Friday, February 4, 2011

Black History Month in Florida - Fort Mose Historic State Park

Fort Mose Historic State Park
This is part one of a Black History Month series on key African American heritage sites in Florida.

Fort Mose Historic State Park

Visitors to historic St. Augustine often overlook Fort Mose, which is the focal point of a historic state park on the north side of the city. The park does not offer the towering stone walls of the Castillo de San Marcos or charming streets of America's oldest city, yet it is a historic site of enormous national importance.

Established in 1738 by the Spanish to serve as a first line of defense for the colonial city of St. Augustine, Fort Mose holds distinction as the first settlement ever established for free blacks in the continental United States.

Artist's Conception of Fort Mose
Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the fort was initially occupied by 100 free African Americans, many of whom had escaped from slavery in the Carolinas. The Spanish in Florida, however, offered them freedom if they would adopt the Catholic faith and join the local militia. The policy brought so many escaped slaves across the line into Florida that Fort Mose was established to give them a place to build homes and clear fields of their own. The settlement grew to become a significant part of the St. Augustine landscape.

The fort was the scene of an important battle during the English invasion of 1740, but was rebuilt and provided a home survived as a key settlement for free African Americans until 1763, when Spain surrendered Florida to England at the end of the Seven Years War. The inhabitants of the Fort Mose settlement were evacuated to Cuba, where their descendants live today.

It is truly sad to note that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) now proposes closing Fort Mose, a site of great historical importance and a landmark of black history, to save money. The DEP is recommending that 56 Florida State Parks be closed to save $6.5 million (out of a total DEP budget of over $1.4 BILLION). Among them are many, like Fort Mose, that are significant to Florida's African American heritage. To voice your opinions on this, please click here to email Rep. Trudi K. Williams, who chairs the subcommittee considering the closure recommendation.

To learn more about Fort Mose, please visit

The park is hosting a special "Flight to Freedom" event to celebrate Black History Month on Saturday, February 12th. Cost of admission is $2 per person and reenactors will recreate life at the settlement with events including drumming demonstrations, cannon fire and more.

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