Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Legacy of Fort Mose Volume 49 Number 5, September/October 1996
by Darcie Macmahon and Kathleen Deagan

A Florida marsh yields the remnants of colonial America's first free black settlement.

[image] Artist's rendering of Fort Mose is based on archaeological and historical research by consulting project historians Albert Manucy and Luis Arana. (Courtesy Florida Museum of Natural History) [LARGER IMAGE]

For more than 175 years the remains of the first free black town in the North American colonies lay forgotten in a salt marsh north of St. Augustine, Florida. Known as Fort Mose, after an Indian name for the area, it was in 1738 the northernmost outpost protecting the capital of Spanish Florida, a vast territory stretching west to the Gulf of Mexico and north into what are today Georgia and South Carolina. The Spanish encouraged enslaved Africans to flee English settlements in the Carolinas, promising them freedom if they converted to Catholicism. Fort Mose was a diverse community made up of people from widely varied backgrounds: Mandingos, Congos, Carabalis, Minas, Gambas, Lecumis, Sambas, Gangas, Araras, and Guineans. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994, Fort Mose is now the premier site on the Florida Black Heritage trail, a tangible reminder of the people who risked and often lost their lives in their struggle to attain freedom.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America