In the early 1700s, Spain claimed Florida while Britain colonized the lands to the north along the Atlantic coast. Africans enslaved to the British were emancipated in exchange for serving with the Spanish militia and fled south to Spanish Florida. By 1738, nearly 100 former slaves, risking their lives to escape captivity from the British colonies, found refuge in the small town of St. Augustine. Under the leadership of African-born Francisco Menendez, they constructed a log fortress north of town to defend themselves from a potential British invasion. The following year, war was declared between Spain and Britain. In May 1740, as the British soldiers from newly colonized Georgia marched toward Fort Mose, its inhabitants were safely evacuating to St. Augustine. The British troops set up camp at the abandoned Fort Mose. In the pre-dawn morning of June 26, three hundred Spanish soldiers, including the black militia, staged a surprise attack on the British encampment, recapturing the fort and leaving 68 British dead and taking 34 prisoners. The remaining British soldiers retreated back to Georgia. With the original Fort Mose demolished, African settlers lived inside St. Augustine until 1752 when the fort and town were rebuilt on higher ground to the northeast. Besides being on call as soldiers, the townspeople worked as sailors, fishermen, blacksmiths, cowboys and builders. They farmed, hunted and fished to feed themselves. In 1763, Florida was ceded back to Britain and those living at Fort Mose evacuated along with other Spanish citizens to the northwest coast of Cuba.
In 1693, Spain declared that British slaves would be free in 'La Florida.' Only the bravest and most determined slaves dared to escape there. Many perished along the way due to exhaustion, starvation, disease and slave catchers. But those that made it to St. Augustine were free, as long as they agreed to three conditions. First, they had to accept the Catholic religion. Second, they had to swear allegiance to the Spanish King. Third, the men had to join the Spanish militia.
The 1759 records of the parish priest Father Solana indicated that there were possibly 22 houses or huts at the second Fort Mose and were made of thatch. Although no details of the buildings survive, it is quite possible that the villagers used African, Indian and Spanish building traditions. The walls of their structures would have been wattle-and-daub with a domed, palm-thatched roof.
By 1737, a group of about 100 former slaves and free people of color were living in St. Augustine in the legally sanctioned town of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. Fort Mose included a walled fort and shelters that resembled Indian thatched huts, according tot he Spaniards description. The fort was an earthwork built of dirt piled up with a stockade of logs on top. It had a well for water and a watchtower inside. The houses were made of poles with palm leaves for roofs. A ditch surrounded the settlement and was lined with prickly pear. Spanish reports confirm that the settlers planted nearby crops. The settlement was surrounded by a salt water river which contained an abundance of shellfish and fish. Fort Mose sits on Robinson Creek which is a back door water way to St. Augustine, much like Fort Matanzas to the south. Both were water passages to St. Augustine and were fortified. The fort and settlement were destroyed by British forces led by General Oglethorpe in 1740. The second Fort Mose was built in 1752, approximately a quarter of a mile from the site of the first Fort Mose. In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War, Spain ceded Florida to the British. All of the residents of Fort Mose left with the Spanish for Cuba.
Francisco Menendez, a Mandingo from West Africa, escaped from British slavery and fought with Yamasee Indians in the Carolinas. In return, a Yamasee chief agreed to help Menendez get to St. Augustine. There, he became the captain of the original black regiment of 1738 and was the acknowledged leader of the Mose community. From the early 1700s until the Spanish left Florida in 1763, he distinguished himself by his bravery and valor. He was commended for his service by the Spanish Governor of St. Augustine.
The settlers of Mose were fierce guerilla fighters who risked their lives for freedom. Initially, 38 men and their families took up residence there. They were expected to farm the area and to provide a northern defense line against possible British attacks. Who better than escaped British slaves to fight against their former masters? Spanish soldiers, who fought beside the soldiers of Mose, are portrayed here at the 2008 Flight to Freedom event held each February at the park.