The experience of the residents of Mose was in many ways shaped by Caribbean patterns. Declining Indian populations, a Spanish disdain for manual labor, and the defense requirements of an extended empire had created an early demand for additional workers. Blacks cleared land and planted crops, built fortifications and domestic structures, and provided a wide variety of skilled labor for Spanish colonists. Spaniards depended on Africans to be their laborers and to supplement their defenses. Black laborers and artisans helped establish St. Augustine, the first successful Spanish settlement in Florida, and a black and mulatto militia was formed there as early as 1683. In 1724, ten more runaway slaves reached St. Augustine, assisted by English-speaking Yamassee Indians. According to their statements, they were aware that the Spanish king had offered freedom to those seeking baptism and conversion. The royal edict of 1693 was still in force, and Governor Antonio de Benavides initially seemed to have honored it. In 1729, Benavides sold these newcomers at public auction to reimburse their owners, alleging that he feared the British might act on their threats to recover their losses by force. Some of the most influential citizens of St. Augustine, including the royal accountant, the royal treasurer, several military officers, and even some religious officials, thus acquired valuable new slaves. Others were sold to owners who took them to Havana. In justifying his actions, Benavides explained that these slaves had arrived during a time of peace with England and that he interpreted the 1693 edict to apply only to the original runaways from the British colony. Several of the reenslaved men were veterans of the Yamassee war in Carolina, and one of these, Francisco Menendez, was appointed by Governor Benavides to command a slave militia in 1726.
Town and Castle of St. Augustine, and the English Camp by T. Silver, 1740
Gordon, Lord Adam. View of the Governor's house at St. Augustine in E. Florida, 1764. Watercolor. Courtesy of the British Library
This black militia helped defend St. Augustine against the British invasion led by Colonel John Palmer in 1728, but the Carolina refugees remained enslaved despite their loyal service. Perhaps in response to continued reports and diplomatic complaints involving the fugitives, the crown issued two new edicts regarding their treatment. The first, on October 4, 1733, forbade any future compensation to the British, reiterated the offer of freedom, and specifically prohibited the sale of fugitives to private citizens. The second edict, on October 29, 1733, commended the blacks for their bravery against the British in 1728; however, it also stipulated that they would be required to complete four years of royal service before being freed. But the runaways had sought liberty, not indenture. Led by Captain Menendez of the slave militia, the blacks persisted in attempts to secure complete freedom. They presented petitions to the governor and to the auxiliary bishop of Cuba, who toured the province in 1735, but to no avail.
Francisco Menendez, Captain of the Militia of Fort Mose. Courtesy of the University of South Florida
James Oglethorpe by J. G. Holland Scribner's Monthly, An Illustrated Magazine for the People, 1874. Courtesy of the University of South Florida
Governor Montiano ordered an investigation and reviewed the case. On March 15, 1738, he granted unconditional freedom to the petitioners. Montiano also wrote the governor and captain ·general of Cuba, attempting to retrieve eight Carolinians who had been taken to Havana during the Benavides regime. At least one, Antonio Caravallo, was returned to St. Augustine against all odds. Governor Montiano established the freedmen in a new town, about two miles north of St. Augustine, which he called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. The freedmen built the settlement, a walled fort, and shelters described by the Spaniards as resembling thatched Indian huts. Little more is known about it from Spanish sources, but later British reports add that the fort was constructed of stone, "four square with a flanker at each corner, banked with earth, having a ditch without on all sides lined round with prickly royal and had a well and house within, and a look-out."
They also confirm Spanish reports that the freedmen planted fields nearby. The townsite was said to be surrounded by fertile lands and nearby woods that would yield building materials. A river of saltwater "running through it" contained an abundance of shellfish and all types of fish. Montiano hoped the people of Mose could cultivate the land to grow food for St. Augustine, but until crops could be harvested, he provided the people with corn, biscuits, and beef from government stores.
Although the Franciscan lived at Mose, there is no evidence that the white officer did. It seems rather that Captain Menendez was responsible for governing the settlement, for, in one document, Governor Montiano referred to the others as the "subjects" of Menendez. The Spaniards regarded Menendez as a sort of natural lord, and, like Indian caciques, he probably exercised considerable autonomy over his village. Spanish titles and support may have also reinforced Menendez's status and authority. Whatever the nature of his authority, Menendez commanded the Mose militia for over forty years.
In January 1740, Governor James Oglethorpe of Georgia raided Florida and captured Forts Pupo and Picolata on the St. John's River west of St. Augustine. These initial victories enabled Oglethorpe to mount a major expeditionary force, including Georgia and South Carolina regiments, a vast Indian army, and seven warships, for a major offensive against the Spaniards. The free black militia of Mose worked alongside the other citizenry to fortify provincial defenses. They also provided the Spaniards with critical intelligence reports. In May, one of Oglethorpe's lieutenants happened across five houses occupied by the freedmen and was able to capture two of them. Unable to protect the residents of Mose, Governor Montiano was forced to evacuate "all the Negroes who composed that town" to the safety of St. Augustine. Thereafter, the Mose militia continued to conduct dangerous sorties against the enemy and assisted in the surprise attack and recapture of their town in June. The success at Mose was one of the few enjoyed by the Spaniards. It is generally acknowledged to have demoralized the combined British forces and to have been a significant factor in Oglethorpe's withdrawal.
Francisco Menendez. Courtesy of PBS Learning Media