Fort Mose : the free African community and militia of Spanish St. Augustine
Runyon, Shane Alan
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As early as 1687, the Spanish government in St. Augustine, Florida provided an asylum for African slaves who successfully escaped British plantations in South Carolina. The Florida government offered these slaves freedom not as a humanitarian gesture, but with the hope that this policy could both protect their own colony and unsettle the British government of the Carolinas. By 1740, the former British slaves moved into a military fortification called Fort Mose and became soldiers in the Spanish army. This fort thus became the first free black community in what is now the United States. However, while home to a free black militia, St. Augustine was also home to many slaves. Although some historians have recently examined Florida’s free African community, it remains in partial obscurity. When the history of the black community is told, however, the seemingly obvious contradictions are often ignored and the focus is centered on the free militia only. This thesis examines the creation of Mose and St. Augustine’s inherent paradox in hosting both a slave and free African community. This study covers the history of slaves and free Africans in St. Augustine between the late sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Much of the study centers on the early slave population in St. Augustine, the nature of their bondage, and how the city created an environment that allowed a free African population to exist. The principle focus of the study is race relations in the nation’s oldest community, how white residents, free Africans, and enslaved Africans interacted, and how the Spanish government used a policy of racial antagonism in an attempt to unsettle British colonies in the Southeast.