Twenty captive slaves were the first to arrive under British rule on August 20, 1619. Over the next century, more than 1 million slaves would be shipped from Africa.
In the late 1600s, word spread of a better life to the south. In 1687, The first “fugitives” escaped English plantations in the Carolinas and made it safely to St. Augustine.
By 1693, the Spanish strategically issued what appears to be the first civil rights legislation in the New World to counter British expansion. The Edict of 1693 stated any slaves fleeing from the British would be given sanctuary.
As a result, the first Underground Railroad was created and headed south, not north, like many believe. The gruesome path stretched 376 miles from Charleston to St. Augustine, but if slaves made it to the St. John’s River, they were considered free. Some even traveled from far away as New York in the 1700s. Anyone who arrived in St. Augustine was given sanctuary.
This eventually led to the first settlement of African descent in America built by the Spanish, Fort Mose. Continuing to face an advancing British expansion, the Florida governor created a quasi-freedom where arriving slaves could live under Spanish law if they became Catholic and served in the Army.
It’s not know how many people attempted the journey or how many failed.