Fort Mose stood at a strategic point that would help protect St. Augustine in case of an attack from the English. It also served as a buffer zone against the wild Indians that the Spaniards had not been able to dominate. The Spaniards began to think that they were safely protected in St. Augustine. They had the Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas and Fort Mose to stand guard against who, or whatever might try to attack them. They might have been safe, for a while, but not for too long.
Soon, the Spaniards were doing their own attacking on neighboring English colonies and running back to the protection of their enclave. During these raids, they would steal valuables, including slaves. They would also entice slaves and free blacks to follow them back to St. Augustine.
On November 7, 1695, King Charles II of Spain, issued the first official edict proclaiming the Spaniards would be "giving liberty to all...men as well as the women...so that by their example and by my liberality others will do the same."
The English were not excited about the proclamation. Over the next few years, the English hotly debated with the Spanish about how that proclamation would destroy the English colonists economy which was based heavily on slave labor. How could the English ever succeed if their slaves continually ran away to St. Augustine?
And run they did, the slaveswent to any means needed to leave the oppression, and enslavement of the English to gain their liberation in Spanish controlled Florida. They stole horses, boats and walked the many miles to freedom.
Just like many other places in the America's, the Spaniards decided they needed to keep a firmer hand on their cheap labor. They had wanted to keep the black settlers closer to the town, as they had the Indians. But, by then, the blacks had already established their own community, yet were still closely entwined with the Spanish.
However, a new Spanish Governor, Antonio de Benavides decided he didn't want to follow the official edict giving runaway slaves freedom in Florida.
He originally said that this was to keep peace with neighboring English colonies. He began selling refugee slaves and 'reimbursing' their English owners. As a result, even the English governor of Carolina charged Benavides with selling the slaves only to make a profit for himself. This meant that many slaves during the tenure of Benavides were betrayed. They had gone to the Spanish colony seeking sanctuary, only to be sold into slavery again.
The King of Spain, was very displeased with Benavides actions and made two new proclamations. The first said that there would be no more reimbursements to the British and no slaves could be sold to private citizens. He also reassured the proclamation the runaway slaves would be granted their freedom if they became Catholic and promised to join with the Spanish. The second proclamation commended the blacks for bravery in their fights against the British, but tacked on a little statement that all runaway slaves that came to Florida would have to serve 4 years military service before they would be granted their freedom.
Large slave rebellions began occurring in the English colonies. The slaves would desperately try anything to reach freedom in Florida. But, this angered the English colonists who began raids against the Spanish to try and reclaim their stolen property. They demanded that the Spanish stop giving freedom to runaway slaves. The Spanish stood by their decision to give religious sanctuary to any who asked for it and agreed to be baptized in their faith.
It wasn't very long until it was no longer safe to live in Fort Mose. Many returned to the safety of St. Augustine. Others tried living in the nearby Indian villages. Still others would return from time to time to try and live at the Fort. Eventually, the Fort was destroyed. (see Bloody Mose)
By all accounts, blacks, whites and Indians seemed to have integrated well for many years. Spaniards were still the elite of the residents, but would fairly do business with blacks. Blacks were integrated into the Catholic culture. This meant that excellent records were kept of who married who, when a child was baptized, and where everyone was born.
Records show that many slaves were re-enslaved upon reaching St. Augustine, but did eventually gain their freedom. They married other former slaves from the English colonies, married blacks who had always been free, and married former slaves from the other Spanish colonies and had somehow made their way to St. Augustine. Many intermarried with the Indians. Records show that most of the slaves had originally come from either the Carolina colony or from the Congo in Africa. Many of the free blacks arrived from Spanish colonies in South America.
Residents of Fort Mose came from diverse cultures in the Caribbean and West Africa, and their skilled labor, technology, art, music, ideas and traditions served as valuable resources to the Spanish residents of nearby St. Augustine.
This harmony existed until the economy at St. Augustine began to fail and the poorer residents resented that the blacks were doing as well or better than many of them. They did not like the idea that people who were born into slavery could achieve a higher status than a Spanish person.
"Giving liberty to all...
the men as well as the women...
so that by their example
and my liberality others will do the same."
From Spanish King Carlos II's Royal Edict of 1693.
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