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Music festival coming to America's first free African-American settlement

More than 100 years before slavery was abolished, slaves would escape to Fort Mose for freedom.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Fort Mose is known as the walk to freedom.

“People just were determined to make that journey," archaeologist Dr. Kathleen Deagan said. "You can imagine coming from South Carolina to St. Augustine when there was no development. It was through swamps. It was through marshes, rattlesnakes, alligators. It must’ve been a brutal journey, but people made it."

By 1738, about 100 African American slaves had escaped to St. Augustine. The Spanish government gave them their freedom in exchange for converting to Catholicism.

The Spanish government then established a community on land about two miles from the heart of downtown St. Augustine.

“In a way, it was almost like a north to south underground railway 100 years or 150 years before the Civil War," said Deagan. 

It wasn’t until the 1980s when Deagan would come here with her University of Florida students to confirm the existence of the first free Black settlement in North America.

She says musket balls and belt buckles were some of the first found artifacts that helped her confirm exactly where the fort used to be located. The archaeologists compared their findings to documents and maps out of Spain.

The fort was established more than 100 years before slavery would be legally abolished in the United States.

“This is a real case of people who took their fates into their own hands, admittedly with some political manipulation, established their freedom," she said. 

“I think probably in my 50 years in archaeology, (it's) the thing I am most proud of," Deagan said.

There are no structures remaining from Fort Mose, only artifacts. 

Crews are getting the grounds ready for its first music festival with hopes it will change that.

“There’s nothing today that resembles or can be seen about the original fort, and that is one of the major reasons this musical event, and a lot of the other events in St. Augustine, is happening," said Deagan.

Deagan says the Fort Mose Historical Society has a goal to build a life-size replica of the fort, or at least some of the fort. 

All proceeds from the festival will go toward rebuilding. 

See the line up and buy tickets here!


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