St. Augustine played an important role in Florida’s black history. Read this and other Florida history-related stories with Florida Time, a weekly column and newsletter. To sign up, text FLORIDATIME to 345345.
Students and adults alike don't know the role some Florida cities played in the civil rights movement. Impactful and game-changing events went down right in our home state — especially in St. Augustine — and transformed the futures of black Americans throughout the country.
The historic city served as a base for the first American underground railroad that slaves risked their lives traveling through to escape English plantations in Carolina — what we’d call North Carolina today.
According to Bruce Smith, reporter for the St. Augustine Record, the railroad gave refuge to several men and women “including American Indians who helped slaves escape to what was then the Spanish territory of Florida.” The act lasted until after the American Revolution.
With this new freedom, Fort Mose Historic State Park, located north of St. Augustine Beach, became a legally accepted, free black town — the first of its kind. Through the underground railroad, slaves traveled to the state with skills that included carpentry, building, farming, labor and more. Naturally, they built community and maintained the physical area that is now a tourist destination for all.
Because there are few records, it’s unknown how many African slaves may have escaped along the railroad.
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In an historical archaeology titled Fort Mose: America’s Black Colonial Fortress of Freedom, it is reported that archaeologists and historical investigators worked in the 1980s to discover information about the daily lives of the escaped slaves. They married one another and also married men and women already in St. Augustine — Native Americans and the Spanish.
Their choices and dreams of freedom made a big impact by playing a role in the 1739 Stono Rebellion outside Charleston, the largest slave revolt in British North America.
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This is just a piece of the rich black history in St. Augustine. Consider booking a private walking tour exclusively about this topic. The St. Augustine Historic Civil Rights and Black Heritage Tour is an hour and half and takes you to ten stops. Or catch a re-enactment of the city’s first residents at Fort Mose State Park.
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Related: Why did 600+ Black people get buried in an unmarked grave?
NOTE: This story is an excerpt from Florida Time newsletter Issue 20.