The upcoming anniversary of the “Battle of Bloody Fort Mose”, will be commemorated this week first with a lecture series “Birthplace of Freedom” at Flagler College, then a dramatic reenactment of the battle at the Fort Mose State Park on Saturday that will pit an invading English Army against the fort’s militia – made up of freedmen, native American and Spanish militia.
According to Fort Mose expert and local reenactor James Bullock, the battle was a decisive event in the little-known War of Jenkins Ear. Bullock said the battle was also one of the worst to take place in this region of Florida and one of the bloodiest on American soil prior to the Civil War.
In honor of the upcoming anniversary of the battle, Bullock – also a playwright and actor – will present two one-person dramatizations at Flagler College Wednesday evening beginning at 7 pm. For Act I Bullock will portray Juan Garrido, who was the first black conquistador and was with Ponce de Leon in 1521 during his attempt to settle the Florida southeast coast. He will return for Act II of the presentation as Francisco Menendez, whom he will portray in the battle reenactment. Francisco Menendez was a freedman and the black militia commander at Fort Mose appointed by the King of Spain.
Also as part of the presentation at Flagler College, Dr. Sherry Johnson of Miami’s Florida International University, a well-known authority on military life in Spanish Florida, will give a presentation on the Spanish garrison town of Saint Augustine in the 18th century. The 18th century in Florida was dominated by the struggle for control of the Southeast of North America among the British, French and Spanish, according to Johnson. St. Augustine, its soldiers, militia and civilians played a pivotal role in efforts to keep the British from expanding south of Charles Towne.
Then, on Saturday, June 22, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Fort Mose Historic State Park is partnering with the Fort Mose Historical Society and Florida Living History, Inc. to host the Battle of Bloody Mose 273rd Anniversary Commemoration. This historical reenactment will include demonstrations of 18th century colonial and military life, children’s activities. The centerpiece event will be a side-versus-side battle reenactment, which will begin at 11am and go to around 2pm.
There is a $2.00 museum entry fee for visitors ages six and up. Limited parking is available at Fort Mose Historic State Park but additional parking is available at Old City Jail along with free shuttle service by Old Town Trolley. Guests who require assistance should contact park staff (904) 823-2232 before arrival. Fort Mose Historic State Park is the site of the first free African settlement in what is now the United States.
See photos of last year’s battle by Jackie Hird
The battle rundown: June 26, 1740, the village of Gracia Realde Santa Teresa de Mose – the first legally sanctioned free black settlement on American soil – became the site of a decisive Spanish victory against invading English forces, with the aid of the free black militia and native Yamassee auxiliaries.
Called Bloody Mose (now pronounced “Mosay” but then called Bloody Moosa), the battle began when a Spanish column of 300 regular troops from the St. Augustine fort garrison backed by allied Indian auxiliaries, maroons, and zambos under the command of Captain Antonio Salgado stormed the strategically crucial position of Fort Mose, which had been seized and occupied by fort 170 British soldiers under Colonel John Palmer as a part of James Oglethorpe’s offensive to capture St. Augustine.
Taken by surprise, the British garrison was wiped out. Palmer himself, three captains and three lieutenants were among the British troops killed in action. After the battle the fort was destroyed and not rebuilt until 12 years later.
According to Bullock, the decisive Spanish victory at “The battle of Bloody Mose” helped bring an ignoble ending to the British Georgia’s invasion of Spanish Florida.
View slideshow: Battle of Bloody Fort Mose
“This is a little known battle and little known site, but of great significance to a turning point in a war that was in fact one of the bloodiest that took place on American soil,” said Bullock, adding that he is glad to see the park is working to restore dignity to sites like Fort Mose.
A fascinating look at Ft. Mose archaeology by the Florida Museum of Natural History
In 2009 the National Park Service named Fort Mose as a precursor site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Although there are no remains of the earth and wooden structures that comprised the early settlement, visitors can still view the land where it once stood, and learn more about the story of Fort Mose in the park’s newly constructed visitor center and museum. There is also a boardwalk and trails to explore the grounds and view some of the many exhibits available.
“What people need to know is that the story of the quest freedom for many who came to this area began right here when, by the late 1600s, black slaves had learned they could escape British masters and seek freedom in Spanish Florida,” Bullock said.
Bullock said that “while it is a little known fact still”, the early Spanish settlement at St. Augustine – and subsequently – the founding of Ft. Mose as the first “free black” settlement in North America, occurred not long after Pedro Menendez established the tiny but strategically vital settlement of San Agustín in 1565.
He explained that Spanish culture had a different way of viewing slavery than their English neighbors in the Carolina Colony did – in part due to the influence of the Moors who ruled Spain for 700 years.
“Slavery never had the racial overtones that it did to the English here, so it was common to find both enslaved people of African origin and free Africans together in St. Augustine, and they were among many people of color who contributed to the rich – and always multi-cultural tapestry of the early colony. The garrison at Ft. Mose’ became critical as well in to the defense of this strategically vital Spanish foothold in the new world.”
Seminole and Native American history also becomes interactive in Spanish Florida, with Creeks, Cherokee and other tribes from the Carolina Colony to what was the frontier of European settlement in Georgia and Alabama fleeing to the St. Augustine area to regroup and organize – often settling with and around free black settlements like Ft. Mose’.
Bullock added, “There has been a lot more information on the Underground Railroad, but America’s first, true ‘underground railroad’ destination was right here at Ft. Mose. This has been a place of freedom for people of color from the very beginning,” said Bullock.
Tourist youtube video – Bullock talks black Indians, Spaniards, Gulha-Geechee and the first free black settlement on this continent at Fort Mose
More about Francisco Menendez:
Francisco Menendez, a Mandingo from West Africa, escaped from British slavery and fought with Yamasee Indians in the Carolinas. In return, a Yamasee chief agreed to help Menendez get to St. Augustine. There, he became the captain of the original black regiment of 1738 and was the acknowledged leader of the Mose community. From the early 1700s until the Spanish left Florida in 1763, he distinguished himself by his bravery and valor. He was commended for his service by the Spanish Governor of St. Augustine.
More reading about the history of Fort Mose
About the People of Fort Mose
Follow Ft. Mose’ Historical Society on Facebook