Beginning this Tuesday on the Florida History Podcast we begin a series on African-Americans escaping to freedom in Florida beginning in the 1690’s.
Spanish Florida had been a thriving colony in the early 1600’s but beginning around 1650, measles outbreaks, raids from the English, the French and from Pirates began weakening the mission-based economy of the region. This culminated with Queen Anne’s War which decimated Florida.
Absent the gold of other Spanish colonies in the Americas, Spain actively looked for those who would “serve” the crown in its military and economic needs in Florida. This included enticing slaves from English territories to flee to Florida and achieve freedom if they converted to Catholicism. This was made an official policy in 1693 by edict of King Carlos II.
This willingness to harbor runaway slaves would alter the relationship between Florida and its neighbors to the north for the next 90 years. In fact, African runaway slaves and Native Americans would prove exceedingly loyal to defending Spanish Florida from English invasions during the 1700’s.
Fort Mose, the first free African-American settlement in what is now the United States would be founded in 1738 and African-Americans were critical in defending St Augustine from a 1740 British invasion. When the British took over Florida in 1763, slavery was reimposed but during the American Revolution, Lord Dunmore and other British officials actively encouraged slaves from Plantations owned by Patriots to flee to Florida with an implicit promise of freedom.
After Spain assumed control of Florida again 1784, the movement of slaves out of the new United States to Florida intensified until finally being cut off when the US won the First Seminole War and assumed control of Florida in 1821.