St. Augustine, Florida, is known for its 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches. Since St. Augustine is located on Florida’s Historic Coast and was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, it’s equally famous for its numerous historical sites.
One of those sites is the first legally sanctioned free Black community in America. Established in 1738 as the settlement of Garcia Real de Santa Theresa de Mose, the area is now known as Fort Mose Historic State Park.
Although the 41-acre site has a museum where visitors can learn about the settlement and its inhabitants, the original earth and wooden structures are long gone.
That situation is about to begin changing, however, as work continues on what’s known as the Fort Mose Reconstruction Project, which aims to reconstruct a representation of Fort Mose.
“After years of planning, the project gained significant momentum in 2022 when the Florida State Parks Foundation earned a competitive grant of $933,500 from the Florida African American Cultural and Historical Grants Program to aid in construction costs,” the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau told TravelAwaits. “The Foundation also secured $250,000 in matching funds from Florida State Parks, the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation, Florida Blue, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, and St. Johns County.”
Although fundraising is still underway, a groundbreaking for the reconstruction is planned for January 19, 2024.
“The impact of the project cannot be overstated,” Susan Phillips, president and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau, told TravelAwaits. “Fort Mose is a critical piece of African-American history. It should be as iconic as the Castillo de San Marcos or the St. Augustine Lighthouse. It is a beautiful place, but that final historical piece is missing.”
How The Settlement Was Founded
The inhabitants of what came to be known as Fort Mose were mainly slaves from West Africa who had escaped from the British colonies of South Carolina and Georgia. The first group, who reached the area by dugout canoe in 1687, was made up of eight men, two women, and a child.
Then by 1738, when the Spanish governor of Florida chartered the settlement as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (or Fort Mose), more than 100 men, women, and children had journeyed through swamps and dense tropical forests to reach the area.
The site was established as a military and residential community, guarding the northern boundary of St. Augustine. Importantly, if the inhabitants agreed to be loyal Spanish subjects and convert to Catholicism, they were allowed rights and protections, including the right to own property, the right to marry, and the right to judicial representation, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau notes.
In 1994, Fort Mose was designated as a National Historic Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Florida State Parks.
Know Before You Go
Although there are no remains of the original earth and wooden structures at Fort Mose Historic State Park, visitors can see where the settlement once stood. They can also visit the museum where they can browse interactive exhibits including archaeological artifacts and maps.
The state park also offers ample opportunities to see bird species such as the great blue heron, bald eagle, and white ibis. Plus, the floating boardwalk near the museum is a great place to launch canoes and kayaks.
You can find information to plan a visit, including details about hours of operation and fees, at Fort Mose Historic State Park’s Experiences and Amenities webpage.