Most people had never heard of a free black town before the 1997 movie Rosewood. As depicted in the movie, Rosewood was settled approximately five years after the war between the states. However, there were numerous black settlements long before the Civil War.
Fort Mose, Florida, founded in 1738 is considered the first of the all black settlements in America. At a time when all the major powers of the world fought for control of this new land, the king of Spain, Ferdinand IV, offered freedom to all male slaves who escaped British held colonies for Spanish colonies in Florida. The escaped slaves only had to declare their allegiance to the Catholic Church and Spain.
Fort Mose, located a few miles from St. Augustine, was settled by ex-slaves and became the city’s northern defense and protected the city against British invasion.
As indicated in a previous blog, An Unfinished History, I discovered an article on the excavation in Westampton Township, Burlington County, New Jersey, where they discovered an African American community founded by free African Americans, fugitive slaves, and Quaker abolitionists as early as 1820. The small village was named Timbuctoo. Some believe it was named after the Timbuktu in Africa.
Five parcels of land were sold to black men in 1826 and Timbuctoo first appeared in the national census in 1830. The Village of Timbuctoo lasted well into the twentieth century. Reports say that the town declined after the Great Depression as many residents moved away in the search for work. If you would like to learn more about Timbuctoo Village visit www.timbuctoonj.com.
In 1818 a group of free black men traveled from Virginia with a group of pioneers to St. Clair County, Illinois where they settled an area called Turkey Hill. I couldn’t find much information on this settlement.
New Philadelphia, Illinois was established in 1836 by Frank Whorter, an ex-slave from Kentucky. While a slave, Whorter was hired out and allowed to pursue several endeavors. With sheer will, hard work and dedication, he was able to save enough money to buy his entire family out of slavery. He purchased 42 acres of land in Illinois and his family became the first residents of New Philadelphia.
After the Civil War, ex-slaves band together and new all black towns sprang up. If you are interested in reading more about these communities, check out The Root, https://www.theroot.com/historys-lost-black-towns-1790868004
The history of African Americans in this country is only given a cursory review in the classroom. Such lack of information leads some to believe that our history only consists of slavery, which couldn’t be further from the truth. This is an unfortunate circumstance but if we want to know our history, we must search for the truth ourselves and share what we find. For this blog, I tried to concentrate on settlements before the Civil War. I know that there are more, like the communities of Seneca Village, The Five Points District, and Weeksville, which were early all black communities of New York city. If you come across any all black settlements, established before The Civil War that were not mentioned here, please share what you find in the comments.