Francisco Menendez

military leader and former slave
Birthplace: Mandingo, Africa

Born in Africa, Francisco Menendez was brought to America as a slave in the early 1700s. He escaped and fled from the British territories in 1724 to St. Augustine, Florida, which was then controlled by the Spanish. After converting to Catholicism and agreeing to join the St. Augustine militia, he was granted his freedom. He rose to the rank of captain, and in 1738 he was put in charge of the first free black settlement in America, Fort Mose. Established by Florida's governor Manuel Montiano, Fort Mose became a haven for more than a hundred freed or fugitive slaves from the British colonies. Located about two miles from St. Augustine, it was set up as a fortified town to protect the Spanish from attack by the British. The community was self-governing and economically self-sustaining. Menendez also served as the commander of its militia. In 1740, the British attacked Fort Mose, and Menendez's militia successfully thwarted them. Fort Mose was rebuilt after the attack, but the community disbanded in 1763 when Spain ceded Florida to the British after the French and Indian war. Because the British laws regarding escaped slaves or freed black were far less liberal than Spanish laws, Menendez and many black residents of Fort Mose fled to Cuba. He is thought to have died in Havana.