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Following the establishment of Charles Town (South Carolina) by the English in 1670, enslaved Africans began making their way down the Atlantic coast to the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, where they were offered liberty and religious sanctuary.
In 1681, African and African American runaways established Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, the first free black town within the present-day borders of the United States. Located two miles north of St. Augustine, "Fort Mose" was a frontier community of homesteaders who incorporated incoming fugitives, slaves from St. Augustine, and Indians from nearby villages into a complex family network.
Fort Mose's militia provided Spain's northernmost defense in North America, and the captain of the militia, Francisco Men´ndez, was recognized by Florida's Spanish governor as "chief" of the community.
When Florida was ceded to Britain under the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the free blacks of Mose, along with the rest of the Spanish population of Florida and their Indian allies, all left for Cuba, where they were resettled by the Spanish government. A least 251 British slaves joined the Spanish under the sanctuary policy, and many others fled to the flourishing villages of the Seminoles in North Florida.
It was the intention of the British to replicate the successes of South Carolina, making Florida a plantation province sustained through slave labor. Large numbers of enslaved Africans and African Americans were brought in to work the indigo, rice, sugar, and cotton crops. For most of the 1760s, Carolina- and Georgia-born blacks were in the majority, but in the next decade their number was surpassed by Africans, who were a third less expensive.
During the Revolutionary War, British East Florida became the last loyalist haven in North America. Florida briefly reverted back to Spanish control at the end of the war, before becoming a U.S. territory in 1821.
Image Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History
The Stono Rebellion
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