Fort Mose was the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what would become the United States.
More than 250 years ago, enslaved Africans risked their lives to escape English plantations in Carolina and find freedom among the Spanish living at St. Augustine.
Battling slave catchers and dangerous swamps, they helped establish the first American underground railroad more than a century before the Civil War. Courageous Africans and their Indian allies shuttled runaways southward, rather than to the north, as the later railroad would. In Florida, the Spanish freed the fugitives in return for their service to the King and their conversion to the Catholic faith.
The Spanish were glad to have skilled laborers, and the freedmen were also welcome additions to St. Augustine’s weak military forces. In 1738 the Spanish governor established the runaways in their own fortified town, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, about two miles north of St. Augustine, Florida. Mose (pronounced “Moh-say”) became the first legally sanctioned free Black town in the present-day United States, and it is a critically important site for Black American history. Mose provides important evidence that Black American colonial history was much more than slavery and oppression. The men and women of Mose won their liberty through great daring and effort and made important contributions to Florida’s multi-ethnic heritage.
- Deegan, K. Marron, J. Landers, J. Clarke, B. Reitz, E. Scarry, M. MacMahon, D. 2020. “Forte Mose: America’s Black Colonial Fortress of Freedom.” Florida Museum.
- Gates, L. Henry. 2013. “What Was America’s First Black Town?” The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.
- Runyon, Shane Alan. “Fort Mose: the free African community and militia of Spanish St. Augustine.” Ph.D. diss., Montana State University-Bozeman, College of Letters & Science, 1999.
- “Fort Mose: The First All-Black Settlement in the U.S.,” Black History in Two Minutes or so, YouTube video, 2:25, September 4, 2020.