National Geographic : 1997 Feb
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC agrapica Colonial Florida Fort Recalls a Shining Moment in Black History HIDDEN IN THE SALT MARSHES of northern St. Augus tine, Florida, the frontier outpost of Fort Mose might be forgotten today except for one startling fact: It was the first free black colonial town in what is now the United States. Its residents, African slaves from British plantations to the north, had found refuge by escaping to Spanish held Florida-and converting to Catholicism. FLORIDAMUSEUMOF NATURALHISTORY FEBRUARY 1997 Declared a national historic landmark in 1994, Fort Mose was brought back to life after Fort Mose a search of Spanish doc- st. uments by historian Jane Area claimed by both ugustine Spain and England Atlantic Landers, now at Vander- from 665 to 1763. a Ocean bilt University, and two Gulf of i; years of excavations led Mexico by archaeologist Kathleen o 200 Deagan (above). MILES Her team, with assistance from black Florida legislators such as former State Representative Bill Clark, at far left, uncovered everyday items used for cooking, clothing, shelter, and defense. It also found a handcrafted silver medal (above, left) with an image of St. Chris topher on one side and a sailor's compass rose on the other. Many escaped slaves served as crewmen on Spanish ships. At a time when both England and Spain claimed northern Florida (map), "slaves in the Carolinas knew of the possibility of freedom in Spanish Flor ida," says Landers. In 1738 the Spanish formed a freedmen's militia and moved one hundred black men, women, and children from St. Augustine to build the 65-foot-square Fort Mose. Two years lat er a British attack forced the residents to flee to St. Augustine. After 1752, blacks returned to a new, larger Fort Mose nearby, shown in this infrared image (left). In 1763 Florida was ceded to Eng land, and the Spanish blacks moved to Cuba.