Civil Rights in Colonial St. Augustine

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continuous occupied settlement of European and African American origin in the United States. Fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the Spanish established at St. Augustine this nation’s first enduring settlement.  In 1606, one year before the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, the first documented slave birth was recorded in St. Augustine. Name Agustin he was baptized in the Catholic faith. He was the son of Agustin and Francisca, both listed as slaves in church baptismal records. After all, St. Augustine was the hub of the slave trade and efforts to convert American Indian to religion in Spanish colonial Florida, a distinction that continued through the early 1800s. The slave trade was part of the capital city's economy when Spanish explorer and founder Pedro Menendez de Aviles included black slaves among the New World's first Spanish settlers.

In 1737, Governor Don Manuel de Montian enforced royal edicts of 1693 and 1733, which granted unconditional freedom to slaves escaping from the British southeast. By 1737, a group of about 100 former slaves and free people of color were living in St. Augustine in the legally sanctioned town of Garcia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose or Fort Mose. The fort and settlement were destroyed by British forces in 1740 and second Fort Mose was re-established in 1752 and lasted until 1763 when it was again abandoned. Many residents were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. With accompanying women and children, they created a colony of freed people that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.

Content used with permission from Eastern National’s Guidebook to The American Civil Rights Experience.

Last updated: April 5, 2016