Leader of gracia real de santa teresa de mose
Renegade. Francisco Menéndez is the Spanish name for the man who was the military and political head of the free black town of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. Nothing is known of Menéndez’s early life. He might have been born in Africa or as a slave in the Carolinas or the West Indies. As an adult he lived as a slave in South Carolina but at some point made his way to the Indians and fought against his former masters in the Yamasee Indian War of 1715. What became of Menéndez between 1715 and 1724 remains hidden, but in 1724, helped by the Yamasee, he and nine others arrived in Saint Augustine, Florida, then owned by Spain. They claimed to know of the Spanish king’s promise of 1693 that if they converted to Catholicism they would be freed.
Saint Augustine. Menéndez’s initial status in Saint Augustine must have been unclear, but in 1729 Gov. Antonio de Benavides sold him and the nine other escaped slaves at public auction. Some remained in Saint Augustine; others were taken to Havana. Slavery in the borderlands, like Florida, was not as harsh or as rigid as it was in the plantation colonies. Governor Benavides recognized Menéndez’s abilities and appointed him commander of a slave militia in 1726. In 1728 these slaves helped defend Saint Augustine against the English. Appeals for freedom were finally granted in 1738 by the new governor, Manuel de Montiano.
Mose. Governor Montiano made other changes as well and in 1738 established a new town for the former English slaves known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, two miles north of Saint Augustine. Menéndez was the town’s leader, a task he was well suited for since it was in reality a military outpost, poised to stall or repel an attack from the English. Officially designated captain, Menéndez exercised considerable authority and autonomy over Mose. He would be its militia captain for forty years.
War. The struggle with England touched off by the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739) found Captain Menéndez on the front lines. The governor even made a point of commending him to the king, perhaps as a means of paving the way for a petition Menéndez would send asking for rewards for services rendered. Menéndez apparently wrote this and a second petition, in Spanish, by himself. Unfortunately, the Spanish authorities ignored him.
Slavery Again. The evacuation of Mose brought Menéndez back to Saint Augustine where he became involved in privateering. This legalized piracy, practiced during wartime by all nations, brought rewards when things went well but disaster when they did not. In 1741 the ship Menéndez was aboard was captured by the English, who recognized him as the leader of a “Comp y of Indians, Mulattos, and Negroes” at Mose. He was given two hundred lashes and a dousing of salt water to make the wounds even more painful. He and several others were then taken to the Bahamas where the Admiralty Court declared them slaves and ordered them sold. For many people that would have been the end of the story, but Menéndez was more resourceful than most. What happened to free him is unknown, but by 1752 he was back in Mose.
Exile in Cuba. In 1763, when the Spanish evacuated Florida, Menéndez, along with the others from Mose, sailed to Cuba. He presumably died in Havana, certainly a man whose life had taken him from slavery to freedom more than once and whose abilities must indeed have been exceptional to propel him, against many odds, into positions of leadership and responsibility.
Jane Lander, “Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose: A Free Black Town in Spanish Colonial Florida,” American Historical Review, 95 (1990): 9–30.