Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in the Americas. Fort Mose was located above the well-known city of St. Augustine. What ever country had rule of St. Augustine, controlled Fort Mose. Fort Mose was not usually mentioned during St. Augustine’s long and detailed history. We, however, plan to correct that oversight.
Contrary to popular belief, the first Africans did not come as slaves to the Americas. They came together with the Spanish Conquistadors and Adelantados aboard ships to St. Augustine. They came as navigators, wheel wrights, craftsman and sailors. Some were indentured servants. They lived confortably with the Spanish colonists.
The Spaniards needed laborers to build their cities, and they began enslaving the local Indians. One priest, Bartholomew de Las Casas, fought the idea of slavery. He wrote the King and Queen of Spain and begged them to put a stop to the enslavement of the local population. The King and Queen were moved by the impassioned letter of the Priest, and told the conquistadoras to put a stop to the enslavement.
Not to be without their free labor, the Spanish began to bring in slaves from the Carribbean and Africa. de Las Casas was horrified, this was not what he had meant to happen, and he spent the rest of his life fighting the slavery of Africans. To many, Padre Bartholomew de Las Casas is known as the father of the human rights movement in America.
The original black inhabitants of the area were not immediately affected by this change in labor force. They had come with the Spaniards. However, they began to desire their own settlement apart from the Spaniards afterwards. Soon, Fort Mose was built.
Originially called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, Fort Mose was built in the early 1700's. In 1738 more than one hundred men had reached the Fort and the Spanish government officially declared Fort Mose a city. The men of Fort Mose opted to stay with the Spanish Militia. In fact, the captain of this militia was Francisco Menendez, an escaped slave. You see, by that time, the original black inhabitants of the area had been joined by escaped slaves from the Carribbean and from the English colonies. One reason that slaves did anything they could to reach Spanish controlled Florida was because Spanish rules about slavery were very different from those of the English. Spanish slaves could own property, could buy their freedom, could sue their owners and others and it was prohibited from seperating families. The Spanish also promised freedom to any escaped English slave who become Catholic and promised to fight with the Spanish against the English.