Francisco Menendez (creole)

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Francisco Menendez was a free black military leader serving the Spanish Crown in 18th-century St. Augustine, Florida. He had been a slave in South Carolina and escaped to Florida, where he served in the Spanish militia, leading the garrison established in 1738 at Fort Mose. This site has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, as it was the first legal free black community in what is now the United States.

Early life[edit]

Menendez has been traced as a mixed-race or mulatto slave in South Carolina. He was among the generations that historian Ira Berlin called the Atlantic creoles, peoples from the slave ports in Africa with Iberian fathers and African mothers. Some, like Menendez were enslaved; others achieved early freedom. Menéndez was a Portuguese Angolan free black, kidnapped by slave runners and brought to the 13 Colonies. As thousand other black slaves in the hemisphere, Menéndez sought refuge in Spanish Florida, then a governorship/province of Cuba. Since 1623 the official Spanish policy was that any and all slaves that touched Spanish soil and asked for refuge would be made a free man, alphabetized if he wasn't, helped to establish his own workshop if he had a trade or given a lot of land as his own to cultivate as a famer.

Menéndez escaped from South Carolina and traveled to St. Augustine, Florida for freedom. Since the 17th century, Spain had been offering freedom in Florida to refugee African slaves from British colonies in exchange for their converting to Catholicism and serving four years in the militia, how the Spanish called the National Guard.[1]

In Florida he aided in the defense of St. Augustine in 1727, earning his freedom and establishing his reputation for leadership. He was recognized as a subject to the King of Spain and baptized in the Catholic Church as Francisco Menendez.[2] Despite his conversion and military service, Menendez and many of his fellow militia were still slaves. When Manuel de Montiano became governor in 1737, Menendez petitioned for his freedom. On March 15, 1738, he was granted unconditional freedom.[3] Years later, he was appointed as head of the black militia based at Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose), built in 1738, and the overall leader of its resident community. From this base, Menendez led several raids against the colony of South Carolina,[4] and inspired further rebellion among slaves there.

In 1740, the British army marched into Florida and overran Fort Mose during the War of Jenkins' Ear. Days later Spanish and Fort Mose militia members defeated the British and prevented further invasion. Fort Mose was destroyed during this bloody battle.

Menendez took to the seas on a Spanish ship to raid English vessels. During this time he was captured by the English and sold back into slavery. He was ransomed by the Spanish and returned to Florida. After his return to Florida, he was asked to rebuild Fort Mose in 1752 and free blacks returned to the community.

Evacuation to Cuba[edit]

They continued at Fort Mose until the British took control of East Florida in 1763, following their defeat of France in the Seven Years' War. In that settlement, the British traded territory with Spain, taking over East Florida.

Together with most of the Spanish colonists from St. Augustine, Menendez evacuated with the Fort Mose community to Cuba. There he established a similar community called St. Augustine of the New Florida.

Legacy and honors[edit]

The site of Fort Mose, where Menendez led the militia, is now designated by the United States as a National Historic Landmark. The original site was rediscovered in an archeological dig in the 1990s, and has been protected as a park. The Fort Mose Historic State Park is owned by the Florida Park Service. It is widely known as the first legally sanctioned free community of freedmen and a destination for African-American refugees from slavery. It served as a precursor to the Underground Railroad that developed during the antebellum years.

See also[edit]


  • Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998. p. 74-75.
  • Deagan, Kathleen, Fort Mose: Colonial America's Black Fortress of Freedom. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 1995.
  • Landers, Jane, Black Society in Spanish Florida. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.


  1. ^ Riordan, Patrick: "Finding Freedom in Florida: Native Peoples, African Americans, and Colonists, 1670-1816", Florida Historical Quarterly 75(1), 1996, pp. 25-44.
  2. ^ Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone, Belknap Press, 1998, p. 74
  3. ^ Landers, Jane (Feb 1990). "Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose: A Free Black Town in Spanish Colonial Florida". The American Historical Review 95 (1): 17. 
  4. ^ Landers, Jane (1999). Black Society in Spanish Florida. University of Illinois Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-252-06753-3.