Fort Mose: Network to Freedom


The late Jack Williams, a colonial history and antique weapons expert in St Augustine, “knew what he had” when he contacted archaeologist Dr. Kathleen Deagan of the Florida Museum of Natural History in the 1970’s, according to local author and businessman Daniel D. Holiday.

“There was never a doubt in Jack’s mind,” Holiday told Historic City News editor Michael Gold. “We used to take a canoe through Robinson Creek to get to his land and we explored the site many times before Jack hired Kathy Deagan to begin the first archaeological digs.”

This week, Dr. Deagan, Jane Lander, and Darcie MacMahon were panelists at The Renaissance Hotel at World Golf Village; presenting a session on the role of the 18th century fort during the 2012 Conference of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program, hosted by the National Park Service.

A common misconception about the Underground Railroad is that it was a one-way network north; when, in reality, many fugitive slaves made their way south, some as far as St Augustine.

In 1738, more than 100 African refugees, many Gullah-Geechie slaves from South Carolina, formed a Spanish militia at Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, north of the city, the first free-black settlement in what was to become the United States

Former Florida Representative William Clark attended the program. While in the legislature, Clark, and other black caucus organizations, recognized the importance of the Fort Mose site and championed a bill to acquire the 10-acres of land from Williams; creating the state park.

Fort Mose Historic State Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1995, and is an important element in Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.

The National Park Service implemented the National Underground Railroad program to coordinate preservation and education efforts nationwide and integrate local historical places, museums, and interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad into a mosaic of community, regional, and national stories.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News contributed photograph by Raphael Cosme


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