Fort Mose Historic State Park#6 in Best Things To Do in St. Augustine
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Most St. Augustine visitors are familiar with the town's past as a Spanish colony from 1565 to 1750, but few are aware of its role in America's Black history. It was here – specifically, Fort Mose Historic State Park – where the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in the U.S. was established in 1738.
During this time, Florida was governed by the Spanish, who had a long history of owning slaves. But slavery in Spain and its colonies looked different than it did in Britain's colonies. To Spain, slavery was used primarily as a political tool, so its views on slavery were flexible. As a result, Spanish slaves generally had some legal rights, including the ability to eventually purchase their freedom.
In an attempt to gain an upper hand against the British, who owned slaves in several nearby Colonies, Spain encouraged British slaves to escape to Florida starting in the late 1600s. Those who fled from British-owned plantations in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, pledged their loyalty to Spain and converted to Catholicism were promised their freedom and protection from the British. However, former British slaves didn't gain their freedom until 1737, one year before Fort Mose was established. In 1740, the site was abandoned, but the Spanish rebuilt it in 1752 on the land where the state park now resides.
Although the original fort no longer stands, travelers continue to come to Fort Mose Historic State Park to learn more about this National Historic Landmark, which is part of Florida's Black Heritage Trail and a recognized precursor site of the Underground Railroad. The park also offers opportunities to go birding, kayaking and geocaching, among other outdoor activities. Some of the wildlife visitors may see on-site include great blue herons, bald eagles and white ibis.
Reviewers loved visiting this relatively unknown piece of American history, citing its interesting displays and friendly staff as highlights. Others enjoyed strolling along the property's boardwalks and setting up a picnic in one of the park's two picnic areas. Those with history-loving children should try to visit on the first Saturday of any month, when the park offers musket firing demonstrations and kids militia training sessions.
Fort Mose sits less than 3 miles northwest of downtown St. Augustine. The park itself is free to visit every day from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; however, an entrance fee of $2 per person age 6 and older applies for the visitor center, where the property's exhibits about the fort's history are located. Keep in mind, the visitor center, which houses the park's only restrooms, is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For more information, visit the Florida State Parks website.
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#1 St. George Street
Antiquities, historic attractions and delectable cuisine are just a few of the things you'll find on St. George Street, the city's central pedestrian thoroughfare. At the northern end of the street, visitors can explore boutiques like Sunburst Crystal and Tillie's Bath Cottage, as well as historic sites like the Old City Gates and the Oldest Wooden School House. The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum are within walking distance; as you travel south, you'll see additional shops and cafes, plus art galleries and the Colonial Quarter.
Visitors in search of Southern charm will appreciate St. George Street. According to past travelers, you'll find unique shops and some of the best ice cream in the area. The area is also a great spot to stop in some shops to pick up souvenirs.
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