Florida has always been different. Now known as America’s retirement home, theme park destination, and the source of crazy news headlines, the history of the state is also strange and different. After Spanish conquistadors took charge, it was traded back and forth between Spain and Britain, and served as a refuge for those who didn’t want anything to do with the colonies that became the United States. That included those escaping from slavery.
4. The First Settlement of Ex-Slaves
In the late 17th century, the Spanish government began offering official asylum to all slaves who managed to escape the British colonies and get to Florida, provided they agreed to convert to Catholicism and serve in the Spanish military. The newly free (or free-er) people settled in a town called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé, a.k.a. Fort Mose. The fort was home to hundreds, and is now considered a precursor to the Underground Railroad.
8. Abolitionist American Indians
After Fort Mose closed, the Seminole and Creek tribes picked up the slack, welcoming runaway slaves into their communities. When officials ordered their return, Seminoles reportedly responded that they “had merely given hungry people food, and invited the slaveholders to catch the runaways themselves.” Partially because of this, the American colonies began warring with Floridian Indians in the 1810s, and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams declared the whole territory “a derelict, open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States and serving no other earthly purpose, than as a post of annoyance to them.” He convinced Spain to give up Florida to the United States so that they could tame it; on July 17th, 1821, the reins were officially passed.
Florida was also a refuge for “lawless rascals,” Americans who didn’t care for that whole revolution business, and horses imported from Europe. Atlas Obscura has a list of highlights from the history of Florida that you probably didn’t know if you didn’t grow up there.