Siege of Fort Mose
|Battle of Fort Mose|
|Part of the War of Jenkins' Ear|
Site of the old fort
|Commanders and leaders|
|Col. John Palmer †||
Cap. Antonio Salgado|
|170 regulars and Indians||
free black auxiliaries
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Fort Mose (often called Bloody Mose, or Bloody Moosa at the time) was a significant action of the War of Jenkins' Ear, which took place on June 26, 1740. Captain Antonio Salgado commanded a Spanish column of 300 regular troops, backed by the free black militia and allied Seminole warriors consisting of Indian auxiliaries. They stormed Fort Mose, a strategically crucial position newly held by 170 British soldiers under Colonel John Palmer. This garrison had taken the fort as part of James Oglethorpe's offensive to capture St. Augustine. Taken by surprise, the British garrison was virtually annihilated. Colonel Palmer, three captains and three lieutenants were among the British troops killed in action. The battle destroyed the fort. The Spanish did not rebuild it until 1752.
Located two miles north of St. Augustine, Fort Mose was established in 1738 by the Spanish as a refuge for British black slaves escaping from the colonies of Georgia and South Carolina. Forty-five years earlier, in 1693, King Charles II of Spain had ordered his Florida colonists to give all runaway slaves from British colonies freedom and protection if they converted to Catholicism and agreed to serve Spain.
The fort consisted of a church, a wall of timber with some towers, and some twenty houses inhabited by a hundred people. The maroons were commissioned as Spanish militia by Governor Manuel de Montiano and put under the command of Captain Francisco Menéndez, a mulatto or creole of African-Spanish descent, who had escaped from slavery in South Carolina.
Fort Mose's militia soon became a matter of concern for the British colonies. The fort served as both a colony of freedmen and as Spanish Florida's front-line of defense against British attacks from the north. The Spanish intended to destabilize the plantation economy of the British colonies by creating a community that would attract slaves seeking escape and refuge. Word of the free black settlement reached the Province of South Carolina; it is believed to have helped inspire the Stono Rebellion in September 1739. During the slave revolt, several dozen blacks headed for Spanish Florida, but were not successful in reaching it. The fort was later important in the British Siege of St. Augustine.
At the outbreak of the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739, General James Oglethorpe, governor of Georgia, encouraged by some successful raids the British colonial Rangers made in the frontier, decided to raise a significant expedition to capture and destroy St. Augustine, capital of Spanish Florida. As part of the campaign, he realized his forces had to capture and hold Fort Mose.
Oglethorpe launched his campaign. Regular troops from South Carolina and Georgia, militia volunteers, about 600 allied American Indian Creek and Uchise allies, and about 800 black slaves as auxiliaries made up the expedition, which was supported at sea by seven ships of the British Royal Navy. Montiano, who had 600 regulars including reinforcements recently arrived from Cuba, was forced to resist entrenched. On several occasions he attacked the British lines by surprise.
Approaching St. Augustine, a British party under Colonel John Palmer, composed of 170 men belonging to the Georgia colonial militia, the Highland Independent Company of Darien, and auxiliary native allies, rapidly occupied Fort Mose, strategically sited on a vital travel route. The British forces suffered from conflicts in command and control. The Highlanders were primarily Gaelic speaking and were unimpressed with Colonel Palmer's leadership. For his part, Colonel Palmer was likewise distrustful of the Highlanders' abilities as disciplined soldiers.
Manuel de Montiano had ordered the fort abandoned after some of its inhabitants had been killed by Indian allies of Great Britain. The free black residents moved to St. Augustine.
While the Oglethorpe expedition laid siege to St. Augustine, Montiano considered his options. Knowing the strategic importance of Fort Mose, and realizing its vulnerabilities, Montiano decided to undertake a counter-offensive operation. At dawn on June 15 Captain Antonio Salgado commanded Spanish regulars, and Francisco Menéndez led the maroon militia and Seminole Indian auxiliaries, in a surprise attack on Mose. The attack was initiated two hours before the British soldiers awoke so that they could not prepare their arms for defense. About 75 of the British colonials were killed and 34 were captured in bloody hand-to-hand combat with swords, muskets, and clubs.
The Spanish victory at Fort Mose demoralized the badly divided British forces and was a significant factor in Oglethorpe's withdrawal to Savannah. In late June St. Augustine was relieved by Spanish forces from Havana, and the Royal Navy's warships abandoned the land forces. Governor Montiano commended the maroons for their bravery. Although Fort Mose had been destroyed during the siege, its former residents were resettled in St. Augustine for the next decade as free and equal Spanish colonial citizens.
When the Spanish rebuilt the fort in 1752, free blacks returned there. After the British victory against the French in the Seven Years' War, it took over East Florida in a related trade with Spain. Most of the residents and military evacuated to Cuba, and Francisco Menéndez and most of the free blacks went with them, to escape being re-enslaved by British colonial forces.
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