Reconstructing History: Fort Mose Groundbreaking Kicks Off Historic Project

Reconstructing History: Fort Mose Groundbreaking Kicks Off Historic Project

With a few shovelfuls of dirt, the Fort Mose reconstruction project moved from dream to reality Jan. 19 at a groundbreaking ceremony at the historic state park in St. Augustine.

Initially built almost four decades before the American colonies declared their independence, Fort Mose was the first legally sanctioned free Black community in the present-day United States. Now, efforts to begin reconstruction of the 1738 fort on the grounds of Fort Mose Historic State Park are set to begin and be completed by late 2024, according to a media release from the Florida State Parks Foundation.

“As we break ground on the reconstruction of Fort Mose, we are not merely rebuilding walls — we’re creating a tribute to the resilient and determined freedom seekers who made the first free Black settlement a possibility,” said Charles Ellis, president of the Fort Mose Historical Society, in the release. “The Fort Mose Historical Society is honored to have played a pivotal role in launching this project, providing the public with an opportunity to consider the true value of freedom. With the community’s support, we embark on a journey to create a dynamic space where the echoes of the past will resonate in the hearts and minds of all who visit.”

Julia Gill Woodward, CEO of the Florida State Parks Foundation, acknowledged the significance of the groundbreaking in bringing the reconstruction project to its next phase.

“Today marks a historic moment in our journey to preserve and celebrate our state’s and our nation’s rich cultural heritage,” she said in the release. “The Fort Mose groundbreaking ceremony signifies a commitment to fostering a deep connection between our past and present. This project is a tribute to the enduring spirit of community and the profound importance of preserving our shared history.”

Kathleen Deegan, a scholar who has researched and written about Fort Mose, said the reconstruction project will offer visitors a unique opportunity to experience the history of Fort Mose.

“I believe that people’s experiences, when they experience something physically, it makes different kind of learning,” she said in an interview with EVOLVE News. “It stimulates curiosity, and it makes people ask questions and reconstructing this fort will allow particularly children and young people to be part of it.”

She said to be able to see what the fort looked like and how people lived can make people curious about the past and eager to learn more, and will “change the playing field” in our understanding of Black American history.

The Fort Mose Historical Society launched the fort reconstruction project in 2012 and began fundraising efforts for the reconstruction. The Florida State Parks Foundation was awarded a $933,000 grant through the Florida Department of State’s Florida African-American Cultural & Historical Grant Opportunity for fort reconstruction. This project transcends the simple reconstruction of a landmark; it will convey the vital history of Fort Mose to the world, a pivotal chapter of our nation’s narrative, the release states.

In an interview with EVOLVE News, Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin said the reconstruction project is important beyond the park itself.

“I listened to a presentation today that’s extremely important,” he said. “What I heard woven into the words that were spoken is that it is incumbent upon us not just to tell ourselves but our children and those who come after us about the regional implications of the history of this part of Florida. It’s sown into the very pillars and foundation of the state of Florida and our country.”

Greg White, president of the West Augustine Historical Community Development Corp., said the reconstruction project brings to light a story that was lost for many years.

“It appears as though too many times in underserved areas our history somewhat destroyed and never recovered, so this is huge that we have the chance now to uncover something that’s been buried for such a long, long time so it is very, very exciting,” he said in an interview with EVOLVE News.

The project was also made possible through the generosity of several community partners and organizations, including St. Johns County, The Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation, The St. Augustine Amphitheatre’s Fort Mose Jazz & Blues Series, The Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund, The Lastinger Family Foundation, Florida Power and Light, The Bailey Group, Wells Fargo, Northrop Grumman, Florida Blue, and The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

“We are excited to break ground at Fort Mose after so many years of hard work and dedication,” said Chuck Hatcher, director of the Florida Park Services, in the release. “The new fort reconstruction will provide a remarkable experience for visitors from around the world, and we are grateful for everyone who has helped bring this project to life.”

For more information about the reconstruction project visit The Story of Fort Mose Magazine.