Sitting on a quiet 40 acres along Robinson and Baya Creeks, Fort Mose Historic State Park invites both introspection and reflection.
My first stop when visiting was to the museum, where I chatted with Ranger Steven Gard. Sounds over the loudspeaker brought me mentally to the 18th century settlement of Fort Mose, the tapping of metal tools and the murmur of voices providing an audio landscape of the bustling community once found on this site.
Multiple exhibits ranged from replicas to videos to artwork to stylized silhouettes of those who lived here. Slaves escaped from plantations throughout the south to found the very first free African settlement in the entire United States. While they enjoyed freedom under Spanish rule, the Spanish eventually lost control of the Fort and then the colony itself, forcing the local freed slaves to make a monumental choice: stay and be enslaved, or leave the settlement they worked hard to build.
“The people of Mose would become enslaved if they stayed here, so many travelled to Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean,” Ranger Gard explained. I tried to imagine their anguish as they once again uprooted their lives and their families to journey to places most had never seen or heard of. They must have been very brave!
After speaking with Ranger Gard, I took the back door of the museum across the lawn and down a fishing pier into Baya Creek. Open water bordered swaying reeds, and larger trees grew up out of the creek where the earth stood just high enough to avoid flooding. A local man who often fishes here told me that a pair of Bald Eagles are often spotted nearby.
I leaned against the railing, mulling over the symbolism of that iconic bird here at a site that gave so much and then took so much away. Visiting the museum reminded me of the heroics people undertook to be free, both in reaching Fort Mose, fighting for it, and then fleeing once more across the ocean to find a better life. Looking back from my 21st century vantage point, I take the idea of freedom for granted.
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About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time