Francisco Menéndez, the forgotten African militia leader who built his own city in Florida for freed slaves

Stephen Nartey November 04, 2022
Artistic representation of Francisco Menéndez. Florida Museum of Natural History.

Francisco Menéndez tasted slavery at a very tender age when he was sent to the plantations of Carolina to toil and sweat it out for slaveholders. But, when he identified an opportunity to escape during the Yamasee War between the united Indian tribes and freed slaves aligned against the English colonists of Carolina, he left the plantations amidst the firing of rifles and musketeers.

He moved out of the plantation with his wife Ana Maria de Escobar and others to Spanish Florida where they pitched their tents. He later became a leader of a local militia and co-founder of the first free community for runaway slaves in the very place that would become the United States.

Subsequently, other Africans who escaped to Spanish Florida were sold to Menéndez in 1718. His known name is Francisco Menéndez Márquez, but when the Catholic Church baptized him, he dropped the Márquez.

Menéndez is believed to be of African descent and possibly hailed from Gambia in the Western part of Africa where he was born in 1700, according to The Enslaved. He began rising to prominence in 1726 when he was made the leader of St. Augustine’s black militia where he launched offensive attacks against Carolina and protected St. Augustine from the same.

When he learned how to read and write, Menéndez wrote to the new governor of Spanish Florida with 30 others to demand their freedom under the religious sanctuary policy. Twelve years later, the governor granted his request and ensured it covered all runaway slaves in Florida and those who escape from slavery in Carolina. Historical records point to Menéndez heading to Carolina to fight and rescue a number of slaves from the plantation there.

When he was confident he had the right army of militias, he built a community of freed slaves who were under his command and guidance. The city was known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, which in later years became the center of a bloody tussle between British Carolina and Spanish Florida in 1740. The militia lost their community but managed to save St. Augustine.

The community of freed slaves headed to St. Augustine after the military expedition by the British Carolina army who razed to the ground Fort Mose, where Menéndez became a Spanish corsair. In 1741, Menéndez landed in the hands of the soldiers of the English colonialists when they captured his ship. He was subjected to 200 lashes and placed under severe torture and mistreatment.

At some point, his wounds were poked into to aggravate his pain. This was done to him because he took the side of the Spanish crown to fight against the English at Fort Mose. He was sold once again into slavery in the Bahamas. When Spain handed over Florida to Britain, Menéndez and his contingent of militias sought safe refuge in Cuba with many of the residents of St Augustine after the end of the seven years military campaign in 1763.

They resided in a town called San Agustín de la Nueva Florida Mocha near Matanzas. He sold his lands in this new community later and moved to Havana, where his family received a government pension.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 4, 2022


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