffits- Mad Hatter Adventures, 2017
Fort Most Historical Society
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