Black History Month: The Underground Railroad’s First Stop

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By the late 1600s, slaves head south in search of freedom.

"In 1687 the first group of people arrived in St. Augustine as what would have been called fugitives," said James Bullock, a historian at the Fort Mose Historical State Park. "They had escaped bondage from the English plantations in the Carolinas.

"I think it is important, though, that the Underground Railroad first came south to Florida," said historian Dr. Anthony Dixon."

"We don`t know how many people attempted the journey," Bullock said. "We don`t know how many failed."

"It wasn`t an easy, immediate path to freedom because even once people reached Florida they had to make it to St. Augustine," said Dr. Kathleen Deagan, Curator of Archeology at the University of Florida. "It wasn`t enough just to get to Florida. But if they made it to the town and presented themselves to the Governor, they would be given sanctuary ."

"They are given a choice. You can live in the Florida wilderness, live as a maroon society, as you see fit. They were also given a choice, if you would like to live under Spanish Rule, then you can live at Fort Mose," Dixon said.

In 1693, the immediate threat for Spain was England and her growing Carolina colonies. Word got back to Spain that plantation slaves were seeking asylum in Spanish Florida.

"The King of Spain created the edict of 1693 which to my knowledge and other scholars appears to be the first civil rights legislation in the New World," Bullock said.

"As soon as word got to the plantations in Carolina that there was this possibility of sanctuary after 1693, many people took advantage of that possibility to try and make it to Florida," Deegan said.