Part 4: The Mose Militia

Journey 2016

Watch and read Part 4 (7:29 minutes).

 By 1738, enough people had escaped from slavery in the Carolinas to actually form a town.

And you can imagine folks that came from Carolinas, Georgia and being able to see their relatives or friends that they hadn’t scene that had escaped from slavery.

Along with the runaway slaves came threats from the English colonies. Knowing that the English had more men and firepower, Florida’s governor requested that a new fort be built two-and-a-half miles north of the city.

For newly arriving runaway slaves, their options to live in Spanish Florida, suddenly became clear.

They are given a choice. You can live in the Florida wilderness , live as a maroon society, as you see fit. They were also given a choice, if you would like to live under Spanish Rule, then you can live at Fort Mose. – some professors call it a type of quasi-freedom.

A lot of the inhabitants of Mose were from different tribes in Africa, and the Spaniards recorded everything they could particularly when people were baptized or converted and they would record their origins in Africa so we know where in Africa the individuals who lived at Mose came from and it was a range of Congo, Carballo, Mandingo, Ibo and others.

And they would have been at odds with each other at that time if they were back in their homeland.

Most of the people spoke some English and Spanish and their African languages, so it was really rich in that way. I think something remarkable happens in that a sense of community begins to grow.

Fort Mose and the town of Mose were not just some isolated place on the frontier, they immersed themselves into Spanish culture. They were connected regularly with St. Augustine. They not only immersed themselves, but they actually thrived.

You would have had people that perhaps went into town to sell some of their wares.  You would have had blacksmiths and carpenters who might have been involved with public works projects or had hired their time out.

The men of Mose we part of the Spanish militia of the town. They became the first line of defense for St. Augustine and in that process they earned themselves what we would consider citizenship. The Mose Militia was armed, outfitted and trained by the Spanish Army.

And by forming a militia of former slaves, what better first defense could you have against former masters.

They forged alliances with the Florida Natives to form scouting parties. These forward scouting missions were critical in order to alert St. Augustine of any British invasion.

And that’s the part that I’m impressed with is that they felt that it was an honor for them to help defend La Florida.

This was a story not about slavery. But that the Fort Mose story is a story about freedom.

His name was General James Edward Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia for the British empire. Stationed in Savannah, he like his counter-parts in England, was spoiling for a fight with the Spanish.

The British really demanded and wanted what they considered  “their property” back. And the Spanish position was, with an edict from the King, that people would be given sanctuary and if they converted to Catholicism, eventual freedom. That really was a burr under the English saddle.

 Oglethorpe felt that he outnumbered the Spanish probably 2-to-1, 3-to-1, and he could come down and absolutely just sorta blow them away.

In June 1740,  a force of 170 men from the Georgia Colonial Militia, the Scottish Highlander 42nd Regiment and Carolina Rangers headed due South. Backing them were numerous support troops, and 7 ships from the British Royal Navy. Their objective was to destroy Fort Mose, and then blockade Matanzas Bay.

 If successful, the British could essentially starve the town and its inhabitants into submission. But Oglethorpe’s plan of a surprise attack on Fort Mose didn’t unfold as planned.

 the Spanish scouts, probably some from Fort Mose, had advance word that they were coming and – – they were able to leave Fort Mose area and re-group at the Castillo.

Having made a tactical retreat to the heavily fortified Castillo de san Marcos, the residents of Fort Mose and the townspeople of St. Augustine were able to hunker down behind the fort’s 16 foot thick walls.  It was here that they waited for supply ships to arrive from Cuba. It would be a long wait. 

The entire town had been blockaded.  The townspeople have been under bombardment for 27 consecutive days. They are essential surrounded. Supplies are low, food is low, and ammunition is low. Greatly outnumbered, the odds could not have been more against them. 

On June 26, a multi-ethnic strike force of Spanish Regulars, Mose Militia and Native Americans launched a pre-dawn raid to retake the remains of Fort Mose from Oglethorpe’s troops. This engagement would come to be known as The Battle of Bloody Mose.

They caught them at night when they were sleeping and totally surprised them. I think that’s one of the reasons why Oglethorpe lost as many men as he did lose during that battle.

The English suffered more casualties and retreated. They were defeated and I think the Spanish troops got off fairly easily in comparison.

It appears that historically, the first major defeat of the British Army in the New World occurred here at Fort Mose.

But the glory of that day did not reverse Spain’s ever-shrinking hold on Spanish Florida,  By 1821, Spanish rule ended as Florida became a United States territory, ushering in an era of chattel slavery. For the Africans who lived here, it was no secret that the freedoms written in the Constitution, would not apply to them.  But with the ratification of the 13th Amendment and the surrender of the South, newly freed in and around St. Augustine quickly gathered themselves on the west banks of the Maria Sanchez River to create “Little Africa”. Although they were skilled farmers, widespread illiteracy was certain to condemn them and their children to a life of hard poverty.  Overcoming this, would require outside help.

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