Petition of Prince Witten
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Prince Witten was one of the many enslaved blacks who sought refuge in Spanish Florida in the decade following the end of the Revolutionary War. In 1786, Witten fled Georgia "to avoid a separation from his family to which he [was] much attached," eventually settling with them in St. Augustine.
Like most fugitives who fled to Spanish Florida, Witten, his wife Judy, their daughter Polly, and son Glascoe sought religious sanctuary. The children were baptized within a year. The parents commenced religious instruction (a requirement for adults), and were baptized in 1792. They later had their marriage blessed by the Catholic church.
In 1795, Prince Witten successfully petitioned the Spanish governor of St. Augustine to grant land to him and other blacks on the basis of their citizenship. The Wittens became the leading black family in Spanish Florida, acquiring property and serving as godparents to dozens of children.
In 1821, when most of the free black population departed for Cuba, Prince Witten chose to stay in Florida. Although the cession treaties required that the rights of free blacks be respected by the incoming American government, the racial climate became increasingly restrictive, and over the years, those free blacks who had lived among the Spanish eventually left for Cuba or Mexico.
Image Credit: Florida State Archives
Florida's Negro Fort
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