Spain created the first free land for black slaves

“A boat arrived with eight blacks, two blacks and a breast creature.” This is not news about the arrival of cayucos to the Canary Islands, but rather a document from the Archive of the Indies in Seville in which Diego de Quiroga, Governor of Florida, reports the first arrival, in October 1687, of runaway slaves from the English.

The slaves had fled from the neighboring British colony of Carolina, like many others who were venturing into the swamps and they became “maroons”, subsisting in a wild way or surrendering to the Indians. But this group had stolen a boat, and with it they managed to get through the marsh to San Agustín, the capital of Florida, founded in 1565 by Diego Fernández de Avilés, and that today is proud to be the first city that arose in the United States, as has been verified Vozpópuli.

The following year the greatest William Dunlop demanding the return of “eleven slaves owned by the Governor of South Carolina.” But Diego de Quiroga, who had baptized the fugitives and married the couples in the Church, refused to return them. He reached an agreement to financially compensate the governor of South Carolina Within a year and a half, a ransom would be provided by the fugitives themselves with their savings, since they had been given paid work with a salary of four reais a day, and two who worked in the smithy earned one peso a day.

Integration of black slaves

The news that Spanish Florida was a land of freedom spread among Carolina’s slaves like a wind of hope, and in the years that followed new groups of escapees were arriving in San Agustín, the English governor complaining that his slaves “fled daily.” Florida, a land largely covered by unsanitary swamps, had very little population. Only 300 Spaniards lived in San Agustín, and the registered indigenous population was 14,000, so the arrival of the Africans was well received.

The Spanish did not have the strict racial prejudices of the Anglo-Saxons, but to liberate them they put the condition that they embrace the Catholic religion

The repeated reports that arrived from San Agustín motivated the intervention of the King of Spain. In November 1793 Carlos II published a Royal Decree granting freedom to all men and women who came to Florida fleeing from slavery in the English colonies. It would no longer be necessary to financially compensate the owners of the fugitives, San Agustín had become the first land of freedom for blacks of what would be the United States. The Spanish did not have the strict racial prejudices of the Anglo-Saxons, but religious scruples weighed, that is why the Royal Decree established as the only condition for freedom that they embrace the Catholic religion, which the newcomers accepted without problems.

Taking a further step in its integration Juan Marquez Cabrera, new governor of Florida, created that same year of 1693 the “Militia de Pardos y Morenos” (‘pardos’ were mestizos and ‘morenos’ were blacks). No longer were freed slaves only expected to contribute their labor power, they should also help defend the Spanish lands from the English. In fact, a century ago in Spanish America the Pardos and Morenos Libres had been incorporated into the defense of the Crown, forming battalions and companies of Militias in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Mexico, Panama or Cartagena de Indias, with their own colored officers. In Havana they had the right to be buried in the Greater Parish.

Plaque with the history of Fort Mosé

Foundation in Fort Mosé

A new milestone in the adventures of the escaped slaves taken in by Spain took place in 1738, when the governor of Florida Manuel de Montiano founded the Fort de Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé, an outer bastion for the defense of San Agustín from English attacks, commissioning its construction and defense to runaway slaves, which numbered a hundred, and putting the captain in front Francisco Menendez. Behind this very Spanish name there was a slave of the Mandingo race, an African nation famous for its bellicosity, which became a nightmare for the English and deserves a story for himself.

This historical saga culminated in 1994, when US authorities declared Fort Mose a National Historic Landmark, where the Spanish created “the first settlement of free Africans in the United States.” In 2009 Fort Mose received a new distinction, designated by the United States National Park Service “forerunner site of the Underground Railroad“. The Underground Railroad would be a famous underground organization that, in the middle of the XIX century, helped to flee to slaves of the South towards the states of the North, where there was no slavery.

It is an exemplary passage in the History of Spain that, as is often the case, is ignored by the vast majority of Spaniards, who prefer to lash out at the negative aspects of our past. To compensate for this forgetfulness, this week just opened an exhibition at the Royal Tapestry Factory Madrid, The Spanish Legacy in the United States of America. The exhibition, which will remain open to the public until December 15, is of high historical interest, not artistic, and makes a didactic journey about the enormous influence that Spain had on the configuration and independence of the United States. It has been organized, with the collaboration of the Ministry of Defense, The Legacy, an Association that has spent years fighting for the recognition of our leadership in the birth of the North American nation. The president of The Legacy, Eva garcia, is precisely the curator of this exhibition.

Source: Vozpópuli by

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