The Hispanic-American History Timeline
1738 Runaway slaves establish Fort Mose,
the first free African-American community
The Spanish government in Florida officially grants unconditional freedom to all runaway slaves from British plantations in South Carolina.
It started 50 years earlier, in 1688, when eight men, two women and a three-year-old girl escaped slavery on a stolen raft and were given sanctuary in St. Augustine by the Spanish Governor of Florida, Diego de Quiroga - once they converted to Roman Catholicism.
The two women worked as domestic helpers in the Governor's home. Two of the men were employed as blacksmiths, and the other six worked on the construction of Castillo de San Marcos. They were all paid for their labor. In spite of efforts by British slave owners to regain their property, de Quiroga resisted, and protected them.
But they were only the first. Spanish records show that at least six separate groups of runaway British slaves escaped from South Carolina to St. Augustine, the capital of Spanish Florida, between 1688 and 1725. And in 1726, another Florida governor, Antonio de Benavides, created a black Spanish militia to defend St. Augustine from British attacks.
In 1738, yet another Spanish governor, Manuel d Montiano, makes their freedom official, appoints the black militia captain to build and command a fort, and establishes "Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose" - better known as "Fort Mose" - for freed African slaves. They form the first free African-American community in what is now the U.S.A.
Today, the first African-American settlement is recognized at the Fort Mose State Park, two miles north of St. Augustine, Florida.
By Maribel Pantoja, Lehman College