top of page

Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, hereafter referred to as Mose, was born of the initiative and determination of enslaved Africans who, at significant risk, manipulated the Anglo-Spanish contest for control of the Southeast to their advantage and thereby won their freedom. They had escaped from British plantations in Carolina, and, later, Georgia, and received religious sanctuary and homesteads in Spanish Florida, where they formed the first free black town in what is today the United States.

Although relatively few in number (the community maintained a reasonably stable size of about 100 people during the quarter-century between 1738 and 1763, while St. Augustine's population grew from approximately 1500 people in the 1730s to around 3,000 by 1763), these freedmen and women were of great contemporary significance. By their "theft of self," they were a financial loss to their former owners, often a serious one. Moreover, their flight was a political action, sometimes effected through violence, that offered an example to other enslaved people and challenged the precarious political and social order of the British colonies they fled. The men of Mose formed a free black militia that helped Spanish officials defend the contested frontier during the turbulent 18th century.

The runaways were also crucial to the Spanish colony for  the  valuable  geopolitical  knowledge  and  skills  they 


2009-01-15 08.54.42-2.jpg

Artist representation of Fort Mose in the late 1750s

brought with them. The settlers of Mose were what historian Ira Berlin termed Atlantic Creoles, people of “linguistic dexterity, cultural plasticity, and social agility.” They spoke several European and Indian languages, in addition to their own, and practiced a variety of subsistence techniques, craft, and artistic traditions, labor patterns, and foodways. The freedmen and women of Mose also adopted some aspects of Spanish culture. For example, since their sanctuary was based on religious conversion, it was incumbent on them to exhibit their Catholicism. Spanish priests faithfully recorded their baptisms, marriages, and deaths in St. Augustine’s parish registers, available online in the Slave Societies Digital Archive
Studies of other Hispanic colonies show that religious syncretism was widespread and tolerated by the church. Following centuries-old patterns set in Spain, Cuba's black Catholics organized religious brotherhoods based on African “nations”. They celebrated Catholic feast days dressed in traditional African costumes and with African music and instruments. Because St. Augustine had such intimate contact with Cuba and people of African descent circulated between the two locations, it would not be surprising to find that Africans in Florida also observed some of their former religious practices. 

Although noted for its poverty and the misery of its people, Mose survived as a free town and military outpost for St. Augustine until 1763, when, through the fortunes of war, Spain lost the province to the British. The Spanish evacuated St. Augustine and resettled its dependent free black and Indian subjects in Cuba. The people of Mose left behind their meager homes and belongings and became homesteaders in Matanzas, Cuba-consigned once more to a rough frontier. The crown granted Mose’s founders new lands, needed tools, and a minimal subsidy, as well as an African slave to each of the community's leaders, and they helped found the new town of San Agustin de la Nueva Florida (today known as Ceiba Moche). Spanish support was never sufficient, and the people from Mose suffered terrible privations at Matanzas. Some of them, including Francisco Menéndez, eventually relocated to Havana, which offered at least the possibility of a better life, and this last diaspora scattered the black community of Mose.


Fort Mose Rendering. Courtesy of the University of Florida, 1989

Fort Mose. Courtesy of PBS Learning Media

Fort Mose Excavation by Dr. Kathleen Deagan and John Marron. Courtesy of Dr. Deagan

bottom of page