Retrace the perilous “Freedom Trail” taken by runaway slaves in a living history event at Fort Mose Historic State Park in St. Augustine, the site of the first legally sanctioned, free black settlement in the United States.
Re-enactors are readying for their annual, eye-opening tribute, “Flight to Freedom,” which will occur between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Feb. 8, with a lecture at 2 p.m. Every 15 minutes, the public re-enactments take groups along the freedom trail from coastal Carolina to Spanish Florida – a dangerous and perilous journey made by hundreds of freedom seekers from 1687 until 1763, when Britain gained control of Florida from Spain, ending Florida as a sanctuary.
Participants will be led by a guide down the park’s “Freedom Trail,” where they meet re-enactors depicting the flight of slaves from the British colonies to St. Augustine's Fort Mose (Mo-ZAY), where they were freed by the Spanish. Among the characters they’ll meet: Native Americans, a trapper cum bounty hunter, a Catholic priest and Captain Francisco Menendez, leader of the Black Militia and Fort Mose. At trail's end, guests are welcomed by Governor Manuel de Montiano and the residents of Fort Mose with a cannon and musket salute by the black militia and Spanish soldiers.
The first documented successful freedom seekers to reach sanctuary in Spanish La Florida occurred in 1687, when eight men, two women and one child safely navigated by canoe the coastal waterways from South Carolina to La Florida, where they were granted freedom after conversion to Catholicism. A few years later, in 1693, Spanish King Carlos II made the granting of freedom to runaway slaves official Spanish government policy upon conversion to the Catholic faith and the pledge to defend Spanish Florida.
Over the decades that followed, increasing numbers of freedom seekers made the perilous journey south by land and water in search of freedom from slavery in the British colonies to the north. "Flight to Freedom" tells their story of courage, determination and perseverance.
Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose) has great significance in American history as the first legally sanctioned African-American community in the United States. This farming community's free status precedes such landmarks in American history as the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation by over a century.
Established for African-American freedmen, Fort Mose and its militia were considered the city's northern defense against invading British. It was established in 1738 – 80 years before Florida became a U.S. territory.
The Fort Mose Historic State Park is part of Florida's Black Heritage Trail, a collection of historic sites from Pensacola to Key West that are important in the history of black Americans. The fort is also on the National Register of Historic Places and named as a precursor site on the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.