Child at Fort Mose Overlook with Binoculars

You probably already know that St. Augustine is known as the Nation’s Oldest City, but did you know it is also home to America’s First Black Settlement? Over 300 years ago in the late 1600s, a handful of slaves escaped British colony rule and headed south. They braved the perils of the swampy mosquito-infested terrain, seeking refuge and found it here.

Black Residents of St. Augustine 1764

Originally named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose by Spanish settlers, Fort Mose (pronounced “MOH-say”) began as a land of asylum granted from the Spanish. Word traveled, and soon Fort Mose became a precursor site to the Underground Railroad.

Later, in 1738, Fort Mose was officially granted freedom and protection declared by Spain. Historian and filmmaker Dr. Henry Louis Gates features Fort Mose as America’s First Black Town in the PBS series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.

Fort Mose Front Entrance

Flight To Freedom

To celebrate Black History Month, the Fort Mose Historical Society is sponsoring its annual event Flight to Freedom. Starting Thursday, February 6 through Saturday, February 8 from 9am to 3pm this event features reenactments, historical demonstrations, and guided walks through the park. And – IT’S FREE!

There is also a terrific museum on site (The Fort Mose Historic State Park Visitors Center) that you can visit Thursday through Mondays (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) for only $2 and children under 6 are free. Fascinating and informative, you can’t help but be transported through time and wonder what it must have been like for these first settlers.

Fort Mose Maps

Two boardwalks, one of which features a floating dock, line both sides of the Visitor’s Center Museum. The original site of Fort Mose is actually located 1/4 mile to the east on an island, which is only accessible by boat. It is quiet and serene and hosts a diverse aquatic bird population full of active nesting sites. Fort Mose is certainly one of the best local parks for wildlife viewing in St. Augustine. Make sure to bring binoculars! The boardwalk lookout offers spectacular views of the Matanzas and it is not too far from the St. Augustine airport. Any kid who is into airplanes and helicopters will be sure to love it.

Child at Fort Mose Overlook with Binoculars

If you can’t make it to this weekend’s activities, check out these upcoming events at the park. Don’t forget that the 40-acre waterfront state park grounds are open to the public from 9 am to 5 pm 365 days a year, making it a great stop for a picnic or run. 

I urge you to check out Fort Mose, along with the many MANY other Black History sites scattered across St. Augustine and North Florida. It is a way to begin an open conversation with your children about how inequities within our society can envelop a nation, and what we can do to change it, and prevent it. Teaching the historical significance of sites like Fort Mose is a wonderful start. The ACCORD Freedom Trail lists dozens of local historic sites that were pivotal during the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which is also well worth checking out.

Fort Mose is also featured on Florida’s Black Heritage Trail. Read more about Florida’s Black Heritage Trail here and a detailed 3-day itinerary tour here.

Need more detailed info about the Flight to Freedom event? Click here.

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Teresa Merritt
Teresa, a fifth-generation Floridian, grew up in North Palm Beach. Her family purchased a historic Victorian "fixer-upper" house in St. Augustine in 1992. After living in Atlanta, Manhattan, and traveling extensively, she returned to the sunny coastal family home and established Jasmine's Coffeehouse – a restaurant loved by locals and tourists alike from 2004-2008. Teresa also worked as a wine consultant for several years and enjoys doing anything "foodie" related. After the birth of her son in 2015, she decided to follow in her family's 40+ years of real estate experience and join the trade. She currently works at Coldwell Banker Premier Properties where her office window overlooks the mission grounds. When she's not working with wine or real estate, Teresa is seen gallivanting around town with her son, who often persuades her to roll down the fort hills, which she happily complies - regardless of dress or weather.


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