The Fort Mose Historical Society, dedicated to preserving the site of the first Black city in America, will hold its annual meeting on October 20 in St. Augustine, Florida, the organization has announced.
The fort, originally named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, was built in 1738 for the Black community of St. Augustine, itself founded two centuries earlier with the establishment of Mission Nombre de Dios by White and Afro-Spanish Catholic settlers.
“The meeting is intended for those who are members of Fort Mose Historical Society and interested in becoming members,” said Cheyenne B. Keith, who serves as an administrative assistant for the society.
Hosted at the historic St. Augustine Water Works, the FMHS meeting will include addresses from society members and keynote speaker Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs, who will give a talk entitled “Enduring the Quest for Freedom in Florida.” Hobbs serves as executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute for Law, Race, Social Justice, and Economic Policy, created last year at Edward Waters University.
The event will also include one of the society’s well-known historical reenactments, from the Women of Mose group. The FMHS regularly hosts reenactments in St. Augustine at Fort Mose Historic State Park, which is supported by the society and houses a visitors’ center and museum.
According to the society’s website, their annual meeting assembles members “for Society business and for a celebration of recent achievements in ‘telling the Fort Mose story’,” which this year may include more major developments.
Earlier this year, the Florida State Parks Foundation was awarded nearly $1M in grants from multiple foundations to go toward the construction of a fort replica at the former Mose site, near the northern limits of St. Augustine. The project received an additional boost with the FMHS’ inaugural jazz and blues series, which raised an additional $52,000.
Fort Mose originally served for the better part of 25 years as a safe haven for African Americans fleeing slavery in the British Colonies, as well as those descended from the Afro-Spaniards who landed at Mission Nombre de Dios in 1565. Survivors of this proto-“Underground Railroad” were granted freedom and Spanish citizenship in exchange for conversion to Catholicism and, for men, enlistment in the military.
The fort was soon the target of multiple British raids, partially in response to the threat of continued slave escapes and revolts—the New York Conspiracy of 1741 and South Carolina’s Stono Rebellion of 1739 being two major nexus points—and the fort was eventually destroyed for good in 1812.
The fort’s ruins and history then fell into obscurity for more than 150 years, after which researchers (including Drs. Kathleen Deagan and Jane Landers) investigated the site with the help of a local resident who had purchased the land after being inspired by the Civil Rights Movement’s intersection with St. Augustine.
The FMHS, founded in the late 1990s, serves as a Citizen Support Organization for Fort Mose Historic State Park, a National Historic Landmark established following the excavations of the site and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. The society serves to increase visibility of the former fort’s history, and to enrich local and national historical studies.
Admission costs for the annual meeting next week are $10 for members, and the $30 fee for non-members will afford a year-long membership in the society from the date of the event. Doors will open at the Water Work at 6pm ET, and the meeting will commence at 6:30pm. Food and beverages will be available.
The next major event scheduled for the society will be its “Flight to Freedom” weekend of tours and reenactments, scheduled for February 2-4, 2023. The FMHS will also celebrate the fort’s founders’ day on March 18 with a special presentation from 10am to noon, and the annual Fort Mose Golf Tournament on April 28.
Membership in the society is $30 a year for individuals and $60 for families, includes free museum visits, and can be purchased on the FMHS website here.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).